The term "lower mainland" has different meanings; for some people it is equivalent to "Greater Vancouver", while others include everything out to Abbotsford or Hope in the east, and Squamish or Whistler in the north. Here we use it to describe the area from Vancouver in the west to Hope in the east, and from the American border in the south, to the town of Whistler and the Sunshine Coast in the north.
A beautiful, vibrant city with diverse neighbourhoods, a very multi-cultural and cosmopolitan city — and the political core of the Lower Mainland and economic core of the province.
|Vancouver eastern suburbs |
A series of towns north of the Fraser River and east of the Pitt River, all fairly urban and defined by their relationship to Vancouver. This region includes Burnaby and New Westminster; the Tri-Cities of Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody ("PoCoMo"); and Anmore and Belcarra villages.
|Vancouver southern suburbs |
The area between the Fraser River and the US border, where much of the Lower Mainland's population growth and suburban sprawl takes place. It includes the towns of Surrey, Richmond, Delta, and White Rock.
|North Shore |
Where dense urban meets dramatic tall mountains. The mountains provide attractions like Grouse Mountain. At the west of the North Shore is Horseshoe Bay, ferry terminal to the Sunshine Coast.
|Fraser Valley |
The Fraser River, which gives the valley its name, is the world's greatest salmon producing river, and a focus for the region's economy, transportation and culture. The valley also has lush fertile farmland, which contributes a large portion of the local produce. The towns of Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, and Langley are transforming from agricultural to suburb. Abbotsford, Mission, Chilliwack, and Hope remain closer to their agricultural roots, but are also transforming.
|Sea to Sky |
The region stretches from the North Shore, up the east side of Howe Sound to Squamish, the gateway to BC's magnificent alpine country of forests, lakes, and year round world class outdoor activities. The Sea-to-Sky Highway (Highway 99) clings to the mountainsides, letting you drive from Vancouver to Whistler, one of North America's top ski resorts, in two hours. Further in is Pemberton. The area is rich with archaeological sites and historical lore of the Salish Indians.
|Sunshine Coast |
North-west of Vancouver, a 40-minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, the region is named for its 2,400 hours of annual sunshine. It is a 180-km (110-mi) stretch of rainforest, seashore and mountains. This is the secret destination of many people, where the island life is found on the mainland. Here is a slower pace of life, where those who appreciate the beauty of outstanding marine parks and marshland bird sanctuaries, old growth forest and alpine peaks will find this the perfect destination.
- 1 Abbotsford — a major regional town with a commercial airport, and a hub of agriculture
- 2 Hope — gateway to British Columbia's interior and the eastern end of the Fraser Valley
- 3 Mission — home to a Catholic Mission that can be toured
- 4 New Westminster — a small town that never grew up, it has a nice riverfront promenade and beautiful old neighbourhoods
- 5 North Vancouver — playground for the outdoor-minded: miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, skiing, kayaking
- 6 Richmond — home to a large Chinese immigrant population and Vancouver International Airport
- 7 Surrey — the second biggest city in British Columbia, after Vancouver, with a large South Asian community
- 8 Vancouver — a city of steel and glass condominiums and outstanding natural beauty, frequently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world
- 9 Whistler — the biggest ski resort in North America, but plenty to see and do year-round. Summer: mountain biking; extensive valley trail system, hike, swim. Peak to peak cable car gondola open year round
- 1 Bowen Island — a small island at the entrance to Howe Sound, that draws tourists to wander the shops and explore the parks and natural areas
- 2 Garibaldi Provincial Park — a rugged wonderland set amid the Coast Mountains
This area is home to Greater Vancouver, the largest metropolitan area west of Toronto. It is also home to the mainly agricultural Fraser Valley, the outdoor playground of the Whistler environs and the laid back vacation area termed the Sunshine Coast.
The de facto language is English. Chinese (especially Cantonese) is the second most-spoken language in the city and there are sizable immigrant communities who speak other languages. Though there are few French speakers in British Columbia, Canada is officially bi-lingual so Canadian Government offices may offer services in French.
