Things to do in Vancouver

Vancouver Buildings: The City’s Most Iconic Architectural Wonders

Quench your thirst for adventure with a visit to The Couve. Vancouver and its iconic buildings await you.

Located on Canada’s West Coast, Vancouver offers breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and a one-of-a-kind skyline. Whether visiting Vancouver for the weekend or looking to develop a newfound appreciation for the city you call home, you can’t go wrong with an architecture tour.

Checking out the city's buildings is one of the best things to do in Vancouver. It gives you an appreciation of the city today and a glimpse into days gone by.

Iconic Buildings

Vancouver is the largest city in British Columbia. It is home to soaring skyscrapers, historic residences, and a public market with a carnival-like atmosphere. Start your tour with a visit to one of these iconic buildings. You’ll fall in love with Vancouver and its charming inhabitants.

1. Vancouver Lookout

Vancouver Lookout is more than just a tall building. It’s an experience that’s not for the faint of heart.

Step into a glass elevator, ascend 553 ft., and enjoy stunning views of the downtown core, Stanley Park, and the North Shore Mountains. If you dare to open your eyes at the top, you’ll have a bird's-eye view of the cityscape's many architectural styles.

Photographer: Lonely Boy

2. Ladner Clock Tower

Next, head to Gastown for a glimpse of the Ladner Clock Tower. The historic structure stands tall and proud, just waiting to welcome you to the historic neighborhood. Featuring a 330-bell carillon, the freestanding Ladneser Clock Tower exudes elegance.

The University of British Columbia built the Ladner Clock Tower to honor some of the most prominent families in Western Canada. If you visit while the bells are ringing, you’ll enjoy a symphony of sounds as you admire the ornate clock face.

3. James Residence (Hobbit House)

No, you haven’t been transported into a J.R.R. Tolkien novel. You’re at the James Residence, also known as Vancouver’s Hobbit House. James Residence is designed in the popular English Arts and Crafts style and has plenty of curved lines to make you feel like a fairy tale.

The charming cottage also has a lush garden with colorful flowers and climbing vines. You can almost imagine Frodo nestled inside, sipping tea as he discovers his inner strength. We highly recommend James Residence if you’re looking for things to do in Vancouver with kids.

4. Lonsdale Quay Market

If you’re feeling adventurous, board the SeaBus and head to Lonsdale Quay Market. At the pier, a medley of mouthwatering aromas greets you. Follow your nose to the market hall, which has everything from gourmet cheeses to steaming bowls of Vietnamese broth. Eat up! You’ll need energy to wander through the market’s many artisan shops.

Once you’ve had your fill of food and shopping, take a walk along the waterfront or enjoy a live performance. No two days at Lonsdale Quay Market are the same, making it a popular spot for date nights and family outings.

Photographer: tahmoures fartashmehr

Architectural Wonders

Move over, Leaning Tower of Pisa! Vancouver has some of the greatest architectural wonders in North America. Visit one of these buildings to discover why The Couve has such a unique skyline.

5. Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia

Designed by architect Arthur Erickson, the Museum of Anthropology dazzles visitors with its unique design and pristine, natural setting.

Evergreen trees surround the building, creating a sense of tranquillity. Inside, intricate totem poles stretch toward the ceiling. Large glass windows let in plenty of natural light, making it easier to enjoy the craftsmanship of artists from five continents.

The Museum of Anthropology has more than 50,000 objects, so you can easily spend an entire day exploring. Staff have painstakingly recreated First Nations villages at the museum site, making the MOA the perfect place to learn more about the histories of the Musqueam people.

To make your day extra special, visit the MOA before heading to two or three more Vancouver museums.

6. The Marine Building

Previously the tallest building in Vancouver, the Marine Building blends Art Deco architecture with modern amenities. It sits at 355 Burrard Street, putting it in the middle of the action. Locals typically take the SkyTrain or the SeaBus for a smooth commute. But you can also drive to The Marine Building via West Georgia Street.

It’s easy to get distracted by the sheer size of the structure, but keep an eye out for all the architectural details. The exterior has terra-cotta tiles featuring scenes from transportation history. Friezes and bas-relief panels round out the captivating design.

7. C.K. Choi Building at the University of British Columbia

Vancouver’s tall buildings get most of the attention, but a few short structures are worth visiting. C.K. Choi Building at the University of British Columbia is one of them. The three-story building has pagoda-style roofs. What it lacks in height, it makes up for in length, thanks to using salvaged construction materials.

Architect Eva Matsuzaki worked closely with landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander to create a self-contained ecosystem. Matsuzaki decided to erect the building on an existing parking lot, eliminating the need for additional excavation. She also committed to preserving most of the mature trees at the site.

Historical Landmarks

Vancouver’s story begins with the First Nations peoples who established territories and shared their culture with future generations. Explorers from Europe, North America, and South America arrived in the 1750s, drawn in by the opportunity to set up new trading posts.

The British colonized Vancouver Island in 1849, triggering major cultural changes. Eventually, Vancouver Island became part of Canada. Visit these cultural landmarks to learn more about the events that shaped the city.

8. Vancouver Art Gallery

When you visit the Vancouver Art Gallery, it’s easy to see how the British influenced the city’s development. The gallery sits inside an imposing neoclassical courthouse designed by Sir Francis Mawson Rattenbury.

Rattenbury hailed from Yorkshire, England, but he established himself as one of the premier architects in British Columbia after his 1882 arrival in Canada. If you’re not familiar with the Neoclassical style, keep one word in mind: grandeur. The courthouse has imposing columns, lion sculptures, and simple geometric forms.

