Most Overrated Attractions In Vancouver (& Alternatives)
High expectations with underwhelming results can kill a day faster than finding out your blind date is actually your cousin, and from the less attractive side of the family. Not to say that any of the "overrated" attractions listed below are that blasphemous by any means, but let's be honest, many points of interest touted by tourist boards in any city are often over exaggerated with respect to its appeal in an effort to increase traffic flow to said attraction. It's understandable, not to mention that this whole topic is subjective to an individual's experiences. If you are well traveled and have seen many of the marvels, man-made or otherwise, that the world has to offer, you won't be as impacted by some of the same sites as those with less acquainted experiences. So please take a mental accounting of your repetoire before taking this list too serious. If you haven't been to SeaWorld or the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, then you might find the Vancouver alternative to be quite pleasant. If you've been landlocked your whole life you might get a real kick out of the Seabus to North Vancouver. If you havent been to a 3rd grade art class, you may enjoy the Vancouver Art Gallery...OK sorry, but we've found THAT one to be without exception.
Bottom line, as we mentioned, this list is completely subjective. We simply feel that it is our duty to give you all a "heads up" before spending valuable money and time and going in blindfolded to places that may not meet the expectations derived from the "hype" created by good PR and advertising. In that same token, it is also our duty to provide you with like alternatives to each, something that will provide for a similar experience for what you may have been looking for when you were drawn to an attraction in the first place.
The corresponding photos and coordinates for each item on the list are for the more favorable "Alternatives"
Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street, Downtown Vancouver
OK, so we're probably being a little harsh (above) on our treatment of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and calling it overated may irk some of you out there, especially those sitting on the board of V.A.G., but when you consider one very important fact, it's hard to argue the point. The Vancouver Art Gallery, although quite impressive from the exterior in its greco roman glory (especially on the Georgia Street side), is a complete and almost disrespectful misuse of space and lives up to only approximately 10% of it's potential. With so much to work with, they only mange to give the public a mediocre accounting of the premesis. The stairs along Robson Street should be cleaned up, and used as the main entrance, instead as serving as a loitering zone for the smoking public (they have no place to light up these days) and nightime urinal for those with less appreciation for fine architecture. V.A.G. prefers to send its visitors through the inconspicuous side door, where the gift shop is located and into the gallery which only seems to have 2 or 3 levels worth of exhibits open on this 4 floored building. The rotation schedule of the exhibits takes months to change and when they do bring in the "big guns" such as Rembrandt, Picasso, etc... it always seems to exclude the works from their collections that we really want to see. It's like going to Disneyland with Mickey nowhere in sight. Yes, it's EXACTLY like that. Don't get us started on the Georgia Street entrance. This end should be fantastically illuminated in the evening with red carpet exhibitions and/or event openings every weekend with A-list Vancouver celebrities marching up the twin lion bookended staircase. Instead, the only real action the Vancouver Art Gallery sees is on the 20th of April, or "4/20" as its affectionately known by liberal Vancouverites, where thousands converge upon the steps to "light it up" in a completely different manner.
Alternative - Outside Art Walkabout
The last two years in Vancouver have spawned some inspiring works of art in the form of statues that at times are monolithic in stature. They are creatively (and often suprisingly) placed throughout Greater Vancouver with the heaviest concentration found in the surrounding area of the downtown core, specifically along the various waterfronts of this fine city. While we will leave a bulk of it for you to discover on your own, we have provided a few key locations to explore. THIS is art in its purest and most exciting form.
Sunset Beach to (or from) English Bay
Along this stretch of Vancouver's Seawall you will find 3 key artisitic points of interest; The "Laughing Statues" at English Bay, the "Inukshuk" at English Bay, and the giant shell of a man (pictured on left) made of symbols at Sunset Beach.
Visit the Vancouver Planetarium to view the "Giant Crab" Fountain and take a walk through the park to see the grass planted rows of "Stop Signs" and the awesome chrome "Frozen Water" sculpture overlooking the bay.
Walk along the marina/harbor to see what appears to be 8 squating monk type individuals in "The Meeting" as well as a few other interesting creations.
You can grab your favorite latte at Starbucks while viewing the giant headed sculpture of a Greek Godess in the stone park on Nelson/Homer Street.
845 Avison Way, Vancouver (Stanley Park)
Number 2, the Vancouver Aquarium is probably the most subjective. If you haven't been to some of the more impressive Aquariums in North America, Mexico or elsewhere (Dubai's insane Atlantis Palm Hotel Aquarium) then you probably won't mind forking over the $28 to visit this "popular" Vancouver attraction. However, if you have been around the (Sea) World, then you may find the Vancouver Aquarium more akin to a really high end pet store with a great marine based section. The dolphin "show" is the most dissappointing and lasts about 10 minutes and feels strained when you hear the trainers give their speech to the half listening attendees for the umpteenth time that day. The Aquarium has also suffered loss over the years from its whale exhibit both from ethical issues and the tragic passing of a treasured baby beluga. The tropical exhibit is the best part, albeit limited in scope while the local sea life area, is better experienced in real life coastal British Columbia, which leads us to the best alternative to the Vancouver Aquarium below.
