No visit to our city is complete without a stop in Chinatown Vancouver.
After all, 43% percent of Vancouverites claim Asian ancestry making it the most Asian city in North America. The Chinese are at the forefront, having played a substantial role in Vancouver’s development since day one.
And it all began in this historic neighbourhood.
Let’s take a deeper look.
- Vancouver’s Chinatown
- Things to do in Chinatown
- Chinatown tours
- Bars & nightlife
- Where is Chinatown?
- How to get to Chinatown
- Visitor tips
Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Canada, and the third largest Chinatown in North America after New York City and San Francisco.
This government heritage site is a bustling commercial and residential centre awash with Chinese architecture, atmosphere and culture, making a must in any Vancouver itinerary.
It’s one of the top Vancouver neighbourhoods, primarily consisting of establishments selling lower order and working-class goods, such as:
- Apothecaries (Traditional Chinese Herb and Medicine shops)
- Souvenir stores
- Tea Shops
- Asian grocery stores
- Dim sum/BBQ/Seafood restaurants
One of the most popular things to do is to simply wander in to these exotic storefronts and marvel at the ancient remedies, savour a warm cup of tea and sample some of the best Chinese food on this side of the Pacific.
Also, the neighbourhood’s relatively low rents have attracted tons of up and coming chefs, mixologists, and retailers bringing a renewed vibrancy to the area.
Chinatown is truly a feast for all five senses.
It’s one of the most unique things to do in Vancouver.
Things to Do in Vancouver’s Chinatown
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden
Undoubtedly the main attraction for visitors to Chinatown, the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Garden was the first Chinese (or “Scholars”) garden built outside of China, and remains the largest outside of Asia.
The Garden is fashioned to employ the Chinese philosophical principles of Feng Shui and Taoism, in which the pursuit of balance between opposites is critical to the maintenance of peace and tranquility.
The balance between the serene garden and the surrounding urban environment is augmented by the vivaciousness of the flowers in contrast to the stillness of the ponds and craggy rocks.
The site contains a freely accessible public park, in addition to the garden, the entrance to which is available for a small fee.
Ready to visit? Check out our Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classic Gardens visitor guide.
Chinese Cultural Centre Museum
Right beside the Classical Garden is the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum. Established in 1973, it is the first museum in Canada exclusively dedicated to Chinese Canadian history and culture.
There are a variety of exhibits which examine the Chinese Canadian immigrant experience in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Learn about their struggles, triumphs and numerous contributions to Canada.
The typical visit takes around 30-45 minutes.
Visits are free with donation.
Related: Best Walking Tours in Vancouver
Chinatown Millennium Gate
The most iconic site in Chinatown is the Millennium Gate, which marks the neighbourhood’s western entrance along Pender Street.
Formerly called Chinagate, the gate was initially donated to the city by the Peoples Republic of China for the Expo ’86 World’s Fair.
The gate possesses three ornate traditional Chinese terra-cotta tiled arches sitting atop several elaborately painted murals and is flanked by two granite lions on either side.
Characters inscribed on the gate’s eastern face encourage visitors to “remember the past and look forward to the future”.
The Sam Kee Building
Near the Pender Street entrance to Chinatown, the Sam Kee Building is the “shallowest commercial building in the world” according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
The Sam Kee Company, one of the wealthiest firms in early 20th century Chinatown, once owned a conventional sized lot in this location.
Unfortunately, the City of Vancouver decided to widen Pender Street, expropriating a large chunk of the property. A stubborn Sam Kee refused to close up shop, and the rest is history.
This narrow steel framed building possesses a ground floor depth of a mere 4’11 (1.5 metres), and a comparatively deep 6′ (1.83 metres) on the second floor.
In addition to its world record status, the building possesses historical relevance as the last remnant of Shanghai and Canton Alleys.
Tours of the building along with a quick history of its unique history are offered.
Vancouver Police Museum
While not technically located in Chinatown, the Vancouver Police Museum is just a stone’s throw away and offers an in depth look at the history of crime and punishment in the city.
