Vancouver Travel Information
When to Go
The best time to visit is from early June to early October, when there's less rain, temperatures are warm, daylight hours are long and the transportation routes are open. May to September are good times for whale-watching. The winter ski season peaks in January and February, but at resorts like Whistler the slopes are open year-round.
Vancouver has one of the mildest climates in the country. It rarely snows in the city, and when it does, for maybe a week or two over winter, it tends to melt quickly or get washed away by the rain. Conversely, it seldom gets oppressively hot. What Vancouver is guaranteed to get - by the bucketload - is wet. The surrounding mountains, which on a clear day look close enough to touch, disappear completely when the clouds settle in and the rain pours down, which can be for days on end.
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Local buses use on-board fare machines, so exact change (or more) is required and no change is given. The network is extensive in the downtown area and many buses have bike racks; most are also wheelchair accessible.
Finding street parking downtown is a challenge with expensive meters, resident-only side street parking and merciless tow trucks. Aim for paid undercover carparks.
You really don't need a car for sightseeing around town, but for visits throughout Greater Vancouver, a car makes life much simpler.
Car rental rates fluctuate wildly, so it's worth shopping around. Booking ahead usually ensures the best rates, with the airport often being cheaper than downtown. Keep in mind that, after adding insurance, taxes, excess kilometers and any other fees, you could be handed a pretty surprising bill. All the major agencies are represented at the airport.
Vancouver is a relatively good cycling city, with more than 300km of designated routes crisscrossing the region. Cyclists can take their bikes for free on SkyTrain and SeaBus services, as well as on bike-rack-fitted buses and some mini ferries. Cyclists are required by law to wear helmets here.
Pick up a Metro Vancouver Cycling Map (3.95) from a convenience store or bookshop for details on area routes and bike-friendly contacts. You can also view and download the map for free on the TransLink website. Further bike maps and resources are available via the City of Vancouver website, while the University of British Columbia (UBC) offers a handy cycling route planner. Consider timing your visit for June's annual Velopalooza, a multiday, family-friendly bikey love-in of tours, gatherings and pedalling shenanigans. If you're traveling sans bike, you can rent from businesses around the city.
Citizens of dozens of countries - including the USA, most Western European and Commonwealth countries, as well as Mexico, Japan, South Korea and Israel - don't need visas to enter Canada for stays of up to 180 days. US permanent residents are also exempt.
Nationals of around 150 other countries, including South Africa and China, need to apply to the Canadian visa office in their home country for a temporary resident visa (TRV). The website maintained by Citizenship & Immigration Canada (www.cic.gc.ca) has full details, including office addresses and the latest requirements. A separate visa is required if you plan to study or work in Canada.
Health and Safety
Vancouver is relatively safe for visitors. Purse-snatching and pickpocketing do occur, however, so be vigilant with your personal possessions. Theft from unattended cars is not uncommon, so never leave valuables in vehicles where they can be seen.
Persistent street begging is a big issue for many visitors; just say 'Sorry' and pass on if you're not interested and want to be polite. A small group of hardcore scam artists also works the downtown core, preying on tourists by asking for 'help to get back home.' These mostly male reprobates never seem to make it home and the locals roll their eyes when they see them plying their tricks on unsuspecting visitors. Do not engage in conversation with these scammers.
The city's Downtown Eastside area is a depressing ghetto of lives blighted by drugs, prostitution and mental illness. Crime against visitors is rare in this area but you are advised to be vigilant and stick to the main streets, especially at night. You will likely be discreetly offered drugs here by a small-fry pusher or two at some point - just walk on and they won't bother you again.
The area around Main and Hastings Sts is a pretty downtrodden part of the city and is not an area in which to dawdle at night, especially for a woman on her own.