Alternative - Whale Watching Tours
Excursions within the bays and along the coast of southern British Columbia will put you face to face with North Western Pacific Ocean's most curious marine inhabitants. Instead of behind glass, you can witness dolphins, seals, whales ("Killer" Orca and Grey) frolicking below and above the glassy surface of the Pacific, in all of its natural splendor. Vancouver Whale Watch will take you on such tours from the onset of the spring season and well into the autumn. There is never a real guarantee of exactly what sea life you will get to witness on any given day as these mammals have a pretty solid Union and take more than their fair share of days off, not including statutory holidays. Nonetheless, the full speed zodiac boats trample any water based ride found at any amusement park, so you will have a blast no matter what you do or do not get to see. The price is heavier than the Vancouver Aquarium, but the reward is tenfold.
Sea Bus To Lonsdale Quay
601 Cordova St to 123 Carrie Cates Courts via Seabus
Hop on the Sea Bus from Waterfront Station in Vancouver and you will find many travelers, maps unfolded, cameras prepped and looking out and about the windows found within the bus on floaties. But the flash doesn't seem to go off too many times. There isn't much to see on this stretch of industrial ocean (next to international loading docks) and the reward at the end is uninspiring. Lonsdale Quay is full of knick knacks you don't really need, limited dining options and a humdrum atmosphere. Visitors usually find themselves right back on the Sea Bus before their pass/transfer expires. No point in spending another $3.75 to get back.
Alternative - Granville Island Ferry Sevice To Granville Island
The Granville Island Ferry and Aquabus is so much more charming and downright fun, in an unassuming way, than the above discussed Sea Bus. For a small fare (less than the city bus contingent upon whether or not you are on an "A to B" destination trip or a tour of the bay/creek) you can almost troll your hands along in the salt water as this chug-a-lug train like version of a boat takes you across the marine passage bridging Downtown Vancouver and Granville Island. Once on Granville Island, you are privy to a wide variety of unique shops, entertainment venues, eateries and a top notch Farmer's Market. You can find passage on the Ferry/Aquabus simply by walking down to the marine harbour area anywhere along False Creek and the Sea Wall from Yaletown to Sunset Beach, or Science World to Vanier Park depending on what side of the water you are on. There are plenty of signs in the area and you will see the boats going to and from the various docks placed conveniently along the waters adge. Visit the Aquabus or Granville Island Ferry websites to learn more.
Carrall and Pender Street, Downtown Vancouver
The following quote from disgruntled travel writer, Chuck Thompson, may be a harsh, but succinct, commentary on the phenomenon that is Chinatown.
TOP 10 MOST OVERRATED U.S. TOURIST ATTRACTIONS (Chuck Thompon)
"CHINATOWN, ANYWHERE - Every Chinatown distills the worst of the obligatory tourist trap: worthless trinkets, no public bathrooms, impossible parking, hit-and-miss food. Most of the guys cooking aren’t even real chefs; they’re recent immigrants dragooned into manning the grill. Chinatowns have stolen more time from weekend vacations than weather at O’Hare."
Chinatown in Vancouver is severely OVERRATED. In it's hey day it may have been something, but for the last few decades it has found itself at the heart of the worst neighborhood square block district in Canada. The barriers are drug ridden and filthy and any side step off of Pender street will have you hoping over syringes and condom wrappers. There are some decent authentic Chinese artisan shops but for the most part, many of the stores are full of bootleg trinkets that will fall apart en route home. Don't go.
But if you do go, pick a bright sunny day and spend your time in the one nice highlight of Chinatown - Vancouver Chinese Gardens - where beautiful Koi swim in an expansive winding pond along side turtles, frogs, and lily pads, while bamboo trees line the background. Photo opportunities are abound. Aside from that, don't go further east.
Alternative - International Village
Head to neighboring International Village. It doesn't have enough stores to count as a shopping mall in our books, but there are some fantastic art and decor galleries, both Asian and Western influenced, to keep you browsing for quite some time. This center is also big on festive occasions. Chinese New Year, Christmas, and even Halloween are fun for the family at International Village. The cuisine selection also offers Asian flare with the Kentizen Fushion restaurant on the second floor and a food court to satisfy the appetites of many. If your looking for exotic Asian foods, snacks, treats and other goodies, then across the street you'll find T&T Supermarket. Cinemark Tinseltown Cinemas is on the 3rd floor of the center, offering both first run blockbusters AND independent Asian films on it's roster. International Village has been a work in progress for quite some time but it's a reasonable downtown alternative to the experience you were hoping to have in Chinatown. Enjoy the Chinese Gardens and then tuck into the more cozy environment of this growing zone of international retail.