We wouldn’t blame you if you mistook the Vancouver Art Gallery for a building from Greece or Rome. Inside, you’ll find thousands of objects, ranging from woven tapestries to mixed-media compositions.

9. The Sun Tower

Sun Tower, also known as World Tower, is a 17-story building in Victory Square. Designer William Tuff Whiteway combined multiple architectural styles to create one of the most visually appealing structures in the neighborhood. Looking closely, you’ll see several elements of the Edwardian style, such as light colors and simple decorative patterns.

The tower also has a beaux arts dome, square-headed windows, terra-cotta arches, and a cupola. Thanks to its location, Sun Tower serves as an anchor for the business district along Pender. It also provides a nice contrast to the industrial buildings on Beatty Street.

10. Museum of Vancouver

If you’re in the Kitsilano neighborhood, check out the Museum of Vancouver. Sure, you could view a few paintings and call it a day, but we recommend sticking around for a while. Staff members strive to showcase the connections between unfamiliar other parts of the world, making a visit fun and educational.

The museum itself is one of the most architecturally interesting Vancouver buildings. Architect Gerald Hamilton practiced New Formalism, which blends classical design elements with new building technologies.

Look to the sky for a glimpse of the roof. Hamilton made it look like one of the basket hats the First Nations people wore in the region. The Museum of Vancouver is also home to H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, a planetarium.

Photographer: Yuta Koike

Modern Marvels

Many famous buildings in Vancouver have traditional designs but don’t be fooled. The city is also home to several modern marvels. Add these buildings to your itinerary to add a contemporary twist to your Vancouver vacation.

11. HSBC Building

The HSBC Building holds commercial offices, but it’s still worth a stop. Located at 885 West Georgia Street, it’s near the CF Pacific Centre, making shopping easy after you finish your architectural tour. The lobby is a grand atrium with a public art gallery, so don’t be afraid to step inside and take a look around.

12. Vancouver Maritime Museum

Vancouver is home to a major shipping port, making maritime trade a vital contributor to the city’s economy. Learn more about the industry by visiting the Vancouver Maritime Museum. The VMM has several hands-on exhibits, making it the ideal destination for families with curious kids.

St. Roch National Historic Site is home to the St. Roch, a schooner formerly used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. When you visit the museum, you can put your hands on the wheel of the St. Roch and explore its cabins.

You’ll enjoy all the fun of navigating a schooner without worrying about avoiding obstacles or dodging inclement weather. The VMM is also home to Heritage Harbour, a free outdoor exhibit with multiple wooden vessels. Soak up the sunshine while you take photos of Winsome III, Union Jack, Moonbeam, and their seafaring friends.

13. Vancouver Convention Centre

Located in Coal Harbour, the Vancouver Convention Centre is the city’s premier event destination.

If an organization wants to host thousands of people in a comfortable environment, planners turn to VCC to make it happen. Even if you don’t plan to attend an event, the Convention Centre is still worth a visit due to its dramatic design and waterfront views.

VCC hosts multiple weekly events, ranging from the Pokémon Regional Championships to the Vancouver International Wine Festival. Many professional societies also hold their annual conferences at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Photographer: Lonely Boy

14. Vancouver Public Library

Remember Cornelia Hahn Oberlander? She certainly kept herself busy. In addition to helping Eva Matsuzaki with the C.K. Choi Building, Oberlander contributed to the design of Vancouver Public Library Square. The complex combines the library with shops, government offices, and a public plaza, making it the neighborhood's crown jewel.

Photographer: Ronin

Heritage Hot Spots

While you’re in Vancouver, don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn more about its rich tapestry of culture and languages. Check out these heritage hot spots before visiting one of Vancouver's many boutiques, galleries, or restaurants.

15. Sam Kee Building in Chinatown

The Sam Kee Building is on the Vancouver Heritage Register due to its status as the shallowest commercial building in existence. Check the Guinness Book of World Records if you don’t believe us. The structure measures just six feet from front to back, but multiple businesses have managed to turn a profit in the tiny space.

Located in Chinatown, Sam Kee Building has both architectural and cultural value. It has projecting bay windows on the second floor, making it a visually appealing addition to the neighborhood. Look for a curved parapet, a sloping roof, and masonry blocks at the corners of the exterior walls.

16. Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral

On September 11, 1949, Reverend Stephen Symchych blessed the cupola at Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Parishioners hoped to finish the church much earlier, but World War II delayed their construction efforts. Even after Reverend Symchych blessed the cupola, it took years to complete the building.

Since then, Holy Trinity has held thousands of church services, operated a Ukrainian language program on its lower level, and celebrated important milestones. There’s plenty to see when you visit, but the altar is the focal point of the entire cathedral. Glittering gold leaf, detailed carvings, and brightly colored artwork fill the sacred space.

17. Holy Rosary Cathedral

Continue your tour of Vancouver’s most fabulous churches with a visit to Holy Rosary Cathedral. It’s not unusual to find tourists standing outside, craning their necks as they try to see the top of the church spires. Inside, stained-glass windows allow natural light to fill the space, reminding visitors of the connection between the sacred and the secular.

Designed in French Gothic style, the cathedral’s interior has imposing columns and a series of arches that make it feel like you’re in the Notre Dame de Paris. Before you leave, look for the historic pipe organ.

Exploring Vancouver’s Architectural Marvels

Many people visit Vancouver for its gourmet restaurants, high-end boutiques, and exciting nightlife. Just remember, you wouldn’t have any of those things without architecture. Whether you love neoclassical buildings or favor more modern styles, Vancouver has at least one building guaranteed to pique your curiosity.

Take that curiosity to the next level with tickets to one of our shows in Vancouver.

Bring the whole family, and let us introduce you to a world where the unexpected becomes reality, and the excitement never stops.

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