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8 Under-the-Radar Museums in Vancouver

Get to know the city’s art scene, Indigenous history, and seafaring past.

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Hi, I'm Diane!

Based in Vancouver, B.C., Diane Selkirk enjoys writing stories where science, history, or social justice intersect with travel. Her work has appeared in BBC Travel, National Geographic Travel, and The Globe and Mail.

Vancouver is known for its towering mountains and urban beaches, but the city boasts a cultural side that shouldn’t be missed. From the macabre Vancouver Police Museum to the impactful Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre, these gems are often passed over in favor of bigger-name spots. Follow this list for a true insider’s guide to museums in and around Vancouver.

1. Vancouver Police Museum and Archives

autopsy bay
Inside the Police Museum and Archives.Foto: hotos of Vancouver Police Museum & Archives / Tripadvisor

Indulge your curiosity with cold cases.

There’s always something going on at the Vancouver Police Museum, from movies hosted in the former morgue, to lecture series with authors, to hands-on true crime investigative programs. The museum was established in 1986 to preserve the city’s criminal and legal history, and continues to intrigue visitors with its offbeat theme. Exhibits include in-depth explorations of famous cold cases—such as the sad tale of “the Babes in the Woods”—and deep-dives into historical accounts of corruption and scandal. At this museum, you’ll get a glimpse into Vancouver’s gritty, compelling past.

Don’t miss: Book an interactive forensic program and challenge your friends and family to solve a puzzling crime.

2. The Polygon Gallery

two people watch videos projected onto walls in a dark gallery
The Polygon Gallery.Foto: Photos of The Polygon Gallery / Tripadvisor

A sleek space to admire photo and video installations.

A distinctive feature of the North Vancouver waterfront, the exterior of the Polygon Gallery reflects the water, sky, and mountains that surround it. This airy gallery offers admission by donation to ensure everyone can access art, and curates exhibitions by artists who reflect the diversity of the Vancouver community. Past shows include Response: Resonance, a video series exploring the ability of sound to link us to territory, history, and heritage, and Deanna Dikeman: Leaving and Waving, which unpacked the passage of time and the sadness of saying goodbye.

Don’t miss: The gallery is next to scenic Lonsdale Quay, with its collection of cafés, boutiques, and lookout spots. Try some photography of your own as you gaze out over Vancouver Harbour.

3. Chinatown Storytelling Centre

artifacts and displays in Chinatown Storytelling Centre
Chinatown Storytelling Centre.Foto: Photos of Chinatown Storytelling Centre / Tripadvisor

Learn about the history of Chinese Canadians in Saltwater City.

Set in the historic former Bank of Montreal building in vibrant Chinatown, this museum focuses on the multigenerational stories and contributions of Chinese Canadians to Vancouver. Rather than concentrating on historic objects, the center explores the past through the personal stories of the neighborhood’s residents, stories that teach visitors about the history of Canada’s shameful discriminatory practices against Chinese newcomers while celebrating the strength of the community that emerged. Make sure to check the film schedule at the museum’s Rogers Theatre before your visit.

Don’t miss: Ensure you leave time to explore Chinatown itself—you’ll find delicious food and quirky shops.

4. Dimensions Art Gallery

woman on the wall next to a sign that says "you can never have too much happy"
An installation in Dimensions Art Gallery.Foto: Emelie F / Tripadvisor

Optical illusions offering the perfect shot for your Instagram feed.

This interactive gallery offers fun for kids and adults alike—get creative while you pose with the optical-illusion artworks. With trompe-l'oeil murals and tilted rooms, you can shrink yourself down or walk on walls in this quirky gallery. Don’t forget to book your time slot ahead, as the museum fills up quickly. Afterwards, explore the historic Gastown neighborhood with its cobbled streets and lively pubs. You’ll find as much to photograph outside the gallery as inside.

Don’t miss: Make sure you bring a camera (and a friend or two), so you can properly capture all the illusions on display.

5. Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre

wood boat in windowed gallery
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre.Foto: Photos of Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre / Tripadvisor

Learn about the land that you’re visiting.

Located in pedestrian-friendly Whistler Village, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is well worth the drive from Vancouver. Its expansive windows and cedar beams create a space that’s seamlessly integrated with the local environment, welcoming visitors to the traditional territory of the Squamish and the Lil’wat nations, and sharing their vital stories and rich culture. Here, you can learn how to carve a small cedar paddle or make a miniature hand drum, watch a live carving demonstration, and learn about the belongings on display in the museum.

Don’t miss: The Thunderbird Café highlights Indigenous-inspired cuisine and local ingredients.

6. Pacific Arts Market

gallery wall of paintings
Pacific Arts Market.Foto: Maria Schumacher / Tripadvisor

Discover local artists and find the perfect souvenir.

Busy Broadway is home to this combination gallery and market space, which highlights dozens of local artists. The upstairs market lets you browse for the newest piece to add to your collection, while the shared gallery space features a rotation of artwork. The site also includes studios that are sometimes open to the public, so you can see artists at work. If you’re looking to discover Vancouver’s art scene, check their events calendar—their gatherings typically include live music and the opportunity to meet the artists featured in the gallery.

Don’t miss: Check the market’s online store for new additions, so you can find favorites even when you return home.

7. MONOVA

people walking around a museum gallery
MONOVA.Foto: MONOVA / Tripadvisor

Dive into the area’s complex history.

Recently opened, the Museum of North Vancouver focuses on the interplay between the North Shore’s industrial history and the stories of the Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh nations who have lived on the land since time immemorial. The museum is also home to the restored Streetcar 153, which visitors can climb aboard to hear voices from the past. The bustling surroundings of the Shipyard District of North Vancouver offers plenty of opportunities for exploration—grab a cone from the excellent Earnest Ice Cream, and take a stroll through the neighborhood.

Don’t miss: Check the museum’s online calendar for unique events, including discussions on queer history, scrapbooking sessions, and traditional wool-weaving.

8. Vancouver Maritime Museum

ship deck on display in a museum
The Vancouver Maritime Museum.Foto: Vancouver Maritime Museum / Tripadvisor

Explore Vancouver’s seafaring history.

Vancouver has long been a port city, and this museum highlights the area’s fascinating maritime history. Climb aboard the restored St. Roch—the first boat to travel through the Northwest Passage from west to east, and imagine life as a daring sailor. The museum’s heritage harbor features an impressive collection of vintage wooden boats, from tugboats to a one-of-a-kind fur trading ship. The building is set in the picturesque Kitsilano neighborhood with easy access to the beach, and plenty of restaurants and cafés where you can refuel after your visit.

Don’t miss: The museum runs summer camps and other activities for children, making it a great spot for the whole family.

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