Vancouver is like Toronto’s slimmer and better looking younger sister.
It is uncommonly attractive for a large city, boasting parks that would make a New Yorker anxious, a population that is nice to each either, and a nightlife that surprises in several ways.
Canadian Cabaret anyone?
Alongside this awesomeness, however, Vancouver is still large and big. Which means that there are many things the average person should know on the quest for an excellent time here.
Luckily, you are in prime position!
Having my backpacking Vancouver travel guide at your side is the equivalent of owning a M142 high mobility artillery rocket system and a lack of morals in the time of Christ: You are almost guaranteed to create havoc, enjoy yourself immensely, and produce lasting impressions on the locals.
Let’s explore Vancouver, BC!
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- Why Visit Vancouver?
- A Sample 3-Day Itinerary for Vancouver
- Top Things to Do in Vancouver
- Backpacker Accommodation in Vancouver
- Backpacking Vancouver Costs
- Best Time to Travel to Vancouver
- Staying Safe in Vancouver
- Getting into and Around Vancouver
- Working and Volunteering in Vancouver
- Nightlife in Vancouver
- Some Unique Experiences in Vancouver
- FAQs about Backpacking Vancouver
- Final Thoughts on Backpacking Vancouver
Why Visit Vancouver?
Deciding to visit Canada is a decision best made while intoxicated. Or maybe that’s Mali? Anyway, you’ve realised it might be worth a look, and I totally agree.
Vancouver is well-known for its natural beauty, high spirits, and awesome hiking. There are a great many things to do in Vancouver, and some of them are backpacker musts. Don’t miss Chinatown! I could smash a bao bun right now…
The backpacking scene is actually pretty strong here, with a smattering of great hostels that are set up for wild and over-excited behaviour. If you fancy yourself a loose evening, there aren’t really limits that will hold you back.
But while Vancouver can be an excellent time, it is also startlingly expensive. Expensive enough to make a backpacker like me start to choke on something un-chokable, like air. Therefore I have cumulated some budget tips to help you fly under the budget wire too!
What are the Major Attractions in Vancouver?
Vancouver is a place with some majorly awesome tourist attractions. While much of the best stuff is a little outside of the city (because it is located in the centre of some outrageous nature), there is still a wealth of activities to engage with within city bounds.
Here’s what it is best known for:
- Stanley Park: Just next to downtown Vanc, we find a verdant expanse of greenery with a quaint coastal path. In summer, this is the place to be.
- Granville Island: If you’re a lover of purchases, head over to Granville Island to buy some more things. The Granville Island Public Market can be a good spot to pick up some bargains.
- Brockton Point Totem Poles: If you fancy checking out some wacky tribal stuff, these are fun. Located in Stanley Park.
- Grouse Mountain: Skiing is one of the top joys of existence, and the views over the city are exceptional. Definitely worth a look!
- Kitsilano Beach: Urban beaches? Are those even a thing? Apparently so! There is a great beach in Vancouver, and it draws visitors every year.
- Chinatown: With a large Chinese diaspora, Vancouverian Chinatown is the place to be. Tasty, fragrant, and selling some excellently bizarre stuff. Standard.
How Long to Spend in Vancouver?
Deciding how long to spend anywhere is a decision that is often guided by personal preference. My decisions, for example, are usually guided by my bereft bank account. Or beers.
I’d definitely take at least 3-days to fully explore Vancouver. There are a number of interesting areas and some great things to do outside of the city too, like skiing. If you fancy tearing up the slopes, plan some extra time!
As a general big-city hater, I can say that I actually enjoyed my time in Vancouver much more than in other U.S. cities. Despite its size, it feels relaxed, and spacious, and is home to many more green spaces than you expect. It’s easy to escape man-made ruckus!
Only spending one or two days here is probably too short. If you want to get out to the lighthouse park in west Vancouver or hit the Baden Powell trail, you’re going to need those extra days!
A Sample 3-Day Itinerary for Vancouver
The following is a sample 3-day itinerary for Vancouver. Most of the top destinations mentioned in this Vancouver travel guide are covered in this section.
Day 1: The Urban Core
Our first day backpacking in Vancouver is going to be a biggie. Today, we will knock out many of Vancouver’s top points of interest including Stanley Park, Downtown, Chinatown, and more. Renting a bike would be a good idea today as there are lots of lovely paths along our route.
