Old-fashioned trolley buses take you on one of two loop tours through Vancouver, providing live commentary and more than 30 stops where passengers can hop on the bus or hop off to explore independently. The routes are well-planned and the tour guide-drivers are generally knowledgeable, interested, and well informed.
Best for: First-time visitors to Vancouver who want the most comprehensive sightseeing bus tour of the city, with lots of historical details and local insight.
Where, When, and How Much:
Neighborhoods Visited: Downtown, Gastown, Chinatown, Coal Harbour, Stanley Park, West End, Kitsilano, Granville Island, Yaletown
Payment: Cash, debit, or credit
Schedule: Runs daily year-round
- Live, insightful commentary by driver-guides
- Two routes -- a red loop and a blue loop -- cover most major attractions
- Stops cover the most comprehensive area of any hop-on hop-off sightseeing tour
- Extras include a ride on False Creek Ferries and a Granville Island walking tour
- Offers extended day tours
- For rainy days, there are no open-roof buses
- The company's Stanley Park shuttle operates separately
- Like most Vancouver sightseeing tours, the final run leaves Canada Place before 5 p.m.
- For sunny days, buses are mostly enclosed (although some do have large, open windows)
Basics of a Vancouver Trolley Company Sightseeing Tour:
The Vancouver Trolley Company offers a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour around Vancouver, connecting the city's major attractions and most vibrant neighborhoods through two easy-to-follow loops.
The company operates a red-loop tour that travels through Coal Harbour, around Stanley Park, and back through the West End and Downtown. The blue-loop route heads through Downtown, Kitsilano, Granville Island, Yaletown, Chinatown, and Gastown.
Frankly, I love how comprehensive these two loops are. The company has planned these routes very thoughtfully, with the visitor considered foremost. No other hop-on, hop-off company circles the famous Stanley Park Hollow Tree for the best views (other companies just slow down), passes Engine 374 (the first train that arrived in Vancouver in 1887), drives past the major sports stadiums, nor stops at the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vanier Park. The Vancouver Trolley Company incorporates all these into their routes.
The live commentary enhances the basic groundwork of these routes. During the tour, the bus drivers wear headset microphones and weave a commentary on the city's history, neighborhoods, and major attractions. For an old-timey feel, all Vancouver Trolley Company buses have the look of an streetcar, with varnished wooden seats, brass railings, and hand-pull bell.
Vancouver Trolley Company Commentary and Tour Guides:
This hop-on, hop-off tour maintains a fairly slow pace, but it's packed with historical details and local insight. During a tour I took in August 2012, I was surprised by how many new points of interest and historical details the drivers shared. Both drivers gave excellent tour details, going above and beyond the expected. They really seemed to thrive on the city history, and introduced the city in a positive light.
The tour guides emphasized the historical aspects rather than giving the scoop on dining, shopping, or nightlife options. Neither guide shared much insight on the city's restaurants. Mostly, they played to the passengers (mostly senior travelers) with historical facts and anecdotes.
Overall, the drivers showed great caring and attentiveness. They accommodated people with walking sticks, clearly communicated route changes and schedule information, and happily answered questions. If you love details and history, these are some of the best guides at work in Vancouver.
One guide in particular astounded me with tidbits on western red cedars -- the species that produces the giant trees seen in Stanley Park. He knew measurements to the decimal, and recited them with captivating enthusiasm.
The guides also offered up plenty of tips and itinerary suggestions, such as getting half-priced tickets at Tickets Tonight in the Tourism Vancouver office, watching the sunset at English Bay, or how to use the bike racks on city buses.
Getting Around Vancouver:
This hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour is an easy way to get around Vancouver. The tour stops at many major downtown hotels. But the route doesn't always cut the most direct route -- for example, heading from Granville Island to Canada Place swings you through Yaletown and Chinatown before coming back through Gastown to Canada Place. On the up-side, it's hard to get lost thanks to the detailed map and the Vancouver Trolley Company's simple, one-way route system. In fact, having two loops through the city (other sightseeing tours only have one) gives passengers more options to customize their journey.
Extras with the Vancouver Trolley Company:
The Vancouver Trolley Company gives out a multi-page coupon book to its riders. The coupons give discounted admission to some attractions, meal discounts at popular restaurants, and a few free extras. One free bonus is a ticket for one-way passage on False Creek Ferries. Most people hop aboard the ferries to travel to or from Granville Island.
Another added extra is the walking tour of Granville Island. These run about three times daily in the peak summer months (call ahead to check the schedule), and the tour introduces the various corners of the island, from the markets to arts venues and the cement factory.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary tour by Tourism Vancouver for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.