If We Know One City, It’s Vancouver
Of all the cities we’ve written guides for, Vancouver is by far the one Kim and I are most qualified to give travel tips for.
Not only did we grow up in Vancouver, but we also worked in the tourism industry (Kim in restaurants, me as a hostel owner), and ran an Airbnb out of our downtown apartment (…before we were forced to leave).
During these experiences, we’ve answered a lot of questions from a lot of Vancouver visitors. These Vancouver travel tips are the product of that.
It’s an extensive list of over 60 travel tips, but I’d estimate that 80% of visitors arrive not knowing any of them.
Even worse, many visitors leave not having learned any either.
Take it from us, these tips will help you have a better trip in Vancouver, so read them carefully.
Top 10 Vancouver Travel Tips
1. Don’t worry too much about the rain
Contrary to its “Raincouver” reputation, from June through September, Vancouver’s one of the driest cities in the country.
It does rains frequently during all other months, but almost never so hard that you can’t enjoy the outdoors. A good drizzle can even add to the rainforest ambiance.
2. Don’t rent a car
Vancouver is tiny, difficult and expensive to park in, and easy to get around by foot, bike, or public transit, so you don’t need a car.
3. Stay around Burrard and Robson
It’s the most convenient location for most visitors.
If you have a bigger budget, just look for the best deal in the area.
If you’re on a tight budget, look to stay in the West End, near Davie St. somewhere between Burrard and Denman.
Check out our first-time visitor’s guide to Vancouver for more tips on where to stay.
4. Don’t worry, you’re safe everywhere
There is no unsafe part of the city, no matter at what point of day or night.
5. Be careful, your stuff isn’t safe anywhere
Never leave any personal items unguarded or unlocked in Vancouver.
There is a large underworld of thieves who prowl the city waiting for the chance to grab anything that’s not properly protected.
6. Know that it’s Vanc-Uber-less
There is no Uber, Lyft, or any ridesharing platform in Vancouver so you have to ride public transit, walk, bike, use car2go, or take an old-fashioned taxi (use their Uber-imitation eCab app).
7. Do these 7 things during your trip
- Get into the woods.
- Go to a beach.
- Eat some Canadian food.
- Explore the Asian side.
- Eat by the sea.
- Get out of downtown.
Further detail on these Vancouver must-dos here.
8. Bring ID
No matter how old you are, if you want to drink alcohol or smoke, ensure you carry one piece of picture ID and another with your name on it (like a credit card). Everyone checks for ID. Without it, you’re outta luck.
9. Go to a dining district
Instead of trying to decide on a restaurant online, head to one of Vancouver’s dining districts like Gastown, Main Street, or Alexandra Road and follow your nose (or taste buds). For a list and map of our favorite dining districts, see our Vancouver travel blog for first-time visitors.
10. Use the free WiFi
Save on roaming fees and enjoy free internet throughout the city by connecting to any of the 550 (and counting) #VanWifi hotspots.
Activities and Attractions
✓ Don’t miss the grizzlies
If you’re visiting Vancouver in the summer, we highly recommend you go up Grouse Mountain.
And when you do, don’t make the same mistake as too many of our guests did and miss the grizzly bears. It is really cool to see them up close (…through the protection of a fence.)
To get to the grizzly enclosure from behind the main building up top, all you have to do is follow the paw prints on the sidewalk.
(Bonus tip: Definitely hike up Grouse if you can, but strongly consider taking a less-busy route like the BCMC instead. Our Vancouver must-dos post has more info on this.)
✓ Avoid the Seawall on peak periods
The seawall gets insanely busy with people who haven’t ridden a bike since they learned how and can be unnecessarily frustrating and slow, so avoid going on weekends (unless you go early) and in the middle of any day when it’s nice out.
✓ Same for Quarry Rock
Go on off-hours or when the weather’s not-so-good or you’ll have a hard time finding a spot on the Quarry Rock lookout for yourself.
It’s not “off the beaten path,” despite what other sites say.
✓ Check out the other suspension bridge
Capilano Suspension Bridge is cool and all, but it’s super expensive ($50!) and insanely busy.
We recommend Lynn Canyon instead. It’s not quite as busy, not as built up, and it’s free.
✓ To visit Vancouver’s biggest park, don’t go to Stanley Park
Stanley Park is famously bigger than Manhattan’s Central Park, but what’s less known is that it’s not even the biggest park in the city.
