Dangers & Annoyances
Vancouver is relatively safe for visitors.
- Purse-snatching and pickpocketing do occur; be vigilant with your personal possessions.
- Theft from unattended cars is not uncommon; never leave valuables in vehicles where they can be seen.
- Persistent street-begging is an issue for some 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, singling out tourists and asking for 'help to get back home.' Do not let them engage you in conversation.
- Vancouver City Passport (www.citypassports.com; $25) Discounts at attractions, restaurants and activities across the city for up to two adults and two children.
- Vanier Park ExplorePass (www.spacecentre.ca/explore-pass; adult/child $36/30) Combined entry to the Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum and HR MacMillan Space Centre. Includes one entry to each attraction and is available at any of the three sites.
- UBC Museums & Gardens Pass (adult/child $33/28) Combined entry to all the the University of BC's major attractions. It's valid for several months and also includes additional campus discounts.
Canada, like the USA, operates on 110V, 60Hz AC.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Police, Fire & Ambulance||911|
|Police (nonemergency number)||604-717-3321|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Not required for visitors from the US, the Commonwealth and most of Western Europe for stays up to 180 days. Required by those from more than 130 other countries. However, visa-exempt foreign nationals flying to Canada now require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). This excludes US citizens and those who already have a valid Canadian visa. For more information on the eTA, see www.canada.ca/eta. For visa information, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website.
Vancouver's gay and lesbian scene is part of the city's culture rather than a subsection of it. The legalization of same-sex marriage here makes it a popular spot for those who want to tie the knot in scenic style. But if you just want to kick back and have a good time, this is also Canada's top gay-tastic party city.
Gay & Lesbian by Neighborhood
- Downtown & West End West End's Davie St is Vancouver's gay scene central.
- Commercial Drive Traditional center of Vancouver's lesbian community.
Lonely Planet’s Top Choices
The West End's Davie St is the center of Vancouver's gay scene. Sometimes called the Gay Village, this is Canada's largest 'gayborhood' and is marked by rainbow flags, hand-holding locals and pink-painted bus shelters. There's a full menu of scene-specific pubs and bars, and it's a warm and welcoming district for everyone, gay or straight. Find the perfect spot sitting at a street-side cafe pretending to check your phone while actually checking out the passing talent; you can expect to make friends pretty quickly here. Vancouver's Commercial Dr is a traditional center of the lesbian scene. The city is highly gay-friendly, so you can expect events and happenings all around the city.
You're unlikely to run out of places to hang with the locals in Vancouver's lively gay scene. Davie St, in particular, is home to a full bar-crawl of diverse gay-driven watering holes, from pubby haunts to slick lounge bars. You'll also find places to shake your thang on the dance floor here. But it's not all about the West End: look out for gay-friendly nights at clubs and bars around the city. Peruse some options at www.gayvancouver.net/nightlife.
Showing how far the scene has progressed since the days when Vancouver's gay community was forced to stay in the closet, Pride Week is now Canada's biggest annual gay celebration. Staged around the first week of August, the centerpiece is the parade – a huge street fiesta of disco-pumping floats, drum-beating marching bands and gyrating, barely clad locals dancing through the streets as if they've been waiting all year for the opportunity. In 2016 Justin Trudeau marched in the parade, becoming the first Canadian prime minister to do so. The parade is only the most visual evidence of Pride Week; this is also the time to dive into galas, drag contests, all-night parties and a popular queer film fest. Book your area hotel far in advance, since this is a highly popular event for visitors. During the same week, East Vancouver's annual Dyke March concludes with a festival and beer garden in Grandview Park on Commercial Dr.
- Check the online directory of the Gay & Lesbian Business Association of BC (www.loudbusiness.com) for all manner of local businesses, from dentists to spas and hotels.
- For local events and the inside track on the community, check www.gayvancouver.net and www.gayvan.com.
- Head to www.superdyke.com for insights on the local lesbian scene.
- For support and resources of all kinds, Qmunity (www.qmunity.ca) provides discussion groups, a health clinic and advice for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered.
- Contact Vancouver Pride Society (www.vancouverpride.ca) for the latest info on the Pride festival.
