Gastown: The Heartbeat of Vancouver’s Vibrant History and Culture

If you’re planning a trip to Vancouver, there’s one neighborhood that you absolutely must not miss: Gastown. Nestled in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Gastown is a enticingly charming blend of old-world allure and modern sophistication, a place where the city’s past and present dance together in a captivating rhythm.

The history of Gastown

Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, with a history that dates back to 1867. It was named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain, and barkeep who opened the area’s first saloon. As it so happens around good pubs anywhere in the world, the neighborhood quickly grew around this social hub, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now, when you stroll down the cobblestone streets of Gastown, you’ll see Victorian buildings that have stood the test of time. They’re now home to trendy boutiques, art galleries, and some of the best restaurants and bars in VanCity. You can feel the history in the air, and you’ll even find plaques telling the tales of these buildings and their past lives.

Gassy Jack statue

What is there to do in Gastown

You can’t come to Gastown and not see the steam clock (it’s like coming to Paris and ignoring the Eifel tower, really). Built by horologist (yes, it is a word!) Raymond Saunders in 1977, it’s one of the few steam-powered clocks left in the world – others are in Whistler (Canada), Otaru (Japan), Indianopolis (US), Katoomba (Australia), or Sheffield (UK). Every quarter hour, it puts on a steam whistle show that’s a real crowd-pleaser.

The clock stands on the corner of Cambie and Water Street (coordinates are 49.28456950797014, -123.10889304981755), a beacon of brass and steam amidst the cobblestone streets and Victorian architecture of Gastown.

The design of the clock is a nod to the Victorian era, a time when steam power was the driving force behind industry and innovation. Its intricate brass workings are encased in a beautiful five-meter-tall structure made of glass and ornate ironwork, allowing you to marvel at the complex mechanisms that keep the clock ticking. The clock’s vintage aesthetic fits really nicely with the historic charm of Gastown, making it a beloved fixture of the neighbourhood for us locals, as is for tourists.

Every quarter hour, the clock puts on a “show”, releasing a series of steam whistles that echo through the streets of Gastown. The sound is reminiscent of the steamboats that once frequented Vancouver’s harbour, adding a touch of nostalgia to the bustling modern cityscape.

The steam clock is more than just a way to tell time; it’s a sensory experience. The sight of the steam puffing out from the clock, the sound of the whistles, the gentle warmth of the steam; all these elements come together to create a moment of wonder and delight. Whether you’re a history buff, a lover of unique timepieces, or just a curious tourist, the steam clock offers a memorable experience that engages the senses and sparks the imagination. I recommend coming early in the morning, before the crowds arrive, it’s just a lot nicer to daydream about the old days without the hustle and bustle later in the day.

Gastown steam clock


If you’re into art, you’re in for a treat. Gastown is chock-full of galleries showcasing everything from Indigenous art to modern masterpieces. The Inuit Gallery of Vancouver is a personal favourite of mine, with an incredible collection of Inuit and Northwest Coast art.

Where to Eat, Drink, and Have Good Times

Gastown is a foodie’s dream come true. We’ve got everything from gourmet dining to comfort food. For a taste of local cuisine, I always recommend the Gringo Gastown – a no frills Mexican. If you’re craving Italian, Di Beppe serves up some wickedly good carbonara pasta. If you are after something a bit more fancy, then I recommend L’Abattoir.

When it comes to nightlife, Gastown has got it all: cozy pubs, swanky cocktail bars, and buzzing nightclubs. The Alibi Room is a local haunt, known for its rotating selection of craft beers and tasty small plates.

Getting to Gastown and Getting Around

Getting to Gastown is a breeze. Hop on the SkyTrain and get off at Waterfront Station, or catch one of the many buses that serve the area. If you’re driving, there’s plenty of public parking around. Once you’re here, the best way to explore Gastown is on foot. It’s a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood, and there’s always something cool to see around the corner.

Where is free parking in Gastown? There are parking garages and onstreet meters but not much in terms of free parking in Gastown. If you don’t mind walking a bit, you can leave your car by the Stanley Park (it’s about a mile).

Cheap parking in Gastown? – I recommend using the Public Pay Parking on W. Cordova St & Granville St. It is not free but also not super-expensive.

Waterfront station

What’s Nearby

Gastown’s central location makes it a great starting point for exploring other parts of Vancouver. You’re just a stone’s throw away from the bustling shopping district of Robson Street, the scenic Stanley Park, and the vibrant Chinatown.

Experience the Culture

Gastown isn’t just a place to visit; it’s a place to experience. From the First Nations carvings that adorn many of the buildings to the local artisans selling their crafts in the shops, Gastown is a celebration of Vancouver’s diverse cultural heritage.

