Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest Chinatown in Canada. It’s famous for its restaurants, stores, Sun Yat-Sen Garden and annual Chinese New Year Parade.
The area is located primarily along Pender, Main and Keefer Streets, between Gastown and the Downtown Eastside (which isn’t actually the nicest part of the city).
This article contains the following information about Vancouver’s Chinatown:
Chinatown in Vancouver
Chinatown isn’t a huge area. It’s large enough though to stroll around and see a number of interesting shops and restaurants. Highlights in Chinatown include Sun Yat-Sen Garden and the Chinese New Year Parade & Celebrations once each year.
In addition to all the little shops, fruit stands and restaurants lining the streets in Chinatown, another interesting place is the International Village at 88 West Pender. International Village is a mall, so nothing too amazing. It has some unique stores though and a very definite Asian theme.
International Village is normally fairly quiet. It has a good Asian food court upstairs, a movie theatre, an Asian-style dollar store, and a variety of other interesting shops. The mall used to have far more interesting shops. In the last few years though, it has emptied out a bit.
When the place really comes alive is during the weekend of Chinese New Year. That’s when there are live performances inside as well as crowds of Chinese and other Vancouverites shopping at the festival stalls and taking in all the sights.
TIP: There is free parking underground at the International Village. It’s complimentary for 2 hours for the mall’s patrons. It’s a good place to park, although not on parade day at New Year’s as the road is blocked off then to traffic.
Best Times to Visit Chinatown
The best times to visit Vancouver’s Chinatown are at meal times (when you want Chinese food downtown) and at Chinese New Year / Lunar New Year. During New Year’s you’ll really feel like you’re in China with all the millions of people out to watch the parade (assuming that rainy weather or pandemics don’t keep them away).
Another exceptional time to visit the area is in the summer during the Vancouver Chinatown Festival. The event takes place in the heart of Chinatown, near the corner of Columbia Street and Keefer. It usually happens on a Saturday and Sunday around mid-month in August. At the free event there are food trucks, live entertainment and street vendors.
Vancouver’s Chinatown used to have a regular summer night market. As of 2018, however, it doesn’t run any more. The one day of the year when the region does hold something resembling its former night market is on the Saturday evening of the Vancouver Chinatown Festival.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden
If you ever visit Chinatown and you like Asian-style gardens, Sun Yat-Sen Garden is a nice one to visit. It’s not large, but it is beautiful. Best times to visit are in the summer and late spring and early fall.
See Sun Yat-Sen Garden for more information.
The following video is of Pender Street. It goes through the heart of Vancouver’s Chinatown, from the 200 block of East Pender at Gore Street to the Millennium Gate near the 100 block of West Pender.
The video was taken in April of 2020, so at the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, which explains why the streets were so empty.
Chinese New Year Video
Chinatown is usually a fairly quiet part of Vancouver, except at Chinese New Year which happens in January or February each year. On the Sunday of the weekend after Chinese New Year’s Day there is usually a massive parade that attracts as many as 100,000 spectators.
The following video is of a scene of a lion dance ceremony outside a Chinese business on Pender Street after the parade. The lion blesses the business which gives the lion (and the dancers inside) a money gift which benefits the lion dancing organization.
Chinatown Tips and Advice
Below are some tips and suggestions to help you make the most out of your visit to Vancouver’s Chinatown.
TIP #1: You’ll find the cheapest fruit and vegetable store in Metro Vancouver at 770 Gore Avenue, not too far from Chinatown.
Sunrise Market is an interesting place, and everything is amazingly affordable, at least for Vancouver. It’s not the freshest produce mind you, so plan to eat or cook whatever you buy within a few days.
At the completely opposite end of the scale of the grocery/produce shopping spectrum (but still very Chinese), is the giant TNT supermarket at 179 Keefer Place. If you want to experience Asian supermarket shopping at its finest, then this too is a most interesting place.
TIP #2: Don’t go to Chinatown late at night on your own (especially if you’re a woman), as some parts of East Vancouver aren’t the nicest. Downtown Vancouver has more than its share of drug problems and homelessness. If you’re in a group though, then don’t let the area’s more colourful reputation stop you.
TIP #3: An exceptional way to explore Chinatown is on a guided tour with Historical Chinatown Tours. They take place year-round and often involve dumplings or other tasty Chinese food!
TIP #4: If you like history and stories about crime, then check out the Vancouver Police Museum. Located at 240 East Cordova Street, it’s just a couple of clocks from Chinatown.
To learn more about the area see the Parks Canada website which provides details about the neighbourhood which is designated as a National Heritage Site.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- The City of Vancouver
- Chinese Canadian Museum
- Vancouver History and Culture
- Vancouver’s Best Restaurants
- The A to Z’s of Vancouver
- Metro Vancouver’s Top 100 Places
- Vancouver’s ExplorASIAN Festival