Vancouver museums quickly get lost in a city renown for spectacular natural attractions.
That said, our coastal rain forest tends to dump a lot of rain on us, so the arts and culture route isn’t just a pastime – it’s a necessity.
Let’s forget the mountains and the sea for a moment and visit Vancouver’s best museums.
The Best Museums in Vancouver
The Museum of Anthropology
If you’re looking for one museum that truly encompasses everything that the Vancouver area has to offer, then UBC’s Museum of Anthropology should be at the top of your list.
Within it’s stunning glass walls you’ll find a world chock full of local art, culture and history. It truly embodies the essence of Canada’s West Coast like few other locations can.
Upon entering the MOA’s Great Hall you’ll immediately be presented with stunning views of towering totem poles, exquisitely crafted canoes and stunning bentwood boxes. The extensive Multiversity Galleries houses thousands of objects from the museum’s worldwide research collections.
The true piece de resistance can be found next door in the the Bill Reid Rotunda. Here you’ll find the Haida master’s famous sculpture The Raven and the First Men (pictured above), in addition to a collection of his jewelry and carvings.
If all that isn’t enough, the grounds behind the museum feature two Haida Houses constructed by Reid himself alongside legendary ‘Namgis artist Doug Cranmer. Modeled on a 19th century Haida village, the beautiful structures overlook the coastal rain forest and the Salish Sea, for a stunning backdrop.
Insider’s tip: Adult admissions are discounted from $15.00 to $10.00 on the last Thursday of every month from 5:00 – 9:00 pm.
Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery houses over 11,000 works of art in its iconic 165,000 sq foot neo-classical digs.
This not only makes it the largest contemporary art gallery in Western Canada, but a significant repository for local artists. Visiting the larger touring exhibitions is one of the best things to do in Vancouver.
It’s most famous for housing the largest collection of paintings from British Columbia artist Emily Carr. This famed post-impressionist painter blended her English colonial roots with a deep appreciation for the provinces indigenous community.
The museums central Robson Square location makes it an easy stop for visitors staying in downtown Vancouver.
Insider’s Tip: Visitors can get in by donation (without a price or cost of admission) every Tuesday between 5 and 9 p.m.
Related: How to Spend One Day in Vancouver
Budding Einsteins of all ages are invited to ignite their curiosity and discover the wonders of Science and technology at Vancouver’s most enterprising attraction.
Located on the fringes of Downtown, Science World museum hosts a variety of fascinating interactive exhibits, inspirational feature exhibitions and jaw-dropping live science demonstrations.
Originally constructed as the 1986 World Fair’s Expo Centre, Science World and its iconic geodesic dome now houses one of Canada’s only OMNIMAX theatres. Here you can check out a series of fascinating 30 minute films that run throughout the day on a multitude of scientific subjects.
Insider’s Tip: Visiting Vancouver in summer? Take False Creek Ferries to Science World. Nearby Village Station is connected to other city attractions like Yaletown, Granville Island and the Maritime Museum.
Related: Best Time to Visit Vancouver
Vancouver Police Museum
The Vancouver Police Museum is located within the city’s historic autopsy and morgue facility. The site remains relatively unchanged since it was de-commissioned, adding to the wow factor.
It’s here that you can expect to come across confiscated firearms, illicit drugs, and even preserved organs from victims of crime.
The city’s seedy underbelly is on full display here, especially with the famous cold cases room.
These Sins of the City tours (museum admission included) are some of the best sightseeing tours in Vancouver and offer a macabre (if entertaining) contrast to the city’s natural beauty.
The Bill Reid Gallery
It’s true, we’ve got nothing to match London’s Tate Modern or NYC’s MOMA. But there’s one artsy thing on every Vancouver itinerary that can’t be found anywhere else: the most extensive variety of Indigenous Northwest Coast available anywhere on the planet.
There’s no better place to start than Haida master artist Bill Reid, who produced over 1,000 original works across his fifty year career.
The largest collection of these works can be found in Vancouver’s Bill Reid Gallery.
Here, you’ll find a miniature gold cast version of the famous Raven and the First Men (the original can be found at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology). Other permanent collection highlights include the stunning frieze Mythic Messengers, engraved jewelry, and several small totems.
Insider’s tip: Thanks to their partnership with Vancouver International Airport the gallery is free between 2:00 pm-5:00 pm on the first Friday of every month.
Vancouver Maritime Museum
But it’s also a place for a glimpse into Vancouver’s rich nautical history. The museum contains an extensive collection of maritime art, photography, and interactive displays.
Most importantly, the museum is home to several historic vessels that have shaped the region’s maritime history.
You’ll definitely want to check out the St. Roch, a schooner from 1928 which traversed the Northwest Passage to circumnavigate North America. There’s also the Ben Franklin, a submersible vehicle that once descended to the depths of the Marianas Trench.
Insider’s tip: Visit it together with the Museum of Vancouver and the H.R Macmillan Space Centre using the Vanier Park Explorer Pass.
Beaty Biodiversity Museum
Vancouver’s natural history museum is located 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver on the campus of the University of British Columbia.
The Beaty Biodiversity Museum is fiercely dedicated to enhancing the appreciation of biodiversity for visitors of all ages. Its 20,000 square feet (1,900 square metres) of collections and exhibit space contain over two million specimens collected between the early 1900s and the present.
Naturally, a particular focus is placed on the species of British Columbia, Yukon, and the Pacific Coast.
You can explore over 500 natural history exhibits that showcase a plethora of fossils, shells, insects, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and plants from BC and around the world.
The showstopper is the incredible 25-metre (82-foot) Blue Whale skeleton.
Insider’s tip: The museum is located on the UBC campus a short walk from the Museum of Anthropology, so it’d be ideal to combine both.
