Vancouver can mean a lot of things to people. It can be coffee, seafood, nature, a splendid dish of ramen, the best sushi you’ll find in BC, or perhaps an unforgettable night downtown.
Whether you are a newbie to Vancouver or staying in the city for a few months now, this short guide will help you experience Vancouver like a local. And even if you are already a Vancouverite, we also hope this guide is handy for you, reminding you of the city identity and inspiring you to do things and try foods you haven’t done in a while.
Things to Do & Places to Check
Ask any Vancouverite around and you’ll realize everyone has their own favorite neighbourhood in this city. Roaming around Vancouver is a fun way to discover the city’s many different neighbourhoods, however, there are some neighbourhoods dear to the heart of everyone. Plus, if you head to Gastown or Mount Pleasant, you’ll quickly realize why they are also culturally and historically important.
With its charming and authentic Victorian architecture, Gastown will quickly consume you. This is the city’s oldest neighborhood, and it’s essential to visit, see, and experience. Everything started out here, out of a single tavern called John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton somewhere in the 19th-century and then came a big city.
As you walk past Gastown’s Steam Clock, look for a free table at some of the local cafes with tidy patios and search for a fresh avo toast at Nelson the Seagull. Gastown is tucked between the life-pulsating Main Street and Hastings Street and should you be staying in Vancouver for an extended period of time, you’ll find yourself returning often enough to the area. Double that for Mount Pleasant.
2. Mount Pleasant (Main Street)
Mount Pleasant is another awesome neighborhood to check out once in the city. It’s an all-embracing, hip neighbourhood, filled with cool shops and heritage buildings -and out of pandemic times – definitely the heart of culture life in Vancouver.
Outside downtown, Mount Pleasant is the oldest Vancouver neighborhood. It’s also a quintessential neighbourhood to check if you are food tracking Vancouver. As you walk past its murals and old buildings, think of what you would like to eat next–noodles, tacos, vegan, sushi–there is everything. Perfect neighbourhood for strolling around the weekend like many fellow Vancouverites do and then picking up a place for enjoying top-notch food.
Now, most travel guides will also tell you to see Chinatown, which by all means is something we also suggest you do if you have plenty of days in Vancouver. This iconic neighborhood may be losing its shine from the past, currently undergoing also a gentrification, but still be certain you’ll find plenty enough food gems here as well. Walking past Chinatown’s terracotta Millenium gate is a bustling world of food, street stands, dim sum restaurants and whatnot from Asian food.
Besides attuning to Vancouver’s bustling city life, slot some time for the great outdoors. From the lush green forests in spring to the pearl-white mountains in winter, and the calm ocean bays at all seasons of the year, Vancouver is symbiotic with the wildlife and nature that surrounds it.
1. Capilano Suspension Bridge
Probably the most popular tourist outdoors attraction in Vancouver for summer and winter seasons. A plain suspension bridge that has grown iconic to Vancouver and has been featured in a couple of TV shows such as the Canadian supernatural drama, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven.
Grab a free shuttle that takes you there and enjoy both the bridge and the surrounding park and forest. The bridge is privately owned so there’s admission payment on arrival.
Address: 3735 Capilano Rd, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4J1
Grouse Mountain or Grouse Grind as we call it, is the ‘peak’ of Vancouver, hugging the city and being visible from any point in town. Reaching there should take you less than two hours (or an hour if you’re fit).
The perfect outdoor activity and hike to test your endurance with a hike through what’s mostly a bunch of nature-made stair masters.
Address: 6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver, BC V7R 4K9
This hike is just north of Vancouver, in the BC district of Squamish. One of the best-known hiking trails outside the city and you can also do rock climbing if you are into it. Renting a car might be a good idea to reach there.
Some will say that the Stanley Park Seawall is a touristy spot – but locals LOVE enjoying it just as much. When the summer is finally out in full force in Vancouver, it is hard not be stunned by the views and quality time the seawall can be.
So, if you don’t want to go “that far” like Grouse Grind or the Chief Hike, head to Stanley, the vast public park that lines Vancouver’s Downtown and offers a stunning view of the city’s skyline. You can walk or rent a bike while you remain surrounded by trees and water in the heart of the city.
4. English Bay
A crowded beach area downtown Vancouver, adjacent to the Stanley Park Seawall. Ideal for sunny days, to enjoy the beach, play volleyball or rent a kayak. Packed with all necessary beach amenities such as umbrellas and chairs for renting, public washrooms + parking + coffee.
Address: Beach Ave, Vancouver, BC V6C 3C1
Really, it’s difficult not to spend any time in nature once in Vancouver.
