Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC are only 315 miles apart. Yet, there are some big differences between the two cities, as well as some similarities.
Both cities are the largest in their state, and they both have a similar population – 2.5 million in the metro area and 600,000 in the city itself.
You’d think, therefore, that the cities were quite similar in what they offer to residents and visitors. Let’s look at these two big cities in more detail.
Portland Vs Vancouver: culture and friendliness
Portland’s culture is unique. Despite being a big city, it has a small-town feel. It’s unassuming but also known for being creative and a little wacky.
In Portland, subcultures and artists thrive, and there’s a large community of craft beer and specialty coffees available. Small businesses thrive in Portland, and there are lots of unique concepts, including Walnut Studiolo, which makes bespoke bike accessories.
There’s also Powell’s City of Books, which is the largest bookstore in the world.
In terms of friendliness, Portland is known to be a friendly place for strangers. Generally, people will wave, smile, and even chat with strangers. Lots of Uber drivers will expect you to sit in the front and have a chat, for instance.
Vancouver is also known for its friendliness with its people often saying hello to strangers. It was even named as the world’s friendliest city in a global survey by Big 7 Travel in 2019. People in Vancouver are also well-known to value healthy lifestyles.
In general, they eat well and stay fit, which means that they have low rates of obesity compared to other large cities in North America. Smoking is rare too, it’s even banned in public places like restaurants, bars, and parks.
Culturally, there are big differences between the two cities. Vancouver is a more global city, and there seems to be much more money there compared to Portland. Even though the population is similar, Vancouver is much denser and so feels twice the size of Portland. It’s also more multicultural.
Both cities do have the hippie-ish west coast vibe but Vancouver definitely feels very Canadian. Portland, though, feels kind of half-Canadian and half-American in its culture.
Demographics and diversity
Portland is home to lots of eclectic subcultures, many of whom live an alternative lifestyle and break the mold. There are, for example, lots of tiny home communities whereby people live in small houses close to one another.
As for Vancouver, this is one of Canada’s most ethnically diverse cities. This could be down to the fact it’s quite a new city, having only been established at the end of the 19th century.
Immigration has increased over the last three decades and over half of Vancouver’s residents don’t speak English as their mother tongue. What’s more, almost one-third of Vancouver residents are from an Asian background.
In Portland, the ethnic minorities are typically Vietnamese, Russian, and Hispanic, while Vancouver tends to be home to more Punjabi, Chinese, and other Southeast/East Asians.
In terms of population density, Portland has 1609 people per square kilometer (similar to Beijing), while Vancouver is much denser with 5249 people per square kilometer (similar to London).
There’s a big difference in population age too. The average age in Portland is six years lower than the average age in Vancouver. Because of this, many people say that Portland is better suited to young and creative people.
Portland Vs Vancouver: the weather and climate
Under the Köppen climate classification, both Portland and Vancouver are ‘Csb’ climates, which is a “cool dry summer” climate or “Mediterranean”.
However, there are some small differences in the weather and climates of the two cities. For example, in Portland, the annual mean temperature is 2.1°C warmer than in Vancouver but the average monthly temperatures in Portland are also more variable.
As far as rain is concerned, it rains much less in Portland (around 245 mm less rainfall a year). Portland also has 118 more sunlight hours a year, which is around nineteen more minutes of sunlight per day.
Summers in Portland are warm, dry, and clear – but they’re quite short. Winters are cold, overcast, and wet. Vancouver summers are also short. They’re often a comfortable temperature and partly cloudy. It rarely gets above 26°C.
In terms of snowfall, you don’t really get snow in Portland. Vancouver, on the other hand, gets three times as much – although it’s still not a lot.
Portland Vs Vancouver: budget and cost of living
There’s a difference of around $300 in average salary between Portland and Vancouver. The former has an average monthly salary of $3981 while the latter has an average salary of $3659.
In terms of rent, prices are 2.45% lower in Portland than in Vancouver. Conversely, groceries, and restaurants are higher than in Vancouver. As far as basic utilities go, these cost on average $71 per month in Vancouver but cost over double in Portland at $196 per month.
Compared to the U.S. average, Portland is 30% more expensive overall, but healthcare is 15% cheaper than the U.S. average. That said, Vancouver has public healthcare and so residents don’t have this expense.
