Vancouver is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. I love how you can be in the city doing normal urban things one second and then, two minutes later, you’re out in the wilderness hiking beautiful mountains. Vancouver really does have the best of both worlds.
From the art scene, food scene, microbrew and markets on Granville Island, incredible urban parts to get lost in, and everything in between, Vancouver is a city you should devote lots of time to visiting. Don’t rush your visit. There are few places I’d live but Vancouver is one of them. The city is rich with history, awesome Japanese food, incredible music, parks, and a high quality of life.
This travel guide to Vancouver will help point the way by giving you tips on what to see, costs, suggested budgets, ways to save money, and everything else you need to plan a great trip to one of the best cities in the world!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Vancouver
1. Explore Grouse Mountain
2. Visit Granville Island
3. Visit Stanley Park
4. Walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge
5. Go whale watching
Other Things to See and Do in Vancouver
1. Watch a sporting event
This city is full of sporting events. If you like football, see if there’s a BC Lions game on. However, Canada is hockey country, so if you want to get swept up in the excitement of a real Canadian sport then definitely check out a hockey game if possible (the Vancouver Canucks play at the Rogers Arena, and sometimes it’s possible to score NHL tickets for cheap). During the summer, Vancouverites are passionate about the White Caps soccer team.
2. Hike in Lynn Canyon Park
This park is a free fun half-day trip. There’s a suspension bridge, mini-hikes, swimming holes, and waterfalls around Lynn Creek. This is a good alternative to crowded Capilano, even if the bridge isn’t quite as tall at 150 feet high. However, it offers a bird’s eye view of the fast-paced river of rapids, waterfalls, and pools.
3. Stroll down Robson Street
This is the street to be for dining and window shopping (and people watching). It has a ton of international flavors, and you’ll find ramen shops next to hipster cafes and sushi spots and taquerias. Sit down at an izakaya (a Japanese pub) and take it all in.
4. Let it hang out at Wreck Beach
As the only nude beach in the city, Wreck Beach is a community of naked folks hanging out, sunbathing, swimming, and playing music. This is one of the last remaining places to embody the free-spiritedness that Vancouver was famous for in the seventies. It’s located in Pacific Spirit Regional Park.
5. Take a food tour
Vancouver is a foodie destination. Vancouver Foodie Tours comes highly recommended as their tours focus on specific neighborhoods like Gastown and Granville Island. You’ll get to eat at up to eight different places, tasting local favorites like pork belly crackling, tempura bacon eggs, and more. Tickets start at $95 CAD ($72 USD).
6. Eat at the Richmond Night Market
Between May and September, one of the coolest spots in the city is the Richmond Night Market. Inspired by markets throughout Asia, the Richmond Night Market combines Asian food, culture, and shopping. Snacks ranging from dumplings to meat on a stick and everything in between is available from $2-8 CAD ($1.50-6 USD).
7. Explore the Vancouver Art Gallery
The collection of national and international contemporary artwork here is phenomenal. With over 9,000 works of art, you could easily spend an entire afternoon here. There’s a whole exhibit devoted to Emily Carr, British Columbia’s favorite historical artist and there’s often late-night parties with live music. Tickets are $24 CAD ($18 USD). Tuesday evenings are pay what you want.
8. Go to The Lookout
Located in the downtown Harbour Centre, this building is 430 feet high and the perfect place to check out the city. You’ll be whisked to the observation deck in a glass elevator for panoramic views over Vancouver, the mountains, and the ocean. Tickets are $18 CAD ($14 USD).
9. Visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
The first authentic classical Chinese garden built outside of China, this sanctuary is in the heart of the city and has been named the top city garden in the world by National Geographic. Covered walkways, ponds filled with koi fish, 150-year-old miniature trees, and tai hu rock from China all tie together a tranquil spot to walk and reflect. It was built using 14th-century methods, which means no power tools, glue, or screws were used. Admission is $14 CAD ($11 USD).
10. Explore Gastown
Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, having grown from a single tavern founded in 1867. Nowadays, it’s a trendy place full of restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, and bars (like The Flying Pig and Rodney’s Oyster House). Take a walk around the old historic buildings, admire the Steam Clock, and visit the statue of Gassy Jack Deighton (the man who started the tavern all those years ago).
11. Visit Yaletown
Yaletown is a recently-converted industrial neighborhood that’s now home to some of the city’s most popular eateries and pubs. All the cool young kids like to hang out here. Spend some time at David Lam Park or George Wainborn Park, walk along the Seawall, admire the street art, or grab lunch on one of the neighborhood’s patios.
Vancouver Travel Costs
Hostel prices – You will spend about $46 CAD ($35 USD) per night for a bed in a four-six person dorm. A dorm with eight beds or will cost from $37 CAD ($28 USD) per night but can often be as much as the smaller dorm rooms.
A standard twin private room starts from about $88 CAD ($66 USD) per night for two people but averages about $120 CAD ($90 USD).
