When moving to Vancouver, one of the most important things to do is find a place to live. With a vacancy rate of under 1% usually and a requirement of at a one year least to start, it’s important to know where to settle down.
Metro Vancouver itself comprises of several cities but Vancouver itself is divided into several neighborhoods. Despite all being in a relative walking distance from each other, they still have their own unique flair, identity and price range. There are also infamous areas that may be considered to be less safe and shady but then again, how realistic are those stories you read online.
Before looking at the specific areas of downtown it’s important to note that the entirety of downtown is transit accessible and at walking distance and so you can easily walk around from one neighborhood to the other in less than 30 minutes.
Another point to note is that rent is expensive relatively to the rest of BC and Canada. That being said, when discussing prices and affordability, it’s relative to other downtown neighborhoods and not average purchasing power. In other words, it’s all expensive to begin with.
With that out of the way, here’s an honest look at some of downtown Vancouver’s neighborhoods, the good, the bad and the ugly.
The West End
This is where we live! Cardero street, the name of the site, is actually part of the West End and the street we first moved to. When we initially landed, we stayed for a couple of weeks in the area while apartment hunting and we felt right at home.
The neighborhood is mainly residential and walking the inner streets can be one of the calmest experiences where sometimes it’s so quiet you forget you’re in the downtown area of the city.
The West End is also subdivided into areas like Denman village, Davie village and it’s where you’ll find the famous Stanley park as well as English Bay Beach and Sunset Beach park.
Although part of the West End, Davie village or Davie street itself is renowned on its own and particularly for being the “gay district”, rainbow sidewalk and all. With several bars and eateries around, it is one of the most vibrant parts of downtown. It relatively remains active during the later hours of the night and may not be the best place to stay in if you’re an early sleeper or are easily disturbed by city sounds.
Denman Village is another main area of the West End and has a large number of small businesses as well as cheap eateries, particularly Mediterranean and Persian, and most importantly bike rental stores! This is mainly due to the fact that is the closest to the English Bay beach area and Stanley park and if you don’t own a bike, you can rent one for a minimal fee and go for a ride through the park.
Robson street is near the limit between the West End and Coal Harbour. It is mainly a shopping destination for tourists but locals can also find affordable restaurants and shops. However, as the official West End website puts it, it is currently more of a “Ramen district” due to the fact that most restaurants on that strip are Korean and Japanese. Not all ramen restaurants are created equal however, as there will often be a long line waiting outside a few of them!
Right next to the West End, Coal Harbour is the neighborhood where things become a bit more upscale. It’s more of a marina area than a purely residential neighborhood, where you’ll find a lot of people walking and cycling. If you walk the marina from Stanley Park, you will get to Canada Place, the Vancouver Harbour and the Convention Centre.
Restaurants and eateries start tending to be on the pricier side and so do apartment rentals. Rent wise, it would be better living in the West End and then walking over to the marina for a stroll, to exercise or just to enjoy the view.
Gastown was one of our first disappointments in our new life in Canada. The day we decided to go there, we basically planned a full day. Everything on the internet made it sound as if it was THE area to visit, that we would be restaurant and barhopping from one place to the next as well as check out the historic (it’s not) steam clock.
The closer you get to the area, the overall age group has a younger feel to it. Most people walking around seemed to be in their early twenties but that could be because of the film university.
The shops on the street itself feel more like a tourist grab (souvenirs and gifts) and in the summer, it can become too overcrowded. That being said, there are very few restaurants and bars compared to the image that is portrayed online.
Yaletown was another disappointment. Also portrayed as historical, you will immediately notice it doesn’t really match the definition of what historical is. One you get past that part, you will find that it’s more of what Gastown would have been, a street filled with restaurants and pubs.
Yaletown is much more crowded later in the evenings both in winter and summer. Rent wise, it’s also more expensive than the West End and is home to fancier stores, shops and galleries.
While we wouldn’t live in Yaletown, we would’ve like living closer to be able to pop in especially as it’s the main place where events take place. The streets will often be closed and filled with food trucks and activities.
Another notable Yaletown landmark is the Roundhouse Community Center providing activities, workshops, classes, instruments, game rooms with pool table, tennis table and so on.
Downtown Eastside (DTES)
The Downtown Eastside or DTES probably has the worst reputation of all Vancouver. Searching online for the DTES will often show it labeled as the worst area, not just in B.C. but in the entirety of Canada. It is also where “tent city” located in Oppenheimer Park is, the site of a homeless encampment.
Without going into many details in this article about the reasons behind the situation in the DTES, tourists are often surprised when walking past the area as it’s a walk away from Gastown, the touristic hub. Also, if you haven’t moved to Vancouver yet, you may be tempted by the relatively cheaper prices compared to the rest of the downtown area and be surprised once you land as to the state of the neighborhood.
It should be noted that while there are reports of an increasing number of reported crimes in that area, you can often walk down the area without hearing a word or feeling unsafe. You should however, still be cautious.