Groceries-wise, prices are very varied between the two cities. One liter of milk, for instance, costs $0.85 in Portland but $1.73 in Vancouver. White rice, however, is almost $1 cheaper per kilogram in Vancouver. With Portland’s coffee and craft beer culture, it will come as no surprise that these two items are more expensive in the city.
Domestic beer (per half-liter draught) costs $6 in Portland but $5.46 in Vancouver while a regular cappuccino is $4.30 in Portland but $3.83 in Vancouver.
Imported beer, on the other hand, is 3.8% cheaper in Portland than in Vancouver.
One final pro about Portland is that there is no sales tax. This is rare in the United States and means that the price on the stick is exactly how much you pay at the checkout. To incorporate this, Oregonians pay more income tax instead.
Portland Vs Vancouver: lifestyle
You’ll find a lot of people in Portland living an alternative, quirky, or hipster lifestyle. It’s also really great for its craft beer and boasts 84 breweries!
There is an area of the Pearl District which is aptly named the Brewery Blocks because of all of the breweries in the area. Bridgeport Brewery is in this area and was one of the country’s first craft beer makers to start the trend for such beverages.
As previously mentioned, the coffee scene is also big in Portland, and there are lots of independent coffee shops.
There is a famous phrase about Portland that goes, “Keep Portland Weird”. This ‘weirdness’ is what makes Portland, Portland.
Given its location, there are loads of outdoorsy folk in Portland. There are lots of ways people are adventurous in this city with climbing, rafting, and hiking being activities that people take up on a weekend. On the other side of the coin, Portland claims to have the highest number of strip clubs per capita in the U.S.
Just like in Portland, the people of Vancouver are pretty outdoorsy. They enjoy hiking, skiing, mountain biking, snowboarding, sailing, golfing, and paddle boarding among other activities.
For skiing, they’ve got Cypress Mountain which is only a 30-minute drive from the city. Night skiing is popular among the locals too.
In summer, Vancouver lends itself well to hiking. There are hundreds of routes and trails before you even leave downtown. There are some lovely trails around, including in Stanley Park. And, if you’re into golf, there are more than thirty golf clubs in and around the city.
Portland Vs Vancouver: transport and traffic
Portland has higher numbers of people in the community by bike compared to Vancouver, but downtown Portland isn’t very great for traveling by bike. On the other hand, Vancouver has much more in the way of bike lanes and cycle paths.
The transit system in Portland is TriMet. There are lots of buses all over the city. There is also the MAX Light Rail system that has five lines.
Vancouver’s TransLink has a huge bus fleet, which includes electric trolleybuses. This company also runs the SkyTrain, the largest automated metro system in the world. You can also travel from Tsawwassen to various places by ferry.
In terms of traffic, Portland is busy. The traffic has grown over the years, just like in all major cities. After a while, though, it’s easy to learn the peak travel times and when to avoid certain roads.
Portland is actually the 14th worst city in the United States for its traffic – which is why the public transport systems are so well used these days.
Vancouver is similar in terms of congestion. It was described as the worst Canadian city for congestion and ranks 52nd in the world for bad traffic.
Portland, however, ranks at 287th, which is still in front of Las Vegas, Madrid, Helsinki, Boston, and Quebec. So, no matter which city you choose, you’re going to encounter busy roads and congestion.
Portland Vs Vancouver: crime
Considering the two cities have similar populations, it is interesting to view the crime statistics for both.
In the twelve months between October 2020 and October 2021, there were 10,138 assaults, 86 homicides, and 615 sex offenses in Portland. The most common crime was larceny, of which there were 25,371 offenses.
In Vancouver in 2020, there were 4,551 and 584 sexual offenses. Most offenses of violent crime were reduced in the year 2020 when compared with 2019 – apart from homicide which rose from 11 in 2019 to 19 in 2020.
The most common crime in Vancouver in 2020 was theft from a vehicle, of which there were 16,498.
Portland Vs Vancouver: attractions and things to do
Both cities have lots to offer in the way of attractions for residents and visitors alike. If you’re into museums, Portland is the place to go as there are 22 museums in the city. Vancouver, on the other hand, only has 7.
One of the top things to do in Portland is to visit the impressive Washington Park. This is a hotspot for locals as well as tourists. It spans 410 acres, has museums, fields, playgrounds, courts, and archery.
Another great outdoor space is the Lan Su Chinese Garden. This is a relatively new space that was created in 2000 with the idea of connecting Portland locals with Chinese culture.
