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Complete Guide to Visiting Granville Island

Granville Island is famous as a destination for tourists because of its public market, seawall views, arts and culture and places to dine and enjoy the night life. Many festivals take place on Granville Island, including the Fringe Festival and the Vancouver Writer’s Fest. You can also book a boat tour leaving from Granville Island.

Granville Island used to be the home of an art college, but it has since moved out to occupy a larger property in the east end. However, the college’s former industrial-looking buildings and some art supply shops remain.

There are several small (and one large-ish) theatre that host events throughout the year including the Arts Club Theatre. There is also a community centre.

Arts Club Granville Island stage
Arts Club Granville Island Stage

Granville Island is on the traditional territories of the Squamish and Musqueam people. As the tide went in and out, the local people could fish, walk on the sands and gather the fresh food from the sea each day. With its sheltered location this was an excellent gathering place.

However, with the arrival of the railroad, the land was filled in past the tide water mark to make way for industry.

You can see evidence of this era in the warehouse-like architecture, unused railway tracks and the presence of a still working cement plant. Many of the buildings date from this era including the Public Market, the former Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Bridges Restaurant.

The cement plant has existed on Granville Island since 1917. In 2014, the silos were brightly painted for the Vancouver Biennale.

“The Giants”, concrete silos painted for 2014 Vancouver Biennale

After the Second World War, the area fell in disuse until it began to be revitalized in the 1970s as a dining, entertainment and gathering place connected to the popular Sea Wall on the south side of False Creek.

For more information about the history see:

How Granville Island changed the course of Vancouver urban design history

Granville Island Works – The Insider’s Guide to Granville Island

What’s the best way to see Granville Island?

If possible, visit by bus or on foot during the day because parking is quite limited, especially on weekends. Wear comfortable shoes because, even though the “island” is not large, you’ll want to do a lot of walking. If you plan to buy produce, you might want to leave the Public Market to the end. However, the Public Market is a great place for lunch or grabbing a coffee/tea and pastry.

If you plan to eat or buy food for taking away, you might want to stroll around the market before deciding what you want to buy. Because the market gets quite crowded, consider going early or later in the day.

Spend some time visiting the stores and galleries outside of the market building. Most are housed in heritage repurposed industrial buildings giving them a unique atmosphere. These stores also fill up in the middle of the day. 

Take a walk on the boardwalk behind the Community Centre to see ducks, pussy willows and other tall grasses. This area is a calm oasis even on a busy day.

Creek on the south side of Granville Island
Off-the seawall path and boardwalk on the south-side of Granville Island

The Public Market closes at 6 pm, but there is still more to do. Have a whiskey tasting at Liberty Distillery or have a meal at one of the restaurants.

Check out local events listings for things happening on Granville Island.

How long should I spend at Granville Island?

Plan at least half a day if you want to absorb some of the atmosphere, take a break for meals or refreshments and do some shopping. In inclement weather you might shorten that to an hour or two. 

Is Granville Island free?

It’s free to enter Granville Island and you don’t need to spend money to appreciate the quirky industrial heritage, water views and boardwalk. However, there are also plenty of shops, eateries, theatres and other places where you could spend your money.

Do you need to book in advance for Granville Island?

You do not need to book your visit to Granville Island. Despite it’s special status as a heritage area managed by a federal government agency, Granville Island is like any other neighbourhood in Vancouver and can be accessed any time.

Claims that they roll up the sidewalks at 6 pm are entirely metaphorical (joke). Although Granville Island has restaurants, bars and theatres that are open at night, the lack of residential housing makes it seem quiet most evenings.

Granville Island Market Hours

Currently, the Public Market is open from 9-6 each day, but check the website for any changes.

What to do on Granville Island

Public Market: The Granville Island Public Market is a food market and more. You can pick up fresh produce, pasta, cheese, baked goods, sauces, recipe ingredients, sweets or just grab some lunch at one of the many counters.

