CANADA: Vancouver – The Most Overrated City on Earth

Posted by on Aug 28, 2016 in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Having visited countless cities in 82 countries, I was surprised to discover that a town so many had held in high praise turned out to be extremely dull, disturbing, and disappointing.  It was also stimulating in some rather unpleasant ways that I hadn’t anticipated. Vancouver’s homeless population is particularly more aggressive and bizarre than you might find in even San Diego or San Francisco.

Every outing from my hostel assured me additional material for this blog in the form of strange and tragic encounters that can be experienced on almost every block one passes on Granville Street. It was like being in a B-movie that goes from trippy, to sad, to ridiculous all in the period of five minutes. One needn’t sample the legendary BC Bud (famous locally grown marijuana) to get a taste of altered states of reality. Just walk down the streets of this lunatic asylum, and you’ll get a chemical-free acid trip on the house. Vancouver is a heroin dream with periodic bursts of crystal meth psychosis.

And that’s another thing, the BC Bud is good but like everything about this place is also overrated. It is no better than what can be found at most California dispensaries, and I suspect in Washington and Oregon as well. Add to that the fact that you cannot smoke weed within 1oo feet of any window or door, and you’ve pretty much eliminated every location in Vancouver. Then you are forced to seek refuge in one of a handful of smoking lounges which were all a mile away from my hostel.  For $5.00 you can chill for an hour and use an industrial grade vaporizer. The New Vansterdam Cafe was filled with three flat screens all playing various sports including the Golf Channel!  Definitely not my thing, and I’m sure George Carlin would not approve if he were alive. The next place was too hot and featured a disagreeable employee and angry rap music, but the VanCity Bulldog was just right. Smaller cooler place, nice employees, and agreeable music. They even have some connection with the famous Bulldog Café in the real Amsterdam.

In fact, do yourself a favor, skip Vancouver altogether, save your money, and go a truly charming city with plenty to see and do. The real Amsterdam has a far better European cannabis culture tied up in a much prettier package. The original Bulldog and the Van Gogh Museum alone would bury this Canadian cultural failure of a city. Add Amsterdam’s hundreds of quaint bridges and lovely canal houses, and no comparison is even worth mentioning.

You’re probably wondering what possessed me to go to all of those lounges which were all a mile away from me? Well in this snoozer of a city it definitely takes the edge off of the boredom and the disturbing nature of it’s street population. It was either that or stay at the hostel, which had an older fellow staying there whose uncovered cauliflower ear was caked full of dried blood. This would have been unpleasant enough if it weren’t for the fact that he hung around the kitchen most of the time.

No day here is complete without an encounter with angry psychotic barking obscenities at anyone within earshot. There were a young man and girlfriend who displayed a sign requesting money for weed and munchies while the guy played with his pet rat. Later on, a giant black woman in a tight spandex outfit ambled by with a gargantuan boob hanging out of the ensemble, thankfully obscured by additional spandex but by no means rendered any less grotesque than it sounds. Another block offers up a giant emaciated goth dude with full hood and cloak. He must have measured 6’7″-6’10” at the very least.

At one point I heard a terrible fusillade of obscenities being hurled at some poor sod. A bus had just stopped and spat out a particularly disagreeable, haggard, gap-toothed old harpy in a filthy flower print dress who was laying into some bedraggled old bugger who shuffled up the sidewalk ahead of her in a desperate bid to save whatever hearing he still had left. She was angrier than a dog shitting tacks as she continued her spittle strewn assault. Thankfully the cacophony faded into the distance, and once again the streets were lined with the silent suffering of those sleeping restlessly on the sidewalks and in the alcoves taking leave of their misery for a short while. And so it goes, block after block.

Most of the encounters were very sad indeed. One that stands out is the filthy, undernourished, heroin ravaged, heavily tatted grandma sitting on the sidewalk wailing in emotional agony in the middle of a beautiful sunny day.

The bottom line in Vancouver, you will be hard pressed to walk a block or two without being vigorously panhandled, offered some kind of religious enlightenment, encountering someone talking to themselves or seeing something tragic or truly bizarre. My experiences have been frequent, and I would have felt as if I was embracing a warped view of this usually highly praised metropolis if I had not found numerous articles that backed up my impressions to a tee.

