Ariel shot of Granville Island

Vancouver’s Granville Island

Posted April 11, 2019 in 5 Tips

John Lee
John Lee
Travel Writer

Five insider tips for visitors to Vancouver's Granville Island

It’s one of the city’s favourite hangouts – for both locals and visitors – but there’s much more to Vancouver’s Granville Island than the popular Public Market. Here’s our insider’s take on how to explore the urban island that’s not actually an island (it’s attached to the ‘mainland’ via a roadway under Granville Bridge).

1. Giants

Vancouver’s favourite mega-sized mural, this rainbow-hued row of larger-than-life figures covers six towering cement silos at Ocean Concrete. Created for the Vancouver Biennale in 2014 by OSGEMEOS (aka artsy Brazilian duo Gustavo and Otávio Pandolfo), the eye-popping work is a must-see for anyone with a camera.

Need more art? Check out Ocean Commotion, a kinetic, ever-moving installation near the concrete plant’s entrance, featuring dozens of balls climbing, rolling and dropping on a clever obstacle course.

Towering cement silos at Ocean Concrete with two cement trucks.

2. Craft Council of British Columbia

Granville Island is crammed with galleries and artisan studios. But if you’re looking for a unique, local-made souvenir (and you have room in your carry-on), peruse the colourful creations at this browse-tastic shop and gallery. The displays change regularly but you’ll likely find sparkling jewelry, esoteric ceramics and hard-to-resist chopping boards fashioned from velvet-smooth wood that cries out to be stroked.

Need more creativity? Lined with the kind of traditional, twisty-handled brooms any witch (or wizard) would love, drop by the Granville Island Broom Company to watch the artisans at work on their next Shaker-style creation.

Woodworking craft

3. Artisan Sake Maker

Tucked along Railspur Alley, this hidden gem sake producer combines locally-grown rice and traditional Japanese methods to create its celebrated small-batch tipples. Try a sample selection at the tiny bar then pick-up a bottle to go. Shopping for a cook back home? Add a jar of Kasu – created from the lees left over after making sake, it adds a unique flavour to any dish.

Need another drink? Sidle up to the tasting bar at nearby Granville Island Brewing or sip some piquant cocktails at the Liberty Distillery – Old Tom Manhattan recommended.

Sake being poured into a cup

4. Off-the-beaten-path

Granville Island’s quiet end is only a short walk along Johnston Street but it feels far removed from the busy Public Market. Snap some photos over the twinkling waters of False Creek then check out the gaggle of large houseboats floating alongside the boardwalk. The heritage-protected yellow crane here is also an evocative reminder of the island’s gritty past as an industrial district.

Need to get closer to the water? Hop on a mini-ferry from Granville Island and check out scenic False Creek or explore under your own steam via a rental kayak.

5. Market hot spots

While the Public Market can be busy, especially in summer, it shouldn’t be avoided altogether. Don’t miss the aromatic lure of Benton Brothers Cheese; the chocolate treats at ChocolaTas; and Lee’s Donuts with its signature Honey Dip variety. The food court here is also popular – aim for fish and chips and a sought-after window table (more likely if you dine off-peak).

Need some more must-sees? If you’ve snagged a table with a view, you’ll spot the beady-eyed gulls hanging around outside looking for scraps. But cast your eyes to the underside of Granville Bridge and you’ll also see dozens of cormorants roosting under the ironwork arches.

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John Lee

John Lee is a full-time freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 150 different print and online publications around the world, from Lonely Planet to the Los Angeles Times to the BBC.