Gastown at night

When the sun sets, Gastown truly comes alive. The neighborhood is renowned for its vibrant nightlife, with a variety of pubs, bars, and restaurants that cater to all tastes. If you’re a fan of craft beers, you’ll want to check out the Alibi Room, which boasts a rotating selection of local and international brews. For those who prefer cocktails, The Diamond is a must-visit. This stylish bar offers a range of creative cocktails, along with stunning views of the neighborhood.

Gastown’s dining scene is just as diverse as its drinking scene. From upscale establishments like L’Abattoir to cozy eateries like Gringo, there’s something for every palate. Many of these restaurants also offer late-night menus, perfect for a post-drink snack.

But Gastown’s nightlife isn’t just about food and drink. The neighborhood is also home to several live music venues, where you can catch performances by local and touring bands. And let’s not forget the numerous art galleries that often host evening exhibitions and events.

Shopping in Gastown

Shopping in Gastown is an experience like no other. The neighborhood is a treasure trove of unique boutiques, designer shops, and local artisan stores. As you wander down the cobblestone streets, you’ll find everything from high-end fashion to vintage clothing, from home decor to handcrafted jewelry. Stores like Roden Gray offer a curated selection of designer pieces, while Nouvelle Nouvelle is the place to go for contemporary and streetwear styles. If you’re on the hunt for unique home goods, check out Parliament Interiors for a mix of modern and vintage-inspired pieces. For those interested in Indigenous art and crafts, Hill’s Native Art is a must-visit.

Did you know?

  • The Great Vancouver Fire: Did you know that almost the entire city of Vancouver, including Gastown, was destroyed in the Great Vancouver Fire in 1886? But the city quickly rebuilt, and many of the buildings you see in Gastown today date back to the period just after the fire.
  • Gassy Jack Statue: The statue of Gassy Jack, the man who Gastown is named after, is a popular photo spot for tourists. But did you know that the statue is not located where his original saloon was? The saloon was actually a block away from the statue’s current location.
  • Gastown’s Name: Gastown was not always known as Gastown. It was originally called Granville, but locals started calling it Gastown as a nickname because of Gassy Jack’s talkative nature. The name stuck and eventually became the official name of the neighborhood.
  • The Gastown Riot: In 1971, Gastown was the site of a major riot between police and protestors advocating for the legalization of marijuana. This event, known as “The Gastown Riot” or “The Battle of Maple Tree Square,” is a significant part of Vancouver’s history.
  • Blood Alley: One of Gastown’s streets, Blood Alley, has a rather gruesome name, but it’s not for the reason you might think. Despite rumors of it being the site of numerous butcher shops or even public executions, it’s actually believed to be named for the blood-red bricks that line the alley.

Whether you’re a history buff, a foodie, an art lover, or just a curious traveler, Gastown has something for you. See you there, eh!

Gastown Map

Gastown Map - source: Wikimedia commons


What is Gastown known for?

Gastown is known for its historic charm, cobblestone streets, unique boutiques, art galleries, and a vibrant food and drink scene. It’s also home to the famous Gastown Steam Clock.

What is the history of Gastown?

Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, dating back to 1867. It was named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain, and barkeep who opened the area’s first saloon.

Who was “Gassy” Jack Deighton?

“Gassy” Jack Deighton was a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain, and barkeep who opened the first saloon in Gastown. He was known for his talkative nature, which earned him the nickname “Gassy.”

What can I see and do in Gastown?

In Gastown, you can explore art galleries, shop at unique boutiques, dine at trendy restaurants, and visit the iconic Gastown Steam Clock. The neighborhood is also great for simply strolling around and soaking in its historic charm.

What are the operating hours of the shops in Gastown?

The operating hours can vary, but most shops in Gastown open around 10 or 11 am and close around 6 or 7 pm. Some shops may have extended hours on certain days.

Are there any guided tours available in Gastown?

Yes, there are several companies that offer guided tours of Gastown. These tours can provide a deeper insight into the history and culture of the neighborhood. Just make sure you don’t overpay as they range in quality.

What is the best way to get to Gastown?

Gastown is easily accessible by public transit. The SkyTrain’s Waterfront Station is just a short walk away, and numerous bus lines serve the area. If you’re driving, there are several public parking lots nearby.

Where can I park in Gastown?

There are several public parking lots and garages in and around Gastown. Street parking is also available, but be sure to check the parking signs for any restrictions.

Is Gastown worth visiting

Yes, yes, and yes.

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About the author
Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, James shares his extensive knowledge, captivating stories, and expert tips with our community. James is dedicated to helping others experience the magic of Canada, whether they're planning a weekend getaway or a cross-country adventure.