Best for: Travelers who are visiting Vancouver for the first time and want a basic overview of the city. An easy first-day activity.
Where, When, and How Much:
- Neighborhoods Visited: Downtown, Gastown, Chinatown, Coal Harbour, Stanley Park, West End, Kitsilano, Granville Island, Yaletown
- Main Office Address: 321 Water St., Gastown
- Phone: 604-299-0700
- Toll-free: 1-866-820-8621
- Price-range: Moderate
- Payment: Cash, debit, or credit
- Schedule: Runs daily
- Languages: English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Mandarin
- Gives a basic overview of the city and makes 22 stops
- Fantastic Stanley Park tour included
- Very frequent buses, so you rarely have to wait
- Recorded commentary (although static) means lots of information
- Drivers answer additional questions
- Available in multiple languages
- Includes a trip on False Creek Ferries
- Offers packages to Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge, and the Vancouver Aquarium
- Upgrading to a two-day pass is a relatively cheap add-on
- Recorded information is static and can be slightly out-of-date
- Drivers don't always cue information correctly
- Popular on sunny days, so it can be harder to sit a large group together
Big Bus Sightseeing Tours:
A guided bus tour is an easy way to get an overview of a city on a first visit, and Big Bus does a good job at giving the basics about Vancouver. The tour lasts at least 90 minutes, making a loop circuit to its 22 stops. You can choose to stay on for the full trip, or get off the bus at any of the attractions and hotels. Big Bus is partnered with Big Pink Sightseeing, giving an even better frequency of buses.
Big Bus sells tickets at its main office, on board a bus, or in-advance through their website. Show your ticket to the driver, and then climb on board to grab a seat. If the weather is warm and sunny, try for a spot in the open-air section at the back of the bus. There are speakers outside and the open windows allow for better photos.
You'll notice some people waving to the bus. Be friendly, and wave back!
Getting Around Vancouver by Big Bus:
Big Bus offers one- and two-day passes. Adding the second day allows you to use the buses for transportation as well as the tour. On the first day you can take the tour, take the ferry trip across False Creek to Granville Island, and take the extended tour of Stanley Park. It makes for a full but not packed day, with short hop-off stops perhaps in Gastown, on Granville Island, and along Robson Street.
Big Bus Commentary and Tour Guides:
Big Bus uses recorded commentary on-board its vehicles. I've heard that a live tour guide sometimes joins the route, but that wasn't the case on my day tour. While recorded information can be static, the up-side is that you'll get more of Vancouver's history and basic information -- things that can seem boring to a live guide on their umpteenth trip around the city.
For the most part, the commentary was interesting and bang on (if paired with cheesy music). But the driver missed a half-dozen cues, so the recorded track would announce a building on the left or right and we'd have passed it already. This happened near the end of the loop tour. When we returned to the Gastown stop, the drivers switched. The second driver had much better timing, cuing the tracks at the exact moment landmarks came into view.
Recorded information can also be easily out-dated. In July 2012, one section on Canada Place mentions the pavilion's IMAX theater -- even though it closed in 2009.
But despite this, recorded information provides a good, standardized experience. And where Big Bus uses a live guide -- as on the Stanley Park tour -- the information was interesting, humorous, and lively.
Extra Tour to Stanley Park:
The best extra with Big Bus is the comprehensive, guided tour of Stanley Park. My driver was interested, congenial, and all-around excellent. And his well stuffed tip jar confirmed that it was more than just my opinion! The Stanley Park circuit tour follows Stanley Park Drive. The driver points out the historic, natural, and scenic sites in the park, from the Nine O'Clock Gun and the park's biggest trees to the Lions Gate Bridge and bright yellow sulfur pits (an oil-industry by-product). There are two stops in the park where you can get off the bus. The first is a five-minute photo opportunity at the Brockton Point totem poles. The second is a 15-20 minute stop at Prospect Point.
This tour isn't ideal for spending extra time at park attractions, like the Vancouver Aquarium or the beaches. Both are better experienced as a longer day trip.