Metro Vancouver includes the City of Vancouver plus several suburban cities. Prices generally fall the further away you get from the centre, but it is only a general rule.
- Downtown – very hip urban living. There are lots of very expensive condos in the new Yaletown district and this is a busy area. The West End has lots of apartments ($1,000 pm and up and could include a view). This is very central for most of what the city has to offer. Denman Street is very bohemian, plenty of independent restaurants and stores, lots of choice although a lot of older rental stock. This is a very good place to start out and there is no need for a car. There is a big gay community in the West End, and drop dead gorgeous views over sea, mountains and Stanley Park. Coal Harbour is also close to everything. It is modern, expensive but does not have much of a community feel. The rest of downtown is predominantly the business heart of BC.
- Vancouver Westside. Expensive & exclusive. Close to the University of British Columbia. Apart from the busy arterial roads, (Granville, Oak and Cambie streets and Broadway, Grandview and 70th Avenue) there is not a bad neighborhood.
- The more affordable and enjoyable part of the Westside is called Kitsilano (Kits) and is worth a look. It’s a fun, chic, and lively place to live, plenty of interesting stores, restaurants and coffee houses, and a good place to get some of the Vancouver experience while you explore the area. It feels small town on the edge of downtown, great beaches, close to Granville island, great independent restaurants. "Affordable" is a relative term, and rents are higher than the West End.
- Marpole is the neighborhood in the south and this is a bit like Kitsilano toned down. Older and more sedate, with less of the vibe, but pleasant enough away from the busy streets.
- Kerrisdale is the nearest to a village within Vancouver. Very nice streets, very nice shops, very nice houses and, unfortunately, very nice prices. It is the genteel retreat of upper middle class Vancouverites.
- Dunbar to the west has less of a neighborhood feel but is worth a look-see.
- You will need a very good budget to work with if you are thinking of buying in the Westside, but if you do want to look at real budget busting housing try Point Grey, The University Endowment Lands, Shaughnessy or Southlands. If you intend to ask, “how much” it is probably a good idea to take a seat and a restorative with you.
- For apartment rentals you can also look at South Granville. This area is under appreciated - great, older charcter rentals, up scale stores, not as many restaurants or bars as Kits, and tends to die early. However, it is close to downtown and has great transit. Nearby Fairview is close to city hall, It can be a good area and is close to the new Canada line.
- An advantage of living on the Westside is that you can commute downtown by bus.
- Vancouver Eastside. It used to be considered a step down in price and status, but that is changing, especially around the Main St and Fraser St areas as neighbourhoods gentrify. It contains the one area to avoid, called the Downtown Eastside, which is a few blocks around the intersection of Main & Hastings. This is the skid row and drug central. Otherwise, most of Metro Vancouver is quite safe. The Eastside is mixed industrial, commercial, and residential. It is attractive to younger people and creative types who like the very slight edginess. Housing ranges from run down to very good. Wonderful Asian food.
- Gastown is the transition from the Downtown Eastside to Downtown proper. It is one of the oldest parts of Vancouver with many wonderful character buildings. If it is touristy it also has soul. Gastown is very much an area in transition with many new places opening. Although it may well be the place to be in a few years from now it is still a bit sketchy at the moment - come back later.
- SOMA is the south of main area. It is also up and coming, sort of like a less hip Commercial Drive. Plenty of great restaurants and bars with a bohemian flair.
- Commercial Drive - Vancouver's counter culture strip. The 'Drive' is further from the Center of Vancouver although not an obstacle as transit links are good. It has tons of character, a great hip feel, very bohemian and very real. It has an Italian influence (and more recently Portuguese and Brazilan). Commercial Drive cafes are open all hours when the World Cup is on.
- Burnaby. It is a separate city but, in effect, a continuation of the Eastside, though without many of the Eastside's problems. The higher-end neighbourhoods are the Heights, Capitol Hill, the neighbourhoods close to Simon Fraser University, around Burnaby General Hospital, and Deer Lake. There are really 2 Burnabies: North and South, as Burnaby is bisected by Highway 1 and Deer Lake. Generally North Burnaby is more expensive and sought-after than South. North has views of the North Shore mountains, quick access to DT (15 mins by car, 25 by bus - it's actually no further from DT than parts of the westside), and more 'character' as it is the oldest part of Burnaby by Canadian standards. Most shopping etc. is concentrated around Hastings St. This part of Burnaby has a similar cultural make-up to Commercial Drive, with a strong Italian influence, only more conservative and family-orientated. South Burnaby has traditionally been poorer and had a higher transient population than North, but with its close proximity to Vancouver and excellent transit links (and more affordable prices), this is changing. If you're looking to live the condo lifestyle without downtown Vancouver prices, Brentwood in North Burnaby and the area around Metrotown in South are good choices. You can be right DT in about 10-15 minutes by Skytrain. Schools are generally good in Burnaby and a recent survey by Macleans magazine found Burnaby the best-run city in Canada.