Located within the former home of the city’s morgue and coroner’s court, the museum was opened in 1986 to celebrate Vancouver’s centennial and the Expo ’86 World’s Fair.
Run by the Vancouver Police Historical Society, a non-profit organization, the museum houses over 20,000 objects, including:
- Archival documents
- Confiscated firearms
- Counterfeit money
- Numerous other artifacts and memorabilia
Learn about notable historical crimes, the history of forensic science and the evolution of crime scene investigation techniques.
For an even more arresting experience, take the famous “Sins of the City” walking tour, which delves into Vancouver’s history of drugs, depravity, sex and scandal.
If this peaks your interest check out our Vancouver Police Museum visitors guide for more information.
Vancouver Chinatown Shopping
Chinatown is home to a myriad of shops that sell a wide variety of traditional goods – it’s one of the best places to shop in Vancouver hands down.
From Apothecaries that selling herbal teas and remedies, to small Chinese-importers offering cookware and arts and crafts, there is truly something for everyone.
The area is loosely divided East to West into market and merchandise sections, with Main Street serving as a divider.
The Market Section
Located between Main and Gore, the market section predominantly features stores such as:
- Butchers/Fish Mongers
- Produce stands
The Merchandise Section
Running from Columbia to Main, the merchandise section contains a variety of shops that sell items such as:
- Arts and crafts
Here is a list of a few stores that will be of particular interest to visitors:
Beijing Trading Company
Category: Apothecary | 89 East Pender Street
Beijing Trading Company is an old-school Apothecary that sells a diverse array of traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients, herbs and teas that all have a variety of healing benefits and properties.
And when I say old-school, I mean using an abacus type old-school!
The store has hundreds of items on display, from the more familiar such as wild ginseng and dried herbs and fruits, to the more exotic, like dried Sea Horses, Starfish and Lizards!
If you’re feeling adventurous, walk into the back for a free consultation with their on-duty health practitioner. Upon receiving your list of ailments and complaints he will prescribe a cure from the stores selection of raw ingredients.
The items will be place d in a bag and weighed using a stick, a piece of string and some weights (apparently digital scales are for cheaters!). Your bill will then be tabulated on the aforementioned abacus.
The ingredients are intended to be made into a tea, which can be done on premises, or in the comfort of your home or hotel. But be warned, the products aren’t there for the taste!
Scientists have been increasingly noting the benefits of traditional Eastern medicine, so why not give it a try?
Treasure Green Tea Company
A can’t miss for tea lovers, Treasure Green Tea Company is the first authentic Chinese Tea Shop in Chinatown. For almost forty years they have directly imported tea from the most choice suppliers in China and throughout the Orient.
Freshness and quality are always guaranteed, be it with bestsellers like Organic Matcha and Sencha, or aged Chinese favourites like 1997 Top Grade Yunnan Pu-Erh, 2004 Mandarin Orange Pu-Erh or Anhui Lan Xiang Green Tea.
In addition to their massive variety of Chinese Teas, Treasure Green also offers a wide selection of tea ware, accessories and a popular walk-in tea-tasting service.
If you are looking for a small memento of your visit to Chinatown then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Bamboo Village.
This small family owned and operated Chinese Importer is absolutely packed to the rafters with all things Chinese.
The store originally focused on a wide variety of Oriental folk arts and crafts made out of, you guessed it, bamboo! This includes one of a kind oriental antique furniture, Chinese handicrafts and traditional folk art.
In time Bamboo Village has expanded to include all sorts of other Chinese nick-nacks, such as paper lanterns, housewares and even Maoist memorabilia.
Visitors always stand in amazement at their museum sized collection, which is entirely hand picked from China. New items are constantly arriving, so there is bound to something for everyone.
We’ve only touched the tip of the ice berg when it comes to the numerous shopping options in Vancouver’s Chinatown.