Wake up bright and early and go for a crisp ride in Stanley Park. The park is one of the must-see places in Vancouver and is a great source of pride for natives.
This is the largest urban park in Vancouver, complete with beaches, pathways, the city Aquarium, and even First Nation totem poles. Your morning should be lovely if not very refreshing.
Let’s depart from Stanley Park and head south towards the urban core. You can follow the shoreline along the Seawall Trail to the city if you like; you will undoubtedly have lots of views of the Harbor along the way.
Entering the city, you’ll spot Vancouver Place further afield among the soaring ivory towers. Once you reach it, hang a right on Burrard Street for a taste of the coolest places in Vancouver.
First, we’ll pass the Marine Building, one of the finest examples of Art Deco in the world, and then we’ll arrive at the Fairmont Hotel, which is another opulent structure built in the French Chateau style. Nearby are the Vancouver Art Gallery and Christ Church Cathedral. Enter any of these if you’re interested.
Moving on we head further east towards the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Gastown. We’ll end our day at one of these neighbourhoods.
Chinatown is obviously known for its Chinese food and nothing tops a day off better than some dim sum. If you’re craving something lively, head to one of the many Gastown pubs and take a gander at the Steam Clock while you’re at it.
Day 2: The Southern Shores
It’s day 2 of our Vancouver travel guide and today we’re going to the beach!
Reminder: Vancouver beaches are not of the tropical variety and you should probably bring a jacket, which sounds counterintuitive, we know. The water around Vancouver is very, very cold – you’ve been warned.
Before hitting the beach, we’re going to make a quick stop at Granville Island. This once-grimy industrial area is now one of the trendiest places in Vancouver and hosts a number of boutique shops. It’s a pretty touristy area these days but Granville still has its merits (and plenty of bars for that matter).
Be on the lookout for the Granville Giants installation – this piece of street art was done by the world-famous “Os Gemeos” brothers.
Onto the beach though! From Granville grab the ferry or hop on the bus to Kitsilano Beach nearby. This is one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver, a lot in part because of its heated public pool—you’d be crazy to actually get in the frigid Pacific Ocean.
It also hosts several museums like the Maritime Museum and the Vancouver Museum, which has an impressive collection of First Nation artefacts.
Further west are two more of Vancouver’s prettiest beaches – Jericho and Spanish Banks. Both are very similar with fine sand, freezing water, and awesome views of the city. There is no public transport to these beaches though so you’ll have to walk, ride, or hail a taxi to get to these beaches.
Our ultimate destination is University Hill, where we’ll find the gorgeous Museum of Anthropology of UBC.
Designed by the visionary Arthur Erickson, the Anthropology Museum is one of the most beautiful places in Vancouver, crammed full of wonderful cultural relics. Take a tour of the museum and then step outside to catch the sunset.
Day 3: The Northern Hills
We’re heading to the hills today! The nature of Vancouver is the #1 reason to visit Vancouver in the first place and we’re going to some of the best of it.
On day 3 in Vancouver, we’re making a day trip to the southern slopes of the Coastal Range just outside of the city. Here we’ll find some of the best places to visit around Vancouver, like the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Lynn Canyon, and Grouse Mountain.
Bring your hiking shoes people; there’s going to be a whole lot of walking. Though you can take a bus to every one of these locations, you may want to have your own car for the sake of convenience.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is one of the most popular attractions in all of the Pacific Northwest and attracts hundreds of people each day. It is a very impressive structure that spans across the Capilano River.
Lynn Canyon is a more interactive experience as you’ll get to walk in the woods more. This area has lots of hidden brooks, waterfalls, and rock pools, which make for great places to cool off in the summer. There’s also a suspension bridge in Lynn Canyon but it’s not as epic as Capilano.
Regardless of which you choose, it is mandatory to visit Grouse Mountain at the end of the day. This mountain offers some of the best views of the surrounding landscape and of Vancouver itself.
You can take a gondola to the top of the mountain or test yourself on the Grouse Grind. This famously steep trail is where Vancouverites come to test their fitness.
So end’s our time in Vancouver. If you’d like more ideas about what to do in the city, then refer to our more in-depth guide on how to spend 3 days in Vancouver.
