Long layovers are a perfect opportunity to explore a new city. Not all airports are located close enough to a city to allow a visit, but sometimes you can get lucky. Vancouver, BC for example, has a train that goes right to the airport. That means if you’ve got a Vancouver layover, you’ll have time to explore a bit of the city!
This post was updated on November 28, 2019.
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What to do during a Vancouver layover
In order to get the most out of your Vancouver layover, you have to make sure you have ample time. Any layovers less than three hours may not give you enough time to explore, considering you’ll need to leave time for customs and immigration if you’re arriving internationally, as well as time to go through security.
You also want to take into account how much longer things will take if you’re spending an airport layover with kids. You’ll need to account for potty breaks, stopping for snacks, or even slower walking speeds. Four to five hours may give you some time to go in for a bite to eat at a restaurant.
But if you have at least six hours in Vancouver to spend between flights, you have more than enough time to visit the city. You can use a Vancouver guide book to give you ideas of what to do there. Alternatively, you can use my suggestions below to make the most of your Vancouver layover time and explore the city.
Airport, customs, and luggage storage during your Vancouver layover
The first thing you want to do during your Vancouver layover is to get out of the airport. Allot at least an hour to get off the plane, go through customs, drop off your luggage, and get to the train station. You can drop off your carry-on luggage at the luggage storage area in the Vancouver airport (YVR), both in the international terminal as well as the domestic terminal. Rates range from C$5-8.50 per item.
The airport also has several places to exchange currency, through ICE Currency Services in the international, USA, and domestic terminals, and Royal Bank Canada in the domestic terminal. If you don’t have money to exchange, you can also get local currency at one of the ATMs in the airport.
Take the Canada Line to Olympic Village
YVR is only about a thirty minute train ride from downtown Vancouver, making it a great place to spend a layover. The Canada Line has stations at the Arrivals area in both the domestic and international terminals. There is a C$5 surcharge for rides coming from the airport, and then it’s C$2.75 for adults and C$1.75 for children aged 5-13 and seniors 65+. Take the route towards Waterfront, and get off at the Olympic Village station.
Walk to the Stamp’s Landing ferry dock
Once you get to the Olympic Village station, walk along 2nd Avenue towards Ash Street and away from Cambie Street. Take a right at Ash Street, cross the train tracks, and walk towards the water, first along Commodore Road, and then north on Moberly Road. Head to the Stamp’s Landing Ferry Dock. It’s about a ten minute walk to the dock from Olympic Village station. Follow the “Ferries” signs to get you where you need to go.
Take a water taxi to Granville Island
Water taxis are a great way to get around downtown Vancouver. They are cheap and give you a chance to view the city from the vantage point of the water. The two main companies that operate in Vancouver are False Creek Ferries and Aquabus.
For this excursion, take a water taxi from Stamp’s Landing to Granville Island. It’s about a ten to fifteen minute boat ride, and will cost you C$4.50 for adults and C$2.50 for children and seniors. There are no ticket booths at the dock, you just pay your fare when you get on the boat.
Have a meal at Granville Island
Granville Island is one of our absolute favorite places to visit in Vancouver. It’s a huge market where you can buy art, crafts, home goods, and food, as well as enjoy music and entertainment from local buskers. The island used to be a large industrial area, and you can still see remnants of that throughout the area. These days, the island houses a market, hotel, art and design university, restaurants, theaters, and even a brewery.
You can easily spend a whole day at Granville Island, but for this layover excursion, you should probably just stick to one or two hours at the market. That’s just enough time to get a meal at one of the many food stalls, and enjoy it while listening to live music at one of outdoor seating areas.
Take the water taxi to David Lam park
If you’re running short on time (remember, you still need to have time to go through security at the airport and board your plane), you can take the water taxi back to Stamp’s Landing and catch the train back to the airport.
But if you still have some time to spare, take the water taxi across the river to David Lam Park. Fares from Granville Island to David Lam Park are C$3.25 for adults and C$1.75 for children and seniors.
On a nice day, David Lam Park is filled with people enjoying the outdoors. As is true in the rest of the Pacific Northwest, people in Vancouver love to take advantage of the sunshine any chance they get. David Lam Park has tennis courts, basketball courts, playgrounds, walking/biking trails, and open fields to cover just about any outdoor activity you can think of.
Take the Canada Line at the Yaletown-Roundhouse station
After visiting David Lam park, walk through the neighboring streets to get to the Yaletown-Roundhouse station. Yaletown is a fun, historic district that has since become one of the more stylish neighborhoods in Vancouver. You can find an abundance of stores, clubs, pubs, and restaurants there.
You can also find the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Center, which houses the historic Vancouver Roundhouse, where Vancouver’s steam locomotives would get serviced in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The Yaletown-Roundhouse station is just a couple of blocks away from David Lam Park, on the corner of Davie Street and Mainland Street.
Security and airport check-in
After an exciting excursion into the city during your Vancouver layover, remember to allot enough time to get back to the airport, collect your carry-on luggage, get through security, and board the plane. The last thing you want to happen is to miss your plane. For me, I like to make sure I get back to the airport at least an hour before my flight, two hours if it’s an international one.
Making the most out of your Vancouver layover
As I mentioned before, I often enjoy long layovers because it gives my family and me a chance to explore a new city. The itinerary above is a great one to follow if you only have six hours in Vancouver.
The total transit time (trains and water taxis) is approximately two hours. For a family of four with two carry-on luggage to store, you’ll end up spending roughly C$78, not including any meals or souvenirs you buy.
So the next time you’re stuck waiting at YVR, why not catch the train into the city and do some exploring of your own. It’s a great way to make the most of your Vancouver layover!
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