Vancouver: Tips, Tricks and Lessons Learned

I am now back home in the T-Dot and missing Vancouver like crazy. Honestly, the more I visit VanCity the harder it is for me to return to Toronto. I love my hometown, but what more could you ask for from a city like Vancouver that offers mountains, the ocean, the perfect balance of city and ‘burbs, a laid-back West Coast vibe…the more I write the more I miss it!

I got a tweet from my friends at Samesun Backpackers Lodges yesterday, asking how my latest trip went. I stayed at their Vancouver location for both of my trips out West, and they wanted to know if I had any tips for other travellers visiting at this time of the year. This inspired me to put together a list of things I learned from my most recent twelve-day stay.

This list is actually going to be a combination of tips and suggestions on things to do, places to see, restaurants to eat at, etc.

So here it is:

1. Vancouver is one of the most walkable cities I’ve ever visited. From the Samesun at 1018 Granville Street you could pretty much walk to anywhere in the downtown area within twenty minutes (give or take five minutes depending on your pace). The Samesun is also conveniently located close to the Burrard Street Bridge, the Granville Street Bridge and the Cambie Street Bridge — all of which take you out of the downtown core. Downtown is laid out in a grid pattern, much like New York City, and it doesn’t take you long to memorize the major north-south and east-west streets. Honestly, you could take the bus or SkyTrain, but walking the city gives you a better feel of its true character and lets you see things you might miss on public transportation. It’s also cheaper.

2. If you do decide to take any of the three methods of public transportation available in Vancouver (bus, SkyTrain or SeaBus), make sure you keep your ticket. A one-way fare is good for ninety minutes of travel and is transferable to all three vehicle types. You can take the bus over the Cambie Bridge to West Broadway, grab some lunch, and hop back on the same bus to return to your original location. It doesn’t matter if you backtrack, transfer at an intersection, or get back on the same bus route you just got off of — your one ticket covers you for an hour and a half. It took me a few days to figure this out as Toronto has a different method of doing things (for example, our bus transfers only let us transfer to intersecting bus routes), so I could have saved myself a few dollars had I known. But now, you do too.

Also just to note, all public transit in Vancouver is based on a “pay by fare zone” method (basically the farther you travel the more you pay). However, on weekdays after 6:30pm and weekends and holidays you only have to pay the regular fare for 1 Zone, regardless of how far you travel. You can definitely save a few bucks if you plan your transit time around this.

One more thing on public transit — if you’re flying into Vancouver DO NOT take a taxi from the airport to your destination. There’s a SkyTrain station that connects YVR with the Canada Line train. From the airport to the Samesun it will take you about 40-45 minutes, which includes the short walk to the hostel. It may be quicker to take a taxi but that will cost you at least $30, whereas the SkyTrain will at most cost you $9 (or if you’re flying in after 6:30pm or on a weekend, only $2.75 :))

Check out the TransLink website for trip planning, fare zones and anything else that’s transit-related.

3. Visit Stanley Park, regardless of the season. I like to think of Stanley Park as the Central Park of Vancouver, except it offers a seawall and full ocean views. There’s heaps of bicycle rental shops located near the park’s entrance, and dedicated bike paths located within. We rode the path that followed the perimeter of the park along the seawall. Depending on where you start, the distance around the perimeter is approximately eight to nine kilometers. We did it in about an hour and half at an easy pace, and that includes our stops at the totem poles and various other spots along the way. Even if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, I strongly suggest you don’t miss the opportunity to do this. Plus, bike rental only cost us about $16.50 at Spokes.

4. Vancouver has some great galleries and museums. If you’re a student, bring your student ID with you as you’ll be able to get a discounted student rate at all if not most of them. If you’re not a student, you can also save on admission on Tuesdays. Check it out:

The UBC Museum of Anthropology has a discounted rate of $9.00 (regular $16.75 per adult) on Tuesdays from 5-9pm.

The Vancouver Art Gallery has an “admission by donation” Tuesdays after 5pm.

Although the Museum of Vancouver doesn’t offer a discounted rate on Tuesdays like the others, you can get the Vanier Park Explore Pass which includes admission to the MOV, the Space Centre and the Vancouver Maritime Museum, all in one pass (it saves you $8 before taxes).

