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Vancouver vs. Metro Vancouver vs. Lower Mainland: What’s the Difference?

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If you are new to Vancouver, whether from another province in Canada or from another country, chances are you’ve heard of Metro Vancouver, Greater Vancouver, and the Lower Mainland, but you’re probably unsure which part of town these names refer to. How exactly are they different from one another?

Vancouver vs. Metro Vancouver vs. Lower Mainland: What’s the Difference?
A photo of the Science World in Vancouver, BC, Canada by Aditya Chinchure (Unsplash License)


When people talk about Vancouver, or Van for short, it generally refers to The City of Vancouver. The City of Vancouver is comprised of 23 official neighbourhoods (see map below), from the West End, Downtown, Downtown Eastside, Strathcona, Granview-Woodland, Hastings-Sunrise, West Point Grey, Kitsilano, Fairview, Mount Pleasant, Dunbar-Southlands, Arbutus Ridge, Shaughnessy, South Cambie, Riley Park, Kensington-Cedar Cottage, Renfrew-Collingwood, Kerrisdale, Oakridge, Marpole, Sunset, Victoria-Fairview, and Killarney.

Vancouver has a size of approximately 115 square kilometres, with a total of over 660,000 residents.

An illustration of The City of Vancouver and its 23 official neighbourhoods, by Tschubby (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

University Endowment Lands, where The University of British Columbia is located in, is technically a separate entity and it is not officially part of The City of Vancouver.

Also, Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is not technically part of The City of Vancouver, but rather The City of Richmond. It takes around around 25–30 minutes drive to get from Downtown Vancouver to YVR, and around 5–10 minutes drive to get to YVR from the south neighbourhoods of Marpole, Kerrisdale, and Oakridge in The City of Vancouver.

Which brings us to the next point...

Metro Vancouver or Greater Vancouver

Put simply, Metro Vancouver and Greater Vancouver refer to pretty much the same thing.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) or Metro Vancouver for short, and its alternative name, Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) or Greater Vancouver for short, spans over 2,800 square kilometres and it consists of:

  • The City of Vancouver
  • 17 other cities and municipalities
  • 1 electoral area
  • 1 treaty First Nation

For reference, the map of The City of Vancouver above is contained in what is labelled “Vancouver” in the map below. You can observe that The City of Vancouver isn’t all that big compared to Metro Vancouver as a whole, as Vancouver is in fact around 25 times smaller than the entirety of Metro Vancouver.

An illustration of Metro Vancouver and its 28 regional districts, by Tastycakes (License: CC BY 3.0)

The most populated cities in Metro Vancouver are:

  • The City of Vancouver, with over 660,000 residents
  • The City of Surrey, with over 560,000 residents
  • The City of Burnaby, with over 240,000 residents
  • The City of Richmond, with over 200,000 residents
  • The City of Coquitlam, with over 140,000 residents

There are over 2.6 million residents in Metro Vancouver, with over 600,000 of them living in The City of Vancouver.

You can learn more about the 23 divisions of Metro Vancouver here.

Lower Mainland

With over 3 million residents, The Lower Mainland spans over 36,000 square kilometres, encompassing The City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver. In other words:

The City of Vancouver and Metro Vancouver are both in the Lower Mainland.

An overview of the Lower Mainland, by Shaund (License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Lower Mainland spans beyond the Metro Vancouver Regional District (MVRD) and includes the Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD). Cities like Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Mission are all part of the Lower Mainland.

You can learn more about the communities in the Lower Mainland here.