Best Gay Bars
Best Place to Watch the Pride Parade
Best Place to Recover
Most Vancouver hotels provide in-room wi-fi or (less often) high-speed cable internet services for guests. It's usually free but check with your hotel when booking. The wi-fi icon used throughout the listings in this book indicates where free wi-fi is available. The computer icon shows where computers are offered for guests to use.
If you're toting your hardware around town and it's time to update your blog, drop into one of the many branches of Blenz (www.blenz.com), Take 5 (www.take5cafe.ca) or Waves (www.wavescoffee.com) coffee shops for free wi-fi. The Vancouver Public Library also offers free wi-fi and internet-enabled computers. You'll need an Internet Access card to use these but you can get this with one piece of ID. The City of Vancouver has also created free wi-fi services at several local community centers, including the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre.
If you don't have your computer with you, check your email for free in the Apple Store in downtown's Pacific Centre mall.
Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre provides free downtown maps. Alternatively, the laminated Streetwise Vancouver Map ($8.95) is sold at many convenience stores. For free online maps, check out the VanMap (www.vancouver.ca/vanmap) system.
Around Vancouver, flip the dial to these stations or listen in online before you arrive:
- CBC Radio One (690AM, 88.1FM; www.cbc.ca/bc) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's commercial-free news, talk and music station.
- CKNW (980AM; www.cknw.com) News, traffic, sports and talk.
- CFOX (99.3FM; www.cfox.com) Rock and chatter.
- News 1130 (1130AM; www.news1130.com) News 24/7.
- Peak (102.7FM; www.thepeak.fm) Popular mainstream new-rock station.
- Georgia Straight (www.straight.com) Alternative weekly providing Vancouver's best entertainment listings. Free every Thursday.
- Province (www.theprovince.com) Vancouver's 'tabloid' daily newspaper.
- Tyee (www.thetyee.ca) Award-winning online local news source.
- Vancouver Sun (www.vancouversun.com) Main city daily.
ATMs are widely available around the city. Credit cards are accepted and widely used at all accommodations and almost all shops and restaurants.
Visa, MasterCard and American Express are widely accepted in Canada. Credit cards can get you cash advances at bank ATMs, usually for an additional surcharge. Be aware that many US-based credit cards often convert foreign charges using unfavorable exchange rates and fees.
You can exchange currency at most main bank branches, which often charge less than the bureaux de change dotted around the city. In addition to the banks, try Vancouver Bullion & Currency Exchange, which often offers a wider range of currencies and competitive rates.
Interbank ATM exchange rates usually beat the rates offered for traveler's checks or foreign currency. Canadian ATM fees are generally low, but your home bank may charge another fee on top of that. Some ATM machines also dispense US currency; ideal if you're planning a trip across the border. ATMs abound in Vancouver, with bank branches congregating around the business district bordered by Burrard, Georgia, Pender and Granville Sts. Drugstores also frequently have ATMs.
Canadian dollars come in $5 (blue), $10 (purple), $20 (green), $50 (red) and $100 (brown) denominations. The original paper bills have been replaced with plasticized bills in recent years. Coins come in nickel (5¢), dime (10¢), quarter (25¢), 'loonie' ($1) and 'toonie' ($2) coins. The penny (1¢) has been phased out, although cash registers in most stores and businesses still include penny amounts; the price you actually pay will be rounded up or down to the nearest 0 or 5.
Gratuities are part of the price you’ll pay for visiting this part of the world. The following are typical rates:
|Restaurant wait staff||15%|
|Bar servers||$1 per drink|
|Hotel bellhops||$1 to $2 per bag|
|Taxis||10% to 15%|
Most business hours are consistent throughout the year, with the exception of attractions which often reduce their hours slightly outside the summer.
Banks 9am-5pm weekdays, with some opening Saturday mornings.
Shops 10am-6pm Monday to Saturday; noon to 5pm Sunday.
Restaurants 11:30am-2pm; 5-10pm.
Coffee shops From 8am, some earlier.
Pubs and bars Pubs often from 11:30am; bars often from 5pm. Closing midnight or later.