We recommend simply wandering the streets, doing a little window shopping and checking out the stores for yourself.
You never know what you may find!
Chinatown Vancouver Tours
Wok Around Chinatown
Duration: 3.5 hours | Cost: $113.52
Spend a morning exploring Chinatown with an off duty chef as your guide on this culinary and cultural walking tour.
Learn where local chefs and foodies find the crispiest old-school BBQ, freshest produce and most sumptuous savoury delights while learning more about Chinatown’s historical landmarks.
Visit local teas shops, apothecaries and cookware stores to learn more about traditional Chinese cuisine and medicine.
- Visit to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical gardens
- Full dim sum lunch at a local restaurant
- Complimentary tea at a traditional tea shop
- Off duty professional local chef as your guide
Forbidden Downtown and Gastown Tour
Duration: 2 hours | Cost: $34.06
Learn more about Vancouver’s dark side on this captivating tour of Victory Square, Gastown and Chinatown.
Visit numerous historical landmarks while hearing tales of corrupt politicians, mob bosses and prostitutes and the speakeasies, brothels and gambling dens they called home.
See how Vancouver transformed from a rugged frontier outpost into the vibrant cosmopolitan city that we see today.
- Fully narrated walking tour
- Informative, friendly and knowledgeable local guide
Related: Best Vancouver City Tours
Private Food & Walking Tour
Duration: 3 hours | Cost: $130.23
Receive personalized attention on this private culinary and historical walking tour with a local chef as your guide.
Begin with a private lunch at an authentic local Cantonese restaurant, before exploring the neighbourhood on foot to learn more about it’s culinary offerings and unique history.
- Lunch in an authentic Cantonese restaurant
- Chinatown walking and food tour
- Dedicated professional local chef as your guide
Vancouver Chinatown Restaurants
Lets be honest, the number one draw for visitors to any Chinatown is always going to be the food. In Vancouver it’s no different.
The area doesn’t disappoint, with a wide variety of traditional Chinese favourites and some of the downtown’s best restaurants.
This traditional Chinese BBQ makes it onto my list of Vancouver must eats, capturing the historical spirit of Chinatown like few others.
As soon as you enter you will instantaneously be seduced by the sweet smell of the caramel roasted duck and crispy pork bellies hanging tantalizingly in the window.
With all chefs trained in traditional Chinese cooking styles, you’re assured to receive delicious, affordable and authentic old-school barbecue done right.
Popular with neighbourhood seniors and tattooed hipsters alike, this Chinatown haunt manages to expertly blend the area’s historic past with it’s hopeful future.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie
Does the very mention of a traditional fortune cookie Cantonese restaurant evokes wistful childhood memories of being forced to split the fried rice and chicken chow mein with your parents for the umpteenth time? Well you aren’t alone.
Luckily, Bao Bei Brasserie offers delicious and modern Chinese cuisine inspired by flavours from Taiwan, Shanghai, Sichuan and beyond, paired with some of the tastiest cocktails in the city!
Comprised primarily of elevated versions of traditional classics, the menu is composed of a variety of small plates that are best enjoyed family style.
Even better, with sustainably sourced seafood, hormone free and organic meat and an MSG free kitchen, you can eat all of their food in good conscience.
Bao Bei does not accept reservations, so make sure to arrive at your earliest convenience to beat the line.
Perennially ranked as the best of Vancouver’s many South-East Asian eateries, this one-time hidden gem has evolved into a well known Chinatown institution.
One bite of their sumptuous Cambodian or Vietnamese cuisine and you’ll understand why Vancouverites and visitors alike are willing to line up around the block for a shot at a table.
By staying true to balanced South East Asian flavour profiles such as fresh and crispy, salty and sour, and spicy and sweet, Phnom Penh gives every dish an authentic flair rarely encountered on this side of the Pacific.
Factor in the generous portion sizes and reasonable prices, and a trip to Phnom Penh becomes a no-brainer for any visitor to Chinatown.
The restaurant does not take reservations.