- New Westminster – the old capital of BC. The downtown of New Westminster is bit faded round the edges these days. Again, a mix of industrial, commercial, and low-end and high-residential. Many homes have river & mountain views. The Queens Park neighbourhood has many renovated homes from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and is one of several attractive neighborhoods with single family homes often priced lower than in Burnaby and Vancouver. Uptown contains many apartments, and, like White Rock, a higher proportion of retired people.
- North of Burnaby/New West are the Tri Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody. They have a good mix of housing close up under the mountains.
- Maillardville is the old "French Quarter" in Coquitlam. It is a bit rough/run-down as are some areas close to Lougheed Mall and Hwy 1/Lougheed Hwy. Most of the rest of the tri-cities is pretty good and family friendly. Housing can be much more reasonably priced than Vancouver itself. There is a lot of new development on Heritage Mountain and the Westwood areas. A disadvantage of these developments is that they are on a mountainside and so can be difficult to access when it snows. You might encounter a bear if you leave garbage out. That said, there are some high-end neighborhoods on the mountain, priced accordingly, and some great views. Heritage Mountain aside, the areas around Coquitam centre and all of Port Moody are a good place to start when researching these cities.
- East of here are Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. The name is often abbreviated to Ridge Meadows. These are the cheapest areas in Metro Vancouver because they are furthest from downtown Vancouver and somewhat isolated. However, a new toll bridge across the Fraser River opened in summer 2009 and this could change over the coming years. The three routes into and out of Ridge Meadows are via the Pitt River bridge (which can get very busy in rush hour), the new Golden Ears bridge, or the Lougheed highway east towards Mission.
- Work will be a big factor in deciding if this is the right place to live. If you work in downtown Vancouver then there is a commuter train so you can leave your car at the station. However, to get anywhere else you will face the queue for the Pitt River bridge or drive via Langley. Lots of people do it – it just depends whether you mind or not. The commute by car to Vancouver can be hellish.
- Pitt Meadows/Maple Ridge covers quite a big area and varies from smallish city centers to very rural. There is reasonable housing available just about everywhere. Many people believe that house prices will rise significantly once the new bridge is completed. No guarantees, but it is a commonly held belief.
- As it is right up against the mountains there is plenty of opportunity to get out into the back country. If you like hiking, boating, fishing, kayaking, or just watching nature and mountain vistas you will have plenty to do in your free time. However, this closeness to the mountains means it gets more than its fair share of rain.
- The facilities are generally good, if a bit small town, and schools are fine. Some people say the air quality is the worst in the Lower Mainland. No one from Maple Ridge says this, but if anyone has respiratory problems this may be something to investigate further.
- Across the Burrard Inlet from Downtown are North Vancouver & West Vancouver. They are connected to Vancouver by two spectacular bridges and one commuter ferry. This is an attractive area to live – good housing, very scenic and close to Downtown. Unfortunately the prices reflect this. West Vancouver has the highest per capita income in Canada and has a plentiful selection of multi-million dollar mountain and waterfront mansions. North Vancouver, while still not exactly cheap, has a more mixed residential composition.
- Just south of Vancouver is Richmond. It is industrialized in the north around the airport but is otherwise a mixed residential and farming area. Central Richmond is known as Asia West and has a stupefying, but very welcome, selection of Asian malls, stores and restaurants. Steveston is a historic fishing village located in Richmond's south west. It's quite different from the rest of Richmond both in demographics and in atmosphere. It offers more of a small town community feeling which is fairly attractive to families. Many family-run businesses thrive here, including many fish n chip shops, a nice variety of restaurants, and a British import store. Lots of tiny heritage sites, fishing boats, and waterfront boardwalks. Very quaint.
- This leaves the four cities south of the Fraser River.
