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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in vancouver
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North America : Canada : British Columbia : Southwestern British Columbia : Lower Mainland : Vancouver
Vancouver is the largest city in Western Canada, located at the southwestern corner of the coastal province of British Columbia. It is well known for its scenery, nestled as it is between mountains and ocean. It often makes lists of "best cities to live in" and is certainly a beautiful destination to visit.
"Districts in Vancouver">
For simplicity the Vancouver area is separated into a number of districts. Most of the attractions associated with Vancouver are in these districts.
These don't correspond to the legal divisions of the city, but instead a convenient way of sub-dividing Vancouver for travellers.
Some areas of the Lower Mainland (Greater Vancouver) are commonly included in a visit to Vancouver. These include:
In 1986 Vancouver "hosted the world" with the Expo 86 World Fair. Since that date the city has grown tremendously. It is a cosmopolitan city that likes to consider itself world class. The key words there are "likes to". Vancouver does have a long way to go to reach the sophistication of a Paris or Rome. But there is a population of about 2 million people in Greater Vancouver. It has been awarded the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It will be the largest city ever to host the winter games.
Vancouver is a major sea port on the Pacific Ocean, and a base for many Alaska Cruise Ships in the summer.
The best time for people who like warm weather to visit the city itself is between May and September as winters are reputed to be rainy and grey in Vancouver.
Vancouver International Airport (http://www.yvr.com) (YVR) is located just South of the city. There are frequent flights between here and many major cities in Canada and the USA. There are also frequent direct flights to many cities in Asia and some cities in Europe.
Before 2005, a $15 Airport Improvement Fee was levied against all travellers using the Vancouver International Airport. The aim of the fee was to offset the costs of building the airport. Just recently, collection of the Airport Improvement Fee at check-in was discontinued which resulted in, thankfully, shorter lines through customs and security. However the fee is still collected, but hidden in the tax section of an airline ticket.
One little quirk about travel out of Canada into the USA is that you will clear customs before you board the plane, so give yourself some extra time to check-in when you leave Vancouver for U.S. destinations. Note that this also means that duty-free purchases are not available at U.S. bound gate lounges or on the plane since technically you are already in the U.S. This also means that there are direct flights from Vancouver into cities that do not have customs clearance facilities (for example Kona in Hawaii).
The cheapest way from the airport to downtown is public bus, $3 one way, exact change only, but this involves a transfer. The bus into downtown tends to be quite crowded and not convenient for carrying your suitcases. More convenient is the YVR Airporter (http://www.yvrairporter.com) (1-800-668-3141) which costs $12 one way or $18 return, and drops off at major hotels downtown. A taxi ride downtown will cost about $25. All taxis that serve the airport are required to accept cr cards. The taxi ride is under half an hour.
One word of warning for when you are leaving through the airport. If you are departing from the International Terminal to destinations other than the USA there are painfully few eating places on the other side of security. If you want something more substantial than coffee shops then eat before going through security.
Air Canada dominates flights in/out of YVR, but check Alaska airlines or WestJet as alternatives. www.farechase.com is a great site for checking them all at once.
Vancouver is well served by bus service. There are a number of different bus lines providing service to various cities near and far. Here are a couple of examples:
Unlikely to be the cheapest option, but travelling from Edmonton or Jasper by rail makes for a good way to see the Canadian Rockies. VIA rail (http://www.via.ca) has the Canadian which runs from Toronto to Vancouver with daily departures.
Amtrak (http://www.amtrak.com) runs a service between Seattle and Vancouver. There are trains daily, leaving Seattle at 07:45 arrives into Vancouver at 11:40. The return trip leaves Vancouver at 18:00.
By North American standards, Vancouver has quite a decent public transit system. It is run by a regional transportation authority called TransLink (http://www.translink.bc.ca) and connects the various municipalities in the greater Vancouver area. Transportation is provided by bus, train (called the "skytrain", because it runs on elevated rails) and even by boats (called "seabus", for obvious reasons). Cash fares cost anywhere from $2.25 to $4.50, depending on the time of day and number of transit zones you cross. Buses only accept exact change, but at skytrain stations, tickets are sold at vending machines that give change. As of late the machines now accept debit cards and cr cards. Books of 10 prepaid tickets are available at a discount from many convenience stores. A daypass, offering unlimited travel for a single day, costs $8.00.
