29 March 2020

Vancouver Travel Guide 2020

Getting There:

We flew Air Canada from Heathrow, which takes about 10 hours. Other airlines running direct flights include British Airways.
Customs at Vancouver airport was relatively quick, with a pre-desk machine processing your passport and entry.
Take the Canada Line SkyTrain (subway) to downtown for connections.

Where To Stay:

Like many North American cities, Vancouver is clamping down on private rentals like AirBnB and Flipkey. If your rental is unregistered then the owner can be fined and you can be evicted. We found a nice place on the waterfront near Davie Village.
Of course there are plenty of hotels, but prices can go sky-high if there is a convention or trade show in town. Choose your dates carefully.

Getting Around:

There are three subway lines which are mainly for commuters. You're more likely to take one of the numerous buses, but the summer climate is such that walking and cycling are often the easiest.
We each got a Compass Card at the airport ($6) and then topped up with $40 credit, which lasted us the whole fortnight.
Bus app: RADAR https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/radar-metro-vancouver-buses/id646651988

What To See:

Waterfront walk: all round the creek
This walk starts at David Lam park in Yorktown and finishes at Charleson Park near Spruce Harbour. Without stops, it takes about an hour, but there are lots of sights and food stops.
Ferries: the False Creek Ferries are tiny bobbing boats that run all over the creek, zigzagging from pier to pier. Tickets are about $4 or you can get a day pass for $16. https://granvilleislandferries.bc.ca/

Waterfront walk: Granville Island and Kitsilano to the Museum of Anthropology
While you can walk all the way round, there are some boring suburban streets blocking the waterfront, so we have put in a bus shortcut for you. This walk would be a day in itself, if you stop off at all the attractions.

Downtown Top Spots:

Bonus food fact:
Vancouver has the world's largest concentration of downtown foodtrucks - so many in fact, that you need an app just to keep track of which days they are allocated and their locations.
App: https://streetfoodapp.com/vancouver

Vancouver Cinematheque
1131 Howe Street
For film lovers, The Cinematheque has a great range of vintage moves, often 2 or 3 a day. We saw Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place and the atmosphere was superb.

In the heart of downtown, this revitalised area has great shops (Herschel https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/herschel-supply-vancouver-store-gastown-photos) and eateries (Tacofino https://www.tacofino.com/location/taco-bar), and commemorates its history with a steam-powered clock that plays tunes!

Davie Village:
This was our neighbourhood for a fortnight. We also timed it well to coincide with Vancouver Pride, whose parade goes from Stanley Park to downtown through the heart of the village. There were celebrations for several nights, and we had brunch at Forage (https://foragevancouver.com/#home) with great views of the parade. There are grocery stores all along Davie Street, plus branches of Fatburger (perfect for a first night blow-out, https://locations.fatburger.com/canada/bc/davie-st-(vancouver)/1067-davie-street), La Belle Patate (so many different poutines, https://westcoastpoutine.wixsite.com/labellepatatevan) and Banana Leaf (great Malaysian cuisine with a 9 course tasting menu and wine pairing, https://www.bananaleaf-vancouver.com/menu).

West End:
Roedde House Museum, 1415 Barclay, 2 blocks south of Robson at Nicola, https://www.roeddehouse.org/website/index.php/en/
St Paul's Anglican Church, 1130 Jervis Street, https://www.stpaulsanglican.bc.ca/
Cora Breakfast & Lunch, 1368 Robson Street,  https://www.chezcora.com/en/breakfast-restaurants/british-columbia/Cora-Robson-Street

Many people just hop off the subway here and get straight on a bus home. But as well as a transit hub, it also has a great food village on Mainland Street. We visited another branch of Tacofino (https://www.tacofino.com/location/yaletown-burrito-bar) and were severely tempted by West Oak, and The Greek By Anatoli.

Broadway and Main Street walk:
This also takes about an hour end to end, not allowing for stops.
  • Start at West Broadway and Burrard Street, and walk east. You get post offices, chain stores and decent restaurants. What we are after though are the random finds:
  • (It means you miss the delights of Amy's Loonie-Toonie Town, discount store (loonie = $1, toonie = $2), 2582 W Broadway (south of Kitsilano), but no matter)
  • Book Warehouse, 632 West Broadway (at Ash), independent bookstore, https://www.bookwarehouse.ca/
  • Yolks, 546 West Broadway (at Cambie), the best poached eggs and pancakes, https://www.yolks.ca/
  • At Cambie Street, head south and walk to City Hall. Look for the statue of Captain Vancouver, not a superhero but a rather vain main who gave his name to the city.
  • Go back to Broadway and keep going east. Buses 9 and 99 run all day if you need a boost.
  • Once you get to Main Street, head south.
  • Bird On A Wire, 2535 Main Street (at East Broadway), https://birdonawirecreations.com/ now also at 2950 West Broadway
  • Urban Source, 3126 Main Street (at 16th), art materials, http://www.urbansource.bc.ca/
  • Vancouver Special, 3612 Main Street (at 20th), furniture and homewares, https://shop.vanspecial.com/pages/contact
  • Regional Assembly of Text (at 23rd), 3934 Main Street, stationery and gifts, https://www.assemblyoftext.com/
  • You can probably stop here and head back to Broadway. Bus 3 will get you there.
  • Now head 2 blocks north and 2 blocks east.
  • Dude Chilling Park, Guelph Park, 2390 Brunswick Street, https://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/new-public-art-in-guelph-park.aspx and Chill! Bonus marks if you find the statue of a chilling metal dude.