- Vancouver International Airport (YVR IATA) is the hub airport for the Lower Mainland with frequent direct flights from other points in British Columbia, major cities across Canada and the United States, Asia, and several major cities in Europe. Frequent direct flights are also available from Mexico and Australia, increasing during Canada's winter. Direct flights are not available from South America or Africa.
- Abbotsford International Airport (YXX IATA), about 60 km (37 mi) east of Vancouver in Abbotsford, handles mostly domestic and low-cost carrier flights. With an arranged ride, you can be in and out of this airport in under 10 min (with no checked in baggage).
- Bellingham International Airport (BLI IATA), across the border in Washington State, serves mainly as a launching point for budget-minded Canadian travellers vacationing in the U.S.: excellent service from Hawaii and Las Vegas, but few other useful connections. Also offers connecting service through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport can be a dramatically less expensive option than buying a direct flight from YVR or YXX. A U.S. visa may be required and could take some time to procure.
From Washington state
To cross this international border, you need an international travel document: a passport, a NEXUS card (see below), a US Passport Card, or certain US and Canadian "Enhanced ID" Drivers Licences.
There are five land border crossing points into the Lower Mainland region (Canadian name | US name | location), which operate 24 hours per day and have dedicated NEXUS card holder lanes unless otherwise noted:
- Surrey (Douglas/Peace Arch) | Blaine (Peace Arch) | Surrey/White Rock, BC (Hwy 99) – Blaine, WA (I-5)
- Pacific Highway | Blaine (Pacific Highway) | Surrey, BC (Hwy 15) – Blaine, WA (WA-543)
- Aldergrove | Lynden | Aldergrove, BC (Hwy 13) – Lynden, WA (WA-539, the Guide Meridian) - open daily 8AM to midnight, NEXUS lane to United States only
- Huntingdon | Sumas | Abbotsford, BC (Hwy 11) – Sumas, WA (WA-9)
- Boundary Bay | Point Roberts | Delta, BC (56th St) – Point Roberts, WA (Tyee Drive) - Point Roberts is on a peninsula. It is typically only reached from Canada and from other areas of the United States via this border crossing.
There are often lengthy lineups at the border, in either direction. During summer and long weekends, waits at the border can exceed three hours during peak times. You can see current wait time forecasts for both directions on the Canada Border Services Agency website, and for US-bound traffic on the US Customs and Border Protection website.
From other places in British Columbia
Most major highways from interior British Columbia converge at Hope, 143 km (89 mi) east of Vancouver, then follow the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) west into Vancouver.
Three major highways enter the Lower Mainland at Hope.
- Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) connects to Hope from Alberta via Golden, Revelstoke, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, and Cache Creek. It intersects Highway 97 at Cache Creek, which travels to the Northern British Columbia communities such as Prince George. Although Highway 1 is an east-west route across Canada, the section between Cache Creek and Hope is more north-south, making it the most direct option from Northern British Columbia to Hope.
- Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) an east-west route that connects to Alberta via Osoyoos in the Okanagan, and Castlegar and Cranbrook in the Kootenays. The road zigzags relatively close to the US border. In the winter, this route is known to be less hazardous and may be faster to reach the Okanagan than Highway 5.
- Highway 5 (Coquihalla Highway) is the main highway and the most travelled route entering the Lower Mainland via Hope, as it is generally the fastest route to follow to reach the Lower Mainland, including from Alberta, Kamloops, and Kelowna. It is a freeway from Kamloops to Hope via Merritt. From Kelowna in the Okanagan to Merritt, Highway 97C is primarily a freeway. The fastest route to reach the Lower Mainland for most travellers from Alberta is via Highway 1 to Kamloops, then Highway 5 to Hope, then continuing on Highway 1 toward Vancouver. In the winter, Highway 5 between Kamloops and Hope, and Highway 97C can be hazardous during the winter. Between Merritt and Hope, Highway 5 may be closed at times due to winter conditions.