Canada Post (www.canadapost.ca) may not be remarkably quick, but it is reliable. The standard (up to 30g) letter and postcard rate to destinations within Canada is 85¢. Postcards and standard letters to the US cost $1.20. International airmail for postcards costs $2.50.
Postal outlets are dotted around the city, many of them at the back of drugstores – look for the red Canada Post window signs or head to the handy Howe St Postal Outlet. The main downtown Canada Post branch was in the process of relocating during research for this book; its new address is slated to be 495 W Georgia St.
During national public holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) are closed, and transportation, museums and other services often operate on Sunday schedules. Holidays falling on weekends are usually observed the following Monday.
Major public holidays in Vancouver:
- New Year's Day January 1
- Family Day Second Monday in February
- Good Friday & Easter Monday Late March to mid-April
- Victoria Day Third Monday in May
- Canada Day July 1
- BC Day First Monday in August
- Labour Day First Monday in September
- Thanksgiving Second Monday in October
- Remembrance Day November 11
- Christmas Day December 25
- Boxing Day December 26
Smoking is forbidden in all enclosed publicly-accessible spaces. Some restaurant or bar patios that are not fully enclosed may permit smoking (although this is rare). Some hotels rooms may be designated for smoking.
Taxes & Refunds
You will pay 5% Goods and Services (GST) tax on almost all purchases as well as an additional 7% PST on some purchases. These are not included in advertised prices and will be added at the checkout when you pay.
There is also a 3% hotel tax (called the Municipal and Regional District Tax) on overnight accommodations in Vancouver
Tax rebates for visitors have mostly been discontinued in recent years. Check in with the Canada Revenue Agency for the latest information.
Local calls cost 50¢ from public pay phones, but these are few and far between. If calling from a private phone, local calls are free – a gratis approach that often doesn't apply to calls made from hotel rooms.
Most Vancouver-area phone numbers have the area code 604, although you can also expect to see 778. Dial all 10 digits of a given phone number, including the three-digit area code and seven-digit number, even for local calls. In some instances (eg between Vancouver and Whistler), numbers will have the same area code but will be long-distance; at such times you need to dial 1 before the area code.
Always dial 1 before other domestic long-distance and toll-free (800, 888, 877 etc) numbers. Some toll-free numbers are good anywhere in North America, others within Canada only. International rates apply for calls to the US, even though the dialing code (+1) is the same as for Canadian long-distance calls. Dial 011 followed by the country code for all other overseas direct-dial calls.
Local SIM cards may be used with some international phones. Roaming can be expensive: check with your service provider.
Cell phones use the GSM and CDMA systems, depending on your carrier. Check with your cellular service provider before you leave about using your phone in Canada. Calls may be routed internationally, and US travelers should beware roaming surcharges (it can become very expensive for a 'local' call).
Prepaid phonecards for long-distance and international calls can be purchased at convenience stores, gas stations and some post offices. Beware some phonecards that advertise the cheapest per-minute rates, as they may also charge hefty connection fees for each call. Leading local phone company Telus (www.telus.com) offers a range of reliable phonecards available in retail outlets around the city.
Vancouver is in the Pacific time zone (PST/PDT), the same as the US West Coast. At noon in Vancouver it's the following:
- 11am in Anchorage
- 3pm in Toronto
- 3pm in New York
- 8pm in London
- 9pm in Paris
- 6am (the next day) in Sydney
- 8am (the next day) in Auckland
During Daylight Saving Time (from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November), the clock moves ahead one hour.
City-run public toilets are not common in Vancouver but there are many places to access the facilities if you're traveling around the city. Public libraries, departments stores, shopping malls and larger public parks all have washrooms. There are no fees to use washrooms in Vancouver.
The Tourism Vancouver Visitor Centre is a large repository of resources for visitors, with a staff of helpful advisers ready to assist in planning your trip. Services and info available here include free maps, visitor guides, half-price theater tickets, accommodations and tour bookings, plus a host of glossy brochures on the city and the wider BC region.