The Vancouver area has a number of municipalities or neighbourhoods that use the "North" and "West as part of their names. The following is a summary:
Yes, even locals who have lived here for many years find the distinctions confusing. To make it even worse many of these areas use the same numbered streets/avenues:
Parking in the city of Vancouver is best avoided by utilizing the public transit system. Downtown Vancouver has the densest population in all of North America with the exception of Manhattan. As such, you may expect that althrough driving & parking may not be impossible in the downtown core, it will not run on the cheap side either. If you really must park in the downtown core, your best option is to find a parkade. To discourage on-street parking, city parking meter rates are intentionally set at a higher cost than rates in parking lots. "Easy Park" lots rank as the most affordable, but generally the cost of parking will not vary greatly among parkades within a certain area.
Downtown is very accessible by foot & trolley buses run continually (every few minutes) on Granville St. As such, if you take SkyTrain to Granville St. station, practically anything downtown will be at farthest a 20 minute walk. Considering the traffic congestion, biking or walking will likely get you to your destination faster than would driving & parking your car.
Be very careful parking overnight, as vehicle break-ins are common. Many parkades do not have video cameras or any security after midnight.
Parking meters are in effect 7 days a week from 9:00am-8:00pm, but since many streets become no stopping zones between 3:00pm-6:00pm, be sure to read all signs and instructions on meters. The morning rush hour stopping restrictions may also apply on certain streets between 7:00am-9:30am.
Since you should expect city meter rates to be more expensive than lots, the following rate menu may provide as useful. Most meters are restricted to a 2hr maximum stay. Meters accept Canadian & American change only, in the $0.10, $0.25, $1.00 and $2.00 coinage. American coins are accepted at par value. Since these are the maximum amounts you should expect to pay, you may find cheaper parking on side streets and lots.
Overall, most uptown meters are around $1/hr and can go up to $2.50/hr around 500-800 blocks of W. Broadway around VGH. The downtown meters are the most expensive along Hornby and Howe Streets from Georgia north to the water, mid-upper range around Robson & adjacent streets like Alberni, mid-lower range in the Westend and the least expensive on the Downtown east side.
City meters and parking regulations are enforced regularly and violations are considered municipal offenses prosecuted in the provincial courts under the Offense Act. Violations in private lots are generally unenforceable, but you should be careful since you may get your car towed if you fail to make payment.
If your vehicle is towed on a city street, you can recover it at the city impound lot at 1410 Granville Street (under the Granville St. bridge).
The city of Vancouver is a very bicycle friendly city. In addition to the extremely popular seawall bicycle routes along Stanley Park, False Creek and Kitsilano, there are a whole network of bicycle routes that connect the whole city. The City of Vancouver provides a map of the bicycle routes that is available at most bike shops or online (http://www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/routes.htm).
Bicycles are available to rent by the hour, day or week. Many places also rent tandem bikes. Some bicycle rental locations:
Most Vancouver attractions are listed in separate sections of this site since they are geographically located in City Center or the North Shore regions. Make sure you read those District Articles for more information. Some of the highlights include:
There are two large publicly funded universities in Vancouver's metropolitan area, called the Lower Mainland: The University of British Columbia (http://www.ubc.ca) and Simon Fraser University (http://www.sfu.ca) (in Burnaby). UBC is ranked one of the the world's 50 best universities and is the largest university in western Canada. More than 50 000 full time and part time students in numerous disciplines are enrolled at the Point Grey Campus. UBC also has a downtown campus in Vancouver, located at Robson Square. The downtown location is geared more towards adult learning, business people and foreign students. As of 2005, UBC opened their Okanagan campus, in the interior city of Kelowna. The Kelowna campus currently enrolls 7500 students in various disciplines. SFU's main campus is located in north Burnaby (adjacent to Vancouver). The Burnaby campus is on Burnaby mountain, which offers a beautiful vista of Vancouver. SFU was constructed in the 1960s and is often criticized as being a concrete jungle. SFU opened their Surrey campus in 2002 in response to a surge of college-aged students in the Fraser Valley Region.
