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Top Vancouver Museums

Visit the Best Museums in Vancouver to Learn About History, Art, Culture

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Whether displaying First Nations art or confiscated weapons, museums in Vancouver are at once illuminating and diverse. There's no central museum district, but all the city's museums are easy to access from downtown on foot or by transit. I've ranked these from "don’t-miss" to "recommended", but at each museum and on each visit you'll learn something neat about Vancouver and British Columbia -- I always do!

1. Museum of Anthropology

© Chloë Ernst

Opened in 1976, this museum on the University of British Columbia (UBC) campus is a runaway favorite with its 10,000 artifacts and massive displays of native art from around the world. Most visitors come to see the totem poles in the Great Hall, carvings and jewelry by Bill Reid, and the outdoor longhouse. But there are also collections of ceramics and the Multiversity Galleries, where you can go ahead and explore by opening countless drawers to look at artifacts from around the world. Take a tour of the museum for the most in-depth look at the collection, and allow at least a half-day for a visit. There's a reduced admission price on Tuesday evenings.

Don’t miss: Bill Reid’s carved yellow cedar sculpture, The Raven and the First Men -- it depicts the birth of man as told by the Haida people. The carving is also pictured on Canada’s $20 bill.

Address: 6393 NW Marine Dr.
Neighborhood: University of British Columbia (UBC) campus
Getting there by bus: No. 4–UBC from Granville Street downtown
Phone: 604-822-5087
Hours: Daily during summer, closed Mondays from about mid-October to mid-May
Tips: On Tuesdays, the museum is open later and there’s a lower admission fee.

2. Museum of Vancouver

© Chloë Ernst

Learn about Vancouver through exhibits covering the Coast Salish people, Japantown, WWII, the Shaughnessy Golf Club, and more. The museum explores many neat elements of Vancouver’s history. Look for maps showing failed highway developments in the downtown area, huge signs from the city's days as a neon-lights capital, and the former hippie enclave in Kitsilano. The museum is open later on Thursday evenings.

Don’t miss: Kids will love dressing up as hippies in the makeshift Kitsilano apartment.

Address: 1100 Chestnut St.
Neighborhood: Vanier Park in Kitsilano
Getting there by bus: No. 2 or 22 buses from Burrard Street
Phone: 604-736-4431
Hours: Daily in summer, closed Mondays from Sept-June
Tips: If you've already seen the permanent collection, the temporary exhibits could be worth the trip.

3. Vancouver Art Gallery

© Chloë Ernst

This art-focused museum is located right downtown in the old city courthouse. Works range from paintings by Victoria-born artist Emily Carr to international and contemporary pieces. The gallery stays open later on Tuesday evenings.

Address: 750 Hornby St.
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 604-662-4719
Hours: Open daily
Tips: Look for occasional Friday events called “FUSE”. The popular evenings mix music, visual, video, and dance artists.

4. Vancouver Maritime Museum

© Chloë Ernst

This museum has a waterfront location in Vanier Park with mountain views and lots of natural light -- a huge bonus when viewing the exhibitions of heritage boats, nautical gear, and Arctic maps. The show-piece is the St. Roch, which was the first vessel to travel the Northwest Passage in both directions.

Don’t miss: Ever petted a polar bear? You’re not likely to, so look for the touchable section of polar bear fur at the museum.

Address: 1905 Ogden Ave.
Neighborhood: Vanier Park in Kitsilano
Getting there by bus: Buses No. 2 or 22 from Burrard Street downtown
Phone: 604-257-8300
Hours: Daily from late-May-Aug, Tues-Sun from Sept-May
Tips: Take a ride on False Creek Ferries from the Heritage Harbour dock in front of the museum

5. Vancouver Police Museum

© Chloë Ernst

Lethal weapons, embalmed body parts, and murder cold cases are the most interesting exhibits at this museum. It is located in the old city morgue, the same place where Errol Flynn’s autopsy occurred after the actor died in Vancouver.

Don’t miss: The wall of weapons.

Address: 240 E. Cordova St.
Neighborhood: East Vancouver
Getting there by bus: Bus No. 14-Hastings
Phone: 604-665-3346
Hours: Open Tues-Sat
Tips: The museum also gives sin-city-themed tours of Vancouver, covering murders, prostitution, and other seedy activities.

6. Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art

© Chloë Ernst

After a visit to this museum, you'll have seen only a sampling of Bill Reid's work. Reid is one of the most important and prolific First Nations and Canadian artists, and his work draws on Haida heritage and legends. The collection includes an array of jewelry, sculptures, paintings, and drawings.

Don’t miss: The wide bronze sculpture Mythic Messengers -- best seen from the second floor.

Address: 639 Hornby St.
Neighborhood: Downtown
Phone: 604-682-3455
Hours: Open Wed-Sun
Tips: There's more of Reid's work throughout Vancouver, including at the Vancouver International Airport and Museum of Anthropology.

7. Beaty Biodiversity Museum

Photo © Chloë Ernst

Vancouver's newest museum opened in 2010, and the natural history displays are pulled from the University of British Columbia's two-million or so specimens. Long display cases showcase stuffed birds, sea creatures, snakes, and a whole manner of other animals.

Don’t miss: The blue whale skeleton that’s suspended in the lobby is more of a "can't miss" -- it’s 26 meters (85 feet) long.

Address: 2212 Main Mall
Neighborhood: University of British Columbia (UBC) campus
Getting there by bus: No. 4-UBC from Granville Street downtown to the campus
Phone: 604-827-4955
Hours: Open Wed-Sun
Tips: Ask if there are any children’s programs running.

8. Roedde House Museum

© Chloë Ernst

This mild-mannered museum is set in a heritage house in the West End, and was built in 1893 for a bookbinder -- Gustav Roedde.

Don’t miss: The tea and tour on Sundays.

Address: 1415 Barclay St.
Neighborhood: West End
Getting there by bus: No. 6 along Davie Street or No. 5 along Robson
Phone: 604-684-7040
Tips: Before or after a visit to the museum, sit in the park and admire the West End heritage buildings around Barclay Heritage Square.

9. Old Hastings Mill Store Museum

© Chloë Ernst

Vancouver's oldest building dating to 1865, the Hastings Mill was moved from Dunlevy Street near Gastown to this West Side location. It opened as a museum in 1931. Inside, find a collection of artifacts from Vancouver’s early days, First Nations baskets, and photographs.

Don’t miss: Vancouver's first city council table.

Address: 1575 Alma St.
Neighborhood: Point Grey
Getting there by bus: No. 4–UBC or No. 7–Dunbar from Granville Street
Phone: 604-434-3298
Tips: Call ahead to check the hours, as the museum is volunteer run. Afterward, head to Jericho Beach and have an afternoon beer on the Jericho Sailing Centre's fantastic patio.

10. Other Museums Near Vancouver

© Chloë Ernst

Besides these Vancouver museums, there are others located a short distance from the city center. On the way to Whistler, check out the truly excellent Britannia Mine Museum (which includes an underground tour, gold panning area, and equipment demonstration). In Burnaby, find the Burnaby Village Museum with its heritage carousel and, further east, head to Fort Langley National Historic Site.

There are a few museums to the south of Vancouver worth exploring, including the White Rock Museum & Archives in an old train station, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, and the Steveston Museum, which also serves as a post office.

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