If you have more than 3-days to pop in Vancouver, there are a bucketload of mega day trips that you can squeeze onto. These are the best ones:
- Bowen Island: Check out some of the local wildlife, insane scenery, and bizarre trails. There is also a big tree called Opa, a Douglas fir.
- Squamish: Ride the sea-to-sky gondola, check out one of the highest waterfalls in BC, and drive the sky highway!
- Whistler: Tackling the slopes in Whistler is a must for anyone in the area. The skiing is superb, the views next to none, and the fun unlimited!
- Iona Beach: If you want to try birding, head over here. There is a great diversity of bird species, and it makes for a great day trip!
- New Westminster: If you fancy checking the “Royal City”, there are some great free exhibits and galleries here. Some cool parks and good food too!
Top Things to Do in Vancouver
Ok, it is time for more juicy content! Enjoy this collection of wonderfully entertaining things to do in Vancouver (which is loads better than Montreal).
1. Be a tourist at Capilano; become a Vancouverite on the Grind
Go ahead and walk across the crowded Capilano Bridge and then get ready for the real challenge – climbing the soul-crushing Grouse Grind. This arduous hike is where real locals test their metal and is definitely one of the best non-touristy things to do in Vancouver.
2. Go for a ride in Stanley Park
If there is one place that you must see in Vancouver, it’s Stanley Park. This gorgeous green space is the centrepiece of the city and is perhaps one of the most beautiful parks in all of Canada.
3. Educate yourself at the Anthropology Museum and Aquarium
Vancouver is very supportive of its local culture, in particular, that of the First Nation peoples. Visit the Anthropology Museum, Museum of Vancouver, and Aquarium for a glimpse into the lives of the region’s original inhabitants, both man and animal.
4. Be a kid again in Science World
Science World is full of interactive exhibitions and activities that are mostly geared towards kids. Visit here and try to remember what is was like to experience wonder and amazement as a child does.
5. Check out the Gastown Steam Tower
Aside from being one of the busiest and most dynamic neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Gastown is also home to the Gastown Steam Clock – a rare form of timekeeping that is found in less than a dozen cities worldwide. Have a leer and then grab a beer!
6. Find peace in a local garden
The Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens and VanDusen Botanical Gardens are two of the finest of their kind. But have you considered laying around Dude Chilling Park? It’s named after a local wooden sculpture that looks like…a dude chilling. Makes sense.
7. Get outta town
Some of the best of Vancouver is not in the city itself but in the surrounding area. Make a day trip from Vancouver to superlative locations like Garibaldi, Squamish, Golden Ears, Vancouver Island and more. Or get on the road and take a road trip from Vancouver to Calgary! Also, The Sea to Sky Highway is one of the most scenic drives you’ll find in all of PNW.
8. Explore Granville Island
Granville was once one of the dirtiest parts of Vancouver; now it’s one of the hippest areas in the city! Take a tour of this transformed district and do some shopping while you’re at it.
9. Find the best dim-sum
Vancouver has an enormous Chinese population, which means the Chinese food is out of this world! Scour for the city for the best dim-sum and report back to us what you find, soldier.
10. Kayak around the city and coves
The nature of Vancouver is not only in the hills – it extends all the way out into the channels and bays. Grab a kayak and explore Vancouver’s many waterways including English Bay, False Creek, and Deep Cove.
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Backpacker Accommodation in Vancouver
Lodging is expensive in Vancouver due to inflating prices. If you’re going to go backpacking in Vancouver on the cheap, then you’re going to have to be savvy. Or rich.
The best deals in Vancouver will be hostels. These offer the lowest prices in town, even for couples, and should be relied upon. Doing so shouldn’t be too much trouble for a backpacker as the hostels in Vancouver are a helluva lot of fun and totally worth the price.
Another good option is to look for a homestay in Vancouver and live with a host in a spare room.
If you’re looking for a more private place to stay in Vancouver, then I recommend Airbnb. Apartments are far more personable than hotels and often better priced. Most Airbnb stays in the city centre are apartment or condo units, but if you’re staying outside the city you could possibly find something really unique.