Needless to say, I find that the locals are more than a little too self-important when it comes to their town. I don’t give a damn what the opinion polls or the livable city ratings declare. This place has all of the unpleasant things that tend to go hand in hand with big cities without the usual compensating advantages. It’s filthy, noisy, and dull with nothing much more than the homeless and the mentally ill to spice things up. This was all a big surprise to me.

It definitely didn’t help matters that I visited here after my trip to spotless Reykjavik in breathtaking Iceland. I’m taking an all-day bus trip out into the country and to Whistler on Monday before I leave to cleanse myself of this seriously non-Canadian experience. I’m just biding my time until then.

Rest assured that none of the descriptions I have included contain any form of exaggeration. In fact, there were many incidents that were forgotten or just not included because they were just too tasteless, even for this blog.


Making progress today. I managed to find a good cappuccino, and didn’t see anyone bleeding on the sidewalk today. Seems like I got an extra special dose of the bizarre on my first four days. I’m sure everything will get back to abnormal tomorrow.






VENUS & MARS – Local Handmade Goth & Steampunk Corsets


Vancouver is home to a large Indian and Pakistani community.




No helmets for these guys. The only thing between their heads and the pavement is a turban!




                                             Whistler Day Tour




This is more like it. Beautiful mountain vistas without heroin addicts littering the sidewalks.


 WHISTLER – Host Mountain Resort of the 2010 Winter Olympics


Ski slopes are visible in the distance.












Usually, Canadians are quite adept at producing this variety of food. Still haven’t figured out what that is? That, my friends, is a ham and cheese crêpe. It was the worst crêpe I have ever taken one bite out of due to the fact that the pancake had the flavor and consistency of whole wheat flour, sawdust and a pinch of sand.


A gorge on the way to the bungy jumping.






I skipped the Bungy, having already done it 3 times in New Zealand and once in Thailand. I prefer sky diving anyway.












Shannon Falls – Let these waters cleanse me of my unfortunate Vancouver experience.


  1. Karen Devers
    August 28, 2016

    I’ve only been to Vancouver for day visits twice when I lived in Seattle. It was a fun place to visit but I’m not familiar with Vancouver. It sound like you have to get out of the city of Vancouver to find any sort of beauty. Hopefully your whistler tour will be enjoyable. Going to Vancouver after Iceland is probably quite a shock on many levels.

  2. The Travel Zealot
    August 28, 2016

    I suspect things have deteriorated in Vancouver considerably since your last visit. I am certainly looking forward to some good company after hanging out on what seems like the set of a zombie flick. Heck, the food isn’t even all that. They even have a La Dureé, the finest macaron shop from Paris, and even that isn’t enough to offset the horror.

  3. Jason B.
    September 3, 2016

    I felt slightly guilty laughing uncontrollably at all that human suffering however the descriptive writing left me no other choice. I would never go within 50 miles of that hell hole. Went there once in the nineties and smoked a cuban cigar in one of the parks. Enjoyed the cigar.

  4. Janet Cascadia
    September 10, 2016

    Wow, what a nightmare. We visited Vancouver probably 10 years ago, in search of a new place to live, outside the U.S. We looked for and found a couple of alternative bookstores – one being Spartacus, and to get to it, we climbed the stairs to the second floor of an old, dreary building. And there we found a few hardcore anarchists shuffling around among the stacks. Another bookstore was on Commercial street and looked more the part of an independent bookstore, bright and airy, with kids’ books. I had to look up Spartacus to understand the connection… There was also an alternative weekly and independent radio station (like KBOO in Portland). And so, it seemed passable at the time, if boring – and maybe unable to assert itself due to weak character. So sad that it has deteriorated to such a state. We have turned our attention to points south, anyway.

  5. The Travel Zealot
    September 16, 2016

    My appraisal may be too harsh due to poor timing or other elements. It’s possible there may be a face to it that I have yet to see, but I’m not in any hurry to return. I’ll take Seattle or Portland over Vancouver any day of the week. Portland’s got a great bookstore. I forgot the name, but I saw a guy wearing the t-shirt for it in REI yesterday.

  6. The Travel Zealot
    September 16, 2016

    I sometime feel a bit guilty writing the stuff, but if you don’t laugh at some of it you’ll end up losing it. I just found very few redeeming qualities in the place.

  7. Zzz
    January 23, 2018

    The homeless in Vancouver are some of the most personable and unique of people… some of them seem to be there purely to say “fuck you” to the system. That’s not just a street full of disorder, east Hastings is its own economy

    And most of Vancouver seems to be there to say fuck you to the system along with them. It was the pioneer city for the legalisation of marijuana in north america, despite Canada being told by the Bush administration that there would be sanctions over any such thing.

