A First-Timer’s Guide to Vancouver Neighbourhoods

Wander, dine and kick back in Granville Island, Chinatown and Gastown.

Photo by Lindsay Elliott

British Columbia’s glass-towered metropolis revels in its mountain-fringed ocean setting. But the scenery is only part of the picture in Vancouver. If you’re visiting the city for the first time, start by exploring these lively neighbourhoods.

Granville Island

Liberty Distillery, Granville Island, photo by Andrew Topham

A man-made island that was completed in 1916 and modified into a peninsula about 30 years later, this rivet-tough warren of False Creek factories underwent an ugly-duckling transformation in the 1970s. That’s when crumbling wood-beamed workshops were reclaimed with new theatres, artisan studios and the foodie-focused Granville Island Public Market that’s now a major Vancouver visitor magnet. Dozens of additional creative pit stops add to its latter-day appeal, ranging from lip-smacking Liberty Distillery to handcrafted Granville Island Broom Co. But the gritty past hasn’t been forgotten: check out the preserved dockside crane, rail-embedded sidewalks and row of towering concrete silos, now painted with a gaggle of giant colourful characters.


Chinatown, photo by Nelson Mouellic/Tourism Vancouver

Canada’s largest Chinatown is also one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods. While trendy new businesses regularly open here, it’s not hard to tap the past in a district where red-painted lampposts are topped with sinuous golden dragons. Some of the oldest buildings are on East Pender Street, where slender, terracotta-accented edifices look like time-travelling imports from yesteryear Shanghai. Nearby, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden deepens the cultural immersion, its whitewashed walls enclosing a turtle-rippled pond framed by twisting pines. Steps away, you’ll find Chinatown BBQ restaurant, where nostalgic neighbourhood photos look down on heaping plates of Cantonese comfort food.


Gassy Jack, Gastown, photo by Yves Hsu/Shutterstock

Thanks to chatty Englishman John “Gassy Jack” Deighton and the sawmill workers’ saloon he opened here in 1867, this is where modern-day Vancouver began. The surging development surrounding his pub soon became known as Gastown, which was later officially renamed Granville and then Vancouver. Still the designated moniker for this historic neighbourhood, there’s now a jaunty, barrel-plinthed statue of old Gassy Jack here, overlooking brick-paved streets lined with handsome heritage buildings. Deighton would be delighted to know that many of these structures now house some of the city’s favourite bars, from the cocktail-loving Diamond to the craft beer-hugging Six Acres and Alibi Room.

Read more: Where to Go if You’re a Returning Visitor to Vancouver

[This story appears in the April 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine.]