Vancouver Tourist Trap Tips by Carmanah Top 5 Page for this destination
Vancouver Tourist Traps: 65 reviews and 47 photos
Robson Street is often promoted as Vancouver's Rodeo Drive in tourism literature to make it sound more affluent and lavish than it really is. When it comes down to it, Robson's famed shopping only truly exists for 5 out of its 19 blocks.
I wouldn't say Robson should be avoided or that it's really a tourist trap, but just take it for what it is. Robson Street can be generic and underwhelming to those that already live in large cities as it's essentially a clone of the shops you find in regular North American malls. While it's peppered with a few Canadian retail chains and even fewer independent Vancouver shops, it's mostly the flagship location of the same old global retail franchises.
Unique Suggestions: Here's my top 10 things to do on Robson that doesn't really involve shopping:
1. Buy a hotdog from a street vendor and eat it on the Vancouver Art Gallery steps. This makes for great people watching.
2. Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery, or just browse through their gift shop or eat at their cafe. The shop has great art books and the cafe is top quality but reasonably priced - plus they serve wine!
3. Visit the Roman Coliseum-inspired Vancouver Public Library at Robson & Homer. Be sure to walk inside!
4. Browse through books at Chapters or music at HMV, both at Robson & Howe.
5. Walk to the eastern end of Robson to BC Place and visit the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
6. Have a gourmet martini at Zin Lounge in the Pacific Palisades Hotel on Robson & Jervis.
7. Do what the locals do and eat at Guu with Garlic or Hapa Izakaya for a tasty Japanese culinary experience.
8. At Robson & Broughton, go 2 blocks south to Barclay and see what Vancouver life was like in 1893. The entire block is home to some beautifully restored Victorian houses, including the Roedde House Museum.
9. Embrace the cliché and have a coffee at Starbucks at either of the two locations on Robson & Thurlow.
10. Walk to the western end of Robson and enter Stanley Park!
Fun Alternatives: If you want to go shopping around downtown Vancouver and want somewhere less touristy, less big-name chains, and more of a local Vancouver flavour, there are several options:
Yaletown in the south-west corner of downtown around Helmcken and Hamilton is an unscale yuppy shopping district full of heritage lofts, independent designer boutiques, snazzy lounges, and a variety of different restaurants.
Kitsilano (aka: Kits) is a popular beachside neighbourhood just south-west of downtown. All along W 4th (west of Burrard Street) is a collection of skate/snowboard shops, independent fashion boutiques, independent music shops, great restaurants and cafes, and a real local atmosphere. Be sure to spend time at the beach, or you're missing the point here.
South Granville, which is Granville Street from the bridge south to W 16th Ave is home to an upscale shopping area with clothing shops, home decor stores, and many, many private art galleries.
Main Street (aka: South Main/Mount Pleasant) between E 7th Ave and E 30th is an up and coming neighbourhood known for its independent clothing boutiques (run by their in house designers), vintage clothing shops, funky restaurants, cafes, and DIY arts scene. There are no franchises here. All the little indie rocker hipsters adore Main Street, and I do too.
Commercial Drive (between Broadway and Venables) is Vancouver's old "Little Italy" but in recent decades has become the bohemian culture pot of Vancouver. Commercial Drive is famous for its organic cafes, European grocers, and Italian espresso bars, but there a few unique retail shops to explore. Commercial Drive has a true community spirit, and it's the antithesis to Robson Street.
Gastown is Vancouver's historic district as it was here where the city was first built out of the wilderness in the 1880's and 1890's. Water Street was one of the first streets to be built in Vancouver, and it runs parallel to the railroad tracks which sit on the industrial waterfront. Unlike practically everywhere else in downtown Vancouver, Water Street doesn't actually give you waterfront access. Even if it did, you'd be overlooking cargo containers along the port. This is in comparison to other waterfronts in downtown Vancouver which look over sandy beaches or the seawall promenade.
So why have I targeted Water Street in particular? Water Street is the main commercial heart of Gastown. Locals don't really come here to hang out - it's almost entirely tourists. It's about 4 blocks that you can walk from one end to the other in the span of about 10 minutes. While a lot of the buildings on Water Street are considered historic (relatively speaking), the shops that reside inside of them are often tacky-looking souvenir shops. That's fine if you're looking for this kind of thing, but a bit underwhelming if you're looking for a shopping/restaurant destination. Most of the businesses only cater to tourists, and most of them shut their doors by 6pm. After 6pm, Gastown has a real seedy/scuzzy vibe and it's best not to go to Gastown just to leisurely stroll around as you'll see very little. If you have to go to Gastown in the evening, you should have a reason to (a concert, a club, a restaurant, a pub). Not a good place to go exploring in the evening unless you are particularly interested the seedy underbelly of Vancouver.