From October 1 to April 1, vehicles on all three of the highways require snow tires, or mud and slush tires. Commerical trucks are required to carry chains.
On all three of these routes, there are portions with and without cell phone service.
Via Pemberton, BC
Highway 99 provides an alternate access to the Lower Mainland from Highway 97, about 10 km north of Cache Creek. However, north of Pemberton the route is a narrow, isolated, mountain road, which generally lacks cell phone service.
The Lower Mainland, especially Vancouver is well served by bus service. Unless identified otherwise, all routes below terminate in Vancouver. Most of these routes terminate at 1 Pacific Central Station, 1150 Station Street, Vancouver, BC (East of Downtown Vancouver off Main Street).
Some bus lines have additional pick-up and drop-off stops at hotels or other locations in downtown Vancouver, Richmond, or Surrey. Some bus lines offer direct service to Vancouver International Airport.
Within the Lower Mainland:
- Epic Rides, ☏ . Year-round direct bus from Whistler to the Melville St entrance of Hyatt Regency Hotel, which is a block south of Burrard Station (Expo Line) in downtown Vancouver. Additional Vancouver winter stops at UBC (Thunderbird Blvd), Indigo Bookstore at Broadway & Granville, and Sheraton Wall Centre on Burrard & Comox. Does not stop at Pacific Central Station. $24 one way or $35 return.
- Perimeter Transportation, ☏ , toll-free: . From Whistler hotels via Squamish and downtown Vancouver (Fairmonth Hotel and Hyatt Regency Hotel). Terminates at Vancouver International Airport. Does not stop at Pacific Central Station.
- YVR Skylynx, ☏ . From Whistler hotels via Squamish, downtown Vancouver hotels, and Pacific Central Station. Terminates at Vancouver International Airport.
From Vancouver Island:
- BC Ferries Connector (Wilson's Transportation Group), ☏ . From Victoria. The bus crosses on BC Ferries route Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Victoria (Swartz Bay). Terminates at Pacific Central Station
- Tofino Bus, ☏ , toll-free: . From Tofino via Port Alberni, Parksville and Nanaimo, then crosses to the Lower Mainland on BC Ferries route Nanaimo (Departure Bay) to West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay). Terminates at Pacific Central Station. Note that Tofino bus also has routes on Vancouver Island connecting Nanaimo (Departure Bay) south to Victoria, and north to Port Hardy, Courtenay and Campbell River.
From British Columbia Interior and other provinces (stops with "(AR)" require advanced reservation):
- Ebus, toll-free: . Has two routes.
- [dead link] Rider Express, toll-free: . From Calgary via stops including Canmore, Banff, Lake Louise, Golden, Revelstoke, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, Merritt, Hope, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and Surrey. Terminates outside of Pacific Central Station.
From United States (crossing the border at the Pacific Highway Crossing):
- Boltbus, ☏ . From Portland (via Seattle and Bellingham). Some trips start from Seattle. Terminates at Pacific Central Station. The company is owned by Greyhound, but the Seattle stop is at a different location than the Greyhound station.Boltbus (owned by Greyhound) - from Portland (via Seattle and Bellingham). Some trips start from Seattle. Terminates at Pacific Central Station.
- Cantrail (Amtrak Thruway), Pacific Central Station @ 1150 Station St, ☏ , toll-free: . From Seattle's King St Station (Amtrak railway station) via Richmond (Sandman Signature Hotel at 10251 St Edwards). Terminates at Pacific Central Station. Richmond stop is pick-up only southbound and drop off only northbound. To pay in US dollars or Amtrak rewards points, book on the Amtrak website. $40 for one-way, $75 round trip; discounts for students, military, seniors & children ages 4-11.
- Quick Coach, (bus stop) Canada Place Pier @ 999 Canada Place, ☏ , toll-free: . From SeaTac Airport via downtown Seattle, Bellingham Airport, Surrey (Campbell River Store at 790 176 St), Richmond (River Rock Casino at 8811 River Rd). Stops at hotels in downtown Vancouver including Holiday Inn at 1110 Howe St, and at Waterfront Station. Northbound buses only pick up passengers in the US and only drop off in Canada. Southbound buses only pick up passengers in Canada and only drop off in the US. Does not stop at Pacific Central Station.
