Are you planning a move to Canada and looking to live in one of the major cities? If so, you may be interested in comparing living in Vancouver vs Calgary, two beautiful cities in the west of the country.
Calgary has a well-deserved reputation for being a smart, clean and attractive city. It is perfect for young couples looking for a cosmopolitan lifestyle, but it is also an affordable city to bring up a family.
Vancouver generally has a slower, more laid-back pace of life. Despite being a city, it is popular with people enjoying the outdoor life, and people generally seem to have a good life balance. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but this does come with a price.
We have compared living in Vancouver vs Calgary partly using statistics (size, weather, economics, etc.) and based on the opinions of people who live there. So why do Calgarians like living in Calgary, and why do Vancouverites like living in Vancouver?
Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary An Overview
Vancouver and Calgary are very attractive but very different cities, each having its own distinctive feel.
Calgary feels new; it is clean, well organized, and has a sense of space you don’t often find in a city. The city has extensive parkland and walkways, including alongside the Bow and Elbow Rivers, which converge in the city.
In addition, Calgary is very affordable for a major city, and house prices and taxes are relatively low. It has sunny weather and easy access to the Rocky Mountains.
Vancouver, on the other hand, is one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the world. It is set on the ocean, with a backdrop of mountains to its north and east. The city has a relaxed, hippie vibe similar to San Fransisco in the US.
Vancouver also has one of the mildest climates in Canada. Living in Vancouver means you won’t experience the bitter winter temperatures that Canada is known for. However, you will most certainly experience rain!
Location Of Vancouver Vs Calgary
Both Calgary and Vancouver lie in western Canada, but it will take 12 hours to drive between them, and they have dramatically different landscapes.
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city; it lies in southern British Columbia, just 50km from the US border. To Vancouver’s north and west are the North Shore Mountains, and its downtown core sits on a peninsula bordered by water on three sides.
The water has imposed a natural limit preventing city sprawl and has forced the city to grow upwards, its skyscrapers forming a dramatic skyline.
The city is, therefore, very condensed and densely populated compared to other Canadian cities. However, the 1000-acre Stanley Park at the end of the peninsula provides a peaceful space and relief from the urban chaos of the city.
The Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island lie to the West of Vancouver, and beyond Vancouver Island is the Pacific Ocean.
On the other hand, Calgary lies in the transitional area between the prairies and Rocky Mountain foothills. The stunning Rocky Mountains can be seen in the distance to the city’s west.
Calgary is surrounded by agricultural land on its other three sides, and the prairies spread endlessly to the East. The lack of natural boundaries has meant that the city continues to spread north, south, east and west.
Weather In Vancouver Vs Calgary
One of the biggest distinguishing factors between Calgary and Vancouver is climate, which can be the most important consideration for many people.
Your decision may depend on whether you are more able to tolerate gloomy wet weather or cold, snow and ice.
Vancouver’s location on the Pacific Ocean means that it has a very moderate but very wet climate. Vancouverites love that temperatures rarely drop below zero, it doesn’t snow much, and spring comes around sooner than most of Canada.
On the flip side, Vancouver is very wet. It is possible to go weeks without seeing the sun in the winter, and my experience is that it can rain for days on end.
A helpful comparison for our British readers is that Vancouver has nearly double the annual precipitation of the UK’s city of London. Compared to Calgary, Vancouver has almost three times the annual precipitation.
Calgary has a dry climate with a high number of sunshine hours. Winter days in Calgary are typically cold but with bright sunshine. The average January low in Calgary is around -7 degrees C compared to +4 degrees C in Vancouver.
However, Calgary winters are generally warmer than much of Canada due to warm, dry Chinook winds that blow through the city in the winter months.
Calgary sees around 25 Chinooks every winter, lasting from a few hours to several days. The effects can be pretty dramatic, with temperature swings of 20-30 degrees C.
For the people of Calgary, Chinooks can provide much-needed relief from the frigid winter temperatures. However, they give uncertainty to the winter weather, and the freeze-thaw cycles can create very icy conditions.
Many migraine sufferers claim to suffer from intense headaches just before or during Chinook winds. Unfortunately, very little information about how these sudden weather changes trigger migraine attacks, but hospital emergency visits often increase during strong Chinooks.
Population Of Vancouver Vs Calgary
Technically, the population of Calgary is bigger than that of Vancouver; Calgary has around 1.3 million population versus approximately 700,000 in Vancouver.
However, the metropolitan area of Vancouver is home to around 2.5 million people. In addition, the population density of Vancouver is significantly higher; in fact, it is the highest of any city in Canada.
Both cities are ethnically diverse, but more so in Vancouver. For example, over 60% of Calgary’s population is of European origin compared to less than half of Vancouver’s.