- Delta is mixed residential and agricultural and consists of three main districts: Tsawwassen, Ladner, and North Delta. Tsawwassen is the nicest area near to the ferry terminal to Vancouver Island. It is primarily residential and has some beautiful homes, a better climate (more sun) than Vancouver and some areas, like Beach Grove, are like little villages with good schools and close to the beach. It has a fantastic beach along Boundary Bay. Ladner is a tiny village north of Tsawwassen along the river surrounded by farmland and is famous for migrating waterfowl. It also has a strong community spirit, good schools and is a relatively affordable option for single family homes within reasonable commute of Vancouver and Richmond. Ladner is actually attracting more and more young family refugees from Vancouver's housing prices and as it has it's own village centre, is also a more walkable community, with shops and boutiques, than some of the other outer ring suburbs - like North Delta. North Delta is more generic and typical of north american sprawl, however, Sunshine Hills is a nice area within it. North Delta borders on Surrey and is cut off from Ladner and Tsawwassen by Burns Bog and Hwy 99. Both Tsawwassen and Ladner are less ethnically diverse than most places in Vancouver, though this is changing.
- Surrey is the “Essex” of Greater Vancouver and is also referred to as Slurry or Curry. Actually, it’s not that bad. It’s just that is has a pretty grotty area across the river from New West. The rest is fine. Surrey is also mixed industrial, residential and agricultural. It is the fastest growing city in BC and if you like the idea of living in a new, reasonably priced, sub-division it’s a place to consider. South Surrey is particularly pleasant, though more expensive, as it has many large country estates.
- Surrey is a big city and encompasses the best and the worst places to live in the suburbs. There are six districts: Whalley, Guildford, Newton, Fleetwood, Cloverdale and South Surrey.
- The old centre of the city is Whalley. The area is currently being redeveloped by the council but still features some ugly strip malls, run down housing, vagrants and drug problems. The positive side is that extra effort is being made to improve it, new highrises have been and are being constructed to encourage more productive people into the area and flush out the low-life, much in the same way as was done in Yaletown. A new world-class Library is also being built in the centre which will also encourage a more educated population. The Sky Train runs from here into Burnaby and Vancouver and so is convenient for commuting without a car. The Surrey Central Sky Train station has also be the focus of crime reduction, and the blocks surrounding it are a "green zone" 24 hours a day, with a reassuring police presence visible.
- Guildford is next to Whalley and is better but is still very much a blue collar place. Newton is to the south and the population here is predominantly Punjabi. Some teachers in Surrey say that the secondary schools in Whalley, Guildford and Newton are the most difficult to teach in. If you have children this will be a consideration in choosing a place to live.
- There is, however, one exception and this is called Fraser Heights. This is a “posh” enclave centered round a fee paying secondary school. Many people think that if you chose your home well the public (state) schools are just fine and so wouldn’t consider a fee paying school, but Fraser Heights is considered by many as a very desirable location.
- Fleetwood and Cloverdale are areas that are being extensively developed as bedroom communities for the Lower Mainland. Cloverdale in particular is centered on the Willowbrook shopping in Langley. You will find lots of all kinds of new houses in this area from apartments through to large detached homes.
- The Cloverdale area of Surrey and the Willowbrook area of Langley are more or less continuous and anything said about Cloverdale also applies to Willowbrook. It is worth a visit and a tour of some open houses during a reccie trip as this is one of the more affordable places to live and there are many houses available. The downside is that the big new subdivisions can be a bit soulless.
- The only way to commute from many parts of Surrey is by car so, depending on where and when you need to travel, and this usually meant line-ups for the Port Mann bridge. In December 2012 the new Port Mann Bridge opened together with enhancements to Highway 1 from Langley. The new bridge carries public transit and has four traffic lanes each way (and will be extended to five each way). Although there is a toll to use the bridge it is expected to significantly reduce driving times from the suburbs south of the Fraser River. We may not see the full benefit until more lanes are added to the part of the highway that runs from the bridge to the edge of the City of Vancouver. This is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.
- South Surrey is very nice. Ocean front and view properties command mega million dollar prices and away from the sea are comfortable houses with manicured lawns and well tended gardens. There are three excellent secondary schools serving South Surrey. The downside is, of course, that it is expensive. If prices starting at $700,000 for a detached home are in your budget then you should pay a visit. There is some new housing development but to keep prices in check they are built on very small lots.
- Most of Surrey is served by the General Hospital in Whalley. It gets very busy at times with long waits in emergency. South Surrey has its own hospital in White Rock and from Cloverdale Langley General hospital is not far away. Other than this Surrey is convenient for Government services and has many public parks, sports facilities and public recreation centers.
