As the city’s main commercial, financial and entertainment hub it goes without saying that Downtown Vancouver is where you’re likely to spend most of your time when you visit our fair city.
So to give you a leg up we’ve composed this detailed guide to give you all the local tips you need before you even land at YVR.
And as always, if you have any questions feel free to ask in the comments below and i’ll Back to you ASAP.
Let’s get started!
Before we discuss the wealth of attractions, things to do and entertainment options in the downtown core, it’s important that we get a little more acquainted with the area.
Vancouverites colloquially refer to the city’s entire Northwestern peninsula as “downtown”. However, as you’ll see below the area actually contains a number of distinct neighbourhoods.
Whether you’re on the lookout for a little hustle and bustle or something a little more laid back, downtown contains many of the top areas to stay in Vancouver.
Let’s take a closer look at the area’s geography to clear up the confusion.
The central portion of downtown contains the Financial District, the Granville Strip entertainment district and the Robson Street shopping district. This is where you’ll find the majority of the city’s hotels.
A former warehouse district that’s been transformed into one of the city’s hippest neighbourhoods. The area is home to sidewalk cafés, chic restaurants, trendy bars and a variety of beautiful parks along its stunning stretch of the Seawall.
The Stadium District
The location of Rogers Arena and BC Place, the home to the city’s perennially suffering professional sports franchises; the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps and the CFL’s BC Lions. The area also contains a variety of hotels, bars and restaurants catering to sports fans and concert goers.
The West End
This largely residential neighbourhood is most widely known as the gateway to Stanley Park. However, it also contains Davie Village, the home to much of the city’s LGTBQ community. The area also houses numerous bars and restaurants, a collection of parks and some of Vancouver’s best beaches nestled along the shores of False Creek.
Stretching between Canada Place and Stanley Park, this peaceful waterfront area contains a mix of residential and commercial buildings. The area is most known for the striking juxtaposition between its large glass condominium towers and the peaceful tranquility of Burrard Inlet.
Technically downtown includes the neighbourhoods of Chinatown and Gastown. However, due to the sheer abundance of attractions in these historic neighbourhoods we’ve elected to grant them the special attention they deserve.
So if you plan on visiting the city’s oldest neighbourhoods make sure to check out our Chinatown and Gastown visitor guides. You can get free visitor tips, things to do as well as food and nightlife options.
Vancouver’s downtown core is surrounded by water on three sides, limiting access to other parts of the city. As a result, the area has four bridges; the Lions Gate Bridge, the Burrard Street Bridge, the Granville Street Bridge and the Cambie Street Bridge.
If you have a vehicle, you will be required to cross these routes to access more far flung locations such as the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Granville Island and the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
Also keep in mind it’s probably just a $10.00 Vancouver taxi to almost anywhere on the peninsula.
Many visitors are surprised to learn how small the downtown core really is. If you’re staying at a centrally located hotel, most attractions will be located within a 30-40 minute walk.
With flat terrain, loads of parks and public spaces and a wealth of pedestrian friendly infrastructure, Vancouver has one of the most walkable city centres in North America.
So if the weather is good, don’t hesitate to get out and explore. You never know what you’ll find!
If Vancouver’s notoriously gloomy weather isn’t co-operating, you needn’t worry, as the area is well connected by public transportation.
The city’s metro system, dubbed the Skytrain, has two lines which cover the city’s downtown:
- The Canada Line (DT/Westside/Richmond/YVR)
- The Expo Line (DT/East Vancouver/Eastern Suburbs)
In total the system has six stations located in the downtown area, including Waterfront Station, the city’s main transportation hub.
Other available forms of transportation include a comprehensive bus system and the Seabus, a commuter ferry servicing the North Shore.
To get yourself more familiarized with the system check out our Vancouver Public Transport mega guide before you set foot in Vancity.
Things to do in Downtown Vancouver
Whether you’re looking to get a little rest and relaxation, enjoy a little culture or partake in a world-class dining and nightlife experience, Vancouver’s downtown is assured to have something for everyone.
