Gastown is where you’ll find the old town of Vancouver with its heritage brick buildings, historic character, tourist shops and fine restaurants.
It’s an attractive area of historical significance, which explains why it has been officially designated a national historic site (despite there being no museum in the area to say so).
The Old District of Gastown
Gastown’s main thoroughfare, Water Street, is lined with quaint shops, including great tourist souvenir ones and excellent restaurants. Gastown is recommended if you are in the area and just want a quick stroll, are looking for a great restaurant or want to find a good gift shop for souvenirs.
Near the entrance to Gastown is beautiful Waterfront Station, Vancouver’s main terminus, from where you can catch the SkyTrain to almost anywhere, or take the 15 minute Seabus trip over the water to North Vancouver.
One of the main attractions in Gastown, apart from the cute shops and restaurants, is the Vancouver Lookout at Harbour Centre, which is kind of between Waterfront Station and Gastown. From the top you can see Vancouver for miles on a clear day, 360 degrees around.
Also in Gastown is the area’s world famous steam clock. Tourists for some reason seem to love it. It’s kind of cool, especially when it whistles and blows out steam.
If you are ever in Gastown on a Sunday afternoon and want to see an interesting flea market, head down to Carrall Street for the DTES Street Market. It’s run by some of the city’s poorest entrepreneurs and it’s not for everyone; it is however an interesting outdoor flea market.
Where to Eat and Drink in Gastown
There are many great places to eat in and around Gastown – in fact, Gastown has one of the highest concentrations of top restaurants in Vancouver. Some good ones to check out include the following:
- L’Abattoir – one of the best restaurants in Gastown, located at 217 Carrall Street in a 19th century brick building that housed Vancouver’s first jail.
- Pidgin – a popular, trendy and casual restaurant offering Pan Asian cuisine at 350 Carrall Street.
- The Old Spaghetti Factory – it isn’t a fancy restaurant by any means, but has okay and quite reasonably priced pasta, plus lots of free bread. It’s also a good place if taking the kids.
- Top of Vancouver – located just one floor away from the Vancouver Lookout observation deck, it has the best 360 degree views of the city from its revolving restaurant.
- Wildebeest – at 120 West Hastings Street, Wildebeest is a casual restaurant offering a somewhat out of the ordinary “whole-animal cookery” style of menu.
Gastown Pubs and Bars
- The Blarney Stone – a fairly good pub with a great layout at 216 Carrall Street that becomes party central at St. Patrick’s time.
- The Irish Heather – at 210 Carrall Street it’s open daily from 11:30 am. It’s one of the best Gastown pubs, and a gastropub at that, which means slightly higher-end beer, food and prices.
- Steamworks – a popular pub at the edge of Gastown just a 1-minute walk from Waterfront Station.
Gastown Grand Prix
In July on one day the streets of Gastown turn into a giant bike race course that’s free for spectators. The Gastown Grand Prix is an exciting time to visit this historic district in Vancouver, so long as you don’t mind the crowds.
Near the corner of Water Street and Richards is a parkade. You probably aren’t supposed to do this if you aren’t parking there, but if you go up two or three floors you can get an excellent view of the race below, and get above the crowds.
TIP: Because it is close to Vancouver’s Eastside and a touristy area, don’t be surprised to find more panhandlers (i.e., beggars) in the area than other parts of Vancouver. They might come up to you and ask for money, but they are harmless. It is recommended that you don’t give money directly though – instead, to help, donate something later to a worthwhile charitable cause (either in Vancouver or your own community). The Salvation Army and United Way, for example, are great organizations that address poverty and social issues.