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Downtown Vancouver in British Columbia: Attractions and Photos

Linda Crampton is a writer who lives in Greater Vancouver. She enjoys walking and likes to take photographs of her discoveries.

An aerial view of downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park

An aerial view of downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park

A Beautiful City

Vancouver is a major tourist attraction for visitors to the province of British Columbia in Canada. The city is known for its attractive downtown area and its location next to the ocean, beaches, and mountains. It's also popular for its beautiful parks and gardens, including the 400 hectare (988 acre) Stanley Park.

Vancouver is situated in the southwestern corner of mainland British Columbia, quite close to the border between Canada and the United States. It's surrounded on two sides by ocean. Burrard Inlet is located on its north side and the Strait of Georgia on its west side. Bridges connect Vancouver to the cities on the other side of the inlet and to the North Shore Mountains. The mountains offer ski areas, hiking trails, and wonderful views.

I live near Vancouver and often visit the city. I like to explore the area by walking, which I think is one of the best ways to get to know a place. This article contains photos that I took during some of my walks in downtown Vancouver as well as information about notable landmarks and neighbourhoods. Unless otherwise mentioned, all of the photographs were taken by me.

The entrance to the Vancouver Art Gallery

The entrance to the Vancouver Art Gallery

West Georgia and Robson Streets

Georgia Street is a main road running through the centre of downtown Vancouver from east to west. It's a good place to start a tour. Landmarks such as the Vancouver Public Library, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Hotel Vancouver, and Christ Church Cathedral are all located on Georgia Street. The section of the street in the downtown core is known as West Georgia.

Robson Street runs parallel to West Georgia on its south side. Robson is a very popular, tree-lined road containing many interesting shops for tourists and residents alike. In summer, the section of Robson behind the art gallery is closed to traffic and becomes a pedestrian area. Seating is available for people to eat their lunch or a snack, and food carts provide tempting meals. Many of these carts sell ethnic foods, reflecting Vancouver's multicultural population.

A city view from a shopping mall on West Georgia Street

A city view from a shopping mall on West Georgia Street

The building occupied by the art gallery used to be the location of the Vancouver Law Courts. The building has a dignified appearance to reflect its former use, complete with two stone lions guarding the steps up to the front entrance. This entrance is no longer used by the public, however. The current entrance is on the side of the building on Hornby Street and is shown in the photo above.

People like to sit on the steps found at both the front and the back of the art gallery as they eat their lunch, chat with friends, or watch the world around them. The back steps are often used by speakers trying to rally support for a cause.

The art gallery displays historical and modern works that are both international and Canadian in origin. It offers a permanent collection of more than 10,000 pieces of art as well as special exhibitions.

The Hotel Vancouver

The downtown core of Vancouver contains several luxury hotels, all of them located near the art gallery. The Hotel Vancouver is famous for its height and its green roof, which contains oxidized copper. It's one of the "railway hotels". These are majestic buildings created by the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railways in a bygone era.

The hotel is 17 stories high and 364 feet tell. It took eleven years to build. During five of these years, the construction was at a standstill because of the Great Depression. The hotel was finally opened in 1939.

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The exterior of the hotel is decorated with stone sculptures of mythical figures, including gargoyles, a griffin, and Hermes, an Ancient Greek god who was considered to be the patron of travellers.

In the 1990s, the hotel underwent a 70 million dollar renovation. Today it contains all of the amenities expected in a luxury hotel, including a heath centre, spa, restaurants, lounges, meeting rooms, a ballroom, and a business centre. Technically, the hotel is called the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, since it's been bought by the Fairmont hotel chain.

A view of the Hotel Vancouver taken from a high vantage point in another hotel

A view of the Hotel Vancouver taken from a high vantage point in another hotel

Holy Rosary Cathedral

Holy Rosary Cathedral belongs to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver and is built in the French Gothic style. It faces Dunsmuir Street in downtown Vancouver.

The cathedral was opened on December 8th, 1900—the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. At first it had the status of a church, but it became a cathedral in 1916.

The cathedral has eight change-ringing bells. Each is tuned to a particular note, enabling the set of bells to play a complete octave. A set of change-ringing bells produces patterns of sounds called "changes" instead of conventional melodies. Each bell is controlled by one person by means of a rope and rotates 360° as it's rung.