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about $186 CAD ($140 USD) in the center of town.
Airbnb is available everywhere in Vancouver, with shared accommodation (like a bed in a shared room starting at $56 CAD ($42 USD) per night. For a private room expect to pay about $73 CAD ($55 USD) per night, while a full apartment starts from $160 CAD ($120 USD) per night.
Food – Vancouver has tons of international food spots, with lots of fast food and street food. You’ll find everything from Vietnamese bahn mi for $6 CAD ($4.50 USD), to hearty all-day breakfasts for less than $10 CAD ($7.50 USD), to Jamaican patties for $3 CAD ($2.25 USD) each. Quality sushi is super affordable, with bento boxes costing as little as $10 CAD ($7.50 USD), while big bowls of ramen go for $12 CAD ($9 USD). Cambodian noodles are as little as $8.25 CAD ($6.20 USD).
A meal at McDonald’s will cost about $10 CAD ($7.50 USD). A meal at an inexpensive restaurant is about $20 CAD ($15 USD) for a burger with fries. A beer will cost you about $5.40 USD ($7 CAD). A meal at a higher-end restaurant will cost you about $40 CAD ($30 USD) for a steak entree without a drink, and $26 CAD ($20 USD) for a pasta dish.
If you cook for yourself, you can spend as little as $65 CAD ($50 USD) on groceries per week which would include some meat, bread, eggs, rice/pasta, some veggies, and fruit.
Some of my favorite places to eat in the city are Ask for Luigi, Salt, Ramen Danbo, Phnom Penh, and the market on Granville Island.
Backpacking Vancouver Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Vancouver, expect to spend about $94 CAD ($71 USD) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a big hostel dorm room, eating street food and cooking some of your meals, using local transportation, doing free activities, and visiting one attraction per day, like the art gallery. Cooking most of your meals and limiting your drinking can lower this budget!
On a mid-range budget of $178 CAD ($134 USD) per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb room or a private hostel room, eat at mid-range restaurants, cook some of your meals, rent a bicycle to get around or use public transit, and do more activities, like visit Capilano.
On a luxury budget of $597 CAD ($450 USD) or more per day in Vancouver, you’ll stay in a four-star hotel, eat at nicer restaurants, do paid tours like a food tour or whale watching, be able to taxi anywhere, drink what you want, and really do anything you want in the city. It’s yours for the taking.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Vancouver Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Vancouver is easily one of the most expensive cities in Canada. Even on a budget, you’ll spend more than you’re anticipating as costs (especially drinks add up quickly). Even hostels are expensive here. So, it’s important to find other ways to slash your costs. Here are some of my ways to save money in Vancouver during your visit:
- Take advantage of the free parks and gardens – If you want to spend the day outside but not spend a lot of money, walk around the many parks and gardens the city has to offer. To really get a sense of the city, rent a bike.
- Get discounted entertainment – If you want to experience the cultural side of Vancouver, use ticketstonight.ca to look for half-priced entertainment tickets.
- Look for the happy hours – The Ultimate Happy Hours website lists all the happy hour drink and food specials around Vancouver. They update with new info frequently!
- Buy same-day sports tickets – The Tourism Vancouver Visitors’ Centre offers “Tickets Tonight,” which are half-priced tickets on sports events for the evening.
- Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery on a Tuesday – After 5PM on Tuesdays, admission to the Vancouver Art Gallery is by donation only ($10 CAD/$7.50 USD is recommended).
- Ski at night – Lift tickets at hills like Grouse Mountain are discounted in the evening hours.
- Indulge at food trucks – Vancouver loves the food-truck scene, and there’s no better way to try a sampling of different cuisines at a low price. Find them scattered throughout the city, especially during the summer.
- Use coupon sites – If you know your stops ahead of time, monitor sites like Living Social and Groupon for local deals and saving. There are always good listings on some top restaurants and attractions.
- Couchsurf – As Vancouver is not the most budget-friendly destination, you’ll be able to cut down on your costs by couchsurfing. Just be sure to book ahead during the summer, as that is prime tourist season.
- Take a free walking tour – Walking tours are a great way to get familiar with a city and the culture. Strawberry Tours and Tour Guys offer several different options around town. (Be sure to tip!)
- Bundle your tickets – Vancouverattractions.com lets you purchase tickets in advance, and you can save up to 30% when you buy even just two tickets. This includes popular attractions like Capilano and The Lookout.
Where To Stay in Vancouver
Vancouver has lots of hostels to choose from, and they’re spread out all over the city. These are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Vancouver:
For more hostel suggestions, here’s a list of my 6 favorite hostels in Vancouver!
How to Get Around Vancouver
Train – The Canada Line and SkyTrain Rapid Transit system are the most common modes of transportation for getting around Vancouver. These trains cover just about anywhere you need to go. A one-way ticket costs $3-5.75 CAD ($2.26-4.35 USD), depending on the number of zones.
