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 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. The district’s main thoroughfare, Water Street, is lined with quaint shops including great tourist souvenir ones and excellent restaurants.
Near the entrance to Gastown is beautiful Waterfront Station, Vancouver’s main transportation 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.
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 are listed below.
- 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 good 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.
- Guilt & Co. – one of our favourite bars that features live music every day downstairs at 1 Alexander Street.
- 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 Walking tours
A great way to explore Vancouver is on a guided tour. And one of the best ways to learn about Gastown, the surrounding area and the city’s history is on a walking tour. Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours is a family-owned business that offers exceptional guided tours in the downtown core of the city, in Vancouver’s West End and in Stanley Park. They also have a couple of tours that go through Gastown.
Both of Forbidden Vancouver’s Gastown-related tours take place in the evening on various days of the week. They are also very informative, reasonably priced and highly recommended. The Lost Souls of Gastown Tour lasts for about 90 minutes and is led by an actor in period costume. The Forbidden Vancouver Tour, meanwhile, lasts for about two hours and includes parts of Chinatown.
To learn more about the tours see our article about Forbidden Vancouver.
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 and away from the crowds.
Gastown is a nice neighbourhood that’s next to one of the city’s poorer neighbourhoods – the Downtown East Side. Below is some advice in case you’re asked for money by a panhandler.
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 to a panhandler 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.