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The City of Vancouver surprisingly is really small. There are only about 600,000 people that live in Vancouver proper. However, it’s the surrounding areas that make Vancouver the vibrant city that it is. This area is known as Metro Vancouver and is made up of 21 municipalities which brings the total area population to 2.3 million. A small city by many standards, and very very spread out.
As previously mentioned I actually live in one of the cities neighbouring Vancouver, but I say I’m from Vancouver for simplicity sake. Officially Vancouver is divided into 23 different neighbourhoods and today I’ll highlight some of the key ones as well as notable areas in the Greater Vancouver area.
The Neighbourhoods in Vancouver
Downtown Vancouver is made up of a number of smaller neighbourhoods. It is the central business centre of the city. While the buildings are not as tall or densely populated as others (it’s a good thing I think!), the area is lively and vibrant. Granville Street is home to much of the city’s entertainment venues and restaurants. Robson Street is where you want to go for some outdoor shopping, or if it is raining, as it is likely to do in Vancouver, you can hit Pacific Centre which is an underground shopping mall.
Other neighbourhoods of note in downtown Vancouver are the West End, Yaletown and Gastown. West End contains the Davie Village which is home to Vancouver’s thriving LGBTQ community. With rainbow painted crosswalks and pink bus stations, a wander down Davie Street is a must. The West End also leads into Stanley Park and holds many of the city’s beaches. Yaletown was formerly an industrialized area full of warehouses and rail yards. It was revitalized when Vancouver hosted Expo 86 and now has many restaurants, bars and boutiques. Finally, Gastown, the oldest neighbourhood in Vancouver, is where it all started. Tree lined, cobblestoned streets are sure you charm you.
A note about the Downtown Eastside
This is the area you want to avoid. It is home to a vast amount of the city’s homeless and drug addicts and was once known as “Canada’s poorest postal code.” Today, this neighbourhood is in the process of rebuilding which in itself has caused tension due to all the gentrification development proposals. It borders Gastown and Chinatown which are both popular locations for visitors so it can be easy to accidentally turn down the wrong corner. While I’m sure it is relatively safe, it’s not a pleasant sight, especially if you’re not expecting it. Specifically, avoid East Hastings St between Main St. and Carrell St.
Love beaches? Then you want to head to Kitsilano (Kits) and visit Jericho and Kitsilano beaches. This area seems like it’s in it’s own little world, moving at a slower pace. It is definitely a beach community. Hit the water by renting out kayaks and paddleboards, or just relax on the beach. For a food and shopping, West 4th Street is where you want to go. Vanier Park is one of Kitsilano’s most popular parks and is home to the H.R. MacMillian Space Centre and the Vancouver Museum.
False Creek isn’t a creek at all, instead it is a small inlet that separates downtown Vancouver with the rest of the city. The iconic Science World can be seen at the end of the inlet – a great place to take kids young and old. Granville Island, popular with locals and tourist alike, is a great place to wander. A wander through the public market and the artist workshops on the island is a must. You can also check out the former Olympic Village from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Commercial Drive / Grandview
Commercial Drive, while not exactly a neighbourhood, is the meeting of cultures on a street. Known by locals as “the Drive” the street is lined with independent restaurants serving food hailing from all corners of the globe, quirky cafes and interesting bars. Charming character homes mix with bohemian style. A strong Italian presence can be felt along the street and the street is sometimes called “Little Italy.” There are also a number of vegetarian and vegan friendly establishments.
Beyond Vancouver, there are a couple of notable cities that are worth a visit. Primarily for their delicious food options, so be sure to venture further away from the main city.
Cross the Burrard Inlet and you’re into North Vancouver which offers spectacular views of the Vancouver skyline. A wander through Lonsdale Quay offers a number of specialty shops and restaurants. Further beyond are the Capilano Suspension bridge and the lesser known Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge and surround trails. Deep Cove is also located here. Access to Cypress Mountain, Seymour Mountain and Grouse Mountain for hiking and skiing are also through this municipality.
They all sound similar and easily confused, but really, they’re 3 completely different neighbourhoods. West Vancouver is actually to the northwest of Vancouver on the North Shore, to the west of North Vancouver. The West End is the west side of the downtown area and is where Davie Village and English Bay is located. The West Side is the west side of the rest of Vancouver. All important to know if you ever need to ask for directions as to a Vancouverite they’re each distinct neighbourhoods.
Richmond is where you go if you want the most amazing Chinese food outside of China. Chinese shops, restaurants, and malls are ubiquitous. From Shanghai dumplings to spicy Szechuan to Cantonese cha chaan teng, there are so many varieties of Chinese food on this little island. A night at the Richmond Night Market during the summer is an experience for all your senses. Steveston Village, a former fishing village, is also worth a visit in the southwest corner of the city.
Burnaby is located to the east of Vancouver and is home to British Columbia’s largest shopping mall: Metrotown. If you want to get some shopping done in Vancouver, this is the place to go. Kingsway St. which runs through Burnaby also has a number of great ethnic restaurants worth checking out. A visit to the Burnaby Village Museum takes you back to life in a tram-stop community in the 1920s. Wander through the heritage and replica buildings, explore an Interurban tram car, and take a whirl around the restored carousel.