Let’s take a look at some of our favourite things to do when we’re in Downtown Vancouver.
Take in the Views at Vancouver Lookout
Located a stone’s throw away from Waterfront Station, the Vancouver Lookout is a 553 foot (168 metres) tall observation deck that provides visitors with stunning panoramic views of the Vancouver skyline, the North Shore Mountains and Burrard Inlet.
Vancouver is universally considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there are few locations that this becomes more apparent than Vancouver Lookout.
Blow up your Instagram while you enjoy a stunning birds eye view of sights such as Stanley Park, the Lions Gate Bridge and Canada Place.
Take advantage of the interactive displays or a multi-lingual tour from a knowledgeable local guide to learn more about the city’s past, present and future.
The best part is that admission is valid all day! So you can head up in the morning and return at dusk for the breathtaking views of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean.
Check out Stanley Park
Stanley Park is an 405 hectare (1,001 acre) public park situated alongside the Westernmost border of Downtown Vancouver.
But trust us, this is not just any park. Infact, Trip Advisor has recently christened it the “best park in the world”.
Stanley Park is a uniquely natural evolution of the pre-existing coastal rainforest that has been adapted to its surrounding urban environment.
This manifests itself in an idyllic, unspoiled charm that is missing from other famous urban parks such as Hyde Park, Central Park and Hibiya Park.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to do!
Whether you’re looking for a moment of quite reflection, a spot to get in a little exercise or a host of world-class attractions, there is bound to be something for everyone.
Bike along the park’s world renown Seawall, marvel at the exotic Coastal totem poles, or explore the wonders of the Vancouver Aquarium. Whatever option you choose, Stanley Park is a must visit destination for any visitor to Vancouver area.
For directions, things to do and a whole host of visitors tips, make sure to check out our Stanley Park visitors guide before your visit.
View Local Indigenous Art at the Bill Reid Gallery
A trip to Vancouver cannot be considered complete without an exploration of the history and culture of the indigenous people who’ve called the area home for time immemorial.
Nestled right in the heart of downtown, this small gallery is the only facility of its kind dedicated entirely to contemporary Northwest Coast Indigenous Art. It is named after the acclaimed Haida artist, carver and goldsmith Bill Reid who did more to popularize the style than any other.
The Bill Reid Gallery contains an extensive collection of his works along with those of many of his contemporaries. If you’re unable to make it out to UBC’s Museum of Anthropology then a trip is highly recommend.
Shop up a Storm on Robson Street
Vancouver’s main shopping district is located along Robson Street, which is right in the heart of downtown.
The fun begins on Granville Street, where you can find the Pacific Centre Mall, which is home to popular department stores; the Hudson Bay Co., Nordstroms and Holt Renfrew, in addition to a host of smaller retailers.
If you proceed West through Robson Square, you’ll eventually encounter a multitude of shops and boutiques including favourites such as; Roots, Lululemon, Nike, Muji and Aritzia, to name but a few.
Head a block North to the “Luxury Zone” which can be found on Alberni and West Georgia Streets if you’re in the mood for something a little more opulent.
Frequently compared with Rodeo Drive, this area is the home base for extravagant european designers such as; Dior, Versace, Burberry, Hermes and Prada.
With a wealth of options at every price point you’re bound to find whatever it is you’re looking for, so shop until your heart’s content.
After all, it’s only money!
Catch a game of Puck
The good ol’ hockey game is the best game you can name! And the best game you can name is the good ol’ hockey game!
Legendary Canadian folk singer Stompin’ Tom Connors said it best, so who are we to argue?
Hockey is so deeply intertwined with Canada’s cultural identity that it’s arguably as much of a national religion as a national pastime.
Quite simply there isn’t a more prototypically Canadian experience then grabbing a couple beers and watching your local club do battle.
Playing out of downtown’s Rogers Arena, the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks are currently in the midst of celebrating their 50th anniversary. While their play has resulted in more broken hearts and hockey riots than championships, Vancouverites still can’t get enough.
