I recently visited Vancouver, British Columbia on a trip across the pond. It is one of most scenic places I’ve visited, with flowing mountains and snowy vistas in view from downtown. There were lots of things I loved about Vancouver and some things I wasn’t a fan of. Read all about it in this Vancouver city review.
Vancouver is one of the most expensive cities in Canada, but like every city, there are cheap or free things to do everywhere. to bring the costs down while you are there.
When I visited Vancouver with my mother, we ended up spending around £1,500 for the two of us for a week all-told including flights, hotel and food & activities – and we also banked 37,000 Virgin Miles through RocketMiles too. It was part of an epic voyage which took us to Vancouver and Dallas, Texas in one trip.
For a trip to the west coast of North America, I didn’t think this was too bad, considering we spent quite a bit on tourist attractions such as trolley buses while we were there to make the most of the amazing landscape.
The first thing you notice about Vancouver is obviously the scenery and the great outdoors. The second thing you may notice is the homelessness (especially in the downtown area). I’m not sure if where we stayed in Vancouver was a hotspot for it, but there seemed to be a lot of people living on the streets, I’m told due to the high rent and costs of living in Vancouver.
If you are exploring the parks and the nature of Vancouver, then you shouldn’t come across it too much, but when exploring downtown, don’t be surprised to have people begging. Its not an excuse not to visit – but just something that was apparent to me when exploring.
There are plenty of free things to do in Vancouver if you are on a budget. As Vancouver is surrounded by nature, you can easily plan your trip around the free attractions. Here are some of the freebie attractions we got to see:
One of Vancouver’s top attractions. Stanley Park is over 1,000 acres of parkland to explore and easily get lost in, featuring trails, public gardens and even beaches (though I wouldn’t recommend that in winter!)
There is a handy walking trail along the seawall that takes you around the whole outside of the park and coastline of English Bay, meaning you can get some very cool pictures.
You may need strong legs and some stamina to get up there, however Prospect Point (the highest lookout point in the park) is a must do! It has a breathtaking view overlooking the stunning mountains, flowing rivers and Lions Gate Bridge linking North Vancouver to downtown.
The hotel concierge told us “If you haven’t seen Granville Island, then you haven’t seen Vancouver” – so our hopes were high. It’s basically an entourage of industrial warehouses containing public markets, restaurants shops and theatre.
The public market is a very cool place to go – even if you don’t want to buy anything. It is filled with venders and stalls selling freshly made bagels, pies, sweet treats and more – and quite a few of them give away free samples. We scored some free cheese, chocolate and smore popcorn samples just by walking around.
Paid for Attractions
Vancouver’s top attractions have a hefty price tag to them, but if you want to truly experience Vancouver, they are a must do. We went to several of the highly recommended experience during our week stay there. Here’s what we thought:
Capilano Suspension Bridge
One of the biggest attractions in the Vancouver area is the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It spans the length of the Capilano river, and offers several trails around the tree tops of the forest.
Typically, the day we chose to visit happened to be the wettest day on record, but the rain did not dampen our spirits, or the views below from the middle of the bridge.
There is more than just the main bridge with several trails for you to take. You’ll need a strong set of leg muscles however, as there is a lot of walking… and a lot of bouncing when walking over the suspension bridge!
There is a free coach that will take you to the main entrance of the Capilano Suspension Bridge that leaves from Canada Place every 15 mins. Unfortunately, entry is incredibly expensive costing $42.95 per adult and $14.95 per child (age 6-12). It is an experience worth doing, but unfortunately might leave a hole in your wallet.
If the weather while you’re there isn’t that great, you can get an indoor virtual view of Canada with Fly-Over Canada. If you have ever seen the Epcot ride ‘Soarin’, it is exactly like that, where you sit on a paraglider while watching a very large screen – so it looks like you are flying over the whole of Canada’s scenery and landscapes.
It’s a pretty cool experience, and something to do of an evening when not much is open, however prices for the ride are quite steep at $22.95 for adults and $14.45 for children (up to age 12) if you book online. Buying tickets at the door will set you back more.
When we went, they had a whole Halloween theme to the ride, which in my opinion made it quite confusing and sort of killed it. The actual ride itself is a nice way to see a bit more of Canada (albeit virtually). It is located at Canada Place (on the riverfront of the downtown area).
Vancouver is easy enough to navigate due to its grid street system (much like New York), and has a decent amount of public transport. It offers a metro service, local buses and even some free buses up to the mountain attractions such as the Capilano Suspension Bridge and shopping malls from Canada Place.
