The term "lower mainland" has different meanings; for some people it is equivalent to a "Greater Vancouver", while others include everything out to Abbotsford or even Hope in the east. 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 — a fast-growing suburb of Vancouver
- 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 is the hub airport for the Lower Mainland (and Western Canada) with frequent flights from other points in British Columbia, major cities across Canada and the U.S., Asia and several from Europe. Abbotsford International Airport, about 60 km (37 mi) east of Vancouver in Abbotsford, is Vancouver's alternate airport. It handles mostly domestic flights.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: flying in and out of Seattle, particularly for US destinations, and then using the bus, train, or car rental for travel to and from Vancouver city can be a 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. Quick Shuttle offer direct buses between Vancouver & SeaTac. Bellingham International Airport is about an hour from Vancouver (plus border time), and has excellent service from Hawaii and Las Vegas, but few other useful connections. Shuttle buses run to Vancouver.
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):
- 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)
- Huntingdon | Sumas | Abbotsford, BC (Hwy 11) – Sumas, WA (WA-9)
- Boundary Bay | Point Roberts | Delta, BC (56th St) – Point Roberts, WA (Tyee Drive)
There are often lengthy lineups at the border, in either direction. During summer, 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.
Central & Southern Interior
The Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) is the main highway that connects the Lower Mainland with Kamloops, and is a continuation of the Trans-Canada Highway freeway between Vancouver and Hope, while the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) functions as scenic alternative through the Fraser Canyon. From Kamloops, Highway 1 continues east to Calgary while Highway 5 travels north to the Yellowhead Highway (Highway 16) and connects to Edmonton. Highway 97C connects the Coquihalla Highway at Merritt to connects with Kelowna and the Okanagan. The Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) provides an alternate connection to the Okanagan and passes through the Kootenays enroute to Alberta.
Northern British Columbia
The Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) connects Hope to Cache Creek and Highway 97, where travelers can continue north to Prince George and the Alaska Highway. Highway 99 provides an alternate access from Cache Creek through Whistler; however, north of Pemberton the route is a narrow, isolated, mountain road.
Rider Express offers service along the Trans-Canada Highway from Winnipeg to Vancouver.
Tofino Bus has service from Courtenay, Campbell River, Parksville and Tofino via Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. BC Ferries Connector connects Vancouver to Victoria. Ebus offers service from Kamloops and Kelowna via Abbotsford.
Greyhound Lines (USA) & Bolt Bus provide service to Vancouver from Seattle (via Coquilam, Bellingham, Mt Vernon and Everett. Cantrail operates express buses between the Seattle King St Station (Amtrak) and Vancouver. Quick Coach runs buses from SeaTac Airport via downtown Seattle to Vancouver.
Taking the train to the Lower Mainland is unlikely to be the cheapest option, but it is a scenic one. All trains terminate at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver. 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. Amtrak Cascades runs from Seattle.
There are two ferry terminals serviced by BC Ferries in the Lower Mainland. Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in South Delta, has service from Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island, and from the Southern Gulf Islands. Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal in West Vancouver has routes from Nanaimo, Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast.
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 to the north-west, to White Rock in the south-west, to Langley in the south-east, to Maple Ridge in the north-east.
BC Transit offers connecting bus service from Langley to Abbotsford and Chilliwack. Translink's Westcoast Express offers weekday service to Mission, heading westbound during the morning rush hour and eastbound during the afternoon rush hour. From BC Transit's network, connections can be made to Agassiz Harrison Hot Springs, and Hope.
No public transit crosses the border with Washington State in the United States.
The most convenient means of getting around the region is by car. Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada highway) is the main thoroughfare, providing freeway travel through Vancouver's suburbs into the Fraser Valley and the interior of BC. Highway 99 connects Vancouver with the US border to the south and Whistler to the north. Car rentals are readily available throughout the region.
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.
Some 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.
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.