"Water Street in Gastown" Top 5 Page for this destination Gastown & the Steam Clock Tip by Carmanah
Gastown & the Steam Clock, Vancouver: 15 reviews and 13 photos
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.
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