The Waterfront is Vancouver’s Heart, and is one of the largest and busiest ports on the continent. With the opening of the cruise-ship terminal at Canada Place in the mid-1980s, it also became one of the world’s major cruise-ship ports. A block away is Gastown, its origin as a tough mill town masked by graceful heritage buildings built in the boom years of the early 1900s. From here it is just a short walk to Chinatown, now home to over 35,000 people of Chinese descent, though its prosperity did not come easily – it was once seen as a threat by seasonal workers, and a closed-door immigration policy was imposed in 1885. Today, Chinatown attracts throngs of shoppers seeking authentic Chinese food and souvenirs.
When the now iconic Canada Place opened back in 1986, it was greeted with controversy. Critics said its five “sails” were a poor imitation of Australia’s Sydney Opera House. Today, the landmark complex is a key player on the waterfront that has grown up around it.
240 E Cordova St • 604 665 3346 • Open 9am–5pm Tue–Sat • Adm
Housed in the former Coroner Court and built in 1932, this museum traces the fascinating history and operations of the Vancouver Police Department. Real examples of criminal evidence are exhibited, including counterfeit money, antique firearms, and street weaponry. Always popular among museum visitors is the knife room. Unsolved murders are depicted in displays, complete with dummies and period costumes.
The cobblestone streets of Gastown have been through many reincarnations. The current one is perhaps the most satisfying. Since the 1970s, this area has worked hard to better itself. The plethora of tawdry souvenir shops have largely been replaced with boutiques selling the work of local designers, a concentration of excellent First Nations and Inuit art galleries, and a great selection of restaurants and clubs.
Water St at Cambie St
Said to be the first steam-operated clock in the world, this landmark is one of the most photographed spots in the city. However, the clock is not an antique. Local horologist Raymond Saunders built this 16-ft- (5-m-) tall clock in 1977 at the corner of Water and Cambie streets, basing it on an 1875 model. Be patient, and wait to hear the Westminster Quarters chime melody that plays every 15 minutes, along with mighty puffs of steam that billow from its five whistles.
100 W Pender St
A Vancouver landmark, the 17-story Sun Tower was the tallest building in the British Commonwealth, at 270 ft (82 m), when it was built in 1911. The handsome Beaux Arts building’s nine nude statues once scandalized the city, but people turned out in droves in 1918 to watch Harry Gardiner, the “Human Fly,” scale its walls.
Stretching from Gore Avenue west to Carrall Street between Pender and Keefer streets, Chinatown dates to the 1880s and the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway, when as many as 20,000 Chinese came to Canada. Today, this neighborhood is North America’s third-largest Chinatown. The Millennium Gate straddles Pender Street and is an ideal place to start a walking tour of this lively area.
578 Carrall St • 604 662 3207 • Closed Nov–Apr: Mon • Adm
This Ming Dynasty-style garden, the first built outside China, opened in 1986. It re-creates the private areas typically found in a Ming scholar’s home. With its meandering paths, corridors and courtyards, and asymmetrically placed rocks, the garden invites contemplation on the beauty and rhythm of nature. Plants in this garden include local and traditional Chinese varieties, such as flowering gingko trees and twisted pines.
Water St at Carrall St
The city of Vancouver has its roots in this small square. Standing atop his barrel of beer, the statue of John “Gassy Jack” Deighton commemorates Gastown’s founder. The talkative publican built the city’s first saloon with the help of thirsty sawmill workers. A maple tree here once marked a popular meeting place until it was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886. Gaoler’s Mews was the site of the city’s first prison, as well as the home of the city’s first policeman, Constable Jonathan Miller.
601 W Cordova St
The station has been a transportation hub since 1887, when the original timber structure welcomed the first cross-Canada passenger train. The present white-columned building, which has Vancouver Harbour as its backdrop, was built in 1914.
555 W Hastings St • 604 689 0421 • Open May–Oct: 8:30am–10:30pm daily; Nov–Apr: 9am–9pm daily • Adm
The highlight of the Harbour Centre complex is its 581-ft (177-m) tower, home to an observation deck. The ride up in the glass-fronted elevator takes a thrilling 40 seconds. From the enclosed observation deck, the 360-degree view is splendid. On a clear day, you can see Vancouver Island to the west and Washington State’s Mount Baker to the south.
The grand saga of Canadian railways is a tale of power and pain. In 1886, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald fulfilled his promise to build a cross-Canada railway to unite the new Dominion of Canada. The first transcontinental passenger train arrived in Vancouver on May 23, 1887, where Waterfront Station now stands. The whole city came out to celebrate the completion of the “Iron Road.” Even the ships in the harbor were decked out in flags. Sadly, progress came at the loss of many lives, including more than 600 Chinese laborers.