Unique Suggestions: In my experience, Water Street is worth a half hour look. Some newer shops have opened up recently that don't cater exclusively to tourists which ironically may be of more interest to tourists.
The Steamclock which exists as the beacon of all tourist traps is located on Water Street across from the Starbucks. This is a clock built in the 1970's to cover up a steam vent. It actually no longer runs on steam, so it's a bit of a hoax, and yet, perhaps the most photographed object in Vancouver by tourists. I just mention it because it's not worth going out of your way to see, but if you're here, you'll pass by it regardless.
There are actually more shops along the side streets that don't necessarily cater to tourists. There are some really neat vintage clothing stores and one-of-a-kind boutiques along W Cordova between Cambie and Richards. And there are some favourite local haunts tucked away on and around Water Street such as Chill Winston, Kitanoya Guu with Otokomae, Jules Bistro, Salt, the Irish Heather, and the Shebeen Whiskey House. It's just that there are some very obvious tourist traps like the Old Spaghetti Factory which never fail to reel tourists in. Great for 5 year olds, but very plain, uninspiring places especially when there are hundreds of more interesting options in Vancouver.
Fun Alternatives: Vancouver is not not a historic destination globally speaking as the buildings are rarely older than 100 years old. There is only one other historic neighbourhood in downtown (aside from Chinatown), and that's Yaletown.
Yaletown is a nice alternative to Gastown - it's located about 5-6 blocks south of Gastown along Mainland Street and Hamilton Street, south of Nelson Street. It also has some nice waterfront along the foot of Davie Street and all along False Creek. There aren't any touristy shops, but lots of clothing boutiques, unique gift shops, trendy and stylish lounges, and tons of restaurants of all kinds. It lacks the seedy/tackiness that exists in Gastown, plus there are far more restaurant choices. The restaurants generally stay open until late at night and the shops stay open until 7pm (and sometimes later) on average.
If you're looking for somewhere to go after dinner for an evening stroll, I would steer away from Water Street and head towards Robson Street (between Granville and Denman), Denman Street, or Davie Street. Or, you can simply just walk down to English Bay and enjoy the sunset from the beach. These are far nicer places to visit by evening because the shops stay open late, there are tons of people out enjoying themselves, and it completely lacks the tacky touristy theme that Water Street is famous for.
Grouse Mountain's skyride
While Grouse Mountain is a tourist trap, it's not entirely a lost cause. To be honest, I actually quite like Grouse Mountain and would recommend it to first-time visitors to Vancouver. For one thing, it's very accessible to those without a car. So for this reason alone, I'd definitely recommend it. However, if you do have a car, then you actually have more choice. With a car, you can actually drive up to the top of Cypress Mountain or Seymour Mountain... and you can do so for free! So in this situation, Grouse Mountain would be the more tourist-trappy option, and would certainly be the most expensive...
... but that's why I'm writing this. Grouse Mountain may or may not be a tourist trap depending on your situation.
Unique Suggestions: 1. Only go to Grouse Mountain on a clear day. When it's raining or when it's cloudy, you're not going to be able to see anything from the top of the mountain. As long as you can see the top of Grouse Mountain from below, then there will be a lovely view waiting for you at the top.
2. Get your tickets ahead of time at the downtown Vancouver tourist info centre at 200 Burrard Street. They sell tickets at a discount rate. While the tickets regularly cost $31.75 at the gates, at the tourist info centre they will sell them for you at $27.97, which is almost a $4-per-ticket savings. There are also student, senior and children's rates.
3. Go early in the day so that you can watch the lumberjack show, the birds in motion show, the ranger talks, the guided walking tour, and the documentary films at the theatre in the sky. Also, be sure to ride the "Screaming Eagle" chairlift ride. This is the chairlift that they use during the ski season, but in the summer they open it up for a 20 minute scenic ride. This is actually a longer (and more scenic) ride than the initial Skyride up to Grouse. The best part about it? It's included with admission!
4. Walk up Grouse Mountain via the "Grouse Grind". Don't make any mistake about it though - it's really a grind. It's a vertical staircase with little views and no real stopping areas. Locals will climb the Grouse Grind as a fitness test. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on your shape. Don't mistake this as a leisurely hike. It's a great workout, but a lousy hike. For example, I wouldn't dream of making my mother climb the Grouse Grind, but someone who runs 10km daily, it would be a nice change to their daily routine. The Grouse Grind is the only real way to get to the top of Grouse for free. It then only costs $5 to take the Skyride down.