For a more in depth at Chinatown’s culinary scene check out our Chinatown Restaurant guide .
Vancouver Chinatown Bars & Nightlife
The Keefer Bar offers award-winning cocktails inspired by the ancient remedies that have been served in the neighbourhood’s apothecaries for over a hundred years.
Recently ranked at #2 on the list of Canada’s Best Bars, the Keefer is simply a can’t miss destination for any cocktail lover.
The herb-infused drinks found on the Apothecary-themed menu, dubbed “remedies and cures” will be sure to cure whatever it is that ails you.
The Keefer also serves a variety of elevated Asian-inspired small plates using the neighbourhood’s freshest ingredients.
For something a little more casual, check out this South-East Asian themed Union street haunt, located on the fringes of Chinatown.
The main attraction here is definitely the South-East Asian themed cocktails, many of which are served in jars and called “Banga Cocktails”.
There is also a wide variety of more traditional cocktails, local craft beers and a wine list that expertly caters to the South-East Asian flavours found on their menu.
Fortune Sound Club
Fortune Sound Club is the venue that has single-handedly brought revelry and fun back to Chinatown’s nightlife.
Nuanced by the grit and grime of it’s historic locale, Fortune provides street-level ambiance in a clean modern room that features a world-class Funktion-One sound system, thought by many to be the best in the city!
Listen to some of the city’s best DJ’s spin or keep your eyes open for an intimate concert experience from any number of touring R&B, Hip-Hop and EDM acts.
For more details on these and several other Vancouver hot spots check out our list of Vancouver’s best bars.
What to Do Near Chinatown in Vancouver
Chinatown is conveniently located right at the crossroads of Downtown and East Vancouver, providing visitors with numerous exciting options just a short walk away. Let’s take a quick look at some of the most popular.
- Gastown – Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Gastown is a historic site that is a must on the itinerary of any visitor to Vancouver. This former rough and tumble hangout for sailors and off-duty loggers has been gentrification has made Gastown a fashionable home to boutiques, art galleries and souvenir shops, in addition to many of the cities trendiest restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
- Commercial Drive – Formerly known primarily as Vancouver’s Little Italy, “the Drive” has evolved into the centre of Vancouver’s counter-culture movement, housing many political activists, hipsters and artists. Also the heart of Vancouver’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
- Science World – Known for it’s distinctive geodesic dome, this science museum features a variety of interactive exhibits and displays, in addition to a 400 seat OMNIMAX theatre that cover a wide range of scientific topics.
- The Stadium District – The Stadium District is located just a short walk from Chinatown, in fact they share the Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain station. Contains Rogers Arena, the home of the Vancouver Canucks, and BC Place, which houses the CFL’s BC Lions and the MLS’ Vancouver Whitecaps.
Where is Chinatown Vancouver?
Chinatown officially consists of the area from the alley between East Hastings and East Pender streets in the North and East Georgia Street in the South.
The main areas of interest to visitors will be found along the commercial corridors of Pender and Keefer streets, which are connected by Main Street.
How Do You Get to Vancouver Chinatown?
Chinatown by Skytrain
The nearest Skytrain station is Stadium/Chinatown Station, which is located on the Expo Line.
Directions from downtown can be found below:
- Enter a downtown Skytrain station of your choice along the Expo Line (Waterfront, Burrard or Granville Station). Purchase a one-zone ticket ($2.95 or $2.35 with a Compass Card) and board an Eastbound train towards King George Station.
- Remain on board until you reach Stadium-Chinatown Station and exit the train. It’ll be the third stop from Waterfront.
- Follow the signs and head towards the Expo Boulevard exit for Rogers Arena and Chinatown. Walk East on Expo Boulevard for 50 metres until you reach Abbott Street.
- Take a left on Abbott and follow it North for 300 metres until you reach W. Pender Street.
- Take a right on W. Pender and follow it for 100 metres. You will see the famous Millennium Gate signifying your entrance to Chinatown.