For families, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is located in Portland, directly opposite Portland State University. There are lots of hands-on exhibits and lots of fun things to entertain people of all ages.
Vancouver also has its fair share of wonderful attractions. Just like Portland has Washington Park, Vancouver has Stanley Park. This covers 1000 acres and is home to playgrounds, botanical gardens, beaches, a golf course and 17 tennis courts.
A well-loved museum in Vancouver is the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. This museum features artwork by indigenous populations of Canada and from around the world.
Since Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics, its sporting facilities are world-class. The Vancouver Organizing Committee learned from previous hosts and set aside a legacy fund so that their investment in the Olympics would continue paying dividends once the games were over.
This $110 million trust fund maintains the Olympic facilities and so, even though the games were over a decade ago, the facilities that were created are still fantastic.
Another great sporting venue in Vancouver is the BC Place Stadium. This is located in downtown Vancouver. It was built for Expo 86 and can fit around 54,500 people inside! It was used during the 2010 Olympics for both the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as for sporting activities.
Both cities are great for the outdoors too, like hiking, climbing, and mountain biking. If mountains are your thing, Vancouver is the place to go. Vancouver borders the mountains, Portland, however, has the smaller Tualatin Mountains, which are more like large hills.
Portland Vs Vancouver: Creative scene and neighborhoods
With its craft beer and hipster population, it’s no surprise that the creative scene in Portland is massive. It’s a free-spirited and unconventional city with a “Keep Portland Weird” motto.
Its creative scene is laid-back and low-key and there are always new bands, new plays, and other arty things to get stuck into.
Vancouver also has an up-and-coming art scene. Some of the city’s most important institutions are artist-run centers that cropped up some decades ago. Since the cost of living in Vancouver is pretty high, some of these institutions have got together to help keep the creative community afloat.
Notable Portland Neighborhoods
For business travelers, first-time visitors, and shopping, you’ll want to check out Downtown and the Pearl District. If you’re interested in walking and shopping as well as art galleries, Nob Hill, Slabtown, and the Alphabet District are the places to go. Finally, for museums, history and bizarre-flavored donuts, head to Chinatown and Old Town.
Notable Vancouver Neighborhoods
In Vancouver, Main Street is a great neighborhood containing breweries, restaurants and cafés. It’s also home to the Fox Cabaret Theatre.
If you’re a creative type or a techie looking for a hipster vibe, check out Railtown District. There are fashion studios, furniture shops as well as cafes and restaurants.
To discover the LGBTQ+ community, head to Davie Village. It’s a trendy neighborhood that comes alive at night with clubs and bars.
Portland Vs Vancouver: social issues
Homelessness is a problem in both cities but recently Portland has made some progress in tackling its homelessness problem.
In terms of prison data, it’s staggering to see that there are 1300 people in Portland’s jail (and a total of 14,000 inmates in Oregon’s state prison), while Vancouver only has 2700 in its prisons and jails combined.
To compare, these cities have similar populations but Oregon puts five times more people in jail than British Columbia. Many of the inmates in Oregon have been put away for drug crimes, which is perhaps why there aren’t so many in Vancouver as drugs are decriminalized.
That said, the root cause of many of Vancouver’s homeless struggles can be put down to drugs.
As far as unemployment goes, one in eight Portlanders is out of work, while the figure is one in fourteen in Vancouver. This is a huge problem for Portland residents since there is no public health system unlike in British Columbia, where every resident has health insurance.
Final thoughts: Portland Vs Vancouver
There are many positives to both Portland and Vancouver. Both have charm and are interesting places to live and visit.
Portland is great for anyone seeking an alternative lifestyle. It’s great for its independent shops, coffee houses and breweries, and the arts scene is superb. Portland’s sense of community is good too. In addition, it’s more progressive and seems to be more cultured.
Vancouver, on the other hand, has lots to offer, notably its public health care, 5% VAT, and seaside beach. Also, if you don’t like smoking, Vancouver’s smoking ban in enclosed spaces will make your trip more pleasant.
The scenery in Vancouver is arguably better than in Portland, but the city is so expensive, which creates a big homelessness problem.
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Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland, UK and the US but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and great football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and also runs his own blog and Instagram page. He also counts Melbourne, Cape Town and Tel Aviv among his favourite places. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @scottbalaam