One of the big advantages of living in the Seattle area for us is being able to travel to Canada and one of its most vibrant cities in less than 2.5 hours by car.

Vancouver is a coastal city and the busiest port in Canada. It is the biggest, most developed city in the province of British Columbia. BC has a nickname of “Beautiful” British Columbia for a good reason!

We fell in love with Vancouver but it did not happen from first sight. After our first visit during New Year, we had mixed feelings. Partly because of the weather: it was cold, damp, and dark.

That impression changed after we met our friends – a lovely family from our homeland. They showed us Vancouver as they know as locals; not only fascinating places but also the best time and ways to explore them. After seeing the city from their perspective we keep coming to Vancouver even during the dark and rainy season 😉

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Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. photo credit: Wikipedia

Welcome to Vancouver: What we learned after visiting the city

Vancouver has a great ethnic diversity. Approximately 30% of the city’s inhabitants are of Chinese heritage and half of the resident’s native language is not English. In reality, visiting Vancouver feels like visiting the most ‘Asian’ city outside Asia.

The Greater Vancouver area has a population of nearly 2.5 million and is the most densely populated metro area in Canada. Vancouver is one of the greenest and overall greatest for living cities in the whole world!

Vancouver at night
Vancouver at night

Foreign cash flooded Vancouver, making its housing market the second least affordable in North America. Since 2000 Vancouver home prices grew over 200% faster than New York City. The average home price in Vancouver is 1,156,050 CAD; a detached house will run 1,470,000 CAD.

Vancouver Downtown & North Vancouver Mountains Skyline photo credit: Luke Lawreszuk/Sprayedout.com

Vancouver, with its lush evergreen forests, mountains, and the Pacific Ocean, cannot be mistaken for any other city in North America.

It is the first city in North America in my experience where you can see the mountains so close from downtown. There is not one, not two, but three(!) ski areas at the base of the city: Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour Mountains. These are high-quality ski areas within 0.5h drive from Downtown Vancouver:

Cypress Mountain and Grouse Mountain on the map of Vancouver

In the center of the picture (below) one of my favorite sights: brightly lit ski slopes hanging above Downtown Vancouver at night:

Brightly lit ski slopes hang over Vancouver at night
Downtown Vancouver at night

Afternoon walk at Seymour Mountain, just outside the city’s northern suburbs:

Seymour Mountain, Vancouver
Seymour Mountain, Vancouver

Speaking about urban planning, there is a new international word called Vancouverism: “deep respect for nature with enthusiasm for busy, engaging, active streets and dynamic urban life. Vancouverism means tall slim towers for density, widely separated by low-rise buildings, for light, air, and views”.

Vancouver makes an impression of the easy-going and relaxed city, where people of any cultural background, faith or gender identity feel welcome. It is very comfortable to visit with little children. There are tons of activities for kids within the city limits.

Vancouver is the only place in Canada where you can see palm trees on the streets and at the private backyards. 🙂

English Bay, Vancouver

Weather and best time to visit Vancouver

Among Canada’s large cities, Vancouver is the only one granted with a mild climate.

Summers are warm and winter temperatures rarely dip below freezing. The rain season lasts from October to March, with mostly overcast skies, light rain or drizzles, and very little sunshine. As somebody said, “Vancouver has the best climate and worst weather”.

Snow is a big deal in Vancouver. In the picture below you can see “one of the biggest snowfalls in years” in Vancouver. We even we able to scrape some snow to build a snowman 🙂

Rare sight: snow in Vancouver. Kitsilano Beach

Our most memorable visit to Vancouver was in summer when we finally enjoyed the warm sunny weather while hiking, biking, wading, swimming, and making the most of what outdoor Vancouver has to offer.

A day out at Belcarra Regional Park, Vancouver

Budgeting for Vancouver

Accommodations

No matter what time of the year you plan to visit, it will be hard to find a decent place if you don’t start looking in advance. Booking two weeks ahead is not enough for Vancouver. It’s a popular destination year-round. The average price for a 3-star hotel room is 100+ CAD per night. Book early.

Burrard Hotel is a nice place to stay in Downtown Vancouver. It is historical yet modern with a lush courtyard garden:

Burrard Hotel, Vancouver. photo credit: Booking.com

We found renting an apartment/house through Airbnb/VRBO to be more competitive compared to hotels. For the same or lower price, you can get more space and a full kitchen to cook some meals.

Food

Asian influence made Vancouver one of the greatest places to try Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Thai cuisine without breaking a bank.

The average meal and coffee/tea will cost you around 20 CAD per person. Sushi rolls are both cheap and tasty in Vancouver: as low as 5 CAD for a roll is a norm for the city.

Our first-ever Vietnamese Pho soup (11 CAD per portion):

Seafood is another local specialty: fresh west coast oysters, shrimps, salmon, and Dungeness crab are easy to find in the city. Don’t forget to try local coffee and pastries!

Entertainment

Canada is famous for its nature and Vancouver is an excellent place to discover some. We spent little money during the summer for bike rentals, swimming pool fees, and had amazing memories.

Biking Vancouver Seawall in late August was one of the most memorable things for me:

Biking Vancouver Seawall
Vancouver Seawall: the stunning place to walk/bike/stroll for hours along the Pacific Ocean

Lynn Canyon Park: another favorite in Vancouver for hiking, swimming and enjoying the nature:

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

During the winter in Vancouver, we switch mostly to indoor activities. Prices for tickets and entrance fees are slightly higher than in the US.

TELUS World of Science is a great place to visit with a family on a rainy day.

TELUS World of Science, Vancouver

Transportation

Vancouver has great, user-friendly public transportation. Locals use it a lot. Although we have never tried it, our close friends from Vancouver said that it would be pretty easy to use for visitors.

We always arrived in the city by car, which is also a convenient way of getting around in Vancouver and vicinity. Parking was not an issue. The two differences in driving between the US and Canada are kilometers instead of miles and the flashing green light at some intersections in Vancouver (indicates that pedestrians have the ability to stop traffic to allow a safe crossing).

Our most favorite transport in Vancouver was biking. The city has more than 450km of dedicated bike lanes and plenty of rentals around. We used English Bay Bike Rentals and liked it a lot.

Rental BIkes in Vancouver
Rental BIkes in Vancouver

On bikes, we could get around most desirable places much faster than on foot. Stanley Park, English Bay, Granville Island, Kitsilano Beach – these are popular bike routes and cover most of the must-see places in Vancouver.

One sunny morning, Leo made a casual bike ride with our friend from their house in Vancouver straight to Crystal Falls. He was so fascinated by the nature and its accessibility within the city limits that he said he would love to move to Vancouver. 🙂

Atop Crystal Falls, Vancouver

Thanks for reading!

Read next: Our most favorite places and things to do in Vancouver, British Columbia.