Pacific Spirit Park is more than twice as big.
✓ Don’t be fooled by Gastown marketing
Gastown isn’t as old as they want you to believe. The famous steam clock only dates back to 1977. It was put there to attract tourists to Gastown after they revitalized the area.
If you’re an adventure traveler looking to get into the outdoors and meet a bunch of like-minded adventurers, consider spending some time in Squamish.
The famous steam clock only dates back to 1977. It was put there to attract tourists to Gastown after they revitalized the area.
The same goes for the cobbled streets and the old-looking-but-actually-new lamps.
Only the buildings date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
And claims that “Blood Alley” is named after butcher shops aren’t true; it was given its name and legend purely to attract more tourists.
✓ Try stand up paddle boarding
You get two birds with one stone: exercise and an unforgettable view of the city.
In the summer, go to Kits Beach on Monday for half-priced rentals ($10/hour, the $5 every hour after), two-for-one Tuesdays, or 30% off Wednesdays.
✓ Take the plunge
The ocean water is clean and not even that cold, especially when the tide is out in the summer. Jump in.
If you’re in Vancouver over New Years, join 2,500+ others in the annual Polar Bear Swim.
✓ Join in on some free exercise
You’ll be impressed by how active Vancouverites are. It will likely motivate you to join and fit in.
For doing so, there are tons of options, many of which are free. Most yoga, spinning, or whatever style of fitness is in style these days studios offer free or steeply discounted first classes.
✓ Don’t sleep on Squamish
If you’re an adventure traveler looking to get into the outdoors and meet a bunch of like-minded adventurers, consider spending some time in Squamish.
Squamish is halfway between Vancouver and Whistler (an hour away) and is where all the young outdoorsy people in Vancouver are migrating to.
✓ Use the north
star mountains to guide you
If you get spun around and forget which way’s which, use the mountains to find your bearings. That way’s north.
✓ Know that Vancouver is tiny
The entire city of Vancouver is only 115 square kilometers (44 square miles), which is only twice the area of Manhattan. Everything is within easy biking (or even walking) distance.
✓ Walk everywhere downtown
To walk from one extreme corner of downtown Vancouver to the other only takes forty minutes. And it’s mostly flat. So if you’re in the middle of downtown, nothing is more than an easy twenty-minute walk away.
✓ Beware of Skid Row
The area between Gastown and “Chinatown”, centered on the intersection of Hastings and Main, is called the Downtown Eastside.
For fellow fans of The Wire, it’s Vancouver’s version of Hamsterdam. It’s where all the city’s—and really much of Canada’s—drug addicts and untreated mentally ill people are concentrated.
If you go, you will see people injecting themselves with drugs in broad daylight and high out of their minds, screaming at everyone and anyone.
✓ Don’t be scared of Skid Row, though
Early on in our Airbnb hosting days, we neglected to warn a couple of innocent first-time traveler Chinese girls about this, and they returned in shock.
They, and you, needn’t be scared, though.
The area is heavily policed and totally safe. In fact, we recommend walking through it once to experience the gritty underbelly of beautiful Vancouver. Plus you can buy really cheap stuff they’ve recovered from dumpsters and stolen and sell on the sidewalk.
(Bonus fun fact: The term skid row, which now refers to an impoverished urban area, originates from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In Vancouver’s early days, that’s where they once skidded (or dragged) logs.)
✓ For the real Chinatown, go to Richmond
Chinatown is not Chinatown. Not anymore. The epicenter of the Chinese community has moved south to Richmond (by the airport).
What was once Chinatown now has more hipster cafes and shops than Chinese stores.
✓ Don’t expect to do a day trip to Vancouver Island
We’re amazed by how many visitors think Vancouver Island and everything on it is super close to Vancouver.
It takes a good five hours to get to Victoria from Vancouver, for example.
One or two visitors we met pulled off a day trip nonetheless, but that’s crazy. If you want to go to Victoria or Vancouver Island, go for a few days. Or fly.
✓ Know that Vancouver Island is huge
While we’re on the topic of Vancouver Island, beware that it’s huge.
It’s not just some island beside Vancouver you explore in a day. It’s bigger than Belgium. Here are some fun comparisons of its size.