A day pass is $10.50 CAD ($7.90 USD) for all zones. Translink.ca will help you find schedules and plan your route.
You can also purchase a Compass Card to load with money, which requires a $6 CAD ($4.50 USD) deposit to activate. You can order online, by phone, or at one of the station’s vending machines. Fares are $2.95 CAD ($2.20 USD) for one zone, $4.20 CAD ($3.15 USD) for two zones, or $5.70 CAD ($4.30 USD) for three zones.
The Canada Line is by far the smartest way to get to and from the airport. You can take Canada Line to get to the city center for under $13 CAD ($9.80 USD).
Bus – Vancouver’s bus system works just like the trains, but they only operate on a one zone fare. Cash tickets are not transferable to the SeaBus or the train, but you can use your Compass Card here as well.
Night buses continue running after the trains have stopped for the evening, so sometimes they’re your only way to get around.
SeaBus – SeaBus is also run by Translink.ca, and is a passenger-only ferry connecting Downtown Vancouver with the North Shore. Fares are the same.
Taxi – Taxis are not cheap. Their base rate is $3.50 CAD ($2.65 USD), and it’s an additional $1.89 CAD ($1.42 USD) per kilometer afterwards. A ten-kilometer journey should cost about $23 CAD ($17 USD).
Bicycle – Vancouver is a very bike-city friendly, and there are plenty of bicycle rental businesses around town. The public bike rental system is Mobi, which costs $12 CAD ($9 USD) per day for unlimited 30-minute rides.
When to Go to Vancouver
Vancouver is busiest in the summer. It’s hot and sunny all the time (although June can be rainy), with temperatures averaging about 78°F (25°C) per day. Everyone makes the most of these gorgeous days, and the city comes to life with people enjoying the great outdoors. This is when accommodation rates are the highest, however.
Winters in Vancouver are mild and sometimes wet, with temperatures averaging about 42°F (6°C). However, from here you can hit the slopes around Grouse Mountain or head out to Whistler. Vancouver has some of the best snow conditions for skiing and snowboarding in Canada!
Vancouver’s shoulder seasons are spring and fall. Spring can be cool and sometimes rainy in comparison to summer, but April and May are prime whale-watching months. In the fall, September is still warm and ideal for hiking and other outdoor activities. Prices are lower during the shoulder seasons, and there are fewer crowds. Overall, the shoulder seasons make the best time to visit.
How to Stay Safe in Vancouver
Vancouver is very safe, and you’re unlikely to be targeted during your visit. Your greatest risk is a petty crime, like pick-pocketing. You should be cautious around some areas of the city, like Downtown Eastside, but mostly avoid walking through here alone at night.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move somewhere else.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Vancouver! Follow that rule, and you’ll avoid being the victim of petty crime.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Vancouver Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Vancouver. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Canada, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Vancouver Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Vancouver, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Vancouver
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Vancouver
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Vancouver Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden
As amazing as Canada is, like most other colonized countries its history is steeped in violent, bloody conflict…especially with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. This book takes place in the wilderness of 17th-century Canada, following the lives of a missionary, a young Iroquois girl, and a great warrior of the Huron Nation. The Huron have always battled the Iroquois – but now the tribes face the threat of settlers from Europe. It’s a jarring, graphic read and you won’t be able to put it down.
Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw: Travels in Search of Canada, by Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson and his travel adventures are laugh-out-loud funny. He’s like the Canadian version of Bill Bryson. This travel memoir is about Ferguson’s three years crisscrossing Canada, with adventures as far flung as the subarctic to the Underground Railroad. He goes coast to coast from the colorful neighborhoods of St. John’s to the idyllic streets of Victoria, encountering interesting people and offbeat attractions along the way (yes, there’s a place called Moose Jaw).
In the Skin of a Lion, by Michael Ondaatje
Considered a true Canadian classic, In the Skin of a Lion follows Patrick Lewis as he arrives in Toronto in the 1920s where he earns his money searching for a disappeared millionaire and tunneling beneath Lake Ontario. His life intersects with other special characters along the way, giving us a smart, passionate story that blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Alias Grace, by Margaret Atwood
You can’t have a Canadian reading list without some Margaret Atwood! The year is 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for the murders of her employer and his mistress (also the housekeeper). However, Grace has no memories of these vicious murders, and so an expert in mental illness steps in to seek a pardon for her. He listens to her story as it gets closer and closer to the day she can’t remember. This book is disturbing but completely captivating, especially if you’re already a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
This is a beautiful book (and a really great movie too). A Pulitzer Prize winner, this story follows Quoyle, a newspaper hack who gets thrown out of his regular, mundane life when his wife dies. He moves back to his stark and remote ancestral home of Newfoundland with his two young daughters, where the local delicacy is cod cheeks and it’s easier to travel by boat and snowmobile than by car. This book reads like poetry. It’s beautiful, and although it’s fiction it gives you plenty of insight into the uniqueness of Canada’s easternmost province.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Vancouver
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Vancouver Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Canada and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 2