Travel With Children
Family-friendly Vancouver is stuffed with activities and attractions for kids, including interactive science centers, animal encounters and plenty of outdoor activities to tire them out before bed. Several festivals are especially kid-tastic, and local transport experiences, including SeaBus and SkyTrain, are highlights for many youngsters.
Science & Nature
Science World, packed with hands-on activities, has mastered the art of teaching kids through an abundance of fun. Its outdoor area is the city's favorite summertime hangout for children, especially under-10s.
HR MacMillan Space Centre is perfect for astronomically-minded children, with plenty of push-button games and activities.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park offers a great way to learn about the local outdoors. After inching over the canyon on the (deliberately) wobbly wooden bridge, take some short trails through the forest to learn about the towering trees and local critters.
At Stanley Park Nature House your kids can quiz the friendly volunteers about the park's flora and fauna and partake of birdwatching tours, especially in summer.
Second Beach Pool in Stanley Park is one of the city's best summertime hangouts for kids who love to swim. This side of the park also has a popular playground, as does the Lumberman's Arch area, where you'll also find an outdoor water park.
Kitsilano Beach is ideal if your children want to play on the sand; it's very popular with families.
Kids of a certain age really enjoy getting around Vancouver. Taking the seat at the front of a SkyTrain is all about pretending to be the driver; while the front window seats on a SeaBus jaunt to North Vancouver are almost as coveted. Taking a bathtub-sized ferry around False Creek is also fun, while hopping aboard the Stanley Park Train is a must.
Festivals & Events
Vancouver International Children's Festival is packed with entertainers and face-painting shenanigans,
Pacific National Exhibition is crammed with shows, activities and fairground rides for kids of all ages. Don't miss the piglet races.
Car Free Day Vancouver takes over several main thoroughfares around the city and has lots of family-friendly activities.
The Santa Claus Parade is Vancouver's best chance to see the big man himself, plus attendant floats, bands and music.
Gulf of Georgia Cannery provides an evocative, family-friendly way to see how people used to work; in Richmond.
BC Sports Hall of Fame & Museum traces the region's sporting past via kid-friendly displays and activities.
Kidsbooks, Vancouver's biggest family bookstore, has tomes on everything – history included.
Academie Duello offers kid-friendly swordplay lessons – plus hugely popular Knight Camps.
Grouse Mountain is home to resident grizzly bears in their own enclosure; there are also summertime bird-of-prey displays.
Maplewood Farm is ideal for younger kids who can't wait to hangout with the goats and chickens.
Vancouver Aquarium offers otters, iridescent jellyfish and dolphins to view, plus trainer encounters if your kids are keen on behind-the-scenes tours.
Bloedel Conservatory provides a delightful way to commune with hundreds of exotic birds; ask nicely and staff will let your child feed several at once from a bowl.
Need to Know
- Accommodations Children can usually stay with parents at hotels for no extra charge. Some hostels have family rooms. Hotels can recommend trusted babysitting services.
- Equipment Strollers, booster seats and toys can be rented from Wee Travel (www.weetravel.ca).
- Resources Pick up the free Kids' Guide Vancouver around town and visit www.kidsvancouver.com for local tips, resources and family-focused events.
Vancouver is an accessible city. On your arrival at the airport, vehicle-rental agencies can provide prearranged cars with hand controls. Accessible cabs are also widely available at the airport and throughout the city, on request.
All TransLink SkyTrain, SeaBus and transit bus services are wheelchair accessible. Check the TransLink website (www.translink.ca) for a wide range of information on accessible transport around the region. Head to www.accesstotravel.gc.ca for information and resources on accessible travel across Canada. In addition, download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Guide dogs may legally be brought into restaurants, hotels and other businesses in Vancouver. Almost all downtown sidewalks have sloping ramps, and most public buildings and attractions are wheelchair accessible. Check the City of Vancouver's dedicated website (www.vancouver.ca/accessibility) for additional information and resources.
Other helpful resources:
Vancouver is generally safe for women traveling solo, although jogging alone after dark in parks and hanging out late at night in the Downtown Eastside without company is best avoided. Note it is illegal to carry pepper spray or mace in Canada. The Vancouver Women's Health Collective provides advice and referrals for health issues.