Being the outdoor wonderland that it is, there are plenty of campgrounds located near Vancouver. Staying at one is a great way to experience British Columbia and save some cash. Just be sure to bring your own tent!
The Best Places to Stay in Vancouver
There are many excellent places to perch yourself in Vancouver. Here are our top choices for where to stay in Vancouver!
Yaletown is located in downtown Vancouver. On the waterfront, this neighbourhood is a revitalized industrial zone that is now one of the city’s hottest areas. It’s home to a number of chic hotels and independent boutiques as well as modern restaurants and trendy bars.
Located on the western edge of Vancouver’s downtown core is the West End neighbourhood. Home to some of the city’s best beaches, the West End is where relaxing nature and the bustling city blend seamlessly. It’s the best area to stay in Vancouver for those on a budget.
The Granville Street neighbourhood is one of the most energetic and vibrant neighbourhoods in the city. Located in the heart of downtown, this is a lively neighbourhood where nightlife rules and the party carries on all night long.
Gastown is one of the oldest and most charming neighbourhoods in Vancouver. Located at the northeast end of Downtown Vancouver, this area is made up of cobblestone streets and stunning heritage architecture.
South of the downtown core, Kitsilano is a stylish and family-friendly Vancouver neighbourhood. Known locally as “Kits,” this area had a long history of coffee culture, poetry readings and was the home to many “flower children.” It’s hands down the best area to stay in Vancouver for families.
Budget Accommodation Hacks
Definitely have fun and stay in a hostel, apartment or lovely Vancouver Airbnb if you like. If you need to save money, try one of these:
Couchsurf! – Couchsurfing is the best way to save on cash when it comes to accommodation since most of the time you’re crashing for free. Staying with a local host is also a great chance to experience a more authentic side of the city.
Tap into your backpacker network – You never know when you have a friend in a foreign city! If you’ve travelled a lot, you may have met someone from Vancouver or know someone who knows someone.
Reach out to people! Ask to stay with people for a night or two in exchange for cooking dinner or a bottle of wine. If you don’t know anyone in the city, ask your friends if they do – travellers understand the struggle and are usually more helpful than you think.
Camping – Urban camping is a growing trend in many cities. These campsites are comfortable, sociable, safe, and cheap. They are often located on the outskirts of town, which means they are quieter too. Research to see if Vancouver has any and be sure to bring your own tent too!
Backpacking Vancouver Costs
Hate to break to you folks – Vancouver ain’t cheap. It is, in fact, one of the most expensive cities in all of North America and is showing no sign of getting more affordable.
That never stopped us though! Prices be damned, at The Broke Backpacker, we are always looking for ways to save cash and to help you travel to Vancouver on a budget.
We may not be able to go backpacking in Vancouver for $10/day but we can sure as shit try. The average daily budget for Vancouver will be around $60-$75 (yeh, not so close really). This will get you a dorm bed, groceries, some spending money, and tickets for the bus. Vancouver can be cheap(er) but only with the proper spending habits.
Food will be a tempting expense mostly because you’re going to be bombarded by sweet aromas and sizzlingly sexy dishes. Like everything else in this city, dining is expensive.
You can eat out in Vancouver on the cheap but you’ll need to stick to the food carts and Chinese restaurants. The dim sum in Vancouver is reportedly some of the best tasting and best priced around.
Transport is a bit expensive in Vancouver but if you have a multi-day pass or Compass Card, the prices are reasonable.
Drinking, no matter where you go, will do a number on your wallet, and with so many things to do in Vancouver at night, you’ll need to be careful. A beer at happy hour is one thing; 12 shots at a lounge is never a good idea.
Below is a breakdown of a daily budget in Vancouver including average costs of each expense.
A Daily Budget in Vancouver
Feel the deep urge to visualise this properly? Let’s break down the daily budget you will need to survive in Vancouver…
|Expense||Broke Backpacker||Frugal Traveler||Creature of Comfort|
Best Free Things to Do in Vancouver
If you want to save some extra cash, try doing one of these free things to do in Vancouver! Like sitting on a bench, eating grass, and smiling at the rich people.
- Museums – Although somewhat lacking in amount, there are several free museums in Vancouver worth checking out. On Tuesday nights, the Vancouver Art Gallery is free to enter and the MacMillan Observatory is free on Fridays and Saturdays. Other free museums in Vancouver include the Golf Museum and Burnaby Village Museum.
