14 Unique & Fun Things to do in Gastown

From its iconic Steam Clock and cobblestoned photo opps to its wide array of restaurants, bars, and boutiques, there is truly no shortage of fun things to do in Gastown, one of the most popular neighborhoods in Vancouver.

This scenic slice of the Downtown core has long been one of the most visited areas of the city… and for good reason! 

Beyond aesthetic beauty, this part of town is crammed with excellent places to eat and shop, all in one compact and strollable package.

And while some locals will dismiss Gastown as a tourist trap, there’s actually a great deal of wonderful spots to be enjoyed beyond the tacky souvenir shops… and in this post, we’ll be sharing them with you!

Below, you’ll find a roundup of our favourite things to do in Gastown. Let us know in the comments if we’ve missed any of your favourites! 

Admire the famous Gastown Steam Clock

We’ll start with one of the most shamelessly touristy things to do in Gastown: a visit to the iconic Gastown Steam Clock.

Despite its Victorian-inspired look, this clock (probably THE most popular tourist attraction in the city) has only been around since the 1970s, when it was designed by horologist Raymond Saunders to cover a steam grate.

Beautiful day or night, it’s one of few remaining steam-engine powered clocks in the world… with a fun little steam puff display at the start of every hour.

Truth be told, we personally find this clock to be a bit overhyped since there are SO many other cool things to do in Vancouver, but stopping by is free, and a nice introduction to all that Gastown has to offer.

Fun Fact: Saunders is also responsible for the iconic clocks in Mount Pleasant and Kerrisdale.

Sample beers from the city’s first steam brewery

Ideally located right by Waterfront station, Steamworks is a great spot for pre/post Gastown beers, with a delicious menu of both food and drink, and nice harbour views if you manage to snag one of the coveted windowside tables.

Founded in 1995, this microbrewery got its name when building architects realized they had access to the same underground steam pipe that heated many buildings in the neighbourhood and helped power even the famous Gastown Steam Clock. Using this pipe to heat their brew kettle, Steamworks was born.

… and while they moved their production facilities over to Burnaby about a decade ago, Steamworks firmly remains a Gastown institution, with its busy Water St location as much part of the neighbourhood as the Steam Clock itself.

Feeling adventurous? Why not go for their 10 Tap Taster Paddle, which (as hinted in the name) contains a taster of ten different beers?

Do some independent shopping

If there’s one thing we love about Gastown, it’s the density of cute, independent boutiques.

In contrast to Robson St, where every 2nd shop is a massive chain, the majority of Gastown’s shops are small and independently owned, making browsing such a joy.

There are too many great shops to list, so we’d recommend just walking around and seeing what catches your eye but The Nooks is a really special shop that carries goodies from local artisans and designers. It’s one of our go to spots for gift shopping, and is perfect if your goal is to support local.

You can browse a full Gastown store directory here.

Enjoy a good happy hour

We love a good Happy Hour, and Gastown is home to some of the best in the city.

Discounted drinks and bites, all before the sun goes down? Count us in.

We’ve previously written all about the Best Happy Hours in Downtown Vancouver, but if you’re looking for Gastown picks specifically, here are a few popular ones:

Go for brunch

There are some things in Vancouver that are simply irreplaceable institutions. We’ve already discussed craft beer and happy hour, so allow us to now turn our sights to the almighty brunch.

When the weekend comes along, hordes of Vancouverites can be spotted darting out to their go-to purveyor of eggs benny and Caesars… and oftentimes, the destination is Gastown, baby.

Our article about best brunch places in Downtown Vancouver has a disproportionate amount of Gastown representation, and for good reason.

Tons of the city’s best brunch places can be found here, including…

Sip a fantastic cup of coffee

Vancouverites take their coffee seriously, so it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of great places to caffeinate for the day.

Luckily, many of them are in Gastown!

Here are some popular coffee shops in and around Gastown that you should check out:

Try one of Vancouver’s best known sandwiches

We love simple, straightforward business names, so to say we’re a fan of ”Meat and Bread” is an understatement.

Their signature Porchetta sandwich has long been considered one of the best sandwiches you can get in the city, and we’d have to agree. Juicy pork, perfectly toasted bread… what more could you ask for?

NOTE: While the popularity of Meat & Bread has resulted in multiple franchises popping up around town, just know that this one in Gastown is their OG location.

Do a photography walk

Hands down, Gastown is one of the most photogenic parts of Vancouver. 

So, if you’re looking for something fun and creative to do in Gastown, then be sure to add a photo walk to your list.

Looking for inspiration? Be sure to check out our roundup of the most Instagrammable Places in Gastown.

Stop by Vancouver’s own “Flatiron” building

Dating back to 1908, Hotel Europe is one of Gastown’s most famous buildings.

Known for its distinctive triangular shape (much like the Flatiron Building in New York), this hotel once served as the go-to digs for passengers arriving to the city from the nearby steamship docks.

These days, it is home to residential units managed by the Affordable Housing Society, so you won’t be able to explore the inside or anything, but it’s still a worthwhile sight to add to your list, if even just for a shameless “quintessentially Vancouver” photo.

Go on a food tour

In a foodie city like Vancouver, the simple choice of where to eat can often feel overwhelming.

Well, for those who are as indecisive as we are, one really fun Gastown activity to try is a food tour, which allows you to sample a variety of cuisines from different businesses all at once.

Taste of Vancouver organizes a Gastown food tour that takes you to eight different stops over the course of 2.5 hours, with tastings of food and drink all along the way.

If you’re looking for a unique activity that helps you get an overview of the Gastown food scene quickly and efficiently, then be sure to check this experience out.

Check out the prices and reviews for the Tate of Vancouver Gastown Food Tour here.

Or DIY your own global food tour

Not into the organized tour concept? Then why not DIY your own?

Vancouver is well known around the world for its abundance of global cuisines, but Gastown is maybe one of the neighbourhoods where you notice it the most.

Within two blocks, you can find Mexican, Greek, Ukrainian, Korean, Japanese, Moroccan, and French food… alongside an Irish pub, as is customary all over the world.

So, if you’re looking for a fun foodie activity in Gastown (or perhaps a cute date idea), why not organize your own multi-course meal spread across multiple restaurants and cuisines?

Click here for a directory of Gastown restaurants.

Play at an arcade bar

Arcade bars have been all the rage lately, with tons of fun options popping up all over Metro Vancouver, from Kitsilano to Burnaby.

And one of the latest additions to this list happens to be in Gastown! GRETA YVR is a fun bar with a huge assortment of retro/modern arcade games, as well as great specials on food/drink every day of the week.

Priding themselves on fresh, never frozen menu items sourced from local ingredients, the emphasis on food here is what sets GRETA apart from its competitors… so why not head down, load your bracelet full of gaming credits and come see for yourself?

Visit an independent bookstore

Last but nor least, if you’re looking for a more low key Gastown activity to try, we can definitely recommend visiting some of the neighbourhood’s second hand / independent book stores.

For instance, there’s the Paper Hound Bookshop which is a new, used and rare book store specializing in the “classic, curious, odd, beautiful, visually arresting, scholarly, bizarre, and whimsical.”

There’s also E.C. Rare Books, which specializes in Antiquarian books and ephemera.

And of course, there’s the famous Macleod’s Books, which is known for their strict no photo policy and stacks upon stacks of books that are equal parts whimsical and… fire hazard-y.

All in all, if you love browsing beautiful bookshops, Gastown is definitely your place.

Did we miss any of your favourite things to do in Gastown?

Let us know in the comments so we can add more recommendations to our list!

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