The first thing you notice about Vancouver is its opulence. Upon landing in Vancouver you may not mind waiting for your bags as you take in the modern, and at times (by Canadian standards) futuristic-looking airport. Hordes of gorgeous skiers and snowboarders clasp their gear, the worth of which could pay for a few months rent and one of your first stops may very well be the haute-couture heavy Robson Street, full of international students who can only window shop and dream of the riches laid out before them. Even the absolute essentials like bottled beer are regulated by the provincial government, with prices rising to $38AUD a bottle.
Talk about a shame-filled hangover.
But if you’ve got a hankering to visit the most expensive city in Canada, fear not – there’s more to Vancouver than overpriced drinks. You can stretch your wallet and not only experience some of the best the city has to offer but also see a side that few, including locals, ever do.
The Skytrain sounds cooler than it really is. Sure, Vancouver’s subway/commuter train hybrid is computer operated and spends most of its time above ground, allowing constant mountain views. But it’s also overpriced – $2.85AUD in the downtown core and $5.75AUD to travel the paltry three lines and 68-kilometre system.
The Skytrain doesn’t cover nearly enough ground and the Translink buses are another oft-delayed hassle altogether.
The majority of the taxi companies feature eco-friendly Toyota Priuses as part of their fleet but considering it’s rarely more than an hour from anywhere to the city’s entertainment district, you’re better off working up an appetite and walking the city’s picturesque streets and bridges with stunning views instead.
Also, starting next year the city will roll out it’s bike-sharing initiative. Given the range of clearly marked bike lanes and the fact that Mayor Gregor Robertson himself is an avid cyclist, this is your best bet for getting a better feel for the city while also getting from A to B.
Pass On The Canucks
Vancouver’s professional ice hockey team, the Canucks, are a team constantly in flux, four seasons removed from coming within one game of their first ever Stanley Cup championship (and the city then rioted for the second time in 20 years) and last season they stunk it up, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Still, there’s one thing the team and the Rogers Arena can boast – having the second most expensive average priced ticket in the National Hockey League at $292AUD. Tack on transportation, a few beers which come in at approximately $9AUD and a bite beforehand and you could bust your entire budget for your trip watching two freakishly similar twins nicknamed Hank and Dank play.
Watching live hockey is an absolute essential in any Canadian city and Vancouver has an excellent alternative to the Canucks: the Vancouver Giants, who play in one of the best junior leagues in the world, the Western Hockey League.
Here you can watch the future stars of the game play with unmatched intensity as they try to catch the eye of big-league scouts. Tickets in the intimate Pacific Coliseum range from $21AUD to $35AUD and Tuesdays feature $2.10AUD tickets. Give the arena a call and purchase your tickets there to avoid service fees.
The Giants, like many minor league teams in Canada, draw the most ardent of fans and you’ll likely have better luck getting a quick lesson on the ins and outs of Canada’s national pastime from those seated nearby than you would at the upscale Rogers Arena.
There will come a time when you need to make some tough decisions – join the many luxury travellers wining and dining downtown in the aesthetically-pleasing neighbourhoods of Yaletown and Kitsilano and reluctantly hand over the credit card you’d saved “for emergencies only”? Or take a walk east on Hastings towards Commercial Drive and explore the underbelly of Vancouver, the part rarely mentioned in tourist guides. Here, you’ll get a real sense of the dichotomy that is Vancouver and your emergency fund will remain untouched.
Vancouver’s sushi is in a league of its own and while you might not get to dine beside D-List celebrities as you would downtown, favourites such as Sushi King on Vancouver’s community-driven stretch Commercial Drive will treat you like an, ahem, king or queen for a fraction of the price. Commercial Drive also features some of the city’s best Mexican and Chinese restaurants, all offering portions that can be taken home for leftovers.
There’s no shortage of watering holes in Vancouver but the city’s tight-grip on last calls mean only a few stay open long enough for those who are in it for the long haul.
Dive bars along East Hastings Street such as The Astoria will offer you a chance to see Vancouver’s gnarliest up-and-coming punk bands, drink dirt cheap tinnies of lager and chat with some of the city’s most off-beat characters. The Downtown Eastside is one of the country’s poorest neighbourhoods but is also home to the city’s friendliest denizens. It’s also Ground Zero for the city’s independent arts and culture scene, with local champions Beatroute Magazine setting up shop here. The free monthly mag, available at better cafes and shops, will serve as your bible to the city’s art and culture community.
Also not to miss is the Rio Theatre at Commercial and Broadview, which offers weekly $6.30AUD late night Friday screenings of classics, a stark contrast to the $13.50 you’ll pay at the Scotiabank theatre downtown.
You will eventually stop at Vancouver’s legendary Stanley Park. This is a given. And you will also inevitably drop your cash on transit to get to the somewhat remote park, on a ride to the top of the park and a snack at the tourist trap of a restaurant up top. (But if you do go, get the seafood chowder. Trust me on this one.)
While that’s all well and good, if you have an inkling to spend more time at a languid pace head to John Hendry Park and its crown jewel Trout Lake Beach. If you’ve taken my advice and are already hanging out on the east side of the city, it’s a short walk or bike ride. There’s also a Dollar Giant nearby (Canada’s affinity for full-scale shops selling goods at $1 is overlooked by our national tourism board), where you can stock up on snacks and drinks at rock bottom prices and people-watch your day away, join in on a game of Frisbee with some longhairs or play with the dozens of dogs roaming the park. Whatever your bag, Trout Lake’s got it.
And the mountain views? Free, as always.
Joshua Kloke is a freelance travel, music and sports writer. His work has appeared in Vice and the Vancouver Sun and his debut book Escape is at Hand for the Travellin' Man was released on Eternal Cavalier Press. He likes hanging out in the world's best record shops and pizzerias and is just waiting for someone to combine the two.