- Greyhound Lines (USA), ☏ . From Portland via Seattle, Everett, Mt Vernon, Bellingham, and Coquitlam. Some trips start from Seattle. Terminates at Pacific Central Station.Greyhound Lines (USA) - from Seattle (via Everett, Mt Vernon, Bellingham, and Coquitlam). Terminates at Pacific Central Station.
Taking the train to the Lower Mainland is unlikely to be the cheapest option, but it is a scenic one. All trains terminate at:
- 2 Pacific Central Station, 1150 Station Street, Vancouver, BC (East of Downtown Vancouver off Main Street). All trains arrive at this station. From there, it is a short taxi ride into the central business area, or you can pick up the SkyTrain at the Main St/Science World station two blocks away.
Taking the train is unlikely to be the cheapest option, but it is a scenic one.
Rail options within Canada:
- VIA Rail has The Canadian which runs from Toronto to Vancouver with three weekly departures.
- The Rocky Mountaineer operates scenic (i.e., slow and expensive) trains from Banff, Calgary and Jasper.
- See also: Rail travel in Canada
Rail options from United States:
- Amtrak Cascades runs a twice daily service between Seattle and Vancouver, including one daily service to Portland. Additional service to Seattle by Cantrail bus (see 'By bus' in the above), operating as the Amtrak Thruway Motorcoach. Connections to additional Amtrak trains are in Seattle.
- 3 West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) has routes from Nanaimo (Departure Bay), Bowen Island (Snug Cove) and the Sunshine Coast (Langdale). Translink provides public transit at a stop a block away from the terminal to some areas of Bowen Island.
- 4 Vancouver (Tsawwassen) has routes from Nanaimo, Victoria on Vancouver Island, and to several of the Southern Gulf Islands (Galiano, Mayne, Pender, Saturna, Saltspring).
Other Lower Mainland terminals serviced by BC Ferries:
- Bowen Island (Snug Cove). Route from West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay).
- Sunshine Coast (Langdale). Route from West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay). BC Transit provides public transit from the terminal to Sechelt via Gibsons.
- Sunshine Coast (Earls Cove). Route from Powell River (Saltery Bay). No public transit is available.
- Powell River (Saltery Bay). Route from Sunshine Coast (Earls Cove). No public transit is available.
- Powell River (Westview). Routes from Comox (Little River) on Vancouver Island and Texada Island (Blubber Bay). BC Transit provides public transit at the terminal to Powell River and Texada Island. Through a transfer in Powell River, riders can reach Lund. Public transit is available at the Comox (Little River) terminal, to reach Comox and Courtenay. Through a transfer in Courtenay, riders can reach Cumberland.
- Texada Island. Comox Little River on Vancouver Island and Routes from Powell River (Westview). BC Transit provides public transit at the terminal to parts of Texada Island and to Powell River. Public transit is available at Comox (Little River) terminal to Comox and Courtenay. Through a transfer in Courtenay, riders can reach Cumberland.
Real-time remaining vehicle capacity available on ferry trips is available on BC Ferries' website and on some highway signs heading toward the terminals.
One most routes, reservations are available for travelers crossing with vehicles. At times during the year, reservations may be required between Tsawwassen and the Southern Gulf Islands. Otherwise reservations are never required, but are recommended for vehicles during peak travel times, such as late June to early September and long weekends. Reservation rates vary depending on how long they are made in advance of the sailing and start at $10.
Long term parking is available from BC ferries at the following terminals and by third-parties near the terminals if identified below:
- West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay)
- Vancouver (Tsawwassen) - also available from Tsawwassen Ferry Park and Go
- Victoria (Swartz Bay)
- Nanaimo (Departure Bay)
- Nanaimo (Duke Point)
- Sunshine Coast (Langdale)
The price of parking varies per terminal. Expect to pay $17 per day at BC Ferry Terminals in the Lower Mainland and to pay less at other terminals may charge less. Real-time remaining parking capacity is available on BC Ferries website.