There are also a number of colleges and university colleges in Vancouver or within reasonable commuting distance. PASBC maintains a list (http://www.pas.bc.ca/about_pse/map2.htm) of all the major public post-secondary institutions in the province. There is a private, Christian university in the district of Langley, called Trinity Western University. Also in the Fraser Valley is the University College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV). UCFV maintains several satellite campuses, including Abbottsford, Chilliwack, and Hope.
Many young visitors come to Vancouver to improve their English. The Vancouver Public Library maintains a list of ESL schools (http://www.vpl.ca/branches/LibrarySquare/lit/ESLschools.html) in Vancouver.
This is only a sample of things you can look for in Vancouver. Visit the separate district pages for other info.
Tip There are two local taxes that are charged on the vast majority of goods, the PST (provincial sales tax) and the GST (goods and services tax). As a tourist you can get a GST tax refund by visiting one of the tax refund centers (one is located in Pacific Center).
Robson Street in the City Centre is home to many high-end shops.
Pacific Centre offers more than 150 shops, restaurants and services if you want to walk in an underground shopping centre. The shopping centre begins at Sears on the south end at Robson Street, and stretches all the way to Pender Street. There are many floors in the mall depending on where you are, and notable merchants include Holt Renfrew, Harry Rosen, Sport Chek, Old Navy, and is connected to the Bay (at Georgia and Granville streets), and Vancouver Centre (a small mall mainly consisting of a lotto centre, London Drugs, and a food court underneath Scotia Bank).
The city centre features Gastown, where late 1800s buildings feature tourist shops and art galleries.
Yaletown is also popular for its non-mainstream fashion boutiques and high-end salons.
Gore-tex© jackets are ubiquitous in Vancouver and the best place to buy them is at Mountain Equipment Co-op or one of the other outdoorsy stores clustered together on the east-west main drag called Broadway (equivalent to 9th Avenue, running between 8th and 10th) between Cambie St. and Main St., in the Kitsilano area.
Shopping is an adventure on the stretch of Commercial Drive, especially between 3rd Avenue and Venables St. in East Van. It's great for people-watching, produce (Santa Barbara Market), magazines (Magpie, http://www.thedrive.net/magpie/), cheese (La Grotta del Formaggio), sausage (JN&Z Deli), etc.
Where to begin? There is something for everyone in this cosmopolitan city. In particular, you will find many different kinds of Asian food available. If you fancy Sushi (or have not tried it yet) many places offer "all you can eat" lunches for $9.99. In general, you are likely to dine better and for cheaper than most other places in North America. If you can do without alcohol, you can usually have a pretty reasonable meal for under $10.00, and at the most expensive restaurants in the city, $70.00 will get you a 4 course feast with exquisite service.
The highest density of restaurants is in Kitsilano or the West End. The City Center has many of the high end restaurants either along Robson Street or associated with the many hotels in the downtown area. East Van tends to have many authentic ethnic restaurants.
Vancouver is also famous for its dim sum restaurants. Because of the big Chinese population, the price and quality of dim sum here is among the best in the world. One of the best is Sun Sui Wah, at 3888 Main Street. Also, check out Floata in Chinatown on Keefer Street, Top Cantonese Cuisine in East Vancouver on Kingsway and Earles. In Burnaby, try Fortune House in Metropolis Shopping Complex. The city of Richmond, with a majority of its inhabitants being of Chinese descent, will have a plethora to choose from. Restaurants are all over the place on No. 3 Road, Westminster Highway, Alexandra Road, and on the many side streets just east of Richmond Centre.
For budget travellers, pick up a Georgia Straight (a free local paper available all over the place), and clip two for one coupons from the food section.