The metro can’t take you many places within the downtown area, if that’s how you were looking to get around, with only a few stops on its two lines at the major destinations, so if your hotel is downtown, you may need to do a bit of walking. Luckily, nothing is ever a million miles away in downtown Vancouver, so everything should be within a 30 minute walk.
One of the things that Vancouver was lacking for me was use of Uber. This is one of the main ways I tend to get around in a foreign city (as its generally cheaper than a cab, and gets you where you need to go!) The Canadian government however had ruled against the licence of Uber operating – which meant using expensive yellow cabs that were tricky to get a hold of.
Uber and other ride sharing services have been announced for Vancouver and other cities around Canada, but there are still no dates planned – so be sure to plan ahead.
We had some great food while we were in Vancouver (when we avoided the fast food chains for convenience). Here are some of my recommendations:
Old Spaghetti Factory
Despite being a semi chain restaurant in Canada and the US, the Old Spaghetti Factory had some amazing food and a relaxed atmosphere. You are served freshly baked warm sourdough bread once you arrive at your table with regular and garlic butter – which I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing!
We couldn’t go to a place called the ‘Spaghetti Factory’ and not have its namesake, so opted for the spaghetti in meat sauce – which was incredible. Despite being a massive plate full, I had the whole thing (including mopping up all remaining juices from the leftover bread).
The price for lunch here was only $14.95 for a starter, main course, unlimited tea and bread – which was very reasonable. I’d definitely recommend a visit if you were in the area.
Mahony & Sons Irish Pub
Seriously… put Mahony & Sons Irish Pub on your list. Now I know what you’re thinking “why would you go to Canada to go to an Irish Pub?”, but this one is seriously worth it! It is located right on the riverfront near Canada Place to give you great views of the mountainous scenery while eating some great food.
There was a lot on the menu that we could’ve easily devoured, but me and mum decided to share both plates of food, with me opting for a Turkey Dip sandwich and mum for bangers & mash. The turkey sandwich was one of the best I’ve had, with the meat being so tender, and a yummy gravy sauce to dip in. I don’t think I’ve tasted creamier mash before than the mash I tried here either, with juicy sausages to soak up even more flavour.
Now I can’t go through a Canadian city review without mentioning Tim Hortons… which I may be slightly obsessed with. Their doughnuts are a must have, with my favourite being the chocolate dip. It’s a chain cafe (much like Starbucks) but famous for its doughnut selection, and iconically their ‘Timbits’, which are round doughnut balls.
We stayed for a week at the Best Western Chateau Granville for the week, the hotel cost us £800 – which was one of the cheapest options for downtown Vancouver for the time we were looking.
The hotel itself was very nice (although a bit outdated in some areas) with all guest quarters having a living area as well as a bedroom and balcony. I especially liked this as it meant I didn’t have to watch TV from my bed, and could watch it from the sofa in the living room space.
The location of the hotel was something I wasn’t a fan of. It is located on Granville Street (which is one of the hotspots for shopping and restaurants)… but it is further down from the main attractions than we first thought. The main attractions were located from around 100-700 Granville, and we were on 1,100 Granville, which meant a 10 minute walk each way to the main centre.
There seemed to be an elevated number of homeless people camped out around the hotel, as it is out of the way of the hustle and bustle. The hotel is located opposite Vancouver’s oldest sex shop (which may be your thing… just thought I’d mention it!)
Booking through Rocketmiles – 37,000 frequent flyer miles
Rocketmiles is owned by hotel website Priceline and offers you anywhere from 500-10,000 airline miles per night on over 40 airlines by booking hotel rooms. You can credit miles to schemes including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, or you can select other rewards such as Amazon Gift Card or Uber credit.
It’s a great option for those looking to boost the points balance of their frequent flyer schemes. If you wanted to give RocketMiles a go, you can use my referral link to get a bonus 1,000 miles on your first booking.
When booking through Rocketmiles, it’s worth checking that the prices are competitive with other hotel websites, as sometimes the prices are inflated. You can use hotel comparison websites such as Trivago to check whether you’re getting the best price. When we looked however, the prices of the hotel we were looking at matched other sites.
For the money that we paid (and the 37,000 free miles), I don’t think it was a bad option, as some hotels were quoting £2,000+ for a week! If the hotel was just in a different place, perhaps nearer to the action, it would’ve been far better.
Vancouver is a great city to visit. If you’re an outdoorsy person, there is plenty to do and its an easy city to get lost in with the many parks and outside spaces. If you prefer more inside activities, then it may not be for you – as the draw of the city is seeing the nature.
I personally feel that its a one-visit city… where there wouldn’t be much you haven’t done if you go back for a second time. I don’t think there is much we missed when in Vancouver, so won’t be rushing to return, however we had a very nice time while we were there.