Trish is a new friend, fellow Canadian, and avid traveller. She lives in the beautiful West End of downtown Vancouver, just steps away from everything. She developed this guide to share with her visiting friends and relatives. She has generously agreed to share her tips here. -updated July 2022
Welcome to Vancouver!
Here's a few tips and hints that you'll want to consider when visiting this amazing city. We are the largest city in British Columbia, but we are not the capital city -- that's Victoria. You'll be able to visit Victoria by taking a ferry over to Vancouver Island. That's a trip well worth scheduling into your visit. I have a separate guide to Victoria, which will be shared on this blog next month.
This guide is centred on downtown Vancouver and the more practical aspects of visiting our fair city -- how to get around and some places to eat in the downtown area.
YVR (Vancouver) airport is on a subway-type transit line with some elevated portions, which is why locals often refer to it as “Skytrain”. The Canada Line travels to and from the airport (airport departures incur an extra $5 fee for a total cost of $9.75). Taxis operating from the airport use zone pricing. Most areas of downtown will cost $32. We do have UBER, but it came in just before Covid hit and while I have used it in other countries I have not here.
Transit here is generally very reliable and is perfectly safe. The public transportation system includes three Skytrain lines, buses and a sea bus route that crosses Vancouver Harbour between downtown and the suburb of North Vancouver.
TransLink has an excellent trip planner feature that is very useful in organizing your travels around the city and immediate suburbs. Downtown Vancouver is very compact and walkable and has the usual city parking issues: a car would probably be a nuisance. Other handy TransLink pages include a handy Visitor’s Guide
The SeaBus passenger ferry between Vancouver and North Vancouver is a pretty unique addition to the Vancouver transit system. A SeaBus trip across the water, typically departs every 15 minutes and includes gorgeous harbour views. On the North Vancouver side, the Lonsdale Quay includes a lovely market and access to waterfront paths. Both sides are transit hubs.
Around the Granville Island/Science Museum area known as False Creek, we also have a little series of walk on passenger boats called Aqua bus. These leftovers from Expo 86 are just great fun as well as a very good way to see multiple neighbourhoods and coffee shops.
We do have a hop-on hop-off bus. I do them in other cities but have never done it here!
I recommend staying in the Shipyards District in North Vancouver. It has great views across to Vancouver, is located right at Sea Bus terminal (part of transit system) which gives easy access to downtown Vancouver. Look for the free walking tours by the Shipyard Pals, an immersive tour produced by the Museum of North Vancouver (Monova) that traces the history of the shipyards and their role in WWII. It's highly reviewed by both visitors and locals. During the summer season the tours run on Thursdays and Sundays at 11am and 1pm. To join the group, meet at the foot of Lonsdale and Victory Ship Way.
If you want to stay in the downtown area, any hotel along Robson Street would be fine. Some of these hotels may be a bit older but you might be able to get a room with a kitchenette. Anything in Coal Harbour or west of Granville in the downtown core is fine but avoid the East side. AirBnBs are more challenging in Metro Vancouver with most municipalities putting huge restrictions on short-term rentals. The YWCA Hotel gets excellent reviews... its run as a non-profit social enterprise and all the proceeds go to benefit single mothers and families.
Tourism Vancouver puts out an excellent resource for planning activities.
The Canada Line travels between downtown Vancouver and Richmond, with the line splitting at the River Rock Casino stop to head either into Richmond or to the airport. Interesting places to visit along this route include historic Gastown, trendy Yaletown, beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park, the River Rock Casino, Asian-influenced malls and restaurants, and the biggest Asian Night Market in North America.
The Expo Line operates two routes. One route operates between Waterfront Station and King George Station and the second route operates between Waterfront Station and Production Way–University Station. Along this line is Science World, Chinatown, The Drive, the Metrotown Mall and New Westminster.
The Millenium Line/Evergreen Extension is mainly a commuter route but there are some good restaurants and breweries along the route. The Metro Vancouver Convention and Visitor's Bureau has created a guide to dining along this route, called Dine the Millenium Line that looks worthwhile.
Food and Restaurants
Here is a map of the downtown area:
Area A includes the very expensive Pan Pacific Hotel, our two convention centres and the Plaza of Nations with the Olympic torch. It's a wonderful two-level area, surrounded by restaurants offering views of seaplanes and Stanley Park. It also includes the SeaBus and SkyTrain terminals The area between here and the Gastown and Chinatown area is safe to walk through in the daytime, but you would not want to stay there or walk alone at night.
You'll see the Tourist Information Office noted on the map with a yellow "I". It's a small kiosk located in the Plaza of Nations. Nearby is the start of a sea wall that goes for miles, or I guess we should say kilometres. It is 11 km completely around Stanley Park and takes about two hours.
Area B, the other end of the seawall path, is a lively area along English Bay. Warm summer days finds this area crowded with beachgoers, cyclists, and runners. Denman Street has cafes, gelato, restaurants, bars and an artsy vibe. Two coffee shops close by on Denman are Cafe Portrait, a tiny hole in the wall place with picnic tables out front (a positive for Covid) and across the street is Delaney’s Coffee House-a local chain. Both are good for people watching.
The West End used to be the Gay District and continues to be very gay-friendly but is now an even more diverse, happening neighbourhood. Vancouver is known for a liveable downtown that continues throughout the evening instead of emptying out like so many American cities.
The Cactus Club is chef Rob Feenie's upscale chain restaurant with consistently good food. There are several locations in the area. The prices include a $20 hamburger, a bit higher price point for other entrees and a good drink menu. Other regional and reliable restaurants include Earls, Joey's, Milestones, and Tap and Barrel. Cardero's in Coal Harbour, with its stunning views, is very good and always busy. Robson Street has a good selection of ethnic restaurants closer to Denman end. Walking south along Robson will bring you to higher-end retail stores closer to Burrard Street.
Area C is Granville Island, a former industrial area turned trendy Public Market. Along with many grab and go options available in the marketplace, the island is also home to some fine dining experiences. Bridges Restaurant and the award-winning Dockside Restaurant in the charming Granville Island Hotel are just two of the island's restaurants with wonderful patios and killer views.
I hope you'll find these tips and hints useful and that you'll enjoy your visit to our beautiful city.
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