- Parks – Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world because of its parks! These green spaces blend harmoniously into the urban network and give city dwellers a bit of tranquility. Stanley and Queen Elizabeth are arguably Vancouver’s best parks, but Pacific Spirit is also worth the commute.
- Beaches – They’re not tropical and certainly not very paradisiacal, but the beaches around Vancouver are still nice to relax on. Some of these stretches of sand also offer awesome views of the cityscape. Grab a beach ball and sweater and head to the beaches of Sunset, Jericho, Kitsilano or Spanish Banks.
- People watch – Push come to shove, you could always grab a sandwich and just watch people go by. Vancouverites are an interesting bunch though I doubt they’ll do anything Youtube worthy. If you’re lucky, you may spot an elusive Canadian movie star since Vancouver is the “Hollywood of Canada” and all.
- Hike – Aside from a bus ticket or some gas, the only thing hiking in Vancouver costs is a little blood, sweat, and maybe tears. There are tons of paths near the city and you each one would make a lovely day trip from Vancouver. Try tackling the grueling Grouse Grind or Mt Seymour. For more trails near Vancouver, refer to the section below.
It’s easy to spend without thinking, and even easier to go broke. Backpacking Vancouver can be cheap only if you have the proper habits and guidance.
So for your benefit, we’ve created a list of tips for backpacking Vancouver on a budget. Follow these words of advice and you’ll find that your dollar goes much further.
- Always pre-fade before going out – Buying full-priced drinks at the bar is a great way to waste your money. Instead, buy booze at the store and drink with your friends at the hostel/their house/the park/anywhere besides the actual bar.
- Cook at home as often as possible – One of the most proven ways of saving money for backpackers; buying your own groceries and cooking at home will save you heaps of cash.
- Buy a special pass – If you’re going to be visiting Vancouver’s attractions and think that you’ll be paying for lots of tickets, consider picking up a City Pass or Passport. These special offers can save you quite a bit of cash.
- Take advantage of happy hour – Happy hour is everyone’s favorite time of day! From around 4-6 pm and sometimes later, lots of bars and restaurants have special drink/food prices. If you must eat out, try to go to during this time.
- Buy half-priced event tickets – Tickets Tonight offers half-priced tickets for select shows and events! These tickets are only available for purchase online and on the same day as the event.
- Use a water bottle – Save money by investing in a good water bottle and then drink from the tap. Vancouver’s water is delicious and totally fine to drink.
- Take a hike: Surrounded by natural beauty, it’s easy to escape the city and go on a hike. It’s beautiful and free.
Why You Should Travel to Vancouver with a Water Bottle
Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… so do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful.
You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. When you travel to some of the world’s most remote places, you come to realise the full extent of the plastic problem. And I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller.
Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.
Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.
Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!
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Best Time to Travel to Vancouver
Summers in the Pacific Northwest are arguably the best summers in the world! Rain is sporadic, the temperatures are perfectly cool, and the days are very long.
To say that summers are the best time to visit Vancouver would certainly be a strong argument but there are, admittedly, downsides to this season.
Since most people visit in the summer, prices for hotels and rental cars, which are already expensive, are usually at their highest. On another note, wildfires are becoming increasingly common and devastating during the summer, so much so that you can pretty much expect closures in August.
Spring (April-May) and autumn (October-November) are some of the best times to visit Vancouver as well. The weather is still nice during these times and people are still enjoying themselves, either on the trails or in the city.
Though dreary at times, winters in Vancouver are actually pretty fun. There are a ton of things to do in Vancouver in the winter like skiing, sledging, and participating in the holiday spirit. Vancouver is also spared the frigid fate that the rest of Canada is subject to, and overall temperatures are very mild.
What to Pack for Vancouver
Putting these items upon your packing list will make life very easy for you. They may end up on the Christmas list too…
Osprey Daylite Plus
Any city slicker needs a SLICK daypack. In general, you can never go wrong with an Osprey pack, but with its array of awesome organisation, durable materials, and a comfy build, the Daylite Plus will make your urban jaunts buttery smooth.
Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle
Save $$$, save the planet, and save yourself the headache (or tummy ache). Instead of sticking to bottled plastic, buy a Grayl Geopress, drink water no matter the source, and be happy knowing the turtles and fishies thank you (and so do we!). 🙂
OCLU Action Camera
Wait, it’s cheaper than a GoPro and… better than a GoPro? The OCLU action cam is the cam for budget backpackers that want to immortalise all their wildest adventures – including that time you dropped it off a Himalayan mountain – WITHOUT breaking the bank.
Resourceful travellers know how to find power outlets anywhere on the road; smart travellers just pack a solar power bank instead. With 4-5 phone cycles per charge and the ability to top up literally anywhere the sun is shining, there’s no reason to ever get lost again!
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
ALL travellers need a headtorch – no exceptions! Even in the hostel dorm, this beauty can save you in a real pinch. If you haven’t got in on the headtorch game, DO. I promise you: you’ll never look back. Or at least if you do, you’ll be able to see what you’re looking at.
Staying Safe in Vancouver
Does anything bad ever happen in Canada? Don’t people just ride around on mooses, bathe in maple syrup all day, and just live charmed lives?
While all of these things may or may not be true (who knows what happens in the Canadian backwoods), Vancouver is a city like any other in the world and suffer from the same problems.
Crime still happens here and you will need to exercise the usual caution when backpacking in Vancouver. Besides, there are no mooses in Vancouver.
Violent crimes i.e. murder and muggings are very rare in Vancouver and the likelihood of a traveller being killed or attacked is very unlikely. Petty crime is far more common.
People are more often the victims of break-ins, carjackings, pickpockets, and other passive-aggressive criminal methods. As opposed to being accosted, more people are robbed when their back is turned and they don’t realize what’s going on.
Keep expensive items out of sight and never leave valuables unattended – this includes leaving shit in a car or on a coffee shop table. Consider using a money belt if you think it’s necessary.
Vancouver has a sizeable vagrant population, which is a problem in the Pacific Northwest. There are a couple of violent bums out there and some verbally abusive ones as well but most are too strung out to hurt you.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Vancouver
It is possible to do the sex, get the drugs, and rock the roll in Vancouver. There is a vibrant party scene that lasts into the early AM. If you want to get loose here, there are certainly places to do that! Weed is also legal here (since 2018), though don’t go buying kilos.
Vancouver hits hard but can be pricey. You’re going to be looking to shell out at least $5 for a beer if not $10, and this can ransack your budget pretty instantaneously. Try being rich if you ever want to have fun.
The top clubs in the city are the Celebrities Nightclub, the MIA Nightclub and the Fortune Sound Club. These host lineups from some of the top DJ sets both locally and internationally, and are the places to go. However, that also means they can charge a premium for entry…
It’s worth remembering that even though this is Canada, you can still fall prey to all of the very worst aspects of a night out. Take care of your drink, try not to walk off with strangers (unless you are certain of and ok with their intentions), and don’t leave your friends if they are wazzed.
Getting Insured Before Visiting Vancouver
Travelling without insurance would be risky, so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure.
I have been using World Nomads for some time now and made a few claims over the years. They’re easy to use, professional and relatively affordable. They may also let you buy or extend a policy once you’ve started your trip and are already abroad which is super handy.
If there’s one insurance company I trust, it’s World Nomads.
ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing.
They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.
SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!
Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.
Getting into and Around Vancouver
Most people arrive in Vancouver by flying. Vancouver International Airport handles the grand majority of air traffic and receives the most amount of flights. This airport is located south of Vancouver and is connected to the city by train. Tickets cost $9.
Vancouver’s other major airport is Abbotsford International; it mostly handles short-haul or domestic flights. It is located waaaayyyy to the east of Vancouver though and is a real journey to get to.
A lot of people combine backpacking in Vancouver with a road trip from Washington or Oregon. You can enter British Columbia from Washington via several border checkpoints and there are three nearby to Vancouver.
Crossing any of the borders will require an interrogation from several customs officers and may require a search of your car. Make sure you don’t have anything incriminating like open containers or American weed (it’s not allowed in Canada because it’s too good).
Getting to Vancouver by long-distance bus is relatively easy. There are dozens of buses plying I-5 between Portland and Vancouver daily and many Portlandians and Seattlites end up visiting for the weekend because it is so easy!
