Gastown & the Steam Clock, Vancouver
I think that the Gastown area is nice, but definitely an extremely touristy area. I worked on cruise ships that went there, so it was a really easy walk from the ships in the short time I would have.
Unique Suggestions: I happen to really like the steam clock. Contrary to the other reviews you see here, it actually *does* run on steam. There was a time period that the steam part was broken and it was run off electricity, but the shops in that area pooled their money and had it repaired. It runs directly off the steam that comes out of the steam pipes under the streets and has steam whistles on top to chime the hours.
While it *is* the first clock powered by a steam engine (there was another steam powered clock a long time ago, but it was powered by condensing water from steam which dripped into weights), this doesn't meant it is that old. It was built in the late 70's (the builder built 6 in total which are scattered around the world). The fact that it isn't ancient doesn't detract from its beauty for me. While I really like it, I'm sure there are those who will decide it isn't worth the crowds and kitchy shops.
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.
This area is east of downtown. This area is pure Tourist Trap. Lots of little knick-knack shops. Need keychains, refrigerator magnets, t-shirts? This is your place. Pictured is the steam-powered clock that whistles every 15 minutes. If you're there, take stroll and take in the older buildings. 30 minutes max to see this area.
Unique Suggestions: There are some decent restaurants in the area.
Ok...you don't have to see this, but you probably will...and then you'll write a little story about it here on VT, telling everyone that it really isn't that big a deal.
So here's mine.
It's not as old as it looks. It was built in 1977 by a horologist (that's a watch seller/fixer/maker, and yes, I had to look that up). And it was built to cover up a steam vent, hence the steam.
I've even heard that it isn't powered by steam anymore, but I cannot confirm nor deny that, at this time.
Unique Suggestions: You must take a picture of it, and then place it on VT for all of us to see.
It's actually a cool looking clock, but not worthy of its high importance in the Vancouver tourist scene.
I have plenty of pictures of it.
Fun Alternatives: It's in the middle of Gastown, so you're going to see it, so just take the pictures and move on. Still, like I said, for a clock, it looks pretty cool.
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.
Gastown is really quite a tourist trap. The whole area is overpriced stuff you can get anywhere else, and the location is ... not the best.
It's located smack dab in the middle of the downtown Eastside, aka heroin-addict/drunk central.
Unique Suggestions: If you really want to see it (the cobblestone streets are kindof neat), access and leave it from the west (Burrard or Granville and Hastings), stay away from all things east of Gastown, and you really don't want to enter on Main St, or Abbott, or similar streets, or you'll be hassled by drug addicts.
Fun Alternatives: For 'touristy knick-nacks', try Robson street between Granville and Denman, just a half dozen or so blocks away.
The Gastown Clock is not even that exciting. So what to blows off some steam.
The clock does not tell the story behind the area. The statue of Gassy Jack should be considered more important to the area.
Unique Suggestions: Take a photo So you can show other people. Then they can skip it.
That way you've done your good deed for the day.
Fun Alternatives: Take a photo of Gassy Jack. At least there is a story behind the person on whom the area is named after.
While walking in Gastown in Vanouver in year 2000 we were approached by a well spoken young couple asking for, 'money for food, as we are HIV positive'. I referred the young couple to a sandwich board in Gastown which lists a roster system run by local churches, etc for the supply of food, however, the couple were not really interested in my helpful advice..
You'll find many in Gastown and some on Robson as well. They're the cheezy tourist shops which sell tons of things with maple leafs on them. The t-shirts are cheap and tacky, and they always have the "Canadian" stuff like the maple leaf chocolates, or the moose stuffed animal. Don't forget the maple syrup. *ugh*
If you do want to get something that states a little Canadian in it, go to the Roots Store on Robson St. and Burrard. The clothes are pretty nice, and some of them are uniquely "Canadian".
Gas Town is a tourist trap. There's nothing really there - just some generic type restaurants that are supposed to appeal to tourists. http://www.gastown.org/
Granville Island might be considered a trap too...but I liked it better than Gas Town.
Unique Suggestions: On Granville Island, there is a brewery where you can sample their beer.
The Gastown area is Vancouver's oldest part (about 100 years). It's a nice little area, but really it's not that big and not that special either. Moreover, it's VERY touristy and there are quite a few drug addicts walking around as well, which might scare off the less experienced traveler.
I don't get why people want to visit the 'steam' clock in gastown. It doesn't even run on steam for god's sake! Gastown in itself is a huge tourist trap and is only worth going to at night for the clubs and to the stores Block and Dream for the clothes. Oh, and there's a candy store that sells Yorkies, so go there, too.
The only 'tourist trap' I encountered in Vancouver was the area of Gastown- it was and it wasn't. It was overrated,with not much to see besides the steam clock and ALOT of souvenir stores. However, I thought it was the greatest place I'd been to buy souvenirs because it's cheap, cheap cheap!! You can buy the same things there as other places and they cost half as much.
Gastown and the Steam clock. Picture a tangle of cobble-stoned streets, mews, courtyards, and Victorian architecture set against a back drop of snow-capped mountains. Or an antique steam clock that blows its musical salute every 15 minutes. Yet Gastown is more than a trip into the past. It's also a bustling modern community. So sit back and sip on a beer at one of the many brew-pubs, eat fresh fish or ethnic food in an array of restaurants, or listen to live music. Stay a while. Check into a hotel, and look for antiques, Canadian Native art or designer fashions. Home to all the film companies in Vancouver. All this is true, but whetever you see here you will pay through the nose for, if you want to buy things, BUY TEHM ELSEWHERE!! for half the price.
Gastown is a tourist trap for sure. All the stores have souveniers that they convince you that you need to have and they are way over priced! Stay away, even the famed steam clock is a fake!