There are a number of other neighbourhoods in Vancouver and surrounding areas not mentioned here, however, these are the ones I find most interesting for visitors to Vancouver and the places that I would take you. There is much to discover in Metro Vancouver beyond just the downtown core. Transit is fairly accessible and can get you to most of these places quickly and easily, however, sometimes, a car does become necessary.
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I’ve always really wanted to visit Vancouver! I’m sure I’ll make it out to the West Coast of Canada one of these days. Thank you for the details about all of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods!
Thanks Lauren! I’m waiting for you guys to visit 🙂
I’ve spent very little time in Canada, unfortunately. Vancouver looks great! The beach is surprising – is the water cold?
So so so unbelievably cold! Okay, probably not that bad, but you definitely don’t want to be in it for long even in the summer. I hardly ever go swimming in the ocean because I find it too cold.
Margherita @The Crowded Planet says
Really good post. Locals always make the best posts! I loved how you managed to give an overview of the whole city including lots of info but without making it boring. Definitely worth bookmarking for when we’ll eventually visit the city!
Thanks so much for the lovely compliment Margherita! I hope you do get a chance to visit 🙂
I am finally headed to British Columbia this year when I visit Victoria. Can’t wait!
Awesome! I love Victoria! Lived there during my university days. The city is so adorable!
Sand In My Suitcase says
A great post on our beautiful home city! For some life (and great eateries), we like heading across the bridge to Gastown or Commercial Drive. For parks, hikes and tucked-away hidden beaches, we like our hood, West Vancouver.
Definitely agree. Best food is in the city, but the best hikes and getting in tune with nature you need to get out.
Stacey Veikalas says
Great Post ~ very informative! I think it is great to have inside info on all the areas of a new town so you know the down low! We have never been to Canada – sad I know, but it is on our list once we return to the states from Europe! Great tip on ChinaTown, we are always looking for wonderful food! 🙂
Thanks Stacey! Hopefully you’ll get a chance to visit after your European adventures 🙂
Vancouver is on my must visit list and this definitely helps in figuring out where I should be headed.
I would never have guessed at the actual population of Vancouver – I’ve only been once, but I got the impression it was a vast, sprawling city. Now I guess I actually spent half my time not technically in ‘Vancouver’ at all!
Haha, yup, most people are surprised at how small Vancouver actually is when compared with the rest of the cities surrounding it!
Oooh, you had me at Gastown! Must visit Vancouver someday!
Mandie @ RamblingMandie says
I’ve only been to Vancouver once but it instantly struck me as a city I could live in! I have an ever-growing list of places I will live someday, so I’ll definitely have to bookmark this page just in case! Haha
Oh I know that feeling! I get it all the time when I travel. Vancouver is a great place to live especially if you love good food, nature and the rain.
Interesting. I meant to visit Vancouver many years ago but I didn’t get the chance because it was at the end of my RTW journey and the budget didn’t quite stretch. It looks like a great city though. Great tips about where to go and what to avoid, that’s always important to know as a visitor I think.
Hopefully you get a chance to visit in the future! I can understand why you chose to skip it at the end of your RTW. Vancouver can be an expensive city.
Very comprehensive post about Vancouver, Adelina. I wanted to go see it last summer, but had to change plans the very last minute. Now I’ll use your information when I go.
diana - Life in German. says
Looks lovely, what a good idea of describing different neighborhoods, thanks for sharing Adelina!
Betty J. Ogburn says
…Downtown Vancouver has been of interest to me for the past couple of years–though that’s probably because of the Robson Square namedrop in this song:
Jessica @ Independent Travel Cats says
Great guide if I ever get to Vancouver!
Penny de Vine says
Oh I just LOVE Van! One of my best friends lives there, so I’ve been 3 times in the last few years. There’s always something happening. Many people say it’s similar to where I call home (Melbourne, Australia) 🙂
Nice! I haven’t been to Melbourne (or Australia for that matter), but lots of people have told me how similar we are.
Anna | slightly astray says
I would so love to visit Vancouver someday. Judging by this quick rundown, I would love to see Kits for the beach and the Richmond Night Market!!
The night market is definitely a cool experience – especially for those who can’t make it to the ones in Asia.
Carmen @ CarmensTravelTips says
Great post. I’ll certainly be using your tips on the surrounding areas around Vancouver. We’ll be there in two weeks.
Awesome! Let me know if you need any more pointers 🙂
Great breakdown Adelina – so many great areas in Vancouver to explore. Although we tend to stick to downtown, it means we often overlook some of the these other wonderful neighbourhoods. Something we need to change I think 🙂
Yup, you definitely need to get out of downtown. There is so much more in the city. As great as downtown is, I think you miss out on the true essence of the city without visiting some of these other neighbourhoods.
Adrienne S. @ AdrienneAway says
Vancouver looks so nice! Trying to get there for a visit by the end of this year 🙂
Christa Thompson says
Very informative, Thank you! Mental note to self: when in Vancouver remember to check out Richmond for some great Chinese Food and Davie Village to get a few pics of the Pink bus stations. Chinese Food and things colored Pink almost always put a smile on my face. 🙂
The pink bus stations are too adorable. Sure to make you smile!
Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy says
Even though I lived in Washington, I never made it to Vancouver (only Victoria). I regret that for sure. One day I will though and this is great information about the neighborhoods!
Ohhh you were so close! Victoria is a good substitute though. Adore that city!