Did you know that Vancouver is one of Canada’s densest, most ethnically diverse cities? This bustling seaport in British Columbia is known for its cultural offerings and unique enclaves. With no less than a dozen different neighborhoods, Vancouver has a little something for everyone. And what makes the city so approachable is that many of its neighborhoods are located in close proximity.
It would take weeks, if not months, to see all there is to see in each area, so we’ve decided to hone in on our favorite neighborhoods and give you just a few highlights of each to get you started. Explore, shop, eat, and take in the greenery that each section of this west coast city has to offer — you won’t regret it.
*Note: while we’ve excluded Gastown from this particular guide, we’ve put together a separate guide to the iconic, cobblestoned area, which you can find here.
WEST END + DAVIE VILLAGE
Tucked tightly against downtown Vancouver, the West End is one of the easiest neighborhoods for visitors to explore by foot. It is a gateway to Stanley Park, as well as English Bay, Granville, and Robson streets — the latter of which houses the city’s best-known shopping precinct. The West End was Vancouver’s first “upscale” neighborhood, and while its parks and beaches remain its main attractions, people-watching and dining come in close behind. Today, the heart of the neighborhood is home to the city’s LGBTQ community, which is centered around “Davie Village” — the stretch of Davie Street between Burrard and Jervis.
Explore the area
Since the West End borders Stanley Park, we recommend taking time to bike through the neighborhood, along the Seawall, and into the park itself (if you need to rent a bike, check out Spokes — they have a great selection of easy-to-ride cruisers). For other beautiful scenes, head to Sunset Beach, and if you’re up for it, continue on toward English Bay.
Visit a Vancouver icon
The West End is home to a handful of the city’s famous theatres. The Vogue Theatre, located on Granville Street, was originally built as a movie house but now stands as one of the last remaining theatres from Vancouver’s famed “Theatre Row.” The Art Deco building has hosted events such as Vancouver’s ComedyFest, Vancouver International Film Festival, and Vancouver International Jazz Festival, and it stands as a graceful reminder of the Vancouver of old. Located nearby on Smithe Street, the Orpheum is another theatre and music venue, as well as the permanent home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
Eat your heart out
If food is what you’re after, the West End has plenty of offerings. For a classic brunch, a pastry, or a coffee, check out Musette, a fun cyclist-themed café attached to a bike shop. If you’re craving Greek, try Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna in Davie Village. For tapas-style Japanese fusion, go to Kingyo, an upbeat izakaya with traditional decor. And for late-night eats, head to Fritz, the neighborhood’s favorite fry shop specializing in poutine (fun fact: they have the history of the potato mounted on the wall, along with 10 things you never knew about fries.)
If Robson Street isn’t quite your style, you’ll have no trouble finding traditional souvenirs and knick-knacks in Davie Village, especially along Denman Street. Most of the retailers in this area cater to local residents, but there are a number of hole-in-the-wall bookstores and boutiques, in addition to the stalls at the West End Farmer’s Market — so be sure to explore the area’s side streets as well, which are home to some local gems.
Vancouver’s Downtown area is known for its bustling days and buzzing nights, both of which are prime for people-watching. In the daylight, it’s a hub of business, luxury shopping, art crawls, and street food. The area’s plethora of contemporary commercial, residential, and corporate spaces has bred a landscape of nouveau restaurants, chain cafés, and upmarket boutiques. But after the sun sets, its neon-lit streets come alive with raucous bars, clubs, and live music. So, whether you’re looking to peruse its massive public library or explore its livelier corners, Downtown Vancouver has it all.
Take in the views
The Vancouver Public Library recently opened its rooftop garden, which offers a stunning view of the city amid an outlook of greenery. The urban garden is located on the building’s top two floors, so be sure to take in the sweet smell of books and the details of its architectural interior on your way up. If you’re looking to take in other vantage points of Vancouver, venture to the steps of Robson Square, which is situated just outside the Vancouver Art Gallery. From there, you’ll be able to spot even more striking architecture, as well as locals going about their day-to-day and visitors making the most of the area’s ice rink, food trucks, and relaxing atmosphere.
Grab a coffee (and a snack)
If you’re in the Downtown area and in need of a pick-me-up, wander over to Medina Café. Since the establishment is known for its coffee, you really can’t screw up your order in the caffeine department. But if coffee isn’t your thing, we recommend trying either the Tumeric Elixir or Homemade Kombucha. Medina’s cozy space and Mediterranean-inflected brunch menu are known across the city, but if you don’t have time to stay for a bite to eat, don’t fret — the entire menu can be taken to go.
Eat your heart out
For other fare, take advantage of the food trucks at Robson Square or enjoy the neighborhood’s Japanese offerings. Japadog specializes in — you guessed it — hot dogs that include variants of Japanese-style foods like okonomiyaki, yakisoba, teriyaki, and tonkatsu, while Miku is the proud pioneer of Aburi (flame seared) and serves up sustainable seafood in a sophisticated setting on the waterfront.