    But besides the homeless and the drugs Vancouver has an amazing culture for all the wierdness that it is, maybe almost as amazing as the beautiful land that surrounds it.

    If you don’t appreciate a place like Vancouver, then you must not have a soft spot for quiet rebellion, wild abandon of naturism or cities on the edge of civilisation.

  8. The Travel Zealot
    January 23, 2018

    I appreciate your comment since I too was mystified by my reaction to Vancouver. This could be due to mood disturbances or merely circumstances I encountered. My soft spot for quiet rebellion knows no bounds. It just seems that there were disturbing encounters at every turn which could have been exacerbated by my consumption of BC bud. I do plan to return to Vancouver because I am aware that my experience is quite atypical, and I definitely want to give it another go. I enjoy Portland’s weirdness, and had a great time in Seattle so there is no reason Vancouver should be an issue for me. Like I said, sometimes “I” am the problem or situations that present themselves can inevitably sour the milk. I look forward to a return visit with a new perspective.

  9. TO2
    March 29, 2019

    All fair observations. Parts of downtown Vancouver resemble an open-air lunatic asylum. Though isn’t the setting just magnificent? Thats the city’s one true calling card.

  10. The Travel Zealot
    March 31, 2019

    Thanks for the perspective TO2, the open-air lunatic asylum colored my experience of Vancouver, to say the least. I was too far gone by the time I got to Stanley Park. In fact, I think I’ll head to Victoria Island instead on my next visit North.

  11. Albert J
    May 20, 2019

    I lived in Vancouver from 2004 to 2016. I loathe that city now. Expensive and ugly luxury hi-rises continue to grow taller, sprouting out of a squalor that only grows deeper. With so much extreme wealth and poverty in your face, day in and day out, you’ll quickly forget about the beautiful natural surroundings. Vancouver offers all the pain of city living with few benefits. I always laugh when it tops those most liveable cities lists. Vancouver is overpriced, overcrowded, and most definitely overrated.

  12. The Travel Zealot
    May 20, 2019

    Thank you for validating my evaluation. Evidently, San Francisco has gone the way of Vancouver with an abundance of human feces in addition to the drawbacks you listed. It’s a shame when a once beautiful city deteriorates in such a manner. What’s even worse is when you get suckered in by reports of its grandeur only to find yourself in a dystopian nightmare. Fortunately, there are many alternatives. Give me Prague, Vienna, or Ljubliana any day of the week. I hope you have found a suitable replacement.
    Best Regards,

  13. Eric V.
    June 9, 2019

    I live in Europe. Together with my wife I visited Vancouver in june 2019. Because I read so many positive things about ‘Van’ , I was excited to see it myself. We visited quite some cities (Paris , Stockholm , Vienna , Berlin , Reykjavik , Copenhaguen , Köln , San Francisco , Cairo , London , Firenze , Brussels , …) so we were able to compare.
    It was a huge disappointment!
    There are very few nice buildings , Gastown and Yaletown are overrated , too many homeless and poor (and sometimes verbally very aggressive!) , Robson-street is dull (and still allows cars! Any serious city has its main shopping area transformed to a pedestrian-only zone , not so in Vancouver…) . Also , too many streets have ugly abandoned shops. (Especially China-town)
    I saw signs ‘June is bike-month’ , but there were very few bikers. Personally I would not risk my life neither because you are often forced to share the same road with cars, buses and trucks. There are far too few real bike-lanes ( simply painting a bike on the asphalt does not do the trick ).
    There are some small signs that Vancouver could really become the city it claims to be, but that will need a lot of work and huge changes.
    Maybe in 20 years? Certainly not in 2019!

  14. The Travel Zealot
    June 10, 2019

    Hi Eric,
    It seems as though we are on the same page regarding Vancouver. Thanks for proving my point. I too have visited those wonderful European cities that you mentioned, and I feel sorry for anyone who may have opted for Vancouver instead. I didn’t see Prague on your list. I was there 15 years ago, just returned in May, and was astounded with the improvements and restorations they have made. Absolutely stunning. There is no trash save for cigarette butts, and I was not approached by one panhandler during my week there. I was so enchanted that I will return next year. Happy Trails, and thanks for stopping by. John

  15. Michelle
    February 4, 2020

    I’ve been living here for a while and thought hating the “most amazing city in the world” and finding it overrated compared to, well, everywhere else, made me different. Glad to know I’m not the only one. Working now to save enough (very easy with those affordable rents… not) to be able to relocate.