- Langley City is as ugly as sin but it is mostly commercial and shopping with not much residential accommodation. It has all the shopping you are ever likely to need. Outside the City is the Township of Langley and this has seven areas: Willowbook, Brookswood, Walnut Grove, Murrayville, Fort Langley, South Langley and Aldergrove.
- For Willowbrook see Cloverdale. Walnut Grove and Murrayville are newish residential communities. Langley General Hospital is in Murrayville. As places to live they are both fine. Fort Langley was the first town in BC and the fort is a Parks Canada heritage site. It is a pretty place, if a little touristy. The old ferry to Maple Ridge left from Fort Langley. The service was withdrawn in the summer of 2009 when the Golden Ears bridge opened. It remains to be seen if Fort Langley will change much as a result.
- Brookswood is to the south of Langley and is an older residential area. As far as the writer knows this is a good place to live. Although there is a certain attraction to a new house the older homes are usually built on much bigger lots. Older homes may need a bit of work to bring them up-to-date but this should be reflected in the price.
- South Langley is very rural and unless you are looking for a place big enough to keep a couple of horses is probably not on the radar for a reccie trip. This brings us to Aldergrove. Aldergrove is as far away from downtown Vancouver as you can get in the Metro Vancouver region. Prices reflect this although it is close to the freeway and you can be in downtown in less than an hour in off-peak times.
- All the communities in Langley have access to sports and recreation facilities. There are two big country parks in South Langley as well as the smaller community play areas.
- Finally there is White Rock. This is a small, resort town just north of the US border. It can be quiet off season, but on sunny summer weekends the promenade and beaches and the sea front bars and cafes throng with day trippers. White Rock is expensive if you want to buy a place on the hillside with views to the US and Canadian Gulf Islands. The drive to Downtown is about 60 (ish) minutes in the rush hour.
- Vancouver Eastside, Burnaby, New Westminster, north Surrey and southwest Coquitlam are linked to downtown by the Sky Train mass transit system. Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam and Port Moody are linked by a commuter line that runs four trains into downtown Vancouver in the morning, and four back in the evening. A new Sky Train line (the Canada line) opened in August 2009 linking Richmond and the airport to downtown Vancouver. (A light rail system is promised from the Tri Cities area in the next few years.)
- Some people commute by bus, or use a bus to connect to the Skytrain. If you don't want to drive in congested traffic and possibly pay for expensive parking, you can check if there is a bus service from where you are to where you want to be. The trip planner is here. A lot of the bus services run to downtown Vancouver, so getting from one part of Metro Vancouver to another on transit can sometimes make for a very lengthy trip via downtown Vancouver, in which case the car may be the only realistic option.
- Some of the outer suburbs, like White Rock and Tsawwassen, have high speed commuter bus links which connect to the Skytrain.
- Cyclists, although rare by European standards, are more common in Vancouver than most other Canadian cities, and cycling to work on a bicycle route may be an option if the journey is not too long. Walking to work may also be an option for people in the Westend, Yaletown and Coal Harbour neighbourhoods of Vancouver.
Summer temperatures are at their best in August. Around 25 deg C by the beaches and up to 40 deg C inland. The summer is beautiful, but the autumn and winter are wet. Vancouver receives about double the rain that London, UK receives. Still, you don’t have to shovel rain. The rain is concentrated close to the mountains, so North & West Van and the Tri-Cities are the wettest, Vancouver/Burnaby next, then Surrey/Delta, then White Rock. Residents of White Rock can be out drinking cold beer in the sunshine while Vancouver is soaking in the rain.
Vancouver actually gets something like 400 hours more annual sunshine than London, all of which occurs during summer. Vancouver gets more sun than the sunniest part of the UK. Areas like White Rock get as much as 600 hours more than London. If you consider Scotland gets something like 1000 hours of sunshine year vs around 2000 here, you get the picture.
- The Vancouver Sun/Province has the best classified ads and you can read them online.
- The local freebies also carry extensive rental listings.
- Craig's List is becoming more popular, but you need to be quick - free to advertise as well. Craig's List
Most of the text in this article has been copied from post #7 in this City / Neighbourhood guides thread on the forum.
North Vancouver - Wiki article which has more detailed information on that suburb (actually two distinct municipalities).
Vancouver, BC - Detailed City Profile - Another good source of information for Vancouver (weather, demographics, employments, etc.)