Getting Around Vancouver
✓ Take the SkyTrain into town from the airport
It’s sometimes faster than taxis and cheaper (unless you’re a group of three or more, in which case a taxi costs about the same).
✓ Use public transit
Many tourists we’ve met during our time as Airbnb hosts, Americans especially, tend to disregard public transit as an option because back home it’s dirty, unreliable, and inconvenient.
It’s the opposite here in Vancouver.
Everyone rides public transit in Vancouver and you should too.
✓ Hold on to your bus receipt
Any ticket you buy for Vancouver’s public transit system is valid for ninety minutes. You can ride as many times as you want during that period. As long as you’re on the bus/train/ferry when you’re ninety minutes expires, you’re fine.
✓ Know your transit zone
If you take the SkyTrain or the SeaBus outside of Vancouver’s city limits, you’ll need to pay extra for going into different zones. Check this map to be sure.
Note that you don’t have to pay extra for crossing zones if you’re only taking the bus; all bus rides are one zone.
✓ Know how to pay for public transit
Vancouver’s transit system accepts contactless Visa and Mastercard credit cards and Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.
If you don’t have such “high-tech” payment methods, you’ll need to pay exact change ($2.95 for one zone).
Your best bet if you’re staying longer or planning to use public transit a lot is to get a Compass Card. For $6 (refundable only at the Stadium-Chinatown station) it gets you about $0.50 off each ride and can be prepaid or linked to your credit card for automatic reloading.
✓ Ask the bus drivers, even if you’re not taking the bus
Unlike in many other cities, Vancouver’s bus drivers are generally friendly and helpful, so don’t be scared to ask them for directions or to let you know when it’s your stop.
✓ Rent-a-car by the minute
Vancouver is one of the world’s largest users of car2go, a car-sharing program that allows you to get into up and drop off vehicles wherever you’d like within the zone and pay by the minute. It’s as cheap as $0.32 per minute including gas and parking.
If you’re already a car2go member in another city in North America, you’re already cleared to use the service in Vancouver.
If not, you can still sign up. It’s a bit of a hassle—you have to send them your local driving records—but if you’re in Vancouver for a while it may be worth it.
✓ Put your bike on the bus to cover more ground
If you rent a bike (which we highly recommend) don’t be scared of putting it onto the racks on the front of busses or taking it on the SkyTrain. This allows you to cover more ground with one-way bike routes.
✓ Park your bike just about anywhere
There are tons of dedicated bike parking spots along the streets of Vancouver, but if none are nearby don’t hesitate to lock your bike to the nearest sign, parking meter, tree, or whatever looks secure and doesn’t get in the way of pedestrians and traffic.
Drinking and Smoking
✓ Don’t drink in public (…overtly)
The fine for drinking in public is hefty, $200+.
We do it anyways when we go for picnics on Sunset Beach (one of our top seven non-touristy things to do in Vancouver), for example, but we’re discrete. We pour the booze into cups or water bottles and hide the empties.
✓ Don’t expect great happy hour deals
Happy Hour is not that happy in Vancouver because there is a legal minimum price on alcoholic drinks—$5 per 20 oz. beer, $15 per 60 oz. jug, $3 per oz of liquor.
Don’t forget to add 15% taxes and 15%+ tip to those prices, too.
✓ Check out New Amsterdam
If you want to get a taste of BC bud, head to The New Amsterdam Cafe downtown. It’s the hub of the Vancouver’s weed culture.
Even if you don’t smoke weed and are just curious, it’s worth checking out and is one of the seven non-touristy things to do in Vancouver we recommend.
✓ Don’t look to buy alcohol at corner stores and supermarkets
You can only buy it in government BC Liquor stores (cheaper) or designated cold beer and wine stores (more expensive).
Food and Drink
✓ Don’t just go for sushi or ramen
For some reason, everyone who comes to Vancouver thinks they need to eat sushi or ramen.
Go ahead, but we recommend trying other Japanese food, too.
Go to Kingyo. It’s Kim’s favorite and she’s a half-Japenese food fanatic, so she knows what she’s talking about.
✓ Drink the tap water
Our water is potable and is clean and delicious because it comes from up high in the beautiful mountains that help make Vancouver one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Drink it and don’t be sucked into getting one of those We ♥ Van water bottles. To Vancouverites, those don’t say you “♥ Van.” They say you’re too lazy or unconscientious to fill up your own bottle from the tap.
