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Western Canada’s largest city is a model of green urban planning, tucked in between the Pacific Ocean and the wild Coastal Mountains of British Columbia. Vancouver regularly wins accolades for the depth of its outdoor recreation and urban amenities that seamlessly fuse together. Travellers will have a full plate in this gorgeous city, with even more natural beauty and outdoor fun waiting right on the fringe of Vancouver. Whatever your agenda, a car will certainly enhance the experience.
Who to Book With
All of the established global car hire chains have a strong presence in Vancouver since so many visitors want to have their own transportation to explore the nature surrounding the city. Rental offices can be found at the airport, the train station, the ferry terminal and at many other locations on the edge of Vancouver. Even in winter, this city stays busy, as skiers pass through to hit the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb. To make sure you get the right car at the right price, book online and book early.
Best Time to go
There is little dispute that July and August are the premier months in Vancouver, as temperatures reach an idyllic 22°C and the skies are reliably blue. Late spring and early autumn are also good times for a visit with the bonus of far fewer crowds. But once October rolls around, the rain begins in earnest and doesn’t really let up until April. Winter temperatures here are among the warmest in Canada, however, so if grey skies aren’t a problem you will virtually have the city to yourself.
Need to Know Essentials
Most car rental offices require the following documents for vehicle collection:
- A valid driving license or an International Driving Permit
- Another piece of photo ID
- The credit card from the online booking
- A printed rental confirmation (if possible)
Because there is no highway running through the actual centre of Vancouver, traffic conditions here are less congested than in other cities of this size. The downtown is laid out on a grid system and is very easy to navigate. A car isn’t really necessary to move around the downtown, but it’s essential for exploring the North Shore mountains, the coast and other area attractions.
Parking is also manageable, even in the city centre. All hotels have free parking for their guests, and there are numerous public Easy Park car parks scattered around. Most street-side parking spaces use coin meters, regularly checked from 09:00 to 22:00. Meter fees range from CD$1 to CD$6 per hour. Car parks charge similar amounts for longer stays; rates average around CD$2.25 per hour to a maximum of CD$9 for an all-day stay.
Keep in mind that most residential neighbourhoods require a resident sticker to park on their streets. There are excellent bike paths throughout the city as a green (and free) transportation alternative.
Vancouver’s public transportation network is the biggest and best in Canada. TransLink runs an integrated system of buses, SkyTrain light rail and SeaBus ferries between 05:00 and 02:00 daily. You can get almost anywhere in Vancouver using the transportation system, so a car isn’t really needed for downtown travel. Taxis are also readily available, but for any travelling outside of the metro area, you really do need a car rental.
There are many ticketing options for travelling on the TransLink network. The city is broken into three travel zones. A single-fare ticket within one zone costs around CD$2.75 and is valid for unlimited travel on all forms of transport for 90 minutes. The DayPass is the best value for visitors who plan to move around a lot. It covers all three zones for 24 hours at a cost of around CD$9.75. There are also more flexible FareSaver packs of 10 tickets that cost around CD$21. All tickets can be bought from the automatic ticket machines or from authorised convenience stores.
Vancouver’s SkyTrain is the city’s light rail system that runs from the downtown core out to all the suburbs. There are three lines that cover different parts of the city, each with several stops that are especially useful for visitors. The SkyTrain runs from around 05:00 until midnight on most routes, with trains arriving at stations every 4 to 10 minutes.
Most taxi drivers in Vancouver work from radio calls, but it’s possible to hail rides on the street if you’re lucky. They often wait for fares in front of the major hotels and the train station. It’s just as easy to call a local firm like Yellow Cab for a pick up 24 hours a day.
An extensive network of TransLink electric trams and diesel buses cover the entire city between 05:00 and 02:00. Buses typically hit each stop every 5-15 minutes along the popular routes, with fares costing around CD$2.75, payable to the driver in exact change or available from a ticket machine.
SeaBus ferries are in integral part of Vancouver’s transportation scheme. These passenger ferries provide quick travel between the downtown’s Waterfront Station and North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay. The trip takes 12 minutes and departs every 15 minutes during the day and every 30 minutes in the evening. SeaBus ferries are included in the tickets for the SkyTrain or bus, so often they are used by visitors for cheap and fun sightseeing excursions.
There is a lot to see and do in Vancouver, but outdoor fans will find a vast wilderness right on the city’s doorstep. Whether it’s a leisurely cruise along the Pacific coast, a ferry crossing over to Vancouver Island or a drive deep into the Coastal Mountains, there are all kinds of daytrips possible from Vancouver. It takes little time to escape the urban perimeter and merge into the stunning natural surroundings. With a car rental, there is no end to the possibilities, regardless of the season.
Vancouver Island - This lies just across the strait from the city, a quick scenic ferry ride from the downtown core. This island is home to Victoria, one of British Columbia’s coolest cities (and the capital of BC). Stunning country roads wind around this island, passing through quiet towns, national parks and past stunning beaches, where killer whales often play.
Whistler Blackcomb - This is one of the planet’s greatest ski resorts, boasting the largest amount of skiable terrain in North America. Just 90 minutes north of Vancouver, the resort offers a superb daytrip for winter skiing or summer hiking. Whistler is open all year and features incredible mountain biking and festivals once the snow melts.
The Sea to Sky Corridor - This is the land between Vancouver and Whistler. It is home to the outdoor recreation heaven of Squamish, the vast Garibaldi National Park for pure wilderness adventure and Whistler resort at the northern end. Highway 91 runs right from Vancouver through this incredibly scenic passage of mountains, rivers and sea.