The ABCs of Going from Point A to Point B in Vancouver
Cover more ground in less time and at a lower cost with our dos and don’ts for getting around Vancouver.
Learn how best to get around Vancouver then continue on our Vancouver travel blog to figure out where to go, including the best neighborhoods to explore and stay in, inside travel tips, unique restaurants, non-touristy things to do, and true must-dos.
? Don’t worry about the rain (…too much)
Contrary to its “Raincouver” reputation, Vancouver is one of the driest cities in the country from June through September.
It does rains frequently during all other months, but rarely so hard that you can’t walk wherever you’re going and enjoy the outdoors. For a few years while growing up in Vancouver, I didn’t even own a rain jacket!
? Keep in mind that Vancouver is tiny
People who visit Vancouver are always surprised by how compact the city is.
To walk from one extreme corner of downtown to the other only takes forty minutes. And it’s mostly flat. So if you’re in the middle of downtown nothing is more than an easy twenty-minute walk away.
You definitely shouldn’t spend all your time downtown, though, but even then every neighborhood’s within biking distance, some are walkable, and they’re never more than 40 minutes away by bus.
? Don’t bother trying to use Uber Do bother!
Finally, in January 2020, seven years after Uber first tried to enter Vancouver but was quickly given the boot, ridesharing is here. Lyft, Uber, and other companies have been the go-ahead to start running so people can finally get around Vancouver like they do pretty much everywhere else in the world.
? Don’t rent a car
Vancouver is tiny, difficult and expensive to park in, and easy to get around by foot, bike, or public transit, so a rental car is not the best way to explore the city.
Only consider renting if and when you’re heading out of the city. For our top-recommended places to go, check out our 11 Essentials for Visiting Vancouver.
? Don’t be afraid to walk at night
Like any city, Vancouver has its share of opportunistic criminals, so don’t be a complete idiot and wave your valuables around while drunkenly stumbling down dark alleys.
But as long as you don’t do that, you’ll be fine.
Vancouver is super safe night and day, no matter which part of town you go.
? Pick a conveniently-located base
The most convenient place to stay for getting around Vancouver is the West End.
It’s a relaxed but densely-populated local area within walking distance of everything downtown and close to the SkyTrain to the airport.
Specifically, look to stay in the square between Davie, Denman, Robson, and Burrard. The Burrard is a good bet for a funky and perfectly-located hotel.
See our guide to Vancouver’s best neighborhoods, where we rate each area on criteria like dining, location, and local feel, to pick the perfect base for your needs.
? Don’t ever get turned around
If you get spun around and forget which way’s which, look for the mountains. That way’s north.
? Beware of Skid Row
The area between Gastown and Chinatown, centered on the intersection of Hastings and Main, is called the Downtown Eastside.
For fellow fans of the TV show The Wire, it’s Vancouver’s version of Hamsterdam. It’s where all the city’s—and really much of Canada’s—drug addicts and untreated mentally ill people are concentrated.
If you go, you will see people injecting themselves with drugs in broad daylight and high out of their minds, screaming at everyone and anyone.
? Don’t avoid Skid Row, though
The area is heavily policed and totally safe.
We actually recommend walking through it once to experience the gritty underbelly of beautiful Vancouver.
Bonus fun fact:
The term skid row, which now refers to an impoverished urban area, originates from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In Vancouver’s early days, that’s where they once skidded, i.e. dragged, logs.
? Don’t expect to do a day trip to Vancouver Island
Many visitors we’ve met think Vancouver Island is super close to Vancouver and an easy day trip.
A couple of them pulled off a day trip nonetheless, but that’s crazy. If you want to go to Victoria or Vancouver Island, go for a few days. Or fly.
? Take the SkyTrain to and from the airport
The SkyTrain, Vancouver’s light rail / subway system, directly connects the airport and downtown. Often, it’s faster than taxis and it’s cheaper for individuals and couples.
For groups of three or more, a taxi costs about the same.
? Use public transit
Many tourists we’ve hosted during our time as Airbnb hosts, Americans especially, tend to disregard public transit as an option because back home it’s dirty, unreliable, and inconvenient.
It’s the opposite here in Vancouver.
Everyone rides public transit in Vancouver and you should too.
? Know how to pay for public transit before you ride
Vancouver’s transit system accepts contactless Visa and Mastercard credit cards and Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.
If you don’t have such “high-tech” payment methods, you’ll need to pay exact change ($2.95 for one zone).
Your best bet if you’re staying longer or planning to use public transit a lot is to get a Compass Card. For $6 (refundable only at the Stadium-Chinatown station) it gets you about $0.50 off each ride and can be prepaid or linked to your credit card for automatic reloading.
? Don’t throw out your transit receipt
You can transfer and ride on Vancouver’s public transit system as many times as you want during the ninety minutes after you pay.
It’s more than ninety minutes, really, because as long as you’re on the bus/train/ferry when you’re ninety minutes expires, you’re fine.
? Keep transit zones in mind
If you take the SkyTrain or the SeaBus outside of Vancouver’s city limits, you’ll need to pay extra for going into different zones. Check this map to be sure.
Note that all buses are one zone, so you don’t have to pay extra for crossing zones when you’re taking the bus.