Vancouver is also the terminus of several gorgeous train routes including the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer and Amtrak Cascades. Taking these is a great way to see the surrounding landscape but will be much more expensive.
Getting Around Vancouver
Given the clusterfuck that is public transportation in North America, Vancouver actually has a pretty efficient system. Excellent city planning and copious buses mean getting around is a fairly straightforward task.
The most common form of public transport in Vancouver is the bus. Buses are ubiquitous and can get you just about anywhere in the urban core of the city.
Trains and ferries fill in any gaps that the buses do not cover. Dozens of ferry services shuttle commuting Vancouverites and these work quite well.
You can catch a ferry across False Creek, Lonsdale Quay, and even to Bowen Island. There are limited trains in Vancouver, granted, and these are often used to connect the suburbs to the city.
Those using public transit can buy a single-zone ticket, valid for 90 minutes, for $2.90. We highly recommend picking up a Compass Card though because they are convenient and will save you money since a discount is applied to individual rides. You will need to purchase the card for $6 but it can be returned and refunded when you depart.
Interestingly enough, carshare services like Uber and Lyft are actually banned in Vancouver. This means that you’ll have to use a taxi if you need to get somewhere quickly or use a carshare app like Car2Go.
Use Bookaway to find the best deals on transport – buses, planes, trains, and ferries. It’ll save you a load of time when organising transport and you’ll probably nab an EPIC DISCOUNT too!
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Working and Volunteering in Vancouver
Canada is one nation which the U.S. is actually on reasonable terms with! This means it is pretty straightforward to work in Vancouver, although you’ll still need a work permit (that goes for the rest of the world too, but it may be more tricky).
There are a number of jobs you can apply for as a U.S. citizen. The highest tax rates are actually lower, so many American businessmen use Canada as a cheeky tax break. A classic rich person move.
I’d still recommend Worldpackers if you’re looking to stay here for a while. You can pick up some interesting positions, and make your trip last a heck of a lot longer!
Worldpackers: connecting travellers with meaningful travel experiences.
Nightlife in Vancouver
The evolution of Vancouver’s nightlife mirrors much of the Pacific Northwest’s. Gone are the dirty bars and hush-hush joints where you would pay a hidden sum for a hidden service; in are ritzy lounges and pseudo-speakeasies creating elegant drinks for hard-working Vancouverites.
These days, Vancouver is a relatively PG place – a product of increased development and gentrification. Old industrial buildings are now beer halls, former basements are now cocktail bars, and warehouses now host discos. Once gritty neighbourhoods like Yaletown, Gastown, and Granville are now the hottest places in Vancouver to go party.
The centre of Vancouver’s nightlife is the Entertainment District, which is a product of city planning. This area has the most things to do at night in Vancouver and offers everything from restaurants to clubs to breweries. It’s touristy, but if you’re backpacking in Vancouver and can’t decide on where to go, then go here.
British Columbia is quickly becoming one of the best beer destinations in Canada! Vancouver has some excellent breweries itself – look for Parallel 49, 33 Acres, and Strange Fellows.
As of 2018, weed is now legal for recreational use in Canada! This means you can buy a bit of Bud and not have to worry about getting busted by the cops. You only have to be over 19 years old and possess no more than 30 grams.
Head to one of Canada’s festivals for an extra special addition to your trip.
Dining in Vancouver
Just like many other cities on the planet, you can eat things in Vancouver! The restaurant scene (like many other North American cities) consists of a mix of classy dining, fast food, and everything in between.
Heading to Chinatown will score you not only some cheap meals but tasty ones too! The street food is whack, and you can mess up a plate of noodles whenever you want.
There are also a bunch of classically cheap fast-food places, which will make you remember America’s 40% obesity crisis. But it will keep you fed for cheap, and ready to tackle those awesome Vancouver hikes!
If you really want to make the dollars last, try buying from supermarkets and cooking in a hostel, a friend’s house, or on a camping stove. There is nothing like a bit of home cooking either. Delicious.
Best Restaurants/Cheap Eats in Vancouver
If you are looking for a high-class food experience, I would recommend the following delicious places:
- Marutama Ra-men Canada: Not so pricey, but well known, this ramen maker does some of the best noodles in the city…
- Forage: If you’re looking for a place that takes sustainability seriously, look no further! Everything here is done with a local twist, so don’t expect frozen McNuggets or canned tuna.
- Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House: If you’re gagging for some fruits of the sea, then head to Joe’s! He will be making some excellent seafood (again with a sustainable).
- Bread x Butter Cafe: If you want something different, head to the Bread x Butter Cafe. Some of the best egg-fluffed toast combos in the world!
- St Lawrence Restaurant: Michelin-starred and velvet curtained, if you’re into fine dining then look no further. It’s mostly a French place, and you’ll need to prebook it is that popular!
And if you want to rummage on a budget, here are some of the top cheap places to eat in Vancouver:
- La Taqueria: Fancy scramming some tacos on the cheap? La Taqueria has got you covered. Don’t hide away from 4 tacos for $10.50.
- Hawker’s Delight Deli: This is one of those exceptional places you just continue to return to. Most dishes come in at around $7, so bring on that Malaysian Cuisine!
- Zamzam Grill Vancouver: If you fancy some Middle Eastern tastes for under $10, check out the Zamzam Grill!
- The Factory: Literally churns out menu items for $4.95. Hey, it might not be fresh or healthy, but at least it is budget! Does great cheap beverages too. Great spot to be.
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Some Unique Experiences in Vancouver
It is not uncommon to find surprising experiences wherever you travel, and Vancouver ain’t no exception. There are still some unexpected things to do, and in this Vancouver travel guide, I will be showing you some of the best…
Elizabethan Hedge Mazes in Vancouver
One of only six in NA, you can head to the VanDusen Gardens to explore this rare gem. The gardens themselves cover 55 acres and have a wide and varied collection of plant life.
Check out this amazing labyrinth, grown from seeds into a wonderful design of thick hedges.
There is also an observation terrace with fantastic views, perfect for snapping a uniquely Vancouver insta (or five). Anyway, you can get lost in a maze if you fancy.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens in Vancouver
There is only one thing more interesting than a Chinese garden: a classical Chinese garden. If you want to find some peace, quiet, and beautiful scenery, head over to Dr Sun’s place for a top-tier garden experience.
While it can feel distinctly unethical to head over on a hangover, I would definitely recommend taking a peak at some point. Maybe for a quick pit stop in the afternoon?
Hiking in Vancouver
There are endless trails around Vancouver and you could spend your entire vacation in the woods if you liked. For some of the best hikes near Vancouver, head to one of these areas.
- Garibaldi Provincial Park – One of the most popular places to visit near Vancouver, this park hosts some of the most beautiful scenery in British Columbia, all are within an hour’s drive. Hikes include Garibaldi Lake, the Black Tusk, and Panorama Ridge.
- Golden Ears – A park defined by its twin peaks – the Golden Ears. Offers some of the best camping and backcountry hikes near Vancouver and is still very close to the city. Hikers can discover lakes, waterfalls, hidden summits, and backwoods in this area.
- Vancouver Island – For a real outdoor paradise, grab the ferry to Vancouver Island. This island has some of the most beautiful coastal hikes in all of North America including the West Coast Trail and the Juan de Fuca Trail. The mountainous interior is also a thrill to explore. Note that you’ll definitely a car to explore the island.
- Squamish – Home to the Stawamus Chief, The Chief is a giant slab of granite, much like a miniature El Cap, that hosts some of the best rock climbing routes near Vancouver. You can climb or hike to the top if you like. The Sea to Sky Gondola also gives access to many epic ridge trails.
- Cypress Provincial Park – A gorgeous park situated on the slopes overlooking the Howe Sound. Affords excellent views of the Sound and of Downtown Vancouver. Skiing here is one of the best things to do in Vancouver in the winter. Can be reached by public transport.
FAQs about Backpacking Vancouver
Here’s what we’re usually asked about travelling in and around Vancouver.
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Vancouver
So there you have it, all the top information around packed into one relatively concise document. I am sure that you have loved every second of this exciting adventure we have just shared, and I am sure you will love Vancouver even more.
There is lots to see, lots to explore, and much travel chaos to revel in. Don’t let the prices bring you down! It can be exhausting worrying about money all the time. My top tip: don’t let it ruin the fun!
And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links. That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!