The Change Ringers of Holy Rosary Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral belongs to the Diocese of New Westminster of the Anglican Church of Canada. Externally, it isn't as architecturally imposing as Holy Rosary Cathedral, but it's just as important in the life of its parishioners and the community. The cathedral welcomes everyone, including LGBTQIA/2S people, as its website currently says. The main entrance to the cathedral is shown in the first photo below and is located at the corner of Burrard and West Georgia.

The cathedral was built on land acquired from the Canadian Pacific Railway. The present version of the building was dedicated in 1895 and is built in the Gothic Style. Until late 2016, it had no bell tower because by-laws from 1943 restricted the use of church bells in the downtown area. Happily, the situation has changed. The cathedral recently underwent a major renovation, which included the badly-needed repair of the roof and the establishment of a bell tower on the side of the building. The tower is shown in the photo sequence below.

The interior of Christ Church Cathedral is lovely, with 34 stained glass windows, a beautiful organ, and lanterns. The church is often open to visitors when no service is taking place. Some of the chairs in the church are periodically removed to lay down a labyrinth. Walking a labyrinth can be a wonderful technique for meditation.

Canada Place

Canada Place is the name of a large building beside the waterfront. The building has an attached pier that extends into Burrard Inlet. The large and attractive pier has a promenade for walkers, berths for cruise ships going to Alaska, and other attractions. It can be identified from a distance by its five large, white sails that are illuminated at night. The term "Canada Place" is often used to refer to the immediate area around the building and its pier in addition to these sites themselves.

Walking along the promenade of the pier provides many interesting photo opportunities. Float planes can be seen taking off and landing, boats pass by, and Stanley Park is visible. If cruise ships are docked, even more photo opportunities are available.

The Pan Pacific Hotel is located very near to Canada Place. On the roof of this hotel are ten horns known as the Heritage Horns. They play the first four notes of the national anthem ("O Canada") every day at noon.

Though technically not part of Canada Place, the Jack Poole Plaza is located close by. It offers its own attractions, including the giant Olympic Cauldron. The cauldron was created to celebrate the 2010 Winter Olympics, which were held in British Columbia.

Stanley Park

Stanley Park isn't part of the downtown core of Vancouver, but it is located right next to it. The park is one of the city's gems. A person with normal mobility can walk to the park from the downtown area. Any road heading west is suitable for the journey. I often travel along Robson Street. A more picturesque but slightly longer route is the walking and cycling path that starts at Canada Place. This path gives the traveller attractive views of Burrard Inlet. Buses also travel to the park.

Stanley Park contains a forest and a seawall path that gives lovely views of the ocean. It offers many other attractions, including beaches, the Vancouver Aquarium, flower gardens, restaurants, totem poles, statues and monuments, recreational areas, trails, and horse-drawn carriage rides. Another nearby attraction on the seawall is the Nine O'Clock Gun, a cannon that fires at 9 pm every day.

The Siwash Rock is an ancient seastack with a Douglas fir tree growing on top. It's located in Stanley Park by the seawall path.

The Siwash Rock is an ancient seastack with a Douglas fir tree growing on top. It's located in Stanley Park by the seawall path.


Gastown is a popular area. It's located on the east side of Canada Place and has a different atmosphere from the rest of downtown Vancouver. It contains cobbled streets, courtyards, trees, historic buildings, coffee houses, restaurants, interesting bars, and many little shops. It's known for its large, partially steam-powered clock, an annual cycling race called the Gastown Grand Prix, and (until recently) a statue of Gassy Jack, after whom the area is named.

Gastown was originally the core of downtown Vancouver. John (or Jack) Deighton sailed to Gastown from New Westminster, which was then the capital of British Columbia. He carried a barrel of whisky in his boat. Within twenty-four hours of his arrival, Deighton had created a bar called the Globe Saloon to sell liquor to loggers. He reportedly got mill workers to help him build the bar by telling them that he would give them all the whisky that they could drink.

The settlement that developed around the bar eventually became Vancouver. Deighton was sometimes known as "Gassy Jack" due to his fondness for talking. Deighton's statue in Gastown showed him standing on a whisky barrel and is shown in the sequence below. It was located near the site where his Globe Saloon once existed. Recently, some unknown people pulled the statue down during a women's march. They were angry about another aspect of Deighton's life. He married a 12-year-old girl of the Squamish Nation (a group of indigenous people). The couple soon had a son.

