Vancouver's stable economy, high living standard, and cosmopolitan nature make it consistently rank among the world's most livable cities. As the fourth most densely populated city in North America and the third largest metropolitan area in Canada, Vancouver is a huge city with much to offer the intrepid tourist.
The tall glass and steel structures dotting its downtown area give Vancouver a metropolitan atmosphere not seen elsewhere in Canada. Many of these structures are designed as modernist high-rises, giving the city the character of a bustling metropolis – you will find many beautiful Edwardian and Neoclassical buildings as well, each imparting a special element to the city's overall character.
As the western terminus of Canada's transcontinental railways and highways, Vancouver is one of the country's largest and most active industrial centers. It also operates Canada's largest and most diversified port – but the city's most powerful native industry is forestry. Next to that rank tourism and movie production – the latter of which has earned it the nickname, "Hollywood North".
Part of what makes Vancouver such an attractive tourist destination is its scenic location. The mountains, ocean, forests, and parklands surrounding the city offer a unique natural beauty not found in the proximity of any other world-class city in the area. Every year, more than a million people pass through Vancouver on cruise ship vacations towards Alaska.
Vancouver is split into three sections – the Westside, East Van, and the City Centre. The metropolitan area includes the entirely separate cities of North Vancouver and West Vancouver located north of the Burrard Inlet, as well as at least ten other districts further to the east and south of the city proper. When giving or taking directions, keep the difference between "Westside" and "West Vancouver" in mind.
While Canada has a reputation for cold, Vancouver is one of the country's warmest winter cities. Snow only falls on an average of 11 days per year, but the rainy season between November and March can be a significantly wet one. Vancouver summers are mild, giving the city a generally pleasant year-round climate.
Travelers who book flights to Vancouver are often surprised to find that there is no freeway leading directly to the city center. For this reason, most decide against renting cars, and instead use the city's integrated public transit system, TransLink.
The Translink system is divided into three zones. The first zone includes all of Vancouver city proper and some surrounding districts, while the second corresponds to municipalities outside the city – such as West Vancouver and North Vancouver. The third zone stretches the east and south of the city beyond the limits of zone two. Translink tickets cost between $2.85 and $5.60, depending how many zones you travel through.
The city's bus service is comprehensive and covers most of the city's most important streets. The buses are on-time, but do not always come frequently. However, if you text any bus stop's 5-digit identification number to 33333, you will immediately receive a text back informing you when the next six buses are due to arrive. Vancouverites use this trick to get from place to place quickly without needing cars.
If you do choose to rent a car, keep in mind that central Vancouver is almost exclusively accessible by bridge. The city is surrounded by water on three sides, and this creates the perfect conditions for traffic congestion, especially during morning and evening weekday commutes. Also, when you see flashing green traffic signals, it means the traffic signal can only be activated by pedestrians or cyclists – this traffic law is different than most of North America.
Vancouver is a very bicycle friendly city. Many tourists booking flights to Vancouver may choose to rent a bike while visiting, and the city's comprehensive network of bicycle paths will reward those who make the choice. Visitors who plan on staying longer sometimes simply buy a bike and then quickly sell it at the end of their stay.
Vancouver's international airport is located south of the city, outside its official boundary. It is the second busiest airport in Canada, and one of the world's most accessible. The airport features multiple wheelchair lifts in its most important areas, a public address system that includes features for people with hearing loss, and special features for visually impaired travelers.
Vancouver International Airport has two terminals – the large Main Terminal and the auxiliary South Terminal. Free Wi-Fi is available in both terminals. Aboriginal sculptures dot the floor space between terminals, giving the airport a feeling not unlike that of a museum. In fact, its collection of Pacific Northwest Coast Native Art is among the most extensive in the world.
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Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is located on Sea Island, just 14km from the city centre. From the city, the airport can be accessed from Granville Street. Follow the signs to the airport and cross the Arthur Laing Bridge to Grant McConachie Way.-
The Domestic and International terminals at YVR feature a wide selection of services, both before and after the security check points. The airport’s handy maps can guide you to all available facilities.
Restaurants, shops, a chapel and airline lounges are all available.