For more information on the Skytrain, check out our Vancouver public transportation guide.
Driving to Chinatown
Should you choose to drive, Chinatown is located just 5-10 minute away from most Downtown hotels.
We’d recommend punching your place of lodging into Google Maps to receive customized directions.
There is pay street parking available throughout Chinatown, with rates varying according to location and time.
Unfortunately, parking can be difficult to come by during peak hours. If this is the case, there are two large parkades that cater to visitors to Chinatown.
- International Village – You can use the underground parking at The International Village shopping centre. Mall users receive up to 2 hours of free parking, with each additional hour costing $4.00
- Easy Park – Easy Park has over 1000 spots available at their Keefer Street location for a cost of around $6.00 for two hours.
Vancouver Chinatown Visitor Tips
Before we bring this to a close, here are a few key tips to remember to ensure that your visit to Vancouver’s Chinatown is as rewarding and enjoyable as possible.
1) Take a Chinatown tour
One of the best way’s to explore Chinatown is on a walking tour with an expert local guide as your chaperon.
Whether you are a history buff, a foodie or interested in Vancouver’s underworld, there’s sure to be a tour that will cater to your interests.
2) Visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Without a doubt the number one attraction in Chinatown, the Classical Garden is the largest example of a traditional Chinese Scholars Garden outside of Asia.
No visit to the neighbourhood is complete without a quick visit. However, If you don’t feel like paying the entrance fee, remember the neighbouring Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park is free.
3) Wander the Streets of Chinatown
Half the fun of visiting any Chinatown is browsing through the numerous shops, apothecaries and grocery stores.
Marvel at the otherworldly delicacies, traditional medicines and arts and crafts. Find something to take home as a souvenir, after all you’re on vacation!
4) Sample the Best Chinatown Food
You can’t come to Chinatown and not have something to eat!
We highly recommend staying for a meal. Grab a quick lunch in one of the numerous traditional Cantonese restaurants or try some old-school Chinese BBQ.
If you are feeling something a little more contemporary, Chinatown has you covered. Whether it is modern Chinese, Asian-fusion or a variety of flavours from all over the world, there is guaranteed to be something to satisfy any palate.
5) Drink at Chinatown’s Cocktail Bars
Chinatown is home to some of the best cocktail bars in the city.
Whether you visit The Keefer Bar, The Emerald or The Union, you simply can’t go wrong. Even restaurants like Sai Woo or Bao Bei are now known to employ top notch bartenders.
One thing is for sure, Chinatown is now becoming just as much of a destination at night as it is during the day.
So why not take advantage?
6) Chinatown Safety
Chinatown is bordered by Vancouver’s poorest neighbourhood, the Downtown Eastside (DTES), which suffers from very high rates of mental illness, addiction and homelessness.
While most of this activity is confined to a 5 block stretch of East Hastings, between Abbott and Jackson, elements can sometimes spill over into the neighbouring tourist districts of Chinatown and Gastown.
As a result, tourists making the journey between the two neighbourhoods on foot are advised to walk along Pender Street between Main and Carrall.
Furthermore, it is recommended to avoid the area around Main and Hastings all together, even though you are unlikely to encounter any problems.
If you have any questions or concerns don’t be afraid to ask in the comments below.
After all, safety always comes first.
7) Pair your visit with a trip to Gastown
Vancouver’s most historic neighbourhood is located just a 10-15 minute walk away. Due to this close proximity we recommend visiting these two districts on the same day.
However, in keeping with the last point. If you plan on walking between the two neighbourhoods we’d recommended the following route;
- Walk West along Pender Street until reaching Carrall Street
- Head North on Carrall until you reach Water Street
- Enjoy Gastown!
Visiting Vancouver’s Chinatown?
I hope I’ve answered any questions you may have had about your visit to the neighbourhood.
But if I missed something, don’t be shy. Make sure to ask us on our Facebook page or in the comments below.
Remember, we’re always here to help with all your Vancouver travel needs.