What to do at YVR when you get tired of the world-class art and the aquarium. (Spoiler: You won’t)
The Vancouver International Airport (airport code: YVR) has been voted Skytrax’s Best North American Airport seven times––and counting––already this century. Among the airport’s many charms are engaging art, kid-friendly facilities, free wi-fi, and even an aquarium. If it weren’t so close to the phenomenal city of Vancouver, it might not be such a bad vacation destination itself. Okay, maybe you don’t want to spend a week here, but it’s a fine place for a layover. Read on for our recommendations about the best places to eat, shop, blow off steam, and maybe even learn something between flights.
Vancouver’s food options, even in the fast food realm, are surprisingly nutritious. Sure, there are the burger and pizza chains you expect, but consider a place with a little more local character. Concourse B’s Green Bean Cafe (pictured) offers sensible choices like salads and grilled panini. There’s also Rice Tales offering healthfully prepared Asian-inspired dishes. In Concourse D, Famous Famiglia has New York-style pizza, and in E, Skyway Cafe has soups and wraps. Is the culture shock too great? For a fried-food fix, zip back to Concourse C, where Vera’s Burger Shack offers a tasty local alternative to chain food.
On Concourse C, Monk’s Grill is a true Vancouver experience, as the restaurant is an offshoot of Monk McQueen’s, a popular city eatery. They offer upscale comfort food like substantial burgers and fish tacos. On the lighter side, Vino Volo (pictured) has an excellent array of small plates heavy on local ingredients, like fresh salmon and Canadian cheeses. Wine pairings are extraordinary, too. There are two locations behind security, one on Concourse B, and one on E.
If you have a lot of time on your layover––and if you still have a fair number of those plastic Canadian dollars left—visit Globe @ YVR. This fine-dining restaurant featuring gourmet Pacific Northwest cuisine is part of the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel, which is on airport property but outside of security. It will be the most delicious farewell to Canada you can imagine.
Make a virtual visit to British Columbia’s wine-growing Okanagan Valley when you sit down at Palomino Bar & Grill in Terminal A, where many fine Canadian vintages are served. (A sister restaurant, Milestones, is in Terminal D.) In Terminal E, enjoy the classic pairing of a beer and a hockey game at Canucks Bar & Grill. Finally, if you’ve got the time, step back in time to an era when travel was a gracious experience at the Jetside Bar. It’s in the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel, so you’ll have to leave the secure area to get there. Sit in a comfortable seat (tons of legroom here) and watch planes come and go through the towering windows while you sip a classic drink. (If you’re ever going to try an Aviation cocktail––gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and lemon juice––today’s the day.)
There’s something about travel that makes it easy to excuse indulgences, and the Vancouver International Airport is a good place to let your sweet tooth call the shots. For a classic Canadian experience, stop by a Tim Hortons stand for coffee and doughnuts. This chain is beloved in the Great White North, so much so that the airport has not one but two locations within the secure area (in Concourses C and E). For a slightly more posh experience, visit Brioche Dorée (pictured) on Concourse C. Here you can enjoy classic European style pastry while you wait to board. For candy, dip a scoop into the Wonka-esque bins of chocolates, gummies, and jellies at Lick, on Concourse B.
The Vancouver International Airport has six Starbucks (pictured) locations, but you can do better than that. Java U Cafe, on Concourse B, comes to British Columbia by way of Montreal and has a hint of European sophistication in its array of espresso drinks and pastries. It might even out-Euro the Euro Cafe, whose French-style pastries are in fact baked right here in Canada. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for research as there are three Euro Cafe locations, on Concourses C, D, and E.
Adults get antsy enough on a plane. Kids? Well, we’ve all sat in front of that child who amuses himself by kicking your seatback for three hours straight. Don’t let your kid be that kid. Take your children to one of the airport’s dedicated children’s play areas. There are several inside security, in Terminals C, D, and E. Little travelers can watch kid-friendly programming, interact with fun character sculptures, climb on play structures (the floors are padded here), and get those flails and shrieks out of their systems without bothering anyone.
Vancouver is a fantastic eating and drinking city. You can take some of those tastes back home with you if you’ve got the time for a little airport shopping. Rogers' Chocolates (pictured) are not just yummy, they’ve been a B.C. institution since the 19th century. Pick up a box to take home (or not; we won’t tell) in Concourse C. Vancouver Kitchen, on Concourse E, carries souvenirs both sweet and savory. You’ll find all manner of sauces, mixes, and rubs made with local ingredients, and it’s one of many places you can stock up on real Canadian maple syrup to take home. A place outside of the secure area worth seeking out if you’ve got the time is the West Coast Liquor Store. You can stock up on bottles of any Canadian wines or whiskies you may have sampled (or want to try).
Vancouver is a compelling place, and you may feel you want a lasting souvenir even if your visit here was limited to an airport layover. Plow past the shot glasses and t-shirts at Thinking Canada in Concourse D for quality gifts like silver jewelry, decorative items, and reproductions of Canadian art. Then discover Vancouver at the aptly named Discover Vancouver store, on the E Concourse. Here the emphasis is more on actual pieces of collectible First Nations art—in other words, here’s where you can find a souvenir that sits on your mantle, not your tchotchke shelf. Then again, if you’re the kind of person that considers a perfectly turned double play a work of art, you’ll love BC Sports Zone (pictured) on Concourse E. Here’s where you can pick up a Canucks jersey or a shirt showing your love of the Vancouver Whitecaps (soccer is a thing here.)
We don’t need to direct you to one of the most remarkable attractions at the Vancouver International Airport because it’s A) huge, and B) all around you. It’s the impressive collection of art displayed in every part of the facility. If you arrive on a flight from the United States, you are quite likely to be greeted almost as soon as you’re off the plane by the two 15-foot Male and Female Welcome Figures (pictured), by Susan A. Point, an artist whose Musqueam ancestors were the original inhabitants of the Vancouver area. Not as monolithic, but just as significant in the art world is the Lorne Balshine Collection, in the B Concourse. This collection consists of 75 works by many different Inuit artists, and is a remarkable collection of contemporary Canadian Aboriginal art.
They may have been designed as a diversion for children, but two aquariums in the airport will keep any traveler captivated almost indefinitely. The smaller of the two—both are affiliated with the world-class Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park—is impressive enough. It’s a 500-gallon tank with about a dozen quivering, shivering Pacific sea nettle jellies, which are native to the waters of the Pacific Northwest. The larger, 30,000-gallon tank is stocked with about 5,000 living creatures, from sea stars and anemones to eels and rockfish.