Vancouver also has a significant Chinese population; nearly a third of its people are of Chinese origin.
Economy of Vancouver Vs Calgary
Calgary’s economy is based on the oil and energy sector, and the head offices of energy companies dominate the city’s downtown skyline.
At the time of writing, Calgary had the highest GDP per capita of any city in Canada. However, on the downside, the city is subject to the boom or bust cycles of the oil industry.
Vancouver (along with most of BC) is dominated economically by the forestry industry, with tourism as its second biggest industry. It is a natural seaport and home to Port Metro Canada, the biggest port in Canada and the 4th biggest in North America.
Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver area also have one of the biggest film industries in North America, earning themselves the nickname “Hollywood North.”
Cost Of Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary
Vancouver has a reputation for a high cost of living and has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. Property prices in Vancouver are more than double those in Calgary.
The average cost of residential property in Greater Vancouver is over $1.2 million, and in Canada, these levels are only matched by Toronto. So, as you would expect, property rental prices are correspondingly high.
Taxes in British Columbia are also higher than those in Alberta. For example, Alberta sales tax is limited to just 5% GST. However, in BC, the government applies an additional 7% PST (provincial sales tax) on most goods and services.
Provincial income taxes are also higher for most people in BC and Vancouver. For example, Alberta’s highest income tax bracket is 15% on income over $314,928, compared to 20.5% in BC on income over $227,092.
International Airports Vancouver Vs Calgary
Both Calgary and Vancouver have large international airports. Vancouver International Airport is the second largest in the country (after Toronto Pearson International Airport), and Calgary is the third largest.
Over 7 million passengers pass through Vancouver International Airport each year, compared to just over 5 million at Calgary International Airport. In addition, a greater proportion of Vancouver passengers are international travellers.
Public Transport Vancouver Vs Calgary
Both cities have good public transport systems. Calgary’s high-speed C-Train system operates in all four city quadrants and is free of charge along downtown 7th Avenue.
Calgary Transit also operates buses within the city and neighbouring communities such as Chestermere, Airdrie and Okotoks.
Is Traffic Worse Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary?
Both cities have their fair share of traffic issues, but there is no doubt that Vancouver is more heavily congested.
Calgary frequently ranks as the least congested of the major Canadian cities, while Vancouver generally outranks all other Canadian cities for the worst traffic congestion in the country.
Enclosed Walkway Systems Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary
Many major Canadian cities have networks of connected walkways which offer protection from the bitter winters. These systems are either completely enclosed or run underground.
Calgary has an extensive 18km system of connected, enclosed walkways and bridges within the downtown area. It is known as the Plus 15 Skywalk because the bridges are 15m above ground level.
Vancouver doesn’t have a similar system, and while it might have been nice to escape the rain, there isn’t really the same need as in other Canadian cities.
Sports Teams Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary
If you are a sports lover, both cities are home to numerous professional, semi-professional, and university teams.
Both have teams in the National Hockey League (NHL), the Canadian Football League (CFL) and the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Vancouver is also home to one of only three Canadian soccer teams in the North American Major League Soccer (MLS).
- NHL Teams – Vancouver Canucks & Calgary Flames
- CFL Teams – BC Lions & Calgary Stampeders
- NLL Teams – Vancouver Warriors & Calgary Roughnecks
- MLS Teams – Vancouver Whitecaps FC
Note that lacrosse refers to box lacrosse, played in ice hockey arenas (without the ice, of course). It is a very rough, physical game with a lot of contact; if you like to watch hockey, then I would recommend trying a lacrosse game.
Entertainment And Nightlife Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary
Both cities have the population size and venues to attract big-name shows, and both have a wide range of excellent restaurants, bars and entertainment options.
The benefit of Vancouver is that the city centre is very compact, with most entertainment spots within walking distance of each other.
Vancouver also has excellent and diverse food options, and it is probably the best place in Canada for Chinese food and, in particular, sushi.
In Calgary, the downtown area seems empty in the evenings and at the weekend, and the life of the city transfers to 17th Avenue.
The 17th Avenue area is at the centre of the nightlife scene, with bars, restaurants, clubs and shops. Here locals will party hard on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Calgarians will argue that they have better nightclubs than Vancouver and that they host the biggest and best party every year – The Calgary Stampede.
We have to agree about The Calgary Stampede. This 10-day extravaganza is held every July to celebrate and preserve Western culture. It features the world’s biggest outdoor rodeo, country music, a variety of shows and concerts, exhibitions, a fairground, bars and food outlets.
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Is Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary Better For Outdoor Activities?
Vancouver is a clear winner in the variety of outdoor activities, as it has access to water sports as well as hiking, biking and skiing in the nearby mountains. However, Calgary is a better location for lovers of winter sports.