5. If you’re staying at the Samesun there’s a few good places to eat nearby. These were all introduced to me by my buddies at Samesun, Pete and Dan. They’re all affordable and delicious:

The Templeton Restaurant (which is almost directly across the street from the hostel), offers classic diner food. Try the “Mangled Eggs”. You won’t be disappointed.

Babylon Cafe makes the BEST falafel I’ve ever had. There’s three locations in the city, one of which is only a short walk away from the hostel on Nelson Street (at Granville). Honestly, if you’re a fan of falafel or shawarma, go there.

Umeda Japanese Cuisine is about a block and a half south of the hostel on Granville. Dan and I stopped by there for lunch one day. At the time of our visit their lunch special was under $7 and it gave me enough food to last two meals. If you’re visiting Vancouver you need to have sushi while you’re there, and I suggest you do so at this place.

And of course, there’s always The Beaver located within the Samesun. They have a nightly dinner special for only $4.95, daily drink specials for only $4, plus a full food and drink menu that’s easy on a traveller’s wallet (my friend Ana is still raving about the veggie burger she had there four months ago — i.e., the food is good).

6. This one I heard from two different friends from Vancouver — if you want to see a badass, panoramic view of the city go to Cloud 9 Revolving Restaurant & Lounge. I didn’t get an opportunity to do this myself, but if two locals tell you about it on two separate occasions, I think there’s a good chance it’s worth it. The menu looks a bit pricey, but who says you can’t treat yourself to a glass of wine or a pint of beer while enjoying the view?

7. Now, this one is for those not very accustomed to big cities and the unique collection of people you may find within them — don’t be afraid of the people on Granville Street. If you’re staying at the Samesun (or the Hostelling International across the street), it’s guaranteed you’ll have to interact with the locals who tend to be drawn to the area. Vancouver does have a high number of homeless people, simply because the weather is much easier to deal with compared to other major Canadian cities. Spare some change if you can, and please don’t feel timid around them or ignore them. Honestly, I’m more afraid of the short skirts and greasy dudes I constantly see lined up at the numerous clubs along Granville. Who would you rather trust — a properly dressed man sitting on the sidewalk with his loyal dog asking for some change or a woman who goes outside in winter in five-inch heels, bare arms and a skirt that barely covers her ass? I sound bitter, I realize, but it’s quite ridiculous.

8. Every Friday and Sunday at 11am there’s a free walking tour departing from the Samesun. The Tour Guys will take you to places you might miss on your own, will share knowledge and history that you probably wouldn’t have learned, and again, IT’S FREE (don’t forget to tip your lovely tour guide though).

9. Visit Granville Island. It’s a funky, eclectic and artsy little island that has a public market, a brewery, shops, scenery…you name it, its got it. You can get there by either taking the AquaBus or walking over the Granville Bridge (and looping back underneath it. If you walk, get directions from Google Maps or you might miss the path). Taking the AquaBus is another experience you shouldn’t miss, though. Approaching the island from the water is much more scenic (although you could get some good photos off the bridge if you walk it).

I do have a warning about Granville Island however — beware of the birds. The first time I was there I was trying to take some shots of two old men sitting on a bench feeding the pigeons and seagulls, until one of them started throwing seeds AT me. I was six inches deep in pigeon. Last time I was there, a low-flying seagull slapped me in the head with its wing. Let me tell you, Toronto seagulls have nothing on those in Vancouver, which are at least three times larger, beefier, and ballsier.  

10. And finally, trust your local Vancouverite, especially those who work at your hostel. Samesun is full of friendly, knowledgable staff who are there to help you and answer your questions. I may sound a bit biased towards Samesun, but honestly I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Vancouver. This is partially due to the staff there. If you need a suggestion on where to have some lunch, need directions to the nearest SkyTrain station, or would like some help in finding Canuck tickets — just ask. I even hear there’s a book compiled by Pete on awesome places to eat in the city. Check it out.

That’s it! If anyone has any other suggestions or tips on things to do, see or visit in Vancouver, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, I hope this helps you plan your visit to the city of my dreams (well, one of them ;)).

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