Vancouver is full of spectacular attractions such as the Vancouver Art Gallery and Stanley Park. But if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, then the city has lots of hidden gems and other wonderful things to do in its bustling streets.
Tourism Vancouver, says, “Vancouver effortlessly combines the excitement and energy of a modern city with the invigorating appeal of the great outdoors. From spring’s abundance of cherry blossoms and summer’s sparkling waterfront days, through to the city’s fall (autumn) cultural festivals and the snowy winter wonderland on the mountain peaks, Vancouver offers its visitors year-round adventures in this laidback urban metropolis right on the edge of a spectacular natural landscape. Explore diverse neighbourhoods, decadent dining, outdoor pursuits and multicultural attractions – in Vancouver, you won’t have to choose between city and nature.”
So if you’ve booked your flights to Vancouver or are intending to visit this iconic city, then become an honorary Vancouverite and find those little-known spots. Here we’ve listed some of the lesser-known Vancouver gems we dug up (they may not be entirely secret otherwise we wouldn’t have found them!) for you to enjoy on your next trip.
Visit Gassy Jack
Located in Maple Tree Square in the historic Gastown district is Gassy Jack, a bronze statue of John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton perched on top of a whiskey barrel. The statue was erected in 1970 and marks the arrival of Deighton in 1867, who built a pub that triggered the development of Vancouver.
A spokesperson from Gastown, says, “The statue is indeed a draw to tourists. Perhaps not so much for its unique qualities but rather the place in which it sits; the site marks a historic and important landmark in the history of Gastown and the birth of our city, Vancouver.
“Gassy” Jack Deighton was a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first pub, The Globe Saloon. As the story goes, John Deighton arrived on the south shore of Burrard Inlet in a dugout canoe with a barrel of whisky. Forever the entrepreneur, Mr Deighton saw an untapped market, comprised of workers from the nearby Stamp’s Mill. Within a day, he had set up a crude temporary bar and began selling plonk to the thirsty lads.
“Gassy Jack set up his first formal saloon in the area (with walls and a roof) known as The Deighton House, located in Maple Tree Square, which soon became a popular meeting place for those who laboured nearby. The Deighton House was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886 and was replaced by the Byrnes Block, which was built just after the fire in 1886-87.
“The Byrnes Block embodies the sudden influx of investment capital that flowed into Gastown based on the certainty of growth promised by the arrival of the transcontinental railway. Like the statue of Old Gassy Jack, that great wild spirit of entrepreneurship and independent thinking still stands tall in the Gastown of today. The Neighbourhood is unlike anywhere else in Vancouver. This is the birthplace of the city where artists, designers, creatives and innovative thinkers flock in droves, daring to dream that anything is possible.”
Walk the Grouse Grind
The Grouse Grind referred to as Mother Nature’s Stairmaster is a steep trail up the face of Grouse Mountain and is 2.9 kilometres in length.
Lots of people make the challenging ascent each year and on average it takes up to an hour and a half to complete the hike, but for novice hikers, two hours is recommended.
Julia Grant, the communications manager for Grouse Mountain, recommends visitors to make an effort to hike the extraordinary trail.
“The trail has become part of the fabric of Vancouver with one hundred and fifty thousand hikers a year taking on the challenge of the rugged terrain and steep climb, up an approximate 56 per cent slope (30°), which starts at the Valley Station of Grouse Mountain and finishes at the Peak’s plateau.
“Once at the top, hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains and can celebrate with a bite to eat and a nice cold beverage on the patio of Grouse Mountain’s Peak Chalet.”
Explore the Jimi Hendrix Shrine
The legendary Jimi Hendrix Shrine in Vancouver is one of the city’s most fascinating museums and is a must-visit for anyone who loves music.
Why is there a shrine to the American musician, we hear you ask? Jimi’s gran lived in Vancouver and the shrine was formerly the location of his grandmother’s restaurant, Vie’s Chicken and Steakhouse. Jimi spent many summers with his gran and was often found washing dishes at her restaurant.
Vincent Fodera, the owner and creator of the shrine, recommends visitors come and visit his attraction to get an insight into the musical legend and the struggle of segregation that black performers endured.
“The shrine has all the history of black performers in the ‘40s coming and dining here at the time of segregation.”
The venue was a popular destination for black performers with the likes of Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong eating at Vie’s restaurant after their gigs.
The Jimi Hendrix Shrine’s admission is a donation and you’ll find old photos and lots of memorabilia of Jimi Hendrix and his family.
Visit the Vancouver Chinese Garden
Opened to the public in 1986, Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the first full-scale classical Chinese garden built outside of China. It is named one of the top under-the-radar city gardens by National Geographic.
Debbie Cheung, the marketing and communications manager at Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, explains why you should come and visit the fascinating gardens.
“Visitors can take a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver with a complimentary tour that explains the unique elements of classical Chinese gardens.
“Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is not a botanical garden. The trees and plants were selected based on symbolic values, which complement the architecture, pond and rockery.”
The garden’s architecture of the pavilions, covered walkways, terraces and viewing platforms are symbolic of Ming Dynasty classical design and have been modelled on the private gardens in the city of Suzhou in China.
