Metro Vancouver’s 53-station SkyTrain network is one of Canada’s most iconic transit services. But the three-line system – 79km of elevated and underground tracks with driverless trains zipping passengers around and beyond the city – is also an inviting tool for easy urban exploring, so long as you know where to go.

On your next visit to British Columbia’s ocean-fringed metropolis, buy a transit system DayPass (which also covers bus and SeaBus ferries). Then dive into our road-tested SkyTrain itinerary for a full day of cool stops in and around Vancouver.

A blue and white and silver SkyTrain train on an elevated track curves around a building with a range of snow-covered mountains in the background
A Canada Line train of the SkyTrain system pulls into Aberdeen Station in Vancouver © John Lee / Lonely Planet

SkyTrain stop 1: Stadium-Chinatown Station

Snag an early breakfast in Gastown, the city’s brick-paved heritage district, then slip between the imposing columns of historic Waterfront Station. Cross-Canada passenger trains once rolled into Vancouver here but it’s now a local transit hub where two SkyTrain routes begin.

Hop on the Expo Line and three stops later disembark at Stadium-Chinatown. On the edge of North America’s third-largest Chinatown district, you’ll find busy, multi-hued streets including Pender, Keefer and Main each lined with shops, cafes and photo-ready lampposts wreathed with golden dragons.

A red pagoda on a pond is seen through the ornate stone scrollwork on a bridge bannister
Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a Chinatown highlight © John Lee / Lonely Planet

Don't miss the towering Chinatown Millennium Gate here plus the delightful Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, where tile-topped walls enclose a large, turtle-filled pond. Need to rest your camera finger? Fuel-up with a piping hot pork bun at nearby New Town Bakery.

When it’s time to move on, walk back to Stadium-Chinatown or take the number 3 bus on Main St (remember: your DayPass includes all transit). Both lead to the Expo Line’s Main Street-Science World Station. If you have time, visit nearby Science World and its hands-on, family-friendly exhibits. There’s also a kaleidoscopic array of brilliant street art murals just off Main St around Industrial Avenue.

SkyTrain stop 2: Commercial-Broadway Station

One SkyTrain stop past Main Street-Science World, Commercial-Broadway Station is on the doorstep of Commercial Drive, one of Vancouver’s liveliest streets. Shaped by 1950s Italian immigrants and 1960s counterculture politics, it’s a smorgasbord of independent stores, eclectic coffeeshops and dozens of restaurants serving a taste-tripping array of international cuisines.

An array of kitschy items, including dolls and a ship's steering wheel clock are seen on shelves in a vintage store
Mintage is a hot spot for vintage shoppers on Commercial Drive © John Lee / Lonely Planet

Stroll north on the Drive towards the mountains (hop on and off transit bus 20 at any time if you need to rest your legs) and explore stores such as vintage darling Mintage and candy-packed Licorice Parlour. Coffee-wise, hip Prado hits the spot, while lunch can mean anything from Jamjar’s hearty Lebanese comfort food to elevated pub classics at nerd bar Storm Crow Tavern.

SkyTrain stop 3: New Westminster Station

Walk or take bus 20 back to Commercial-Broadway and reconnect to the Expo Line. A 20-minute SkyTrain trundle from here takes you to New Westminster, an historic city that was British Columbia’s 1860s capital. Steps from the banks of the mighty Fraser River, its Columbia St main drag is studded with heritage buildings. It’s also home to the Anvil Centre, with its free-entry city museum and art gallery.

Save time for the waterfront, though. New West’s indoor River Market has shops and eateries while the adjoining shoreline boardwalk leads to a linear park that’s lined with art installations, history panels and riverfront panoramas punctuated by beady-eyed birds from herons to cormorants.

the glass dome of the Science World museum, with fluttering Canada flags, is seen across a waterway as tourists look at it from a dock
If you have time, add Science World to your day out © John Lee / Lonely Planet

Return to the station and trundle back the way you came. Disembark at Commercial-Broadway Station, then transfer to one of the 99B-Line express buses outside. After four stops and 10 minutes, you’ll reach Broadway-City Hall Station.

You could nip two stops north from here on the Canada Line to Yaletown-Roundhouse Station and visit Engine 374, a free-entry pavilion housing the locomotive that pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in 1887. Or you could head south to another intriguing city suburb – especially if you’re hungry.

SkyTrain stop 4: Bridgeport Station

Mostly subterranean, Canada Line trains emerge from the tunnel at Marine Drive Station then glide across a bridge traversing the shimmering North Arm of the Fraser River. You’re now in Richmond, a small city founded on farming and fishing that’s now best-known for hosting North America’s tastiest Asian dining scene.

There are hundreds of authentic restaurants to choose from here. But if you’re visiting on a weekend between May and October, unleash your appetite at the Richmond Night Market, a five-minute walk from Bridgeport Station. Lined with food stalls, you’ll find everything from fish balls to rainbow-hued grilled cheese to ‘Japanese poutine,’ a fusion version of Canada’s favourite gravy-and-fries dish.

A large pile of fries, with gravy and chives and other various toppings is seen in a paper boat on a table
‘Japanese poutine’ is a delicacy at the Richmond Night Market © John Lee / Lonely Planet

Missed the market? Don't worry: near Lansdowne Station, Richmond’s Alexandra Road­­ – nicknamed ‘Food Street’ – has dozens of restaurants, while locals also love the hawker-style counters at city food courts. Near Canada Line’s Aberdeen Station, try Parker Place, President Plaza or Aberdeen Centre for everything from spicy laksa and Chinese doughnuts to ramen bowls and snow-like bingsoo desserts.

SkyTrain stop 5: Waterfront Station

Time to go? Hop on the Canada Line and return north. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Waterfront Station from Richmond. Turn left as you depart the heritage terminal and you’ll soon be back on the streets of Gastown. Walk between the stores and bars on Water St (feel free to join the crowds snapping photos at the Steam Clock) and, within minutes, you’ll reach Maple Tree Square.

Two SkyTrain trains are on different tracks as they come out of a station
Metro Vancouver’s SkyTrain system has three lines and 53 stations © John Lee / Lonely Planet

This is where modern-day Vancouver began. The jaunty statue of Gassy Jack Deighton here marks the spot where this raconteur’s 1867 saloon triggered a ramshackle development that eventually became a city. Toast the man’s legacy – plus your SkyTrain-driven day out – with a cocktail or three at the Diamond, a brick-lined upstairs bar overlooking the statue and the historic square.

Make it happen

A DayPass costs $10.25 and is valid for unlimited trips on bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain transit services. Buy paper DayPass tickets at SkyTrain station vending machines or at designated local retailers. You can also load a DayPass onto a plastic stored value Compass Card, available for purchase from the same machines and retailers. To plot your own local excursions, use the Plan My Trip tool on the transit system’s website.

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