The Museum of Vancouver
The Vancouver area has been home to local indigenous peoples for well over 5000 years. This makes it nearly twice as old as the city of Rome.
As a result, the city has a much more interesting history than many would imagine. Luckily, the Museum of Vancouver is here to teach you about the pre-colonial “city before the city”.
It then delves into the area’s dramatic transformation from a small colonial outpost to the cosmopolitan metropolis you see today.
The MOV has one of the largest collections of Pacific-Northwest Coast Indigenous artifacts, carvings and antiquities in Canada. Most can be found in the Ćəsnaʔəm exhibit, which aims to generate public discussion and awareness about indigenous history and culture.
Insider’s tip: Visit in conjunction with the Vancouver Maritime Museum & H.R Macmillan Space Centre for one low price via the Vanier Park Explorer Pass.
H.R MacMillan Space Centre
The H.R MacMillan Space Centre is my local childhood favourite, and it’s impossible to miss the iconic conical structure that resembles a space ship. Inside you’ll find a vast array of astrological exhibits in addition to a fully functioning observatory.
The undoubted highlight can be found in the museum’s 230 seat Planetarium Star Theatre. Here you’ll learn about the universe via a variety of 45 minute films in a fully immersive panoramic full dome movie experience.
The Cosmic Courtyard gallery presents children and the young at heart with the rare opportunity to try on an astronaut suit.
You’ll also find one of only 5 touchable moon rocks in the world, which is dated to 3.75 billion years old.
Insider’s tip: As previously stated, you can combine this with the Vancouver Museum & Vancouver Maritime Museum via the Vanier Park Explorer Pass.
Gulf of Georgia Cannery
Steveston is a quaint riverfront village located in the suburb of Richmond. It traditionally served as the hub of BC’s once vital commercial fishing industry.
However, the area has recently transformed itself into a tourist and foodie hot spot, while still managing to retain its historic character.
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery is undoubtedly the best place to learn about the area’s fascinating history. Built in 1894, this national historic site aims to honour the importance of BC’s fishing history via a series of interactive exhibitions, collections, and programs, and events.
The highlight has to be the completely restored 4,000 square foot canning line. It was here where the mighty Fraser River’s prized sockeye were processed and shipped to all corners of the globe.
Insider’s tip: Ask at the front desk for a complimentary guided tour. The guides really know their stuff.
BC Sports Hall of Fame
Especially if you’re in town for a Canucks, Lions, or Whitecaps game, there’s no better stop for sports fans than the BC Sports Hall of Fame. In fact, it’s conveniently located right in BC Place so it could easily be part of any pre-game routine with little effort.
This is the only Vancouver museum you can break a sweat in – the Participation Zone has a 14 meter timed running track, a mobile climbing wall, bubble hockey, and more.
Major exhibits include galleries dedicated to Rick Hansen, Greg Moore, and Terry Fox. It’s also home to the Indigenous Sport Gallery.
Insider’s tip: Make sure to find the window that looks out over BC Place’s playing field. You might just see the Whitecaps or Lions practicing.
Best Museums in Vancouver FAQ
Does Vancouver have museums?
Vancouver’s museum menu is perfect to kill an afternoon on one of the city’s notorious rainy days. The Vancouver Art gallery is perfect for those with an interest in the visual arts. While the Museum of Anthropology and Bill Reid Gallery document the area’s rich indigenous history.
Travelers who possess more niche interests are also spoiled for choice. The Vancouver Police Museum, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, Science World, and the H.R MacMillan Space Centre are bound to provide entertainment and intellectual stimulation for visitors of all ages.
How many museums are in Vancouver?
At last count there are 21 museums in Vancouver. The strong majority are art museums, history museums, and other areas of cultural significance (like salmon fishing) to the city.
What’s the best museum in Vancouver?
In terms of historical significance, number of exhibitions and artifacts, and shear wow factor the best museum in Vancouver is the Museum of Anthropology. It’s there that you’ll find over 50,000 cultural works from virtually every corner on the globe, with a strong emphasis on Northwest Coast First Nations artifacts.
What is inside of Museum of Anthropology?
UBC’s Museum of Anthropology hosts a variety of galleries and exhibits that display art and culture from locations from around the world, including Asia, India and Africa. However, it is particularly renown for housing what is perhaps the foremost collection of Northwest Coast Indigenous art and artifacts around.
Of particular interest to travelers will be the dramatic sculptures and totem poles in the Great Hall and what is likely its most iconic piece, Bill Reid’s Raven and the First Men.
Can I take pictures in the Vancouver Art Gallery?
Simply put, it depends. While the majority of exhibits do allow photography, you may find that it is prohibited in certain instances. You’ll likely encounter signs indicating if is the case, so keep your eyes peeled.
However, the facility does maintain a blanket ban on flash photography, tripods and selfie sticks. So don’t expect to get too carried away with your influencer fantasies.
Are museums in Vancouver open?
All of the museums listed above are currently open for business. Furthermore, with the relaxation of COVID protocols on April 8th 2022 vaccine passports will no longer be required for entry.
What is at the Museum of Vancouver?
The MOV is an award-winning civic history museum that documents the history of the city of Vancouver. It has exhibits that encompass the city’s transformation from a small indigenous community to a humble pioneer outpost all the way to the multi-cultural metropolis we see today.
Looking for the Best Museums in Vancouver?
That’s it for my comprehensive list of Vancouver’s best museums and art galleries.
As you can see, a rainy day or two doesn’t have to ruin your visit. In fact, a part of you may now be secretly looking forward to them.
As always, if you have any more questions don’t hesitate to reach out on the Vancouver Planner Facebook page, or hit me up in the comments below.