Eat Like a Local: Quick Food Guide
If you are a foodie, then Vancouver is a real match for you. Eat and drink like a local by checking out all places we list below in this section of the guide.
Coffee and snacks:
Nemesis. A laid back coffee shop you can easily find on Hastings Street in Gastown. Besides this place champions pour-over and espresso coffee, don’t miss their state-of-the-art cookies either.
Cafe La Forte. Want to send nice pictures back home to your friends and family while you enjoy a warm latte? Make yourself at home at Cafe La Forte. This place screams aesthetics and is certainly insta-worthy for your gram.
Phnom Penh. Packed every day for a reason that here they serve some of the best Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes in town. Find out why we start our Ultimate Vancouver Food Bucket List with a Holy Trinity from Phnom Penh. A life-changing food experience consisting of Butterbeef, Deep-Fried Chicken Wings, and Beef Luc Luc.
Banh Mi Saigon. A family-run Vietnamese food restaurant you’ll find on Victoria Drive; it has the best Vietnamese sandwiches with yummy ham, meatballs, meatloaf, and vegetables. It can be quite packed during weekends.
Chef Tony. This is an exquisite seafood restaurant you can visit in Richmond, run by one and only Chinese-Canadian chef Tony He. Try the squid ink ha gao and truffle siu mai. Boujie dim sum that is also an explosion of tastes in your mouth.
Bun Cha Ca Hoang Yen. For some of the most outstanding and memorable crab soup with vermicelli or an array of delicious pho dishes. Gets busy because this is not just another Vietnamese restaurant in town, so you must try this one as well.
You’ll easily spot all kinds of megamalls around Vancouver, but what’s really worth and smarter, especially if you are in a money-spending mood, then start with viewing the shops of Granville Island, Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant.
Both these neighbourhoods will captivate you not only because here stand some of Vancouver’s most awesome shops for clothes, furniture, and whatnot, but also because of the neighbourhoods’ colorful flower markets, culture venues, and more stunning restaurants you’ll immediately want to book a table at.
How to Get Around Vancouver
While you may do your fair share of walking around Vancouver, you’ll quickly want to start moving from your point A to your point B on wheels. Vancouver is huge, and most people move by car. So, if it works with your budget, perhaps you can take advantage of some of the rent-a-car services available in the city. Zipcar and Evo are two of the most popular Vancouver rent-a-car options. The plans are practical both if you need daily rent for a quick trip somewhere inside British Columbia, or if you need a car for more days of the week inside the city.
You can also use some of the public transport options or go biking.
If you are flying to Vancouver, perhaps the most practical rent-a-car option to consider is Evo. You can opt-in between other car-sharing options available at the airport, however, once you hop off the plane, you’ll be happy to know that Vancouver has some dedicated parking areas just for Evos which is nice. Check out their rates here.
Once you are accommodated and settled, ride hailing is also available. Both Uber and Lyft are available from the touch of your smartphone.
2. Public transport
You can also use Vancouver’s public transport and feel the vibe of the city through its buses and Skytrain. This, of course, is a much cheaper option, and maybe way more convenient to help you avoid getting stuck in car traffic which does get nasty on some days.
Getting around Vancouver is fairly easy transit wise. If you are heading from the airport to the city, the Canada Line’s Skytrain brings you to Richmond (basically Asia City), and all the way to popular Downtown neighbourhoods (like Robson, Yaletown and Gastown).
Alternate Skytrain lines like Millenium and Expo bring you to other municipalities and neighbourhoods such as Commercial Drive (Little Italy), Lougheed (Ktown), Chinatown, and Terminal (where the science world is & where Mount Pleasant starts).
We recommend that you get a day pass to save on costs if you aim to use public transport for the entire duration of your stay. Vancouver’s neighbourhoods fall under different zones, therefore it’s good to be aware that prices scale up depending on the zone. So, you’ll notice that the price is higher for zone 2 than for zone 1, and you’d need to pay the difference.
The zone system applies only for Skytrains as buses are all Zone 1. Buses are quite frequent for big streets, which makes going around Vancouver quite simple.
Finally, you would love that certain areas around Vancouver are very much bike-friendly. So, you can hit the bike lanes after renting a bike from the city.
Even if your time in Vancouver is limited, touring the city as we suggest you do in this short guide will give you a lifetime experience and will make you feel at least a little bit more like a true Vancouverite. Vancouver is a beautiful city, with beautiful people and amazing food. And if you’re looking to make your stay more unique, consider one of these Vancouver Airbnbs.