On the north side there is a plaza with benches and tables for eating or just enjoying the view of the water, the Burrard Bridge and downtown Vancouver/Yaletown. There are often musical performers here. Beware the somewhat aggressive seagulls.

Plaza on the dock behind the Public Market
Plaza on the dock behind the Public Market

Net Loft: A small indoor shopping mall with interesting shops and boutiques.

Inside the Net Loft shopping centre
Inside the Net Loft

Art galleries and studios: In addition to browsing local art, you might spot an artist or artisan at work in one of the studios.

Food tour: With all the options, you might have trouble deciding on what you want to eat or buy for later. There are multiple companies that provide food tours of the market where you will get to sample from a number of stalls and restaurants with a knowledgeable guide.

Improv Centre: Vancouver TheatreSports League presents improvisational comedy with great reviews.

Breweries and Distilleries

Artisan Sake Maker: Visit the tasting room to try “Japan’s National Drink” made right in Vancouver.

Granville Island Brewery has a location and tasting room here though technically the brand’s main operations is elsewhere. What started out as a small craft brewery has since been bought by Molson’s. 

Granville Island Brewing
Granville Island Brewing

Liberty Distillery: Premium spirits distilled on site. I tasted a flight (a curated tasting) and was not disappointed despite not being a regular spirit drinker. You can also order cocktails.

How to Get to Granville Island

Contrary to what you might be led to believe, Granville Island is not actually an island. This means that you can casually stroll on to the island, which is actually a sand spit, from the south end of Granville bridge or from the False Creek seawall. 

You can take the number 50 bus to arrive right at the entrance, or walk five minutes from any of the buses that cross the Granville Bridge from downtown, south Granville or Kitsilano. If you take the Canada Line Skytrain to Olympic Village, you can take a scenic stroll along the Sea Wall. This walk will take about 30 minutes one way. 

If you decide to take a hop-on-hop-off bus tour, Granville Island is one of the stops.

Granville Island Ferry

If you want the island experience, there are two water taxi companies: False Creek Ferries and Aquabus that stop at Granville Island and visit other sites around False Creek, including Yaletown and Science World.

Aquabus leaving Granville Island on False Creek
Aquabus leaving Granville Island

False Creek Ferries even goes as far out as Vanier Park which houses the Vancouver Museum, Maritime Museum and Observatory.

What hotels are near Granville Island?

Any of the hotels downtown allow easy access to the Granville Bridge which will take you nearby. (Granville Island is partially under the Granville Bridge.) The Holiday Inn and Park Inn & Suites are on Broadway which is not far. 

There is also a hotel on Granville Island called Granville Island Hotel, of course. 

Granville Island Restuarants

In addition to the food court in the Public Market, there are many restaurants on Granville Island.

Alimentaria Mexicana: The focus is on quality and authenticity at this new dining option directly across from the Market. You can’t miss the brightly painted exterior.

Alimentaria Mexicana

Off the Tracks Espresso Bar & Bistro: Sustainable menu, coffee, tea, beers and wine. Bistro atmosphere with a garden patio.

If you are into seafood and chain restaurants, Granville Island has these too. One of the most recognizable buildings on Granville Island is the Bridges Restaurant which is now a Tap & Barrel.

Tap & Barrel Bridges Restaurant
Tap & Barrel Bridges Restaurant

Granville Island Parking

I paid $8 to park for two hours. Paid parking starts at 11 am and ends at 6 pm (after which time it is free). Verify this before you go. As previously stated, parking during the day, especially in the summer and on weekends can be difficult. There is also some street parking available in the neighbourhood to the west (Kitsilano) and south/south-east (Fairview) if you don’t mind walking. There are paid parking lots around Anderson Street (the main entrance to Granville Island) and to the east along False Creek.

Shella Gardezi

Shella Gardezi is a writer and editor living in Vancouver. She loves to travel and created this site to share her love of British Columbia.

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