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A student’s guide to living in Vancouver

Vancouver is known for its breathtaking views, scenic routes, cyclists and laid-back vibe. Everyone in the city is super active, as you’ll soon come to realise.

But despite it being a major city, no one is in a rush. Adding to Vancouver’s laidback vibe is its proximity to the coast. Mild temperatures, access to swimming areas and a love of nature make it a chilled place to study and live.

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Best nature day trips

Even if you’re living in a downtown neighbourhood in Vancouver, there are plenty of day trips you can do with friends. Gather a group from university and head to one of these places by train or drive up for the day when your family comes to visit.

Either way, it’ll be an awesome adventure and a great way to experience some nature.

Grouse Mountain

This beautiful must-see attraction is about 15 minutes from the Vancouver downtown core. The beauty of Grouse Mountain is that there are activities to do all year round (and a view like no other). Zipline between the mountains, get up close with wildlife, paraglide, ski, ride a sleigh, and much more.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Down the street from Grouse Mountain, this site is also 15 minutes from the downtown core.

Capilano is home to a giant suspension bridge, a cliff walk and walkways that connect you from tree top to tree top. You truly will feel like you’re watching the tree climbing scenes from Twilight, but in 3D.

Although most activities can only be done in the spring and summer, Capilano is home to the tallest living Christmas tree in the world. The entire park is lit up for the holiday season, and it’s worth an extra visit in December.

Deep Cove (North Vancouver)

This day trip is in the city – a bit further north of the downtown core. North Vancouver is a village that offers a variety of attractions.

There are parks and trails along the waterfront, and it’s home to music concerts and has great spots to canoe or kayak.

Every year on New Year’s Day, several hundred people take part in the ‘Penguin Plunge’, which involves going for a swim in the freezing cold water to start the year off with a bang.

Squamish

Squamish is a town located an hour from Vancouver. The city has plenty of activities including the Sea to Sky Gondolaprovincial parks with hiking trails, rock climbing and mountain biking. If you came to enjoy the outdoors, Squamish will become one of your favourite day trips.

Whistler

Now this one is a place you may be more familiar with. Whistler is about 2 hours from Vancouver and is worth every minute of the drive. On the way, you pass the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean and many perfect Insta worthy moments.

Whistler was the home to the Olympic Park during the 2010 Winter Olympics, which were held in Vancouver.

This day trip is something that can and should be done in every season. Throughout the summer there a number of concerts so you could soon find yourself becoming a regular visitor. There are also ziplines, gondolas, golfing and hiking trails.

But it’s the winter when Whistler truly comes to life. Whistler Blackcomb is among the biggest ski hills in North America. Fun fact: it’s where the British royal family comes to ski when they visit Canada.

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Get to know Canadian sport

There are few better ways to get to know a place than through sport – and Canada is no exception.

A city of sports lovers, there are plenty of new (and not so new) Canadian sports to watch (and try) while you’re living here.

Canadian winter sports

Although it doesn’t snow much in the winter, there are many places a short drive from Vancouver where you can enjoy all kinds of fun winter activities. Every one of the nature day trips offers exciting adventures such as: snowshoeing, skiing, snowboarding, skating, tobogganing, bob sledding and much more.

Another important winter sport is Canada’s national sport: hockey. The city is home to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks and many more local teams you’ll hear about.

Canadian summer sports

Vancouver is one of the only spots in Canada that doesn’t suffer from freezing cold temperatures and snow. It’s much like the UK in terms of the weather.

In Vancouver, many sports can take place outdoors all year round.

Vancouverites generally like to participate in sports, though if you prefer to be a spectator, you’ll still find plenty to do. You can watch the Vancouver Canadians, the minor league baseball team, the BC Lions in the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the Vancouver Whitecaps out of Major League Soccer.

Something you’ll notice is everyone is super active. Lots of people like to cycle to work and the mild winters make that an all-season activity.

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Multiculturalism in Vancouver

Vancouver is a diverse and welcoming city. You won’t feel homesick when you have access to all sorts of food, cultural experiences and neighbourhoods that make it feel like a home away from home.

Richmond Food Market

This is a night market that happens every weekend during the summer months in Vancouver. It’s located near Bridgeport Station and River Rock Casino. The market offers hundreds of Asian cuisine food stalls. Snacks you can buy here include tornado potatoes, grilled squid, fresh mango desserts, dragon’s beard candy, bubble waffles and much more.

There are also plenty of opportunities to do a little shopping while you snack. The market has big crowds, so be prepared to wait in line. It’s worth it when you go home with some cute knick knacks and a full stomach.

Punjabi Market

The Punjabi Market occupies 6 blocks on Main Street in Vancouver and is your chance to check out some delicious Indian food. Not only can you grab a bite, if you miss home and try to cook up something for yourself, you can buy spices, packaged goods and exotic fruit which are all reasonably priced.

Food isn’t the only thing available, the Punjabi Market also sells Indian accessories including bangles and traditional outfits including pashminas and saris. There is a Sikh temple nearby, which is open to the public as long as you follow their customs of removing your shoes upon entering.

The market hosts several festivals including a five-day Diwali Celebration, Indian New Year and Vaisakhi Day.

Vancouver Chinatown Festival

Check out this annal festivlal in Vancouver, held during the second week of August.

More than 50,000 people flood the streets for a taste of ethnic food and festivities, and to meet people within their community. The festival includes a day market, walking tours of Chinatown, an area for kids, live performances, martial art-themed activities, and a cultural corner.

To end the day-long festival there is a streetfest block party.You can attend the event as a guest or you can volunteer.

Local phrases you’ll need to know

Besides the typical Canadian “eh?”, the people of Vancouver also have unique phrases you may hear around the city.

Here are a few of the phrases locals use:

“The grind”

Refers to a trail on Grouse Mountain.

“The island”

When you hear this, locals are referring to Vancouver Island (on the west coast of Vancouver).

“Raincouver” or “Vancity”

Affectionate names that Canadians, particularly Vancouver locals, use to talk about the city.

“New West”

Short for New Westminster, referring to a municipality in Vancouver.

“Kits"

Refers to a Vancouver neighbourhood known as Kitsilano.

“PoCo”

This is short for Port Coquitlam, which is another city in the province of British Columbia (BC).

“Abby”

Short for Abbotsford, another city in BC.

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Get around the city on public transport

Although you have choices to walk and cycle as most of the locals do, there’s always the option to take public transportation.

The metro system in Vancouver is called ‘TransLink’ and is made up of three types of transport.

Bus

These routes go all over the city and can even be used to visit some of the sites discussed in the day-trip section. The routes and schedules can be accessed on the TransLink website.

SkyTrain

The rapid speed train assists commutes from the city into the suburbs. Lines include:

  • Expo Line: Runs south-east from Downtown Vancouver to neighbouring suburbs, such as New Westminster, Burnaby and Surrey.
  • Canada Line: Takes you from Downtown Vancouver to the International Airport, as well as toward Downtown Vancouver to the suburb of Richmond.
  • Millennium Line: Runs east from Vancouver through Burnaby, Port Moody and Port Coquitlam.

SeaBus

A unique form of transportation that connects locals from Downtown Vancouver to a market called Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.

In addition to public transportation, everyone cycles. The city is well equipped for cyclists and it’s encouraged.

The City of Vancouver has a bike share system called ‘Mobi’ where you can rent bikes. If you do plan on settling in Vancouver to study, it may be worthwhile to buy your own.

Check out the Mobi app for info on cycle rental, as well as a map of bike routes on the City of Vancouver’s website, to ensure you get to where you want to go as conveniently as possible.

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