A local's guide to the best views of Vancouver (on a budget!)

May 17, 2023

Surrounded by skiable mountains, brushed by the salty Pacific and crowned with a modern, glassy skyline, Vancouver, British Columbia has stunning views. Luckily, accessing the best lookout spots doesn’t have to be expensive.

You can explore this awesome city on the cheap. Here are four budget ways to get the best views in Vancouver:

1. Ride the SkyTrain

Outside the SkyTrain window, snow-dolloped mountains, iconic city sights and million-dollar condos whizzed by. I noticed a little girl pressing her nose to the glass, eyes wide open.

“Is this the train to the sky?” she asked her caretakers. The adults smiled and nodded, catching my eye and winking. The young girl’s face lit up with excitement.

Taking the train to the sky isn’t just a magical journey for children—it’s one of the best budget ways to see the cityscape and landmark sights all for the low price of around $3.

Some of the SkyTrain is actually underground. For the best views, hop on the Expo Line between Stadium-Chinatown and King George or Production Way-University. To the north, you can see snowy mountains and Pacific Central Station. To the south, catch glimpses of Science World, the Rio Theatre and the iconic East Van sign. You don’t need a Compass Card (reloadable transportation card), but you do receive a slight discount on fares, so you might want to purchase one if you’re staying in the city for awhile. You can purchase a ticket at the station or simply scan your credit or debit card at the turnstile.

When I take the train to the sky, I try to travel during off-peak hours (weekday afternoons or weekend mornings). I sit down, listen to music on my headphones and enjoy the views.

2. Float on a Boat

While the yachts that dot the marinas are a little out of my budget, I still enjoy a boat trip—on public transportation. By far the cheapest and easiest way to get out on the water in Vancouver, the False Creek Ferries and Aquabus offer affordable transportation across the waves. The Aquabus starts at $4 for an adult; False Creek Ferries is only $3.75. Both have separate docks and tickets can be bought onboard.

If you’re craving sweeping ocean views, hop on the route to the Maritime Museum. You’ll get a unique perspective of English Bay from the water and dock near gorgeous Kitsilano Beach. I recently took this route with my mom. We started on Granville Island, where we indulged in fish and chips at Tony’s Fish & Oyster Café and snagged a couple of Honey Dip donuts at Lee’s Donuts in the market. We took the Aquabus to Hornby Street and walked to Sunset Beach. From there, we embarked on a journey into the wild waves for a few blissful moments. Whitecaps rocked the boat and soaked the windows on our oceanic adventure.

Rather than getting off at the next stop, we stayed on the boat, which took us through the frothing water back to Granville Island. It was a delightful and extremely affordable way to enjoy a boat ride in Vancouver.

3. Two Feet or Two Wheels

While cycling the Stanley Park Seawall is extremely worthwhile, it’s also extremely busy. If you only have time for the 10-kilometre loop, go for it; but if you’re looking for something quieter, more challenging and equally as beautiful that ends with a beer, leave Stanley Park and pedal to North Vancouver.

Last summer, I set out with a group of friends on a cycling trip from Mount Pleasant to Lonsdale Quay. Cycling over the Lion’s Gate Bridge (First Narrow’s Bridge) is a highlight of this journey, despite the lung-busting incline that seems to drag on forever. Two stone lions guard the southern access point of the bridge. Once you reach the Quay, you can enjoy an IPA on the patio at the Shipyards Tap and Barrel. If you’re too tired to cycle back, take your bike on the SeaBus across the inner harbour to Waterfront Station. There are bike rental shops and Mobi Bike Stations throughout the city.

If you aren’t a fan of travelling on two wheels, simply go for a walk! Get high above the water on one of the bridges. All of them offer sprawling panoramas, but my favourite to walk across is Granville Bridge. When you’re close to Granville Island, keep an eye out for the unique, massive, colourful artwork spanning industrial cylinders at a concrete plant.

4. Take a Hike

There are tons of stunning hiking trails accessible from Vancouver, such as the Stawamus Chief, Tunnel Bluffs, Norvan Falls, Panorama Ridge, the Grouse Grind, Quarry Rock… the list goes on. Many trailheads are even accessible by public transit.

To get your pulse pumping, Dog Mountain on Mount Seymour is a relatively easy, kid- and dog-friendly trail. Personally, I love hiking Dog Mountain in winter. Last December, my friend and I trekked to the top of the snow-layered trail. We crunched through the quiet forest with crampons strapped to our boots. At the summit, we squinted in the sunshine to admire the sprawling city glimmering far below.

If you’re planning on hiking near Vancouver, don’t be fooled by the proximity to the city—these are backcountry trails that can be dangerous, difficult and require serious preparation.

Now you’re ready to enjoy the stunning sights of Vancouver! Be safe, have fun and soak in the good views.

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