The varied nature of Vancouver is what makes it so appealing — this coastal city is perfectly suited for people who like a little bit of everything, with culinary and cultural offerings that are as diverse as the neighborhoods that give the city its charm.

Surrounded by nature, this is also a gateway to outdoor adventure, with hiking, biking, and paddling easily accessible from the city center. Visitors can shop, ski and swim all in one day, if the weather’s just right. 

To make the most of your visit, here are the best Vancouver neighborhoods to explore. Consider seeing them all, or make a day of diving into the distinct characteristics of what makes each one truly unique.

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Granville Island is a vibrant neighborhood popular with foodies 

Vancouver’s artisan capital, Granville Island, combines fresh, local, award-winning culinary offerings with a carefully-curated collection of galleries, theaters, and shops in a setting that combines industrial heritage with modern-day architecture to create a really vibrant community.

Chefs and foodies flock to The Public Market for fresh fish, produce, breads, and pasta, not to mention the many award-winning restaurants, cafes, and shops inside. For a sweet treat, head to Lee’s Donuts, a mom-and-pop donut shop that lures locals and celebrities in for a bite of its tasty pastries.

The Kids Market is a must-stop shopping spot for families; a two-level mini mall filled with toy shops, play spaces, and interactive games. Families will find live entertainment, art demonstrations, and a variety of fairs and festivals, such as the Vancouver International Children’s Festival, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival for theater enthusiasts, and the TD Canada Trust International Jazz Festival for music lovers.

A person holding an umbrella over their head walks by a mural on a wall
Italian heritage is celebrated in the laid-back Commercial Drive neighborhood © Lawrence Worcester / Lonely Planet

Commercial Drive is packed with bohemian boutiques and hipster vibes

For a true taste of Vancouver’s cultural diversity, head to Commercial Drive (“The Drive”), a laid-back shopping strip packed with eclectic shops and quirky cafes. A wander through the community reveals the heritage and highlights of the city’s “Little Italy” area, with Italian-owned treasures that date back to the early 1940s when the community became the enclave of Italian immigrants who arrived in Vancouver during the post-war migration years.

The Drive also delivers with a diverse range of shops and boutiques, where you can buy anything from beaded curtains and bongo drums, to fresh pastas and cheeses as you stroll along the 22 blocks of lively streets. The strip is bookended by two distinct parks; at the south end you’ll find John Hendry Park, home to a farmers market (April to October) and an open green space that surrounds Trout Lake, which is a popular spot for an impromptu picnic; and on the north end, you’ll find Grandview Park, a destination known for its drum circles, and as the home of many of The Drive’s colorful festivals and events.

A small ferry heads towards a dockyard with high-rise buildings all around
Check out the skyline views and mountain peaks on the way to the North Shore © Orchidpoet / Getty Images

The Shipyards District, Lower Lonsdale, has great waterfront views and local brews

A short ride on the iconic SeaBus across the water from downtown Vancouver brings you to the Shipyards District, in the Lower Lonsdale area of Vancouver’s North Shore. Originally, the Lonsdale Quay Market was the main draw for visitors, but today the neighborhood has developed into so much more, with independent shops and boutiques run by North Shore creatives dotted throughout, and a local brewery scene that encourages day-trippers to stick around.

Located at the water’s edge, the neighborhood provides unobstructed views of Vancouver’s skyline combined with the North Shore mountain peaks; a beautifully balanced backdrop for a stroll outdoors. Spend a full day exploring the revitalized waterfront area, with dozens of delicious restaurants and the must-see contemporary arts exhibits at Polygon Gallery.

For families, check out the seaside Skate Plaza during the winter months—the region’s largest outdoor rink, and in the summer, cool off with a play at the Shipyards Splash Park. With so much to see and do, you might want to extend your time here with an overnight stay at one of the shorefront hotels before heading back to the city.

A Chinese-style pagoda in a peaceful garden
Enjoy the peace in Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden © Raed AlBanna / 500px

Gastown and Chinatown have historic architecture and old-town charm

While technically two separate neighborhoods, you’ll want to visit Gastown and Chinatown as one to fully explore the pioneer-era region of Vancouver. Heritage buildings house hipster coffee shops and independent boutiques along the cobblestone streets of Gastown. Be sure to snap a photo of the Gastown Steam Clock – the area’s most famous landmark – before strolling and shopping your way through towards Chinatown.

Recognized as a National Historic Site and one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, Vancouver’s Chinatown delights with traditional Asian specialty shops and old-school apothecaries found throughout. The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park is a peaceful oasis in the city, and the first of its kind in Canada. Stroll through the covered walkways and picturesque pavilions as you admire the koi fish in the sparkling green pond and the collection of 150-year-old trees and taihu rocks that were imported from China.

Groups of people relax on the beach with a city skyline and mountains in the distance
Kitsilano is Vancouver's most popular beach © Irra / Shutterstock

Kitsilano is the best neighborhood for beaches and parks

Once known as Vancouver’s hippie hangout in the 1960s, the Kitsilano neighborhood has developed into a yuppie enclave, where young urban professionals and modern families savor the laid-back lifestyle of beachfront living.

For outdoor fun, Kits Beach – the most popular beach in Vancouver – offers a stretch of sandy shore where you can swim in the sea, join a game of beach volleyball, or simply sit back and relax at the grassy park. The Kitsilano Pool is also a great spot to cool off. The 137-m-long (449ft) heated saltwater swimming pool features two slides, a cafe, and breathtaking views of the beach from its position on the bay. It temporarily closed in 2022 due to significant storm damage – check in advance for reopening dates.

For some of the city’s best boutiques and street-side patios, head to West 4th Avenue, which is within walking distance of the beach. From high-end sportswear to local designs and vintage fashion, it's a great place to test the limits of your budget. Grab a bite to eat or a bevvy from one of the many ice-cream shops, sushi joints and cafes that line the eight-block stretch of shops, and admire the upscale, tree-lined residential streets along the way.

This article was first published June 2021 and updated June 2022

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