Depending on how much you want to see, there may be a number of ways to get around the Lower Mainland.
Within Vancouver and many of its suburbs, the Translink public transit system can get you to most places. Translink extends from Lions Bay and Bowen Island to the north-west, to Delta in the south-west, to Langley in the south-east, to Maple Ridge in the north-east. In the remainder of British Columbia including other areas of the Lower Mainland, where public transit is available it is offered by BC Transit.
Connections between the Fraser Valley and Translink
- Translink's Westcoast Express offers weekday service to Mission, heading westbound during the morning rush hour and eastbound during the afternoon rush hour.
- BC Transit bus 66 offers express bus service from Langley to Abbotsford and Chilliwack.
- BC Transit bus 21 offers local bus service between Langley to Abbotsford.
The Fraser Valley
Public transit within the Fraser Valley connects between communities including:
- Abbotsford - BC Transit
- Chilliwack, Harrison Hot Springs, Hope, Kent (including Agassiz) - BC Transit
The Sea to Sky Corridor
BC transit runs public transit systems in the following locations in the Sea to Sky corridor of the Lower Mainland, though they cannot be reached public transit (and, where necessary by BC Ferries) from Vancouver:
- Squamish - BC Transit
- Whistler - BC Transit
- Pemberton - BC Transit. Note that a bus route travels to Whistler.
The Sunshine Coast
Public transit on the Sunshine Coast in separated into two systems, which do not have connections with each other.
- Sunshine Coast - BC Transit provides public transit including to Sechelt and Gibsons. It is possible to reach Vancouver using public transit by connecting via BC Ferries.
- Powell River - BC Transit
No public transit crosses the border with Washington State in the United States, though it is possible to travel solely by public transit as buses terminate within blocks of the Sumas-Huntingdon Border Crossing between Abbotsford and Sumas. Theoretically, using public transit alone, a person could travel from Qualicum Beach to Olympia via Vancouver and Seattle, though the trip would take multiple days.
The most convenient means of getting around the region is by car. Car rentals are readily available throughout the region. Major highways in the Lower Mainland:
- Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada Highway) is the main thoroughfare, travelling from West Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal to the interior of BC via North Vancouver, Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Chilliwack, and Hope.
- Highway 7 travels from Vancouver to Hope via Burnaby, Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Mission, and Kent (Agassiz).
- Highway 17 travels from the Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal in Delta to Surrey.
- Highway 91 is a freeway connecting Richmond, New Westminster, Delta, and Surrey.
- Highway 99 begins at the US border Canada in Surrey, where it meets Interstate 5 , then it continues north to Delta, Richmond, and Vancouver, then toward British Columbia's interior via North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Lions Bay, Squamish, Pemberton and Whistler.
- Highway 101 connects the Sunshine Coast from Sunshine Coast (Langdale) ferry terminal to Lund, via Gibsons, Sechelt, and Powell River.
By small plane
A number of small airlines operate float planes from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast and Whistler. These are more expensive than other options, but are faster and more scenic.
See also: Vancouver - Floatplanes and heliport
Some coastal parts of the Lower Mainland (Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island) can only be accessed by boat. BC Ferries provides ferry services to these areas and visitors can walk on or take their car. See Get In under By ferry above.
For many people, Vancouver will be the starting point for a trip to the Lower Mainland. It's a city glass towers well supplied with beaches and picturesque mountains in the distance. Close to its downtown, you can walk the seawall around its huge Stanley Park, and then to lots of sushi and other Asian restaurants, a public art gallery, and an aquarium. Vancouver's suburbs are accessible by Skytrain and other transit, and offer a wide array of shopping, more sprawling parks, and many interesting historical site.
The Sea to Sky Highway offers spectacular scenery — exquisite alpine lakes, craggy peaks, waterfalls, glaciers — and a surprising amount of it is easily accessible from the highway.