Some favourites of the locals include:
Samurai Sushi, located in downtown on Davie Street, and also at 43rd and Cambie is well known for having huge portions for small prices. It also has fresher sushi than some more expensive places. The downtown location is open until midnight. The Cambie location is only open until 9:00pm, but is slightly cheaper and much easier to park at. During meal times, it can be very difficult to get a seat. In the summer, it can be nice to get take out and walk down to a park area (English Bay for the downtown location, ~20min; local park 1 block east of Cambie location ~5min). Be sure to try their toro (fatty tuna), and salmon sushi/sashimi. Stay away from their tuna sushi/sashimi because it tends to be too frozen.
Baille, a vietnamese sandwich shop located at Kingsway and Fraser is rather out of the way for most tourists but it regularly wins local awards for sandwiches and boasts delicious vietnamese subs (including a vegetarian one) for less than $3. In fact, you'll find lots of small Chinese/Vietnamese restaurants where a good lunch will cost you less than $6 in the area (Kingsway between Fraser Street & Knight Street).
Fritz Frie House, a french frie shop on Davie near Granville in downtown, boasts what is arguably the best poutine in town. The curds are imported from Quebec. The garlic lover's mayo is fantastic too. Cleverly located next to the local Fitness World. $5 for a medium. Open until the wee hours in the morning, frequented by night clubbers. Regularly wins local awards for fries.
Kam's Singaporean Cuisine on Davie Street just west of Burrard. This is a favourite and often there is a line-up. If you go, try to say hi to the manager - he's quite a character. Cut out a 2 for 1 coupon in every weekly ion of the West Ender or the Georgia Straight.
Hon's on Robson is a favourite for quick, cheap, Chinese eats. There tends to be long line ups, and the food is a little on the greasy side, but you definitely get your money's worth. Also located in Chinatown (near Keefer and Main), and Richmond.
For coffee, there are probably more Starbucks per capita in Vancouver than anywhere else. If you look on Robson street, you will be able to find two starbucks kitty-corner to one another. Instead, try places like Caffè Artigiano, or some smaller independents like Delany's on Denman, Melriches on Davie Street, or anywhere in Yaletown. Caffè Artigiano is quite well known locally for their high quality coffees.
And for the best ever ice-cream experience, visit La Casa Gelato. It's a little off the beaten path, but the over 200 flavours will reward you! 1033 Venables. Follow the Viaduct east out of downtown, and keep going straight. You will pass some old style homes on your left, and a park on your right. The place is located near the train tracks.
Most of the night clubs are located in the City Centre, especially along Granville Street, south of Robson, downtown.
Local Info The best rundown on local info is available through the freely available widely distributed weekly, the Georgia Straight (http://www.georgiastraight.com). The Vancouver Courier, Westender, Terminal City and Xtra West (gay and lesbian bi-weekly newspaper) are other free weeklies.
In general, accommodations in Vancouver are on the expensive side. This is true even for the locals, many of whom spend an important portion of their income on rent. Vancouver has the most expensive real estate in Canada. Most hotel rooms begin at $250-300/night, and most motel rooms cost somewhere between $90-150/night. If you are lucky to find hostel accommodation, the cheapest of these will cost around $20/night, more reasonably between $35-50. Most of the high end hotels and backpackers hostels are in the City Center. There are a number of budget hotels/motels along Kingsway in the East Van, and Burnaby. Richmond has a number of 'airport' hotels. If you really want to stay at a camp ground there are RV parks on the North Shore and in Coquitlam. The closest Provincial Parks with campgrounds are near Chilliwack and Squamish.
There are 'hostelling international' youth hostels in three different locations Vancouver:
If you need information during your stay, contact Tourism Vancouver. In case of an Emergency, dial 9-1-1 from any public phone for free.
The area code for phone calls in Vancouver and the surrounding area (known locally as the Lower Mainland) is 604 or 778. Vancouver has ten digit calling -- when making a local call, include the area code.
Internet cafes are widely available and generally quite reasonably priced ($2-3/hour).