Despite recent struggles, with some of the most exciting young talent in the league; including American winger Brock Boeser, team leader Bo Horvat and Swedish phenom Elias Pettersson, things are beginning to look up again. So hopefully they won’t disappoint.
Maybe this year is the year!
Hit up the Art Gallery
Housed in a stunning 165,000 foot neo-classical building in the heart of Downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery is guaranteed to add a little culture to your visit.
Situated adjacent to Robson Square, which frequently hosts political rallies, cultural festivals and other informal gatherings, the VAG (I swear i didn’t make it up!) is the city’s informal cultural heart.
Head inside and marvel at any of the 11,000 pieces; including Coastal Indigenous works, famous local artists such as Emily Carr and a significant European Classical collection.
There are always interesting travelling exhibitions visiting town, so to stay abreast of what is happening head on over to the Vancouver Art Gallery website.
Downtown Vancouver Tours
Whether it’s as part of a guided walking tour, jumping on a Hop-on Hop-Off bus or peddling along on a cycling tour, there is no better way to learn about a city than by taking a tour.
Vancouver is no exception, so here is a list of a few of our favourites.
Spoken Treasures: An Indigenous Walking Tour of Stanley Park
Duration: 1 hour 15 minutes |Cost: $64.87
We’re proud to be to offer this informative new walking tour that provides travellers with a background on the indigenous history of Stanley Park and Vancouver itself.
With a local First Nations guide acting as your cultural ambassador, you will receive intimate stories and historical accounts about the people who have inhabited this land for time immemorial.
Learn about the symbolism behind the Stanley Park Totem Poles and their deep significance to indigenous groups up and down the coast.
It’s simply impossible to learn about the City of Vancouver without understanding what was here before it existed.
And I can’t think of a better way to start.
- Local Indigenous cultural ambassador
- Guided tour of Stanley Park’s most important sites
- An in depth look at the Stanley Park Totem Poles
- Free coffee/tea
Hop On, Hop Off Vancouver
Duration: Up to 24 hours|Cost: From $59.00
Operated by Westcoast Sightseeing, the Hop On Hop Off bus is one of the best ways for travellers to see all of downtown’s attractions, as well as those located throughout the remainder of the city.
Customize your own Vancouver itinerary using any of the 29 stops that’re strategically located around the city’s main attractions. These include sights such as; Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown, Gastown and numerous other stops throughout the downtown core.
You can choose from three different routes;
- The Park Route-focused on the city’s natural sites, such as beaches, parks and viewpoints.
- The City Route-focused on urban attractions
- The Dual Pass-includes access to both.
Tour the city in an open-top bus with other likeminded travellers. You can get off wherever you like, for as long as you like. It is entirely up to you!
- 24 hour access to the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus and its 29 stops
- Recorded audio commentary in 7 languages
For more information check out our HoHo Bus user guide. To book tickets click the button below.
Vancouver Highlights Bike Tour
Duration: 5 Hours|Cost: $98.05
Discover the beauty and culture of Downtown Vancouver while getting a little exercise on the Vancouver Highlights Bike Tour. This fully guided tour will allow you to cycle to all of the city’s main attractions via the famous Seawall and a variety of dedicated bike-lanes.
I assure you that cycling is truly one of the best ways to explore all that Vancouver has to offer.
After a quick bike and helmet fitting, you’ll begin your tour with a trip through downtown’s West End into Stanley Park, where you’ll check out one of the best urban parks in the world.
Then you and your new friends will take a quick ride along the Seawall before jumping on an Aquabus to Granville Island to explore the market.
Afterwards it’s off to historic Gastown, where you’ll pass all its main attraction’s before jumping back on the Sea Wall for your journey back to the bike shop.
This tour has fantastic reviews on all the major booking sites by travellers just like you, so it comes highly recommended.