You'll need a boat or a plane, though, to see the Sunshine Coast's Princess Louisa Inlet, one of BC's most beautiful natural locations. The wide opening of Jervis Inlet narrows to become a 64-km-long fjord ending in the inlet.
In Whistler, the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre showcases the art, history and culture of the local First Nations, while the Audain Art Museum has an excellent collection of art by British Columbia artists, and visiting exhibitions.
There is so much do and see in the Lower Mainland, the following are only suggestions based on the regions.
Greater Vancouver, home to Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain, the Capilano Suspension Bridge and many more. To see all the sights, take a day tour to become familiar with all the sights. There are a number of sightseeing companies who run trips daily. And also the public transportation is also any easy way to see everything and get into the surrounding communities. You also can't miss out on the dining experiences, you name it and there is a restaurant in Vancouver to serve it. With award winning and internationally known restaurants, there is always something new to try.
In the Fraser Valley, you are entering into an amazing region which has plenty of stops to fill your stomach. Here you can find a number of award winning wineries and family owned farms. You can sample the fresh fruits and vegetables at a number of stands along the highway or pop into a local restaurant and have a wild salmon dish. You can spend the day driving from each community or you can make a whole weekend of it. The valley offers a great opportunity to relax in the warm waters of Harrison Hot Springs.
Whatever you do while visiting the Sea to Sky region, it will most likely involve some form of adventure outdoors. Here you will find some of the best golfing, skiing, hiking and many other outdoor activities. You can head up to the vibrant Whistler village or find your own mountain paradise.
The Sunshine Coast is your place to relax. Now relaxing means different things to everyone, this could mean sitting on your private B&B patio watching the sunset, or bobbing up and down while waiting for the fish below to take a bit of your bait, but whatever your image of relaxation it is found on the Sunshine Coast. Take a drive up the Sunshine Coast Highway and stop off at the galleries and farmer's markets to pick up some local goodies. But don't bother looking at your watch because here time is no of a concern.
The Lower Mainland is the scene of a quickly exploding food and wine revolution! Adjectives like diverse, fresh, delicious, unique don't even begin to describe the true nature of the region's bounty. World class cuisine from every corner of the globe is readily available throughout the region. West Coast cuisine shares the bill with Asian Fusion, Sushi, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Vegetarian, Chinese, Thai, French, Fish & Chips, Micro Breweries and Fruit Wineries.
Naturally, the region is so close to the Pacific Ocean that it provides a steady supply of the freshest of the fresh seafood. The catch of the day graces the plates of restaurants with famous BC salmon, halibut, cod, crab, scallops and oysters. Prepared simply, fantastically or fantastically simple...enjoy your 'catch of the day' in a fine dining establishment, a trendy eatery, a casual pub or right on the docks.
Farm fresh is a phrase heard repeatedly in the Lower Mainland. Just east of Vancouver is the Fraser Valley, a lush picturesque and productive valley which is home to a multitude of farms working diligently to deliver produce from the farm directly to the plate or to the visitor. Find fresh fruit and vegetables in season, farm-raised meat and eggs and extra special treats like home made jams and jellies.
The Fraser Valley has become a popular wine touring destination. Domaine de Chaberton Winery, a fixture in the beautiful south Langley countryside, has been joined by a number of other wineries (Township 7, Fort Wine Company, Glenugie Winery, Lotusland Vineyards and the Blue Heron Fruit Winery), all within a short drive of each other and from any location in the region. You can be in wine country in less than one hour drive from downtown Vancouver!The Lower Mainland also has some of the best tap water in the world.
- The immense and beautiful Vancouver Island lies off the shore of the Lower Mainland. Offering numerous recreational opportunities, it is accessed by one of four BC Ferries routes from the Lower Mainland.
- The Thompson-Okanagan region lies northeast of the Lower Mainland.
- Extending north along the coast is the beautiful North Coast.
- The US state of Washington lies to the south.