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Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is a misnomer—British Columbia’s biggest airport isn’t actually in the city at all. Planes actually touch down in Richmond, B.C., a destination fewer have heard of, lying just across the Fraser River from downtown Vancouver.
With about 224,000 inhabitants, Richmond itself is British Columbia’s fourth-largest city, though it’s unremarkable at first glance with its low-key sprawl wrapped by fishing piers and estuaries. But look a little deeper and Richmond has earned a quiet rep among food lovers for some of the continent’s finest Asian cuisine—after all, the Chinese community here has roots extending to the province’s gold rush days. The area is home to dim sum palaces, Hong Kong-style barbecue joints, and a night market that draws crowds for everything from deep-fried squid to dessert dumplings.
That night market is a quick five-minute cab ride from the arrivals gate, and since the city’s other gourmet highlights aren’t much farther, Richmond is a delicious place to snack your way through a 24-hour layover, while dipping your toes into other wellsprings of local culture and history.
Here’s how to make the most of a layover at YVR, with tips on where to stay, eat, and explore the minute you land.
Drop your bags at a hotel brimming with art
What makes a great layover hotel? Seamless airport transfer and some local soul. That combination was scarce near YVR until the Versante Hotel opened in July 2021. Since guests at the 100-room boutique luxury hotel enjoy on-call transfers between the airport and hotel, you’ll avoid dreary waits for the usual airport-hotel shuttle bus. Drivers will also whisk you to local destinations such as nearby designer outlets and the Richmond Olympic Experience in a speed-skating arena built for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In Versante Hotel’s bright lobby, works by Vancouver artists Marie Khouri and Andy Dixon riff on the locale, and guests arrive to glasses of iced tea from B.C. atelier TEALEAVES. Rooms and suites feature bespoke wallpaper swimming with luck-bringing Chinese koi fish. Most also have deep soaking tubs sitting by floor-to-ceiling windows, while comfy beds invite a jet lag-banishing, pre-dinner power nap.
Embark on a DIY food tour
Cantonese food is Richmond’s culinary touchstone—and the delicious legacy of Hong Kong migrants who arrived decades ago. For breakfast, head to the vast Kirin Restaurant for a dim sum brunch, snagging an advance reservation to join devotees of Cantonese delicacies from turnip cakes to prawn-filled rice rolls. It’s an array worth lingering over, so if time is short, opt instead for the casual Hong Kong café breakfast at Lido Restaurant, where hot milk tea is best enjoyed alongside a golden-crusted pineapple bun stuffed with butter.
Unassuming HK B.B.Q. Master inspires a passionate following with tender cuts of Cantonese barbecued pork char siu served atop steaming rice. From there it’s a quick walk from Alexandra Road—a.k.a. Food Street—which packs more than 70 restaurants into its three city blocks. Here, Clay Pot Hot Pot serves all-you-can-eat hot pot towers alongside icy Tsingtao beer, while Leisure Tea & Coffee is a favorite for Taiwanese shaved ice tsua bing, gussied up with gelatin cubes, bean paste, and sweet milk. Or, try a different take on shaved ice at Snowy Village Dessert Café, with Korean bingsu featuring whipped cream and rice cakes.
A recent addition to the Richmond scene is the ambitious Baan Lao Fine Thai Cuisine, which offers an exquisitely presented, nine-course tasting menu as an ode to royal culinary tradition of chef-owner Nutcha Phanthoupheng’s home country. Meals feature extravagant presentations starting with a table-side performance by a barefoot Thai dancer, and optional tea pairings from the in-house tea sommelier match the leisurely dinner course-for-course.
The options can be overwhelming, and are perhaps one reason Vancouver Globe & Mail food critic Alexandra Gill created a tour focused on highlights of Richmond’s Chinese cuisine. Her private, small-group tours visit three award-winning restaurants for tastings, with Gill’s take on ordering, etiquette, and the city’s culinary heritage. Or, choose a self-guided trip along the Richmond Dumpling Trail, tasting varieties from Shanghainese xiao long bao to pan-fried guo tie.
Get some fresh air
Richmond’s location within Fraser Estuary is a popular destination for dozens of migratory bird species, and a 50-mile network of trails offers prime viewing. Rent a bike in the historic Steveston neighborhood to pedal down South Dyke Recreational Trail along Richmond’s southernmost edge, where bald eagles and herons glide over the water.
Along the way are Britannia Shipyards and Gulf of Georgia Cannery, national historic sites preserving 19th-century fish canneries, boat yards, and worker housing, including a Chinese bunkhouse. Fishing is living history in Richmond too and trawlers hawk salmon, sole, and other seafood from the boats at Steveston’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Even better, the exploration might help you work up the appetite for one last meal before you head back to the airport.