Begin your day at Canada Place for an excellent view of the harbor. After strolling the promenade for about half an hour, walk east to Waterfront Station, peeking at the scenic murals inside. From the junction of Cordova and Water streets, continue two blocks along Water Street to Cambie Street to admire the Steam Clock, then stop at the hip café Revolver for coffee. Enjoy an architectural walking tour around Gastown’s heritage buildings, before heading off to The Irish Heather for lunch.
Walk down to Maple Tree Square, at Water and Carrall streets, to see the bronze statue of “Gassy Jack,” the famous proprietor of the city’s first saloon. From East Cordova, head south on Carrall Street to the peaceful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Spend 30 minutes here, then another half hour at the adjoining Chinese Cultural Centre Museum and Archives. Head east on Pender Street, admiring Millennium Gate as you walk through it into Chinatown. Spend the afternoon exploring the shops, looking out for the wooden heritage buildings you pass. In the evening, sip on a cocktail from The Keefer Bar next door. End the day feasting on delicious Chinese food at Bao Bei. Avoid wandering east toward the lower part of Main Street – Vancouver’s seedy side.
375 Water St • 604 689 2739
Complement your pizza, pasta, burger, or poutine with one of the several delicious beers brewed here, such as pale ale, lager, or porter.
210 Carrall St • 604 688 9779
There are about 200 single malts and Irish whiskeys to pick from in this pub. Menu favorites include bangers ‘n’ mash.
162 Water St • 604 568 7022 • Closed L
This evocative 1910 venue is steeped in history. It boasts low lighting, a chilled ambience, as well as a range of clever cocktails and pub food.
216 Carrall St • 604 687 4322
Friday and Saturday nights guarantee a rip-roaring, feet-stomping crowd at this legendary Irish pub and nightclub.
6 Powell St • www.di6mond.com • Closed L, Mon
The bygone-era Diamond offers a cool and sophisticated setting in which to enjoy an extensive list of upscale craft cocktails.
300 Cambie St • 604 684 6466
Pouring drinks since 1887, The Cambie serves mainly thirsty 20-somethings these days. Cheap microbrews are the big draw.
1 Alexander St • 604 288 1704
This dimly lit underground live music venue (see Guilt & Co.) features refined but unfussy food and drinks. Wednesday is jazz night, and weekends feature a rotation of high-energy bands.
157 Alexander St • 604 623 3383
DJs play funk, soul, and hip-hop in this two-level space with craft beers on tap. Catch art shows and movie screenings in the lower lounge.
135 Keefer St • 604 688 1961
Nestled in the heart of Chinatown, this cocktail bar serves creative drinks and snacks.
1038 Canada Pl • 604 695 5300
See and be seen at the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s stylish lounge bar, which features live music by local artists.
568 Beatty St • 604 879 7119 • $$$
Moules frites are the specialty at this hugely popular Belgian restaurant, where the cocktail menu is a great way to start the evening.
15 W Cordova St • 604 899 7907 • $
This Mexican-inspired eatery (see Tacofino), which has grown up fast since its days as a food truck in Tofino, still serves the original fish taco that is considered the best in town.
217 Carrall St • 604 568 1701 • Closed L • $$$
L’Abattoir offers fine dining in an informal setting of refurbished brick and beam. The menu has French-influenced West Coast fare at its best. The weekend brunch is exquisite.
45 Blood Alley • 604 633 1912 • $$
Tucked away in historic Blood Alley, this restaurant specializes in artisan cheeses, small-batch cured meats, and a really dynamic array of wines, sherries, and ports.
Suite 70–200 Granville St • 604 568 3900 • $$$
With an atmospheric waterfront setting, this eatery offers fresh, sustainable fish, specializing in flame-seared Aburi sushi.
370 Cambie St • 604 566 9003 • Closed D • $
The excellent sandwiches served here draw crowds, so expect long, yet fast-moving queues during lunch.
321 Water St • 604 683 8376 • $$
Pastas, fish, meat, and pizza are the highlights at this lively Italian trattoria. More than 300 wines are on offer.
325 Cambie St • 604 558 4444 • Closed D, Sun • $
Baristas who are deadly serious about the roasting and brewing process serve coffee in this trendy exposed-brick café. This is not the place to ask for a caramel Frappuccino.
55 Powell St • 604 893 7832 • Closed D • $
This cozy café uses organic and local ingredients to serve simple dishes, including lovely avocado on toast.
163 Keefer St • 604 688 0876 • Closed L • $$
In Bao Bei’s sophisticated dining room, a savvy take on Chinese home cooking is the order of the day. Start with one of the expertly crafted cocktails available at the bar.
For a three-course meal for one with half a bottle of wine (or equivalent meal), taxes, and extra charges.
$ under $35 $$ $35–85 $$$ over $85