✓ Eat the free fruit
In the summer and spring, you’ll likely see a lot of berries in the bushes along the streets and in the city’s parks.
Ones to look out for are blackberries, huckleberries, thimbleberries, blueberries, salmonberries, and salal.
To learn more about not just berries, but other local edible plants and mushrooms too, try a foraging class, which is one of the cool things to do in Vancouver we highly recommend.
✓ Experience some one-of-a-kind Vancouver dining
For our recommendations on unique and unforgettable food experiences like subs from the Sandwich Nazi and crazy bubble tea, don’t miss our post on only-in-Vancouver dining experiences.
✓ Go to these places for the best California roll sushi
The California roll was invented in Vancouver. And, based on our blind taste test of Vancouver California rolls, the best one might be from the restaurant it was invented, Tojo’s. Either that or it’s from the all-you-can-eat sushi place across the street, Tomokazu.
✓ Go to these places for the best ice cream or gelato
We also blind taste tested gelatos from all across the city. To the chagrin of the local economy and hipsters everywhere… the winner was Haagen Dazs. But there were some local, artisanal standouts too. Read our Vancouver ice cream and gelato post to see who came second, third… and last.
✓ Don’t just say “Thank you”
You’re expected to tip for hotel services ($1-2 per bag to the bell boy, $2-5 per night for the maid, $10-20 to a helpful concierge), at restaurants (15-20%), at bars ($0.50-2 per drink), spas and beauticians/barbers (10%), and taxi drivers (10%).
✓ Just wear something
Vancouver is possibly the world’s least-stylish city. People often wear whatever they feel like in public. You can fit in by doing the same.
Or go to Wreck Beach, one of our favorite beaches in Vancouver, and wear nothing at all!
✓ Please don’t use an umbrella
Most Vancouverites wear their rain jackets instead of carry umbrellas. Or they don’t use any rain protection because, as we said before, it rarely rains that hard.
(Note: Not all Vancouverites agree with this tip, but some, especially taller ones like Chris, will hate you for threatening their eyeballs with umbrellas.)
✓ Plan to explore Can-Asia
Many guests we’ve hosted thought they’d landed in the wrong continent when they got to the airport because Vancouver is the world’s most Asian city outside of Asia. Forty-seven percent of its population is of Asian descent.
This Asian-ness is a huge part of our culture, so plan to explore it (especially the food) as part of your trip
✓ Be Green
Being so close to nature and the home of David Suzuki and Greenpeace has made us Vancouverites very environmentally sensitive. You should be too, at the very least while you’re here.
If you have empty bottles or glasses, look for a recycling bin to put them in. And only get bags from stores if you really need them.
✓ Don’t worry about standing out as a tourist
Vancouver is such a multicultural city that regardless of your accent, skin color, fashion, or whatever, as long as you don’t have a big camera around your neck and an “I ♥ VanCity” hat on, nobody will think you’re a tourist.
✓ Don’t call them “Indians”
…unless they’re actually from India.
Refer to the area’s original inhabitants as Aboriginal people or First Nations people instead.
Miscellaneous Vancouver Travel Tips
✓ Beware that things cost more than they appear
Listed prices never include tax, which are normally an extra 14%. And then there’s the tip you’re expected to pay at restaurants and bars, and for other services. (See tip on tipping.)
✓ Go to these places to buy souvenirs
Kitschy souvenirs are most easily found in Gastown.
Get maple syrup or packaged smoked salmon from a supermarket instead of a souvenir shop to save money.
✓ Check these sites for more Vancouver travel tips, info, and events
- Airbnb’s City Guide: It compiles the insider tips from hosts around the city. It’s better than Google Reviews, TripAdvisor, Yelp, or whatever else.
- Tourism Vancouver’s info sheets they share with media are better than anything the media then shares with the public.
- The Daily Hive is a good resource for seeing what events are going on in the city today.
Comment Below! (Please)
If you have any questions, or if you have any Vancouver travel tips to add, please share them in the comments below.
Just think of how much you would have appreciated if someone had shared them with you.
Just the Tip(s) of the Iceberg
For a lot more Vancouver travel tips that’ll help you have an unforgettable trip in Vancouver, check out these posts:
- Essential Guide
- Things to Do