Living so close to Vancouver (a four hour drive is “just down the road” by Canadian standards), Travis and I try to make time to visit friends or check out a concert at least a few times a year. For us, making the most of a visit to Vancouver comes down to a few key factors; the accommodation we choose, the means by which we get around the city, and striking the right balance between sightseeing and down time. Vancouver is a bustling city, and it will run you ragged if you’re not careful.
Therefore we’ve created our Vancouver Visitor Guide series to impart all the wisdom and information we’ve picked up, sometimes the hard way, from the hundreds of visits we’ve made to the city over the last decade. We’ve also sourced some great information from friends and family fortunate enough to call this beautiful city home – all with the hopes of making your visit easier and more enjoyable.
Today we are going to tackle all your accommodation-related queries about visiting Vancouver. With thousands of hotels, the options may seem endless; however for those on a small travel budget the options may in fact be extremely be limited. No matter your budget, everyone deserves the same chance to explore Vancouver – we may be biased but it really is one of the prettiest cities we’ve ever visited.
What part of Vancouver should I stay in?
When it comes to choosing accommodations in a specific area or neighbourhood in any city, Travis and I like to look at the public transit system situation and how spread out or condensed the sights and attractions are that we want to visit. As a general rule, good public transit and spread out attractions are a sign that we can sacrifice location to save some money on accommodations. However when the public transit system is non-existent, hard to navigate, overly expensive, or the attractions we want to see are all centralized in one area, booking accommodations in that specific area saves both time and headaches, and is usually worth the extra money.
In Vancouver, most of the culture, shopping, and attractions visitors want to see are centralized in the downtown core. Although the surrounding cities that make up Greater Vancouver also offer lots to see and do, most of these areas can be easily reached via public transit or explored via a rental car – think Whistler, Victoria and Vancouver Island, or the ever popular road trip through the BC Interior and Rocky Mountains to Jasper and Banff in Alberta. For all your Vancouver themed vehicle questions see the first part of our visitor guide. We will talk about specific Vancouver attractions downtown and in the surrounding area in a later edition of this guide.
Finding accommodations in downtown Vancouver
Although we’ve narrowed the scope somewhat by recommending visitors focus on accommodations in downtown Vancouver, there are still numerous neighbourhoods and thousands of hotel options to choose from. Luckily, the downtown core is relatively easy to walk and the decision to stay in Gastown doesn’t cut you off from easily accessing Yaletown or the waterfront.
When it comes to booking a hotel in downtown Vancouver, Travis and I try to stay on a main street like Robson, Granville, Howe, Seymour, etc… This not only makes finding our hotel for the first time much easier (we drive into the city) but also helps us find our way around on foot. If you are arriving in the city with a car, you will likely want to use parking as a means to narrow down your accommodation choices. Parking in Vancouver is hard to find and even harder to afford. Meanwhile those that plan on utilizing the city’s public transit system will want to look for accommodations within walking distance of a Sky Train Station. Whichever method you employ, narrowing down the selection will make finding the perfect accommodations much easier.
One quick note about staying in downtown Vancouver: Homelessness has become an issue in Vancouver and something visitors will likely run into. As such, the presence of homeless people around the outside of your accommodations isn’t really a clear indicator of how good or bad a hotel it. It’s simply a part of Vancouver.
What if staying downtown isn’t possible?
If, for whatever reason, you opt to stay outside of the downtown core during your visit don’t panic. It’s likely you’ve chosen to stay in a particular area for a reason so let’s embrace it.
If getting downtown for a day or two is still something you want to do, I’d suggest finding a hotel close to a Sky Train Station. This makes zipping downtown easy and stress free and is a tactic Travis and I use frequently. Cheap or free parking for your vehicle should still be a priority when searching for hotels outside downtown Vancouver. Unfortunately parking availability is still a struggle even in Greater Vancouver. On a positive note, staying outside the downtown core gives travelers a bit more wiggle room on hotel prices and access to some awesome international cuisine.
What are some money savings tips for staying in Vancouver?
Vancouver is an expensive city to visit – it’s also an expensive city to live in, with the 2nd highest housing prices in the world – however with a few tricks and tips a week in Vancouver is doable for even the smallest travel budget.
Accommodations will eat up the largest chunk of your travel budget so choose wisely before booking. We always try to look for accommodations that offer free cancellation in the event that a better deal comes up closer to our visit. Looking for little extras included in the price – free parking, airport shuttle, or breakfast – will also help you save some money in other areas of your visit.
Alternative accommodation options like Airbnb or couch surfing are a great option for travelers looking for a unique visit or to save money. Although we have yet to use Airbnb in Vancouver – we have some friends with couches we call on from time to time – we have used the service extensively through Europe and have nothing but wonderful things to say about it. Unfortunately, hostels are few and far between in Vancouver. There are three hostels downtown, that I know of, offering typical dorm style rooms. This may be a great option for budget travelers as the cheapest hotel room in downtown Vancouver will run you upwards of $100 CAD per night.
As mentioned above, staying outside the downtown core can help visitors find more hotels in a lower price range (think $65-$130 per night), as will visiting the city midweek, in the off-season or shoulder-season, or avoiding large events/festivals when hotels are in high demand and can therefore charge higher rates. Finally, book early before the lower-priced hotels fill up. If you have free cancellation and a great deal comes up closer to your visit you can always make a change.
Just last night Travis and I were online trying to book a hotel in downtown Vancouver for next weekend – in contrast to every single one of our recommendations above. Being the last minute, at the end of June, on a weekend, with a big-name musical act in town for a concert and a jazz festival going on, the best price we could find was $209 per night. Needless to say we are pushing our visit to another time.
Hopefully this information will come in handy during your next (or first!) visit to Vancouver. We’ve got more information on travel in BC here, and will be back throughout the summer with more Vancouver Visitor Guides.
Have any tips for staying in Vancouver? If so we’d love to hear them!