Peruse Vancouver’s art scene
Downtown Vancouver is home to a variety of galleries, as well as some of the city’s quirkier public art spaces. Located in the heart of Downtown on Hornby Street, the Bill Reid Gallery is the only public gallery in Canada dedicated to Indigenous Northwest Coast Art. The space exhibits contemporary sculptures, carvings, and other works by Bill Reid himself, as well as a variety of other Northwest Coast artists. Just a three-minute walk away is the Vancouver Art Gallery. Known as the fifth-largest art gallery in Canada, and the largest in Western Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery is recognized as one of North America’s most respected and innovative visual arts institutions. But just in case you’re not in the mood for structured gallery visits, head to Alley Oop, a new urban space that invites the public to play in a redeveloped downtown laneway. While the space was technically created to be a basketball court, its bright colors serve as an artistic expression of the city, as well as a glimpse into the future of Vancouver’s downtown area — oh, and a popular Instagram spot.
Just southeast of the downtown peninsula is South Main, the stretch of Main Street between East 2nd and East 33rd avenues. Also dubbed “SoMa,” this neighborhood is packed with boutiques, breweries, art galleries, cafés, restaurants, bookstores, record stores, flower shops, local groceries, and just about anything “hip” you could possibly imagine. In fact, many compare the area to New York City’s Brooklyn. This section of the city is much more residential and runs at a bit of a slower pace than Downtown, but that makes parking cheaper and sidewalk strolling all the more enjoyable.
Eat your heart out
Visitors will be happy to know that Main Street is known for both cheap eats and high-end dining options. From Lebanese to Malaysian, South Indian to Peruvian — you can find it on Main Street. Some of the city’s tastiest cuisine is found here, and a few of our favorites include Anh and Chi (Vietnamese), the Acorn (vegetable-forward), Bob Likes Thai Food (Thai), Splitz Grill (counter-service American), and Earnest Ice Cream — though the latter is not technically on Main Street, but close by.
Sip back and relax
If you’re looking for a cozy space to kick your feet up for a while, South Main has plenty of options. For a quaint coffee shop setting with house-baked pastries on hand, opt for Liberty Bakery + Café, or for a cozy and warm atmosphere, set up shop in Cultivate Tea Brew Bar — either way, you can’t go wrong. Still, if you’re looking for a bit of a livelier locale with a casual ambiance, check out any of the craft breweries scattered along Main Street — start at East 2nd Avenue and walk up to East 8th Avenue and you’ll pass five different brewery tasting rooms.
South Main isn’t thought of as a traditional shopping district, but the independent nature of many of the neighborhood’s stores means that you’ll likely stumble upon some unique finds. For vinyl, vintage magazines, and old school pins, explore Neptoon Records, Vancouver’s oldest independent record store. For art books, crafts, zines, and prints for all ages, check out Collage Collage. For tarot cards, crystals, candles, soaps, earthenware, women’s clothing, and accessories, venture to Neighbourhood Quality Goods. For local zines, graphic novels, and rotating art exhibits, head to hole-in-the-wall Lucky’s Books. For amazing scents, beautiful floral arrangements, and terrariums, visit the Flower Factory. And for custom buttons, letter-writing tools, and paper and notebooks galore, stop by the Regional Assembly of Text. If those don’t fill your shopping craving, hover anywhere between 18th and 33rd avenues — there are just too many shops to highlight.
Explore the area
Just in case you’re not one for shopping, South Main also has a few popular sites to explore. Two blocks east of Main at East 8th Avenue, you’ll find “Dude Chilling Park,” named by locals after the site’s modernist wooden sculpture of a figure in repose. During the summer, the park plays host to picnic blankets and yoga mats, as well as the area’s farmer’s market (on Sundays). If you continue up to East 15th Avenue, you’ll reach the grand Main Street Heritage Hall, which was at times both a post office and a site used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. At East 33rd Avenue, head west a few blocks to get to Nat Bailey Stadium, an old-fashioned 1950s ballpark home to the minor league Vancouver Canadians baseball team. And if you look directly across the street, you’ll discover the city’s iconic Queen Elizabeth Park, which serves as Vancouver’s highest point, complete with spectacular public gardens.
Yaletown is Vancouver’s upscale, renovated warehouse district. It’s a fresh, urban neighborhood close to the center of Downtown or a quick ferry ride from Granville Island. Yaletown’s converted heritage buildings are home to some of the city’s top fashion and design shops, as well as some of Vancouver’s more “cutting-edge” restaurants and bars. The neighborhood’s old loading docks act as giant sidewalks filled with residential loft spaces, cafés, unique shops, and leafy parks — and paired with the area’s classic brick architecture, the atmosphere is not dissimilar to that of Portland’s Pearl District.