- Use of a bike, helmet and lock
- Optional E-bike upgrade (+$25)
- Professional guide
- Visit to Vancouver’s main attractions (Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown and Gastown)
The Really Gay History Tour
Duration: 3 hours|Cost: $31.50
This unique walking tour provides visitors with a comprehensive history of Vancouver’s LGBTQ community. Perfect for LGBTQ and straight travellers a like, the tour includes a leisurely 3 hour stroll from City-Centre Station to the famous Davie Village.
Along the way you’ll stop at a variety of locations that are vital importance to the movement; including the sight of protests, bookstore bombings and police raids.
Learn about the community’s historical struggle for acceptance. Then be inspired by the activism and defiance that led to the creation of one of North America’s largest “gaybourhoods”.
This tour has extraordinarily high ratings on trip advisor, with very high marks assigned to the guide in particular. So again, it comes highly recommended.
- Knowledgeable professional guide
- A walking tour of the Davie Village
Downtown Vancouver Restaurants
Vancouver is fortunate to be located in the midst of some of the most bountiful oceans, pastures and farmland in North America. Combine that with a diverse, cosmopolitan population and you have all the makings of a foodie paradise.
Here’s a list of a few downtown restaurants that we feel best exemplify the culinary spirit of Vancouver.
Blue Water Café
As a third generation member of a BC fishing family few things instill me with pride more than seeing the jewels of our beautiful coastline put on display for all to see. For my money, few places do this better than Yaletown hotspot Blue Water Café.
Only the freshest, highest quality and most sustainable seafood is delivered to their kitchen daily. An extensive raw bar features premium cuts of sushi and sashimi, in addition to an extensive selection of local and imported oysters and caviar.
For a true taste of British Columbia go for one of the legendary seafood towers (one of my Vancouver must eats) including a sumptuous mix of local dungeness crab, clams, mussels and scallops.
When in season, I’d recommend the local Haida Gwaii sablefish and halibut amongst the entrees. If you’d rather opt for something from the pasture, then the beef tenderloin and Kobe beef short ribs are nothing short of top notch.
This Yaletown institution offers Italian-fine dining of the absolute highest caliber.
Award-winning chef and owner Pino Posterano masterfully combines the rustic simplicity of his Calabrian roots with elevated culinary techniques and fresh West-coast ingredients.
Pasta courses like tagliolini al granchio reale, king-crab with san marzano tomatoes and Calabrian chili, and papardelle al guanciale di vitello, a braised veal cheek ragu are guaranteed to put even the most dedicated nonna to shame.
Cioppino’s is immensely popular with hockey players and celebrities such as Bono and Drake.
But it’s the fact that Posterano is paisans with Italian celebrities like Giancarlo Giannini, Carlo Ancelotti and Andrea Pirlo that should tell you that this restaurant is truly meraviglioso.
When Vancouverites desire a little chicken soup for the soul then there’s one dish that undoubtedly stands above the rest…..Ramen!
At last count Robson Street itself possesses twelve ramen shops! With the two block stretch near Stanley Park between Cardero and Denman housing six ramen restaurants alone.
But with lines of noodle crazy Vancouverites perpetually stationed outside, how’re you supposed to know which one to pick?
In our humble opinion this Vancouver Magazine recipient for Best Ramen stands above the rest. Initially founded in Japan, Marutama proceeded to expand throughout Asia. The Vancouver area is fortunate enough to house their only North American locations, so why not take advantage!
They are famous for their creamy chicken broth and house made noodles. I recommend adding the delectable pork cha-su, an ajiitama egg and some chilli flakes to take your ramen to the next level.
Grab a plate of gyoza and an ice cold beer and your hangover will become a distant memory.
Marutama has two downtown locations.
The sheer abundance of restaurants in the downtown core would take us well beyond the scope of this article. For a more detailed analysis check out our list of Downtown Vancouver’s 11 Best Restaurants.
Downtown Vancouver Nightlife
Downtown Vancouver definitely has you covered, whether you’re looking for world-class cocktail bar, a chill spot for a casual pint or somewhere to dance the night away.
When it comes to nightlife, Vancouver’s downtown can be loosely divided into three areas, each of which has their own unique feel.
