A Backpacker’s Guide to Vancouver

As a nomadic traveller who hasn’t stayed in one place for more than one month for over a year the following statement is going to sound less even dramatic than it actually is.  Vancouver is one of the only cities on the planet that I could actually see myself living.  I love the city.  The confluence of nature and urban in Vancouver is the biggest draw for me.  I love that I could ski in the morning and sit by the sea in the afternoon.  I love the fact that despite that it’s a huge city it wouldn’t really take too much time and effort to escape it for a bit if I wanted.  As a tourist too, there is plenty to do in Vancouver from pub hopping in Yaletown to wandering through Stanley Park to escaping to Whistler, Vancouver and area just has so much to offer.

Time Needed: 4-5 Days
Backpacker’s Budget: 60-70$ a day

Things to Do in Vancouver

  • Stanley Park: This is one of my favourite places in the world.  Yes, parts of it are quite touristy, but it is such a huge place that one can easily get lost in it, and many do.  My recommendation is to grab a friend and rent a two-seater bike and cruise around the park.
  • Grouse Mountain: A ski hill in the winter, Grouse Mountain is still very much worth a visit in the summer.  You can ride the chairlifts, climb up into a windmill, see some rescued grizzly bears and wolves, watch a lumberjack show, and all the while gain some incredible views of the city and the region as a whole.
  • Capilano Park and Suspension Bridge: It’s in places like this you realize how close to nature Vancouver is.  The park feels like you are deep within the rainforest even though you are still in the midst of North Vancouver.  The suspension bridge to get to the park alone is worth the visit.
  • Gastown: Old Vancouver is a little bit strange, there is an old clock tower run on steam and some quirky buildings and shops.
  • Chinatown: Like stepping into another world, it is rough around the edges for sure, but definitely worth a look around.
  • Yaletown: The third of the “towns” in old Vancouver is best known as a pub district.  It’s home to some great places to hang out for a beer including the Yaletown Brewery Co..
  • Granville Island: This is a paradise for artists.  You can catch a water taxi from downtown to get here, and you really should.  Granville Island has plenty of great art to scour, a great food market and a phenomenal brewery as well.
  • Whistler: It’s definitely possible to daytrip to Whistler, and many do; especially for a ski/snowboard day in the winter months.  The rest of the year, the drive alone along the sea-to-sky highway is worth a day.  It is phenomenal.  And if you’re around in the fall, Whistler is beautifully shaded in fall colours.
  • Shannon Falls: Just outside of the rock climbing Mecca of Squamish and about a 30-minute drive from Vancouver, Shannon Falls is very impressive.
  • Whale Watching: Although people will tell you the whale watching is better from Victoria, and they are probably right, it is still definitely possible to see orcas and other whales around Vancouver yearound.  In fact, this past July there were a pod of Orca seen from the beach in Vancouver!

Where to Stay in Vancouver

If you’re looking to stay on a budget there are actually quite a few hostels in and around town.  Other than the hostels, the hotels downtown will all cost you a pretty penny.  Since this is a budget guide, here are the hostels I’ve stayed at during the various times I’ve been in Vancouver.

  • HI-Vancouver Downtown: This is a nice spot and my favourite hostel in Vancouver.  It’s right downtown, but on a quiet street off of the craziness of Granville. Very comfy.
  • Samesun: A good smaller hostel chain in Canada, this place is right on Granville with a good location.  It’s my second choice in town behind the Hi Downtown.
  • HI-Vancouver Central: Another one of the HI hostel chains.  It’s good, but I much prefer the downtown version since this one is a little bit older and right on Granville.  I also prefer the Samesun which is right across the street.

What to Eat in Vancouver

Vancouver has such a brilliant selection of food that it’s really easy to get caught up in a world where your life revolves around food.  From brewpubs to sushi bars, there are plenty of great places to grab grub in town.

  • Brewpubs: I love the selection of brewpubs in Vancouver.  Brewery meets pub meets food is a great option for hanging out with friends.  Among the best in town are the Yaletown Brewing Co. and Steamworks.
  • Sushi: From top of the line to cheap as chips, you can find all sorts of sushi options in town.  For cheap and quick sushi try one of the many Tsunami Sushi places or if you’re in the mood for some slightly more expensive stuff give Toshi Sushi a shot which is actually outside of downtown but worth the drive.
  • Canadian Foods: When I say Canadian foods I tend to mean steak or salmon, both of which are found really easily in Vancouver.  For steak, there’s a place called Gotham Steakhouse and Cocktail bar.  It is expensive, but the steaks are unbelievable. The Blue Water Cafe might have the best seafood in British Columbia, but it will blow your budget again.  But, it is always worth it!
  • Thai: Your choices of Asian food are huge in Vancouver thanks to the large Asian population.  You can find Thai food on nearly every street, but the ultimate Thai restaurant in town is Simply Thai.
  • Chinese: Want the best Chinese food in Vancouver?  Head directly to Chinatown.  There are typical street markets and lots of little restaurants.  For a bit of a treat, give the New Town Bakery a try.

Getting out of Town

  • Bus: The greyhound in Canada isn’t a whole lot of fun, although they are making strides to be better.  From Vancouver you can get to Seattle (2-3 hours), Kelowna (6-8 hours), Kamloops (6-8 hours), Banff (14-16 hours) or Calgary (24 hours) via the greyhound.  If you’re visiting Victoria, I’d jump on one of the greyline buses.
  • Plane: The international airport is now really easy to get to since the sky tram goes right there.  It’s basically a 20 minute ride from downtown which is awesome.
  • Train: If you’ve got your fancy pants on and are going on the train, the VIA station is right downtown and the Rocky Mountaineer is just outside of downtown.

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9 Comments

  1. Great tips on what to see in Vancouver! And those mussels look delicious!

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  2. On the point of food, if you’re a pizza fiend (like I am), there is a non-stop plethora of pizza by the slice joints, where the slices cost $1.50-$2 … these wedges kick the ass out of any street pizza I’ve had in Alberta (where I live), while being considerably cheaper than their counterparts here at home.

    Great guide for quite possibly the best city on Earth, thanks!

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    • Good call James… I love the cheap pizza-by-the-slice stops!

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  3. Great guide, I moved to Vancouver without seeing the city first and fell in love with it.

    One tip, instead of Capilano Suspension Bridge Park you can go to the suspension bridge at Lynn Canyon for free and hike the trails.

    I also love walking around the beaches such as Jericho or Spanish Banks.

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    • Megan – Vancouver is such a great place. And good call on the Lynn Canyon bridge! I’ll add it to the list when I get a free minute

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  4. Vancouver is an amazing city to visit, but if you want to spent some time there, doing it on a budget is really difficult. I’ve been planning a trip for several weeks now and been looking for the best places to visit. So far, I’ve found several tips and you helped me a lot too. I’m fascinated by places like Granville Island and I can’t wait to get there. Thanks a lot for the great guide.

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  5. I´m from Brazil and I´m gonna be in Vancouver just 5 days (april 1-5). Is April good to go to Whistler? I was thinking to stay in Vancouver 3 days and 2 in Whistler. Is it a good idea? What do you suggest me? I´m kind of lost and i Would appreciate a lot some help.

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