The Downtown Eastside Area

Downtown Vancouver is vibrant, attractive, and well worth visiting. Like many large cities, it has some problems, however. If a person travels towards the east side of downtown beyond Gastown, they may notice that some of the passers-by look like they are leading difficult lives. They may also notice that some of the buildings are old and look as though they aren't maintained very well. If the traveller ventures further to the east and reaches what is known as the downtown eastside part of Vancouver, they may see people suffering from poverty, homelessness, and addiction.

Social agencies, church groups, individuals, and some levels of government are working to help people in the downtown eastside area of Vancouver. Their efforts have improved the lives of some people but haven't yet solved the overall problem. It's a strange situation to have luxury hotels in the downtown core of a city while there are poor and homeless people nearby.

A visitor to Vancouver need never see the downtown eastside section of the city if they don't want to. They can enjoy exploring Gastown and then head back to their starting point by travelling in a westerly direction.

The revolving restaurant and lookout area on top of the Harbour Centre

The revolving restaurant and lookout area on top of the Harbour Centre

Downtown Vancouver and Its Surroundings

Visiting Vancouver

Getting to the downtown area of Vancouver from neighbouring areas isn't difficult. The Greater Vancouver area has a good transit system made of buses and SkyTrain, an LRT (Light Rapid Transit) system. One SkyTrain line links the airport to downtown Vancouver. The transit system is operated by Translink, which has a trip planner on their website. The planner tells a person how to get from point A to point B by public transit once they have entered their starting location and their destination.

Although a person needs to access the Internet to use the Translink trip planner, this should problem in downtown Vancouver (assuming someone has a suitable digital device). It probably won't be a problem in surrounding areas, either. Hotels and coffee shops provide Internet access. Many community centres, sports facilities, libraries, shopping malls, and other places where the public gathers also provide free wireless service.

The Vancouver Public Library provides free Internet access as well as computers for the public to use. The downtown branch of the library is located at 350 West Georgia Street. Visitors to Vancouver can get a free library card at any branch of the library as long as they will be in the city for less than six months. The card is good for ninety days. The City of Vancouver offers free wireless Internet for everyone at multiple downtown locations, including Canada Place.

There are a lot of lovely things to see in and around Vancouver and a lot of interesting things to do. The city can be a wonderful travel destination in its own right. It can also be an enjoyable stopping place in an exploration of British Columbia or the Pacific Northwest Region of North America.

Questions & Answers

Question: What are some places near the downtown Vancouver area that would be interesting to visit?

Answer: The list of interesting areas near downtown Vancouver is long. To some extent, the choice of places to see depends on a visitor’s personal interests. Some sites are very popular, however. I’ll describe a selection of these sites.

First, I think that everyone who visits Vancouver should try to get to Stanley Park if they can. The cultivated areas, forest trails, beaches, aquarium, and attractive scenery are all enjoyable to explore. Canada Place is located in the downtown area and definitely deserves a visit as well, as does the trail connecting Canada Place to Stanley Park. Gastown has an interesting atmosphere and is a great place for a walk.

I would also try to visit three places located further afield from the downtown area if I were a visitor. They can all be reached by public transit and are on the itinerary of some tour buses. Two of these places are Queen Elizabeth Park and the Bloedel Conservatory. The conservatory is located in the park.

Queen Elizabeth Park is located on an elevation known as Little Mountain, which is the highest spot within the city of Vancouver. The park contains several sites of interest, including two lovely quarry gardens. These gardens are enjoyable to see at any time of year but are most attractive during the growing season—spring, summer, and early fall.

Bloedel Conservatory is situated in a domed enclosure at the top of Little Mountain. According to the City of Vancouver website, it contains 500 exotic plants and more than 120 free-flying exotic birds. I always enjoy my visits there. Unlike the case for the park itself, visitors must pay an admission fee to enter the conservatory. The cost is not exorbitant, however.

The VanDusen Botanical Garden is another attractive place to visit and is quite near to Queen Elizabeth Park. It occupies 55 acres and contains more than 7,500 types of plants from around the world. It's a wonderful place for plant lovers. Like Queen Elizabeth Park, it contains places for visitors to rest and eat.

© 2013 Linda Crampton

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