Queen Elizabeth Park: this large park to the south of town has a rose garden, pavilion and conservatory. https://vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/queen-elizabeth-park.aspx
Also in the park is Scotiabank Field, home of the Vancouver Canadians baseball team
Take the Canada Line to King Edward Station, then walk, or take bus 33 through the park.

One more good mall to visit is Oakridge Centre, https://www.oakridgecentre.com/, which is on the Canada Line subway, only 12 minutes from Yaletown. It has a massive Crate and Barrel homewares store, Apple, Banana Republic, Hudson's Bay, and lots of restaurants.

Days Out:


This is a commuter city south of Vancouver, with lots of districts which are concentrations of immigrants from different parts of Asia. Wherever you go, you are guaranteed great food and great shopping. Travel on the Canada Line to Brighouse station and go to the Richmond Centre first. This is a great mall with 200 stores (think Apple, H&M, Old Navy, Uniqlo). Also a post office (come on, you need to send some postcards by now!)
Walk west to Minoru Park, which has Richmond Library, Art Gallery, and Museum, telling more about the different communities and how and where they settled. There's a Farmer's Market every Tuesday afternoon.

It's then a roughly 45 minute walk through the neighbourhood to the Aberdeen Centre. You can just go 2 stops on the subway if you prefer.
Halfway is Lansdowne Centre, we liked The Best Shop which has lots of Chinese-made goods.
A great place to stop for lunch is at Chef Tony, 4600 No 3 Road, with amazing dim sum. http://cheftonycanada.com/en/

When you arrive at the Aberdeen Centre you will find loads of gift shops and accessories stores from Japan, China, Korea and beyond. Our favourite is Oomomo (previously Daiso) https://www.oomomostore.com/, which is also in the International Village Mall in downtown, a similarly Asian-themed mall.
Finally hop back on the Canada Line to downtown Vancouver.

North Vancouver:

There's a free shuttle from Library Square and Canada Place to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, in North Vancouver https://www.capbridge.com/. There's a cliff walk, a 70m high glass bridge, a treetops walk, and historical exhibits. Further into the mountains is Grouse Mountain, with ziplines, skiing and skating https://www.grousemountain.com/.
Bus 236 takes you back from both to Lonsdale Quay, where you can catch the ferry back to Waterfront station in downtown.
Lonsdale is a nice neighbourhood to explore anyway, with a market, the Polygon Gallery, and a waterfront park. https://vancouversnorthshore.com/neighbourhood/lower-lonsdale/

Vancouver Island and Victoria:

You have various options for visiting Vancouver Island and its capital Victoria. The most expensive is to take a seaplane from the harbour with https://www.harbourair.com/ (30 minutes, $250). By far the easiest and cheapest is to book a one-day tour with a pick-up from your hotel or lodging.
There are plenty of companies that do this, we chose Landsea Tours (https://vancouvertours.com/tour/victoria-butchart-gardens-tour/) and there are also https://westcoastsightseeing.com/guided_tours/victoria-butchart-gardens-tour/ and https://www.discovercanadatours.com/tour/victoria-sightseeing-tour/

You book online in advance so they know where to find you. We walked 5 minutes to the nearest hotel and were picked up by a minibus and cheery guide. After a few other stops we were driven to the ferry port and told lots of facts by our guide. The ferry crossing is very scenic, we chose to upgrade to the Seawest Lounge (around $10) with free snacks and soft drinks. https://www.bcferries.com/onboard-experiences/amenities/seawest.html

The ferry docks at Swartz Bay and then it's back on the bus for the trip to Victoria. This is a large town with plenty of shops and restaurants, and picturesque buildings. Chinatown is a highlight, and the best street food court is Victoria Public Market https://victoriapublicmarket.com/. Top shop was Munro Books, 1108 Government Street, in a large Art Deco building https://www.munrobooks.com/.

On the way back the bus stops at Butchart Gardens for a couple of hours. This is definitely worth a visit, and there are nice cafes and garden gift shops inside. The ferry travels back at sunset and you are dropped back at your hotel around 9pm.

Seattle and Portland:

These would each take more than a day, but are accessible by an Amtrak leaving from Vancouver's forgotten station, Pacific Central Station. You clear American customs at the station. Make sure you have an ESTA for the US, or if you don't, request a form CBP I-94 at the inspection desk. It only takes ten minutes to fill in, though the border patrol will not be pleased you have messed up their system. Rail does not count as a "land crossing", bizarrely.

The Amtrak Cascades takes 4 hours to Seattle, and 8 to Portland. You cannot reserve a seat when booking, but charming the check-in guard means you might get a Pacific-side seat for best views. On board they serve an excellent clam chowder, from Ivar's of Pier 54 (https://www.ivars.com/locations/seafood-bars)

Schedules are inconvenient to say the least. The train to Seattle is twice daily, with the first at 6.35am arriving 11am. An early start! The 5.45pm train gets in at 10.10pm so an Uber to your hotel is pretty vital. On the way back, 7.45am to 11.45am, or in the evening 7pm to 11pm. Amtrak services are often delayed by freight trains or problems elsewhere on the system. We got back to Vancouver after midnight (no apology, no delay repay) and found no buses or subway, so had to call a taxi.

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