Fun Alternatives: If you have a car, then you can bypass Grouse Mountain. Instead, drive up either Cypress Mountain (which is directly west of Grouse), or drive up Mount Seymour (which is directly east of Grouse). These mountains are free to drive up and have a lot of hiking trails at their peaks. There are no touristy attractions at Cypress or Seymour (not including the parking lot, the ski lift equipment and the cafeteria)... simply locals out to go hiking in the wilderness and to enjoy the views of the city below.
The Steamclock in Gastown
Gastown's Steamclock is probably the most photographed landmark in all of Vancouver.
However, don't think that the Steamclock is any more culturally significant to Vancouver that it really is. While every tourist brochure tells you that this is the world's first steam clock, any local could tell you the truth about it...
... it no longer runs on steam!!!
Also, the design of the Steamclock was created to look much older than it actually is. It's not a remnant of Gastown's historic past, but a reminder of how the city resurrected the neighbourhood to attract tourism. The Steamclock was built in the 1970's to cover a steam vent. It's really not the antique that tourists seem to think it is.
Eventually they discovered that the clock wasn't reliable running on steam, so they installed an electric motor to run the clock. This is how it still remains today. While the steam still emits from the pipes in the clock, it's merely for show.
Unique Suggestions: If you're going to stand with the masses to watch the Steamclock, you might as well catch it at the quarter hour when the clock toots its pipes. Normally the tune sounds off... off as in, out of tune. Regardless, it's definitely a unique sound to Gastown which is unforgettable.
Once you have seen the Steamclock, don't run away just yet. Try to explore more to Gastown than just Water Street and the souvenir shops. There are some great clothing boutiques, restaurants and book shops in the area. I'm particularly thinking of Richards, Cordova, Alexander and Cambie. Don't spend all your time with the hoards of tourists. Explore off of Water Street and you'll find the real historic Gastown neighbourhood that the locals frequent.
While new visitors to Vancouver usually enjoy Capilano, as a local, I feel it's the epitome of a tourist trap.
Now, I have received e-mails from people defending Capilano, saying that I'm too hard, that I don't know what I'm talking about... that it's a wonderful attraction for friends and family, and that it has the largest giftshop that specializes in western native art, and that there are even mascots that walk around the park which are a big hit with kids, etc.
But to me, I think these little extras in a park is what makes it very touristy. These things are not aimed at the locals, but moreso for tourists. And while mascots might be fun for children, if you are seriously interested in crossing a suspension bridge, and if you are not interested in having gift shops, restaurants and mascots in the park, and masses of tourists... wouldn't you like to be warned about this ahead of time?
This is why I call the Capilano Suspension Bridge a tourist trap. After all, there are two suspension bridges in Vancouver - Capilano has the mascots, the gift shops, the hordes of tourists, the restaurants, and the hefty park entrance fee. ($20+? Sheesh!)
Unique Suggestions: If you must go to Capilano, at least take a roll of pictures because, well, it is kind of pretty and scenic. But it is touristy. Some people don't mind. It's perfect and ideal for families, but if you're a backpacker and you don't want a Disney-fied experience... leave this place alone. Tour buses stop off at Capilano daily. Expect crowds.
Fun Alternatives: ...Tourism Vancouver has conveniently forgotten to mention that only a 10 minute drive east down Hwy 1 from Capilano Suspension Bridge is the majestic Lynn Canyon Provincial Park - home to a FREE (that's right, it costs NO money!) Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge... with NO cheesy tourist trap gift shops, totem poles and restaurants on the premise. In fact, Lynn Canyon is huge - you can cross their suspension bridge that swings over Lynn Canyon - while it's not as long as Capilano's bridge, it's much higher! Once you cross the bridge, you're at the beginning of a huge wilderness park in the mountains. You have dozens of trails to explore... some that lead you to lakes, others to waterfalls, and others to the canyon floor, where you can dip your feet into the aquamarine tidal pools.
So while Capilano may be fun, it's overcommercialized like Disneyland, it's purely a tourist destination, they overcharge you. Lynn Canyon, on the other end, is free, it has a larger park to explore... it's more spectacular in terms of its natural setting, and you get a fraction of the tourists. Most likely, you'll be surrounded with locals at Lynn Canyon. This cannot be said for Capilano. Sorry Capilano, but you're a Tourist Trap, with a capital T!
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