With the sea on three sides, Vancouver has endless opportunities for boating, canoeing, sailing, paddle boarding and other water-based sports. The moderate weather also means you can enjoy these sports for much of the year (assuming it stops raining for a while!!).
Vancouver also benefits from its proximity to Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. A drive of fewer than 2 hours will take you to one of the best ski resorts in Canada (and probably the world!).
This ski resort has over 200 marked trails and covers the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. The entire resort is open from late November until late April, with some runs remaining open until late May.
In the spring, you can literally go boating in the morning and skiing in the afternoon!
In the summer, Whistler becomes a hiking and mountain biker’s dream. Some of the lifts remain open, allowing you to take your bike up the mountain, so you can ride down!
A word of caution, though – stick to the green runs unless you are an experienced mountain biker. Our first trip to a Canadian hospital was the result of my husband trying out a blue run on his bike!!
Calgary can’t offer the range of water-based sports as Vancouver. However, the city is less than an hour away from the Rocky Mountains, with four downhill ski resorts accessible for day or weekend trips. The mountains are also popular with cross-country skiers, hikers, and cyclists.
Calgarians also have access to the Canada Olympic Park on the west side of Calgary. This ski hill is used as a training ground for professional athletes and also for recreational purposes.
Calgary also has great parklands and many city biking and walking options. The walkways along the Bow and Elbow Rivers are particularly popular.
Vancouver Vs Calgary Shopping
Calgary has large shopping malls in all quadrants of the city, so you don’t have to travel far wherever you live.
The Chinook Mall, just south of downtown, is Calgary’s largest mall with 250 outlets, closely followed by Cross Iron Mills to the north.
The Core in the Calgary downtown area is great for high-end designer retailers, and 17th Avenue is the best place for boutique stores.
However, Vancouver wins hands down when it comes to the range and diversity of shopping opportunities.
If you want to look beyond the brand stores, Vancouver is the perfect shopping location and a Christmas shoppers’ paradise.
The city is known for its markets: such as farmer’s markets, night markets, and flea markets. The best-known is Granville Public Island, which sells arts, gifts, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, and many other exotic foods.
Should I Move To Vancouver Or Calgary?
This is a personal decision, and both cities have much to offer. However, on balance, we would recommend Calgary as the best place to live.
The most significant benefit of Calgary is its affordability. The suburbs are great places to raise a family, while the downtown areas will appeal to the younger cosmopolitan crowd.
While our vote goes to Calgary as the best overall option, we have to say that Vancouver does have incredible energy and vibrancy. The city is also a fascinating mix of cultures and has a unique character.
The city somehow combines a dense urban centre with clean outdoor living and captures its residents’ hearts in a way that not many cities do.
Have we helped you to make up your mind? If you are still uncertain, see our summary of the pros and cons of each city below:
Pros Of Living In Vancouver
- Stunning location
- A vibrant and diverse culture
- Mild winter climate
- Outstanding cuisine (especially Chinese)
- Excellent shopping options
- Major league sports teams
- Range of outdoor activities
- Large international airport
Cons Of Living In Vancouver
- Wet climate
- Expensive real estate
- High provincial taxes
- Traffic congestion
Pros Of Living In Calgary
- A dry, sunny climate
- Clean and efficient
- Very affordable
- Limited traffic congestion
- Excellent shopping malls
- Calgary Stampede
- Major league sports teams
- Winter sports
- Large international airport
Cons Of Living In Calgary
- Cold winters (compared to Vancouver)
- Economic reliance on the oil industry
- Lacks character
FAQ Living In Vancouver Vs Calgary
Are Vancouver and Calgary in the Same Time Zone?
Vancouver and Calgary are in different time zones. Vancouver falls within the Pacific Time zone (along with most of southern BC), while Calgary is in the Mountain Time zone. Mountain Time runs one hour ahead of Pacific Time.
Is Calgary Safer than Vancouver?
Crime rates for the Calgary municipal area are in line with Canadian averages, whereas crime rates for the Vancouver municipal area are around 25% higher. However, the Vancouver crime rates drop dramatically for North and West Vancouver.
Can You Drive from Calgary to Vancouver?
It is straightforward to drive from Calgary to Vancouver if you have a car. It is a long journey, a little over 1000km but very straightforward as you simply take the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) all the way. The driving time will be around twelve hours.
How Long Does it Take to Fly from Calgary to Vancouver?
The flight time from Calgary International Airport to Vancouver International Area is around 1 hour and 20 minutes, and there are regular daily flights. The flight distance is just under 700km.
Which is the Sunniest City in Canada?
Calgary in Alberta is the sunniest city in Canada, with around 2400 hours of sunshine each year. This amounts to approximately half of Calgary’s daylight hours. The least sunny city in Canada is Prince Rupert in BC, with only 250 hours of sunshine annually.