There is an extensive listing of cafes with free wireless internet access (if you have a wifi-enabled laptop) at http://vancouver.wifimug.org/
A good spot to move on to from Vancouver is British Columbia's capital Victoria, on Vancouver Island. Vancouver is also quite close to Seattle and a bit further off are the excellent destinations of Jasper and Banff in the famed Jasper National Park and Banff National Park on the BC-Alberta border.
For those who enjoy outdoor activities, a visit to Whistler (2 hours drive from Vancouver) is mandatory. In the winter, enjoy some of the best Skiing in North America, and in the summer try some authentic mountain biking.
Homelessness is a prevalent problem in Vancouver and panhandling is common throughout downtown. Although on the whole Vancouver is a fairly safe city (recently ranked by Mercer Int. as the 3rd best place to live in the world) most tourists are led, by tour companies paid by local merchants, to the Gastown area of the city. Gastown is indeed an historic part of town with interesting offerings to tourists; however, this part of town is bordered by Canada's poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside. The Downtown Eastside is home to many clearly destitute people, drug addicts, boarded up businesses, drug dealers, and seedy businesses. Parked cars with American or out of province license plates are especially likely to be targeted for theft in this part of town. Violent crime toward tourists is rare; however, tourists may be subjected to aggressive panhandling or verbal abuse. Many of the residents of the Downtown Eastside are friendly and warmhearted people and interesting businesses exist as well as some Bohemian cultural elements. During the day thoughtful tourists may be interested in going for a walk to get a more balanced view of this city which prides itself on being one of the best cities to reside in. Aggressive panhandling is illegal; should you find yourself subject to such treatment, anywhere in BC during your stay, dial 9-1-1 for police assistance.
Gastown clubs are known for violence. Last year, two separate shooting incidents, one in front of Loft Six night club and one by the Purple Onion night club claimed the lives of five people, several of whom were visitors caught in crossfire. Several seniors were targeted in this area also who were assaulted and then robbed by metamphetamine addicts. Most recently, another man died in the Gastown area, shot in the 500 block of Richards St. The Shine nightclub also had a shooting that did not result in a death, but two people were wounded. If you must go to the Gastown area at night, it is recommended you stay on Water St. and not wander around in the vicinity.
The Granville Mall area is also extremely popular with clubbers and night partiers, and the sheer volume of people combined with alcohol consumption make Friday & Saturday nights on this strip potentially volatile. Disorderly conduct is frequent and fighting is common. Groups of adolescent males routinely engage in ego exchanges & the resulting fights occur for reasons as simple as making eye contact with a person bent on mischief. Roudy behaviour like shouting, public urination in the alleways or on the street corner, disobeying traffic lights, solicitation of passers-by & littering are all common. Granville Mall looks & smells like an open sewer at 4am in the morning. Tourists interested in experiencing Vancouver's nightlife along Granville Mall should therefore understand this before visiting the Granville Mall clubs, and should exercise caution.
During the day visitors to the Granville Mall may be solicited to purchase illegal drugs, particularly marijuana (usually offered by a terse uttering of "bud"), although such solicitations are common everywhere in Vancouver. Vancouver Police, for example, were able to purchase drugs while in uniform in an unmarked crown victoria on Commercial Drive. Simply pretending not to notice drug dealer's solicitations is the accepted way to turn them down. Should you have repeated, aggressive or persistent solicitations, dial 9-1-1. Although Vancouver's police and the justice system tend to turn a blind eye to marijuana use, tourists should be advised that illegal drug use, manufacture, sale & trafficking, including marijuana, is ILLEGAL in Canada and that you can be arrested for purchasing and/or possessing marijuana. The popular belief that possession of marijuana in Canada is legal is an urban myth & is untrue. The government has looked into decriminalizing marijuana & making its possession in small quantities a provincial offense (like speeding), but this law was never passed.
Most violent crime in Vancouver is related to the drug trade and gang activity and the city is overall ranked 18th safest city in the whole world. As such, visitors should not feel limited in any way to explore the city; you should however, exercise caution in the above-mentioned areas.