Explore the area
Yaletown’s biggest draw is its waterfront parks. The city’s Seawall runs right along the water, connecting two of the biggest green spaces: David Lam Park and George Wainborn Park. Walk, jog, bike, or skate along the route, and you’ll find plenty of locals doing the same. Note the public art sprinkled along the path as well, and be sure to also appreciate the neighborhood’s historical roots, evident in the form of the Engine 374 (which pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into the city in 1887) on display at the Roundhouse Community Centre.
Yaletown offers plenty of noteworthy shopping options, though most of the stores cater to rather specific shoppers. Still, these unique offerings are worth perusing if you’re near. From high-end fashion to designer homewares, the stores in this neighborhood are quirky, stylish, and a lot of fun — think designer dog clothing, modern bathtubs, and collectible vintage hats. While you may not be in the market for any of these items, window-shopping in this neighborhood promises to be entertaining. For a list of Yaletown’s specialty shops, click here.
Take in the views
If Yaletown is known for anything, it’s sleek, modern detail. To truly soak in all that the area offers, head toward the DOUGLAS Autograph Collection or the JW Marriott Parq during the early morning or evening and bask in Yaletown’s urban architecture in the soft daylight (midday offers an intense glare that bounces off the towering glass buildings). For a sense of Vancouver’s grandeur, head to the top of the hotel and admire the scenes of the bay, the crests of the surrounding mountains, and the bustle of the city below. And for an added bonus, be sure to stop by Zhang Huan’s pandas — a larger-than-life stainless steel art piece located on the roundabout just in front of the hotel that depicts a baby panda bear strolling with its mother.
Attend an event
With a lively calendar of over 30 days of free public events each year, Yaletown boasts plenty of things to do. Annual signature events include the Yaletown Grand Prix bike race on Canada Day, the Vancouver Jazz Festival, outdoor movie nights in David Lam Park, the Taste of Yaletown festival in October, and the Yaletown Light Show, as well as various parties and product launches throughout the year. And, did we mention that Yaletown is home to Rogers Arena and BC Place? So, if you’re a sports (or music) enthusiast, be sure to check out what’s on at each locale.
Railtown is the neighborhood roughly marked off by Columbia Street, Heatley Avenue, Alexander Street, and the railyards on the formerly-ignored northern fringe of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The neighborhood offers a fantastic mix of cultures and styles, along with a generous dose of industrial grit. Since it’s situated next to the ever-popular Gastown, Railtown is quickly changing due to its neighbor’s runoff. That said, Railtown is still very much its own and also houses a thriving scene for creative professionals.
Eat your heart out
A plethora of new and interesting restaurants and cafés has sprung up in Railtown in recent years. For the neighborhood’s most iconic eats, head to Ask For Luigi — a pint-sized eatery serving large, refined Italian dishes meant for sharing. For a more relaxed coffee-shop atmosphere, venture to Railtown Café — a counter-service café serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a menu of made-to-order sandwiches, salads, soups, artisan breads and pastries, and locally roasted coffee. Or, for Yoshoku-style, seasonally inspired dishes made following Japanese traditions of using what’s around you, check out Dosanko.
Take in the views (and sounds)
Named after the neighborhood committee that pushed for it, Railtown’s CRAB (Create A Real Available Beach) Park offers gorgeous views of the North Shore and downtown area, right next to the Alibi Room. This green space is a great place to watch container ships come and go along the neighborhood’s port side. And since the area is rather quiet and open, you can expect to hear seagulls cawing and the railyard buzzing at most times of day, giving off the atmospherics of an old harbor town or shipyard.
Have a drink
Railtown’s old warehouses and factories are giving way to a fair share of bars and breweries. One of the most popular spaces in the area actually holds three separate establishments. The Settlement Building is home to the Belgard Kitchen, the Vancouver Urban Winery, and Postmark Brewing — all of which share a passion for craft beer, BC VQA wine, fresh and local food, music, photography, and design. The combination found in the building is pretty special, so craft beer, wine, and food lovers are sure to find their happy place in Railtown. In addition to this unique space, the neighborhood boasts the Alibi Room, a “modern tavern” with 50 taps of local and imported craft beers.
Peruse Vancouver’s art scene
Gastown, Strathcona, and Railtown are all known for their street art, and murals are the status quo when it comes to the landscape. In fact, there’s such a concentration of unique works that four self-guided tours have been created to allow locals and visitors to explore this exciting, but often misunderstood scene. But if you’re looking for more artists pursuits in the area, check out Ice Box Gallery, an urban arts community initiative that fosters, curates, and showcases the abundant artistic talent found in Railtown. Or, venture further to the Heatley, a bar meets tattoo parlor meets music venue meets art gallery that showcases the work of local artists such as Ola Volo.
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