? Don’t be afraid to ask the bus drivers
Unlike in many other cities, Vancouver’s bus drivers are generally friendly and helpful, so don’t be scared to ask them for directions or to let you know when it’s your stop.
You can even ask them for directions if you’re not taking the bus.
? DEFINITELY Rent a bike if it’s nice out
Vancouver’s so bike-friendly that car-lovers always complain that bike lanes are taking over the city.
You can’t beat ’em, so join ’em.
The cheapest way to do so is to use Vancouver’s shared bike system, Mobi, which costs about $10 a day.
For bigger bike rides, like our top-recommended route that we share in our post on 7 Cool Things to Do in Vancouver, rent a better bike for $30 to $50 a day.
? Put your bike on the bus to really get out there
If you rent a bike (which we highly recommend) don’t be scared of putting it onto the racks on the front of busses or taking it on the SkyTrain. This allows you to cover more ground with one-way bike routes.
? Lock your bike just about anywhere
There are tons of dedicated bike parking spots along the streets of Vancouver, but if none are nearby don’t hesitate to lock your bike to the nearest sign, parking meter, tree, or whatever looks secure and doesn’t get in the way of pedestrians and traffic.
? Don’t ever leave your bike unlocked
Bike theft is a huge problem in Vancouver.
To avoid being a victim, don’t ever leave your bike unlocked and out of your sight and don’t leave your bike locked overnight on the street unless all the wheels and the seat are locked too.
? Find our favorite spots in Vancouver with our Treasure Map
Using Google Maps’ way-overlooked Saved Places functionality, we put together a complete list of our forty favorite restaurants, attractions, and more.
In just one click you can save this treasure map to your Google Maps on your phone for quick reference—even if you’re offline—when moving around Vancouver.
FREE Vancouver Treasure Map
Find of 40 our favorite Vancouver restaurants, cafes, attractions, and more directly on Google Maps when you’re traveling, even offline!
It’s free and super easy—just two taps!
Getting Around Vancouver Quick F.A.Q
It’s not as quick and easy as Uber, which the taxi mafia has successfully kept out of town, but you can use an imitation app called eCab.
You can also try your luck at hailing a cab on the street, but we wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re right downtown by Granville and Georgia streets. Otherwise you might be stuck waiting a long time.
The meter starts at $3.25, then you pay $1.88 per kilometer and $33.55 an hour.
So a 10-minute, 2-kilometer ride would cost 12.60 CAD, or about 9.50 USD. You’re expected to tip a dollar or two on top of that.
You can pay with a card or cash.
The SeaBus is a 15-minute passenger ferry that crosses Burrard Inlet between downtown Vancouver’s Waterfront Station and Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver. It’s part of Metro Vancouver’s public transit system, Translink.
Lonsdale Quay has plenty to see and do, plus great views of downtown Vancouver, definitely consider it during your Vancouver visit.
There are two private companies, False Creek Ferries and the Aquabus, that run similar, competing services.
They are the most convenient—and quirky—way to get between downtown, Olympic Village, and Granville Island.
Ask us in the comments and we’ll gladly help.
Read This Next:
? Don’t miss our other Vancouver travel tips!
If you found some of these tips helpful, you’ll find a lot more where that came from here:
13 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts for Getting Around Vancouver as a Tourist”
We wanted to stay in the West End near Stanley Park, but also wanted to visit the Richmond area for the Asian food and tea. We are not planning to rent a car. Google maps seems to estimate close to an hour using public transportation from West End to Richmond. Any recommendations for better/faster way to get from West End to Richmond?
Hey D.M. What makes it take so long is that the West End and the main dining areas of Richmond aren’t right on the SkyTrain. If you want to speed up your trip without taking a taxi the whole way, you could a taxi to/from the stations. The SkyTrain ride itself is fast, 20min.
I am arriving one day earlier than the main group. I will be meeting the group at the airport 9am the next day
Any recommended place for me to stay?
Hi Lotus. Hard to say without more info. Generally, I’d suggest sticking close to the SkyTrain—anywhere along the line that interests you and fits your budget—so that you can get there and back quickly and easily.
Our family of 4 are avoid bikers and want to explore the city with our own bikes (not rentals). Is there a good hotel that is bike friendly? Is it generally ok to bring our bikes in the hotel room at night?
Hi Mix. I don’t know about that, sorry. Maybe consider an Airbnb with a garage?
I’m arriving at the airport in Vancouver on Aug 1st. We’ll be driving and we’re heading to the Sunshine Coast and beyond. Looking at a map, the most direct route through Vancouver is the 99 (Granville St). But it looks like it won’t be fast. Is there a quicker/better way to bypass the city and get to Horseshoe Bay?
Thanks, much appreciated
Hi Tom. Yeah, you may be faster taking SE Marine along the south edge of the city to Highway 1, and circling Vancouver on the highway. Depends on traffic, though.
I use a fold up wheelchair, which my kind husband pushes, to get around and visit museums. Can I take this fold-up wheelchair (non motorized) onto the public transportation buses? Thank you for your thoughts!
Hi Nikki. Yes, all buses have ramps for wheelchairs. I see them used regularly.
We’ll be leaving our car at the Rocky Mountaineer train station, so we need transportation from there to the Hampton Inn on Robson Street. What’s the best way to do this?
Really helpful guide, thank you for putting this together!