  16. The Travel Zealot
    February 4, 2020

    Hi Michelle,
    This post gets the most attention of all of my posts. I’ve been to 109 countries, and I know a crap city when I visit it. You’re not imagining things. There are plenty of nice places in Canada that haven’t been ruined. I wasted a lot of time in San Diego. People go crazy over San Diego, but I think it’s a lame excuse of an overpriced, no-culture city with nothing to offer but the weather so I totally get it. Stick with Canada though, it has 45% of the world’s potable water.

  17. Purple-Coolness
    October 12, 2020

    Yeah, Vancouver is absolutely gross and overrated and I LIVE HERE!

  18. The Travel Zealot
    October 12, 2020

    Hi Purple,
    I think we have a consensus of people finding what passes as Vancouver these days as predominantly abhorrent. On my next visit to the area, I’ll bypass Vancouver entirely and head for Vancouver Island. I hear it’s nice. The only redeeming feature to Vancouver is the marvelous grist for a healthy rant that it provided.

  19. Dan D.
    May 9, 2021

    Completely agree with your post. I was born and raised in other CDN cities, Winnipeg & Toronto, respectively. I’ve always had relatives that lived in Vancouver. I had the stereotypical beliefs about Vancouver: Laid back people, warm, clean, beautiful. Moved here in my late 20s, residing for 6.5 years. In hindsight, for the first 4 years, I was desperately trying to convince myself that moving here was a great decision, Vancouver is the right city for me. 98% of your post, I have experienced. I even lived in Gastown, renowned for it’s trendy facade. Walking home I saw a man in a wheelchair pissing at a busy intersection near my apartment. He was FACING the intersection. His piss-arc was almost high enough for me to walk under, but I decided to walk onto the street avoiding him instead. I figured getting hit by a car was the lesser of two evils. Another thing I noticed is how Vancouverites wear their “mild” weather like a badge of honour. Their self-worth is based on something humans have no control over: weather. If you don’t mind being judged for 5 minutes straight, just tell a Vancouverite you just met that you’re from a Canadian city outside of BC. Unpleasantly surprised how overrated Vancouver is. I’m so glad to be back in Toronto.

  20. The Travel Zealot
    May 28, 2021

    Hi Dan,
    Sorry for the terribly delayed response. I’ve been remiss in my blog duties during the pandemic, and I’m preparing to revamp my blog. I’ll keep this one, but I’m going to start a new one for my next 5-year World Tour which begins in January 2022. My new blog will be called I’ve had a number of people concur with our assessment of Vancouver. I thought that after my visit perhaps I’d just had bad luck and was being a little harsh, but now I don’t think I’ll be giving it a second chance.

    I did meet someone from Vancouver Island while in Costa Rica just before COVID hit, and that sounded like a nice place to visit. Your description of Vancouver itself definitely resonated. I’m happy for you now though. I hear Toronto is a great city with nice places to visit nearby. Now that this flipping pandemic has about run its course, we can all start enjoying ourselves in our respective cities and towns. As far as Vancouver goes, even copious quantities of BC BUD couldn’t make that place palatable.

  21. Steve
    September 18, 2021

    I came from Chicago February of this year and the only thing that’s keeping me here at this point is telling myself that I’m building character by living in a place that I dislike. It makes it worse by all these people who tell me how great Vancouver is but they seem massively depressed or have some other kind of emotional disorder.

    My job said that relocation to Toronto and I’ve only been there a few times but the vibe is clearly different. Here, I paradoxically feel both anesthetized and anxious.

  22. The Travel Zealot
    September 24, 2021

    Hi Steve,
    As you can see we are not the only ones harboring these sorts of sentiments for the highly overrated city of Vancouver. I wanted to love it. I really did. I’m going to give it a second chance on the way to Vancouver Island. Have had any good experiences with that location? Thanks for validating my assessment. I hear that Quebec is charming and a former favorite of Anthony Bourdain.

    San Miguel de Allende, Mexico is proving to be a wonderful Pandemic Pit-Stop. Lot’s of ex-pats, arts, music, and restaurants all wrapped up in a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in 1549.

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