The Granville Strip
Crowd: 20 somethings|Venues:clubs, live music venues, pre-game bars
Vancouver’s closest answer to the Vegas strip, the Granville Entertainment District stretches approximately from Davie Street to Robson Street.
Along this 6 block stretch you’ll find an endless array of nightclubs, bars and restaurants predominantly catered to the university aged crowd.
Expect nightclubs that play EDM and modern hip-hop and alongside mediocre pre-game bars that keep them stocked with a clientele of well-lubricated customers.
Then tack on an infinite amount of cheap pizza joints, kebab shops and poutineries open until the wee hours of the morning.
Dance the night away at Cabana, Venue or for the more mature crowd the legendary Roxy. For a good pint, I’d recommend checking out the Morrisey or Colony.
If your goal is to throw on your newest Robson Street attire, get white girl wasted and make a few mistakes, this is definitely the place to do it.
Granville Street is pedestrian only on Friday and Saturday nights, so you don’t need to worry. You’ll have plenty of room to stumble.
Crowd: 30/40 somethings|Venues: Lounges/Restaurants
You can look at Yaletown as Vancouver’s anti-granville nightlife district.
With a plethora of bars, restaurants and lounges catering to yuppies, celebrities and those pretending to be both, it’s most likely Vancouver’s most stylish nightlife area.
This is where you can go to spot actors in town on location or to play name that Canuck. Just be prepared to pay a premium to do so.
Check out the ultra-trendy Opus Bar, Bar None or Glowbal if you want to go celebrity spotting. Conversely if you’re just looking to chill, the Yaletown Brewpub, the Distillery and The New Oxford will be more up your alley.
While the Granville Strip is famous for nightclubs, and Yaletown for luxe-lounges, Gastown and Chinatown are known for being home to Vancouver’s Best Bars.
From world-class cocktail bars to cheap and cheerful dive bars that serving up the best local craft beers and everything in between, this is the place to come if the bar-scene is calling your name.
The Emerald, The Diamond and The Keefer Bar are perennially ranked amongst the best bars in the country if you’re looking for cocktails. Toss in traditional pubs like The Alibi Room, The Blarneystone and The Irish Heather and there’s bound to be something for everyone.
Downtown Vancouver Hotels
Vancouver’s downtown peninsula is home to the overwhelming majority of the city’s accommodations. Whether you’re in the market for an opulent luxury suite or simply a basic dorm room in a backpacker hostel, you should have no problem finding what you’re looking for.
An in depth discussion of all of the options would take us well beyond the scope of this article. So make sure to check out our Downtown Vancouver Hotel and Vancouver Hostel guides for our reviews and recommendations before you book your room.
Vancouver’s most historic neighbourhood borders downtown, making it just a short walk away. Visit the iconic Gastown Steamclock, stroll up and down Water Street and enjoy some of the city’s best bars and restaurants.
Similarly Canada’s largest Chinatown is located just a short walk, or two Skytrain stops away. Sample sumptuous Asian Cuisine, do some shopping and visit the beautiful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden.
Located just across False Creek, Granville Island houses Vancouver’s most famous market, several Whale Watching Tours and a wealth of shopping and dining opportunities.
Capilano Suspension Bridge
The historic Capilano Suspension Bridge is situated on Vancouver’s North Shore, a short distance from downtown. And with a free shuttle on offer from the downtown core, it’ll feel even closer.
A short drive across the Burrard Street Bridge, Kitsilano houses the city’s hippest beach, three of its most popular museums (The Museum of Vancouver, The Planetariumand The Maritime Museum) and an army of yoga pant wearing/latte drinking soccer moms.
This casual neighbourhood offers visitors a perfect respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
That’s another neighbourhood done and dusted!
Now you have all the information you need to traverse Downtown Vancouver’s concrete jungle.
But if there is anything else you’d like to know, by all means give us a shout in the comment section below or hit us up on our Facebook page.
If it’s for some custom advice, tips for other travellers or to give us a little feedback, I’d absolutely love to hear from you.
Because as a wise man once said. A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.