From 1 October-30 April, it costs adults $12 CAD to enter the gardens, while from 1 May-30 September it costs adults $14 CAD.
Test your navigational skills at VanDusen Garden’s Elizabethan Hedge Maze
The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a 55-acre oasis in the heart of Vancouver where you can see more than 7,500 plant species from all over the world.
One of the main attractions at the gardens is the Elizabethan Hedge Maze, and trying to navigate it is certainly a wonderful activity to try whilst in the city.
Talking about the maze, Emily Schultz (the marketing coordinator for VanDusen Botanical Garden) says,
“The Elizabethan hedge maze at VanDusen Botanical Garden is one of only six in North America. Hedge mazes have captivated and challenged people across many centuries and cultures and were already known in ancient Egypt, the Minoan civilization and the Stone Age in Northern Europe. The first mazes were unicursal, in which people entered and followed a prescribed path to the exit. In the Renaissance, when mazes became popular in gardens, designers began to create more challenging multicursal mazes with ‘many paths.’
“VanDusen’s maze, which was opened in June of 1982, is multicursal, is 18 meters in diameter, and is constructed of approximately 2500 pyramidal cedars. The monkey puzzle trees surrounding the maze were a deliberate plantation to emphasize the puzzle-like quality in walking the maze.”
If you’re at the botanical garden you should also check out the multi-award-winning Visitor Centre, named Most Sustainable Building of the Year in 2014 and certified Platinum in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
See the colours of the Bloedel Conservatory
No matter what time of the year it is, you can see the colours and smell the scents of the tropics all-year round in Vancouver by heading to the Bloedel Conservatory.
Located atop Vancouver’s highest point in Queen Elizabeth Park, the conservatory is certainly eye-catching. Once inside you will see over 200 free-flying exotic birds, 500 exotic plants and flowers flourishing in its temperature-controlled environment.
There are three different climate zones that you can explore; a tropical rainforest, a subtropical rainforest and a desert. There is also a healing garden that engages the senses of sight, touch, taste and smell.
Go paddleboarding in Deep Cove
The odd-looking but thoroughly delightful sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has enjoyed a boom across the globe in recent years. As Vancouver boasts an incredible coastline it should come as no surprise that it has become a popular pastime amongst Vancouverites.
Deep Cove on the North Shore is regarded as one of the best places to go SUP as it boasts calm waters and beautiful scenery. SUP is both relaxing and invigorating as you watch the tranquil views slide by.
You can not only SUP but can kayak or canoe around this stunning 25km fjord to take in the majestic mountains that surround it or the secluded beaches and islands.
If you’re lucky you can also catch a glimpse of eagles, seals and other wildlife. From April to October, there are lessons and tours available to join.
You can rent your Stand Up Paddleboards, sea kayaks or surf skis from Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak Centre, while Lotus Land Tours offer a full experience complete with hotel pick-up, guided kayaking tour and delicious salmon beach barbecue.
Tourism Vancouver, adds, “Indian Arm, a 30-kilometre fjord that branches north from Burrard Inlet, is a paddle sports haven – easy enough for beginners, but spectacular enough to enthral experienced paddlers.
“The other outdoor activity that Deep Cove is known for is hiking. Trails run along Indian Arm and range from easy beach-side paths through to serious hikes. The popular Baden-Powell hiking trail, one of the more challenging, offers the reward of a spectacular viewpoint at Quarry Rock.”
Take a day trip to Bowen Island
The views around Vancouver are so stunning that you can only fully do them justice from the air. Tie in a Harbour Air tour with your Canadian holiday and visit Bowen Island.
Tourism Vancouver highly recommends taking a day trip to the island as the idyllic destination, which is in the middle of Howe Sound, is just a short flight or ferry ride away.
“The quiet, forested island of 52sq km/20sq mi lives up to its slogan of ‘Within Reach. Beyond Comparison.’ Water lovers enjoy kayaking around Bowen Island’s sheltered bays, swimming at its sandy beaches and mooring their boats at local marinas. And from mighty Mount Gardner to the shores of Killarney Lake, hiking and mountain biking offer both hilly challenges and pure relaxation.”
You can catch a flight with Harbour Air Seaplanes from Coal Harbour for a 5-hour Fly ‘n Dine tour and this includes a visit to Doc Morgan’s restaurant and some spectacular sea views.
Head to the independent shops on Commercial Drive
Commercial Drive is outside the main tourist areas of the city and is full of great independent stores, coffee shops and bakeries.
Tourism Vancouver, adds, “There’s nothing contrived about eclectic Commercial Drive, where decades of European immigrants, and more recently those from South America, have created a United Nations of restaurants, coffee bars and exotic delis. This is the best spot in town to watch international soccer games among the city’s most passionate fans, the city’s peace-loving hippie community playing the bongos in Grandview Park, and a parade of espresso-sipping patio dwellers on languid summer afternoons. Access from downtown is a quick and easy 10-minute SkyTrain ride.”
If you want to visit this iconic Canadian city, you should take a look at our holidays to Vancouver.