When we moved over to Vancouver we had no idea what to expect, except for what we had seen in movies – it is beautiful, people are really, really, really nice, and it is the home of Lululemon. Yes this was all true plus so much more. We came over on the 2 year IEC Visa (available to those aged between 18-35) and wish the entitlement was for longer. Our whole experience was really positive – from the incredible friends that we made to the beautiful experiences that we had. The only negative is that career wise it can be a bit difficult. I am a lawyer and Andrew is an engineer and we found both professions difficult to crack into without Canadian experience and long term plans to stay in the country. However, it was easy enough to find a job, even if it wasn’t the dream job, and if I could do it all again I would try and do something completely different and use Vancouver as an opportunity to branch out. We were told that the weather was really miserable, however, while it did rain quite a lot in the Winter, it really wasn’t that bad. During the Winter it not only rained but it snowed! This means skiing and snow shoeing any day of the week – who can complain about that? The Summers were long, dry and hot which we loved.
The beaches in central Vancouver may not be the best for swimming as they’re a bit grotty, however, they are a really beautiful and chilled out space to relax and barbeque. Most of the beaches all have huge logs spaced around for you to lean against or sit on. The busy spots are English Bay, Sunset Beach and Kitsilano Beach, but if you want somewhere a bit quieter, take a half our walk round the seawall to Third Beach – our favourite spot! Third Beach is also a lot better for swimming than the others I’ve mentioned. We often took snacks, a barbeque and some drinks down to the beach, just remember to hide your alcohol in cups brought from home (its technically illegal but not really enforced unless you are really obvious about it). Kitsilano beach has the added benefit of a swimming pool to splash around in. Add in a competitive game of spike ball and you’ve got yourself a fabulous day!
If I could say one thing that you have to do during your visit to Vancouver, it would be cycling the seawall. And its even better if you do it on tandem bikes. There are a lot of bike rental places down near Stanley Park and the rental price is pretty cheap. The seawall hugs the sea (obviously) and takes you around the outskirts of Stanley Park. Its beautiful and you get a fabulous view of the Lions Gate Bridge, North Vancouver with the mountains and a bunch of different beaches. You can also pop into the famous Stanley Park with its infinite amount of trails and sites to explore, for more information on Stanley Park check out this link.
The best thing about living in Vancouver is that it is an outdoor lovers paradise Mountains like Grouse, Cypress and Seymour are a short drive away and during the Winter in the weekends or after work you can be up there skiing or snow shoeing within half an hour. Not many cities in the world can boast skiing mountains and swimming in the sea within such a small distance.
In the Summer the mountains convert into a labyrinth of hiking trails and mountain biking routes. The famous Grouse Grind is a gruelling uphill challenge that all Vancouverites challenge visitors to do. With the reward being stunning city views and a glimpse of the resident grizzly bears – Coola and Grinder – who can resist! We loved doing hikes around Vancouver so much that I dedicated an entire blog post to it, check out this link if you want to read more.
It’s not just outdoor activities that can keep you busy, there are a few other places around the city to keep you entertained on many a rainy day. The Art Gallery in the middle of town is worth a visit, especially during one of the special exhibitions. If you want to save money then the best time to go is on Tuesdays when you can get in by donation. The Granville Island Market is a top tourist attraction in Vancouver and while it can be a nice place to visit, it is marketed to tourists (read sky high prices and crowds of people). If you’re here for a few days then it is fun to take one of the mini sea ferries over to visit it, however I wouldn’t put it at the top of your list.
The two large stadiums right downtown provide entertainment year round. We attended many a concert at Rogers Arena, which also doubles as the ice hockey arena and home of the Canucks. Definitely pop in to watch an ice hockey game while you’re in town. The other large stadium in Vancouver is BC Place which hosts Canadian football and Whitecaps soccer games. We didn’t particularly enjoy Canadian football, but the soccer games are worth a watch. It is also home to the Vancouver Rugby Sevens Tournament in March which is always a blast.
The city of Vancouver does have a bit of a dark underbelly that makes certain parts a bit gritty. There is a huge opioid problem with many addicted people congregated in the Downtown Eastside area. It makes for a fascinating and incredibly sad place to visit. With an illegal market on the street (that the police seem to do nothing about) and person after person shooting up, you feel like you are in some alien land far removed from the everyday goings on of Vancouver. This is the area that Andrew worked in and he got used to commuting through these streets by bike. It was a weird vibe that didn’t really make you feel unsafe, but something that you got used to. The whole area is slowly gentrifying, with a lot of businesses moving into the area. Andrew worked at MakerLabs which is a makerspace in Vancouver that provides you with the tools, space, and skills to make almost anything. Its an interesting space to visit and I highly recommend a pop in if you-re creatively minded and you’ve got some time to kill.
The food in Vancouver is delicious due to the multitude of immigrants that have moved over. Hands down the best salmon I have EVER had is in Vancouver. It is just so fresh and delicious, so obviously the sushi here is out of this world. Our favourite place for very good (and cheap) sushi is at Sushi Den on Abbott Street (Stadium Chinatown District). If I could eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be the salmon sashimi from here. Our other favourite places to eat around Vancouver were Juke Fried Chicken in Chinatown – especially their cheap and delicious fried chicken sandwich, Phnom Penh also in Chinatown for incredibly good Cambodian food, Score on Davie in the Westend for their wings – go on wing Wednesdays and get the siracha/pineapple flavour which won’t disappoint, Dixies in Gastown for the best barbecue food, Meet also in Gastown – fantastic vegan food, and House of Dosas in Mount Pleasant for mind-blowing Indian dosas accompanied by a plethora of chutneys.
The craft brewery scene in Vancouver is fantastic. There are a crazy amount of them to visit and they are easily accessible. Oh and the beer is really, really good. The best way to visit a lot of them is by hopping on a bicycle and cycling around. The clusters of breweries around main street and the ones in Strathcona were our favourites. Particular shout outs go to Faculty Brewing – its small and intimate with a great vibe, Powell Brewery – another small spot with great beer, Parallel 49 Brewing – it is big with lots of delicious beer options, Strange Fellows Brewing – really great beer, and 33 Acres Brewing – well located with a tasty pizza food truck right outside. The brewery culture was a real highlight for us and instead of frequenting bars we frequented breweries instead! We loved going to the breweries in Vancouver so much that I probably could have dedicated an entire blog post to it.
If you move over to Vancouver and you play sport, then join a sports club. I play field hockey and Andrew plays Rugby (although he hadn’t played in years!), so we both joined the Meralomas. My brother Guy ended up moving to Vancouver and joining the rugby club as well! They offer a bunch of sports to play and a range of different grades to play at. Hands down this is the best thing we did, we spent many a Saturday parked up at the club rooms for beers and a barbeque. We also joined a social soccer team organised through Urban Rec that played on Sunday nights near our apartment. The friends we made through these sports teams hugely contributed to the fantastic time we had in Vancouver.
Our time in Vancouver was truly a once in a lifetime experience and I cannot express enough how much we loved it there. I believe that living overseas when you are young, or at any other time of your life, is an opportunity that everybody should grab at. We learned so much about ourselves by being thrown into unfamiliar lands and situations. The confidence and perspective that we gained is something we will take with us throughout our lives. We will forever be grateful to Vancouver for the wonderful time that we had and for the people that will stay in our hearts forever. Till next time!
If you are interested in costs when visiting Vancouver, I will say that it is a pretty expensive place to visit. Hostels alone cost around CA$50 a night and eating out and drinking is not cheap. For accommodation, a few meals out and about and a few activities (a lot of these are free), then you’re looking at approximately CA$120 (US$90) per day.