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Photograph: Courtesy Tourism Vancouver / Science World British Columbia

The 10 best museums in Vancouver

Explore indigenous artifacts, far away galaxies and cuddly marine animals at the best museums in Vancouver

Written by
Mikaela Luke
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It may be hard to imagine an outing in Vancouver that doesn’t involve hiking, kayaking, or brunch (or any combination of the three) but for those inevitable rainy days in the Pacific Northwest, it's good to know what your indoor options are—that's where the best museums in Vancouver come in handy. Vancouver’s best museums are emblematic of its cultural space, from local indigenous artifacts to thoughtful curations of art. You can’t avoid learning something new —about local history and local landscapes—and you can even ogle a full skeleton of a blue whale. Whichever museum you choose, Vancouver’s quiet but vibrant museum scene has something for everyone. And if you're hungry after a day of exploring, you can check out the best restaurants in Vancouver or the best bars in Vancouver

RECOMMENDED: The best things to do in Vancouver 

Best museums in Vancouver

Residents and visitors alike rave about the MOA, and just a glance at the award-winning, stunning structure by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson gives you one reason why. Inside the concrete and glass structure is even more intersting; you'll find towering totem poles and other artistic and cultural works of art from indigenous communities across the world. The museum has 9,000 of its ethnographic objects in public view, with artfully designed drawers revealing endless cultural artifacts to explore.

Nestled between the woods and the water of Vancouver’s Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium elicits oohs and aahs from children and adults. Focused on conservation and rehabilitation, you'll leave feeling empowered, educated and totally guilt-free eating fish sandwiches with their Ocean Wise program. Highlights include: a walk with butterflies through an Amazon rainforest exhibit, hand-holding sea otters, walruses, African penguins, and of course, gorgeous jellyfish. Want to hit an adult-only night? Check out After Hours.

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Besides being the backdrop to many-a movie, the Vancouver Art Gallery’s beautiful columns and dramatic entrance make the whole plaza a charm to walk around and explore. Located right in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the historical gem does not let its classical architecture limit its adventurous exhibits of modern and contemporary art (the permanent collection includes famous paintings by Canadian artist Emily Carr). The galleries themselves are small, intimate, and changing all the time, so make sure you check out the current exhibition being featured when you visit.

It’s hard to miss the 155-feet-tall geodesic dome that lights up along Vancouver’s gorgeous False Creek. Inside the dome you'll find a science center well-known for its interactive exhibits and explore-at-will set up, designed to ignite your brain with all things science and nature. Fiddle around with tricks of light and sound, challenge friends to mind puzzles, and catch a show in the world’s largest OMNIMAX dome theatre. Daily programming currently includes a VR Flying experience and if you’re not into kid-chaotic environments (what can we say, science is cool), stay tuned for After Dark events.

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The Museum of Vancouver is part of a trio of museums located on the waterfront of Vanier Park, which means you can hit all three with a combined admission pass to combat any rainy-day blues. As an award-winning civic history museum, the Museum of Vancouver holds proof that even young cities are rich with history, walking you through the original peoples and cultures of native history to the neon light phase emblematic of 1950s Vancouver. Eclectic and educational, the galleries are perfect for anyone wanting to walk away with a little bit more knowledge on the city of Vancouver and the communities that keep it alive.

The building that houses the H.R. MacMillan Space Center and the Museum of Vancouver is iconic from the roof designed to resemble the woven basket hat of the NW Coast First Nations, to the stainless steel crab fountain that greets all visitors. But step through the threshold and you’ll be transported somewhere much more universal as you lie on your back in the space center’s majestic planetarium. Besides their star shows, you can also catch an adult-only lecture night or visit the observatory on a Saturday evening to gaze at the stars and planets yourself.

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This Vanier Park museum is devoted to the maritime history of the Pacific Northwest and Arctic, and is itself a stunning piece of mid-century modern design. Its A-frame structure is built around the restored 80-ton schooner St. Roch, the first vessel to explore the Northwest Passage that spans across the length of the country through the waters of the north. Climb aboard and explore the cabins of the famous ship, before checking out other artifacts of naval history packed full in the intimate space.

The Beaty Biodiversity Museum was opened on the University of British Columbia’s campus in 2010, allowing the university’s natural history collections to be on display to the public for the first time. Since then, the museum has become a community space of flora and fauna, devoted to bringing a timeline of the local landscape’s biodiversity to life. The true highlight of this university museum is undoubtedly its skeleton of the blue whale (one of 21 on public display in the world), complete with a documentary in the auditorium explaining its journey across 6000km from Prince Edward Island and into the gallery’s glass atrium.

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Modeled after a 1920s town square, the Burnaby Village Museum is a heritage site right in Deer Lake Park, and not too far from Burnaby Lake. With a blacksmith, print shop, general store and period-costumed townspeople, the village provides an all-immersive experience for visitors looking to take a ride in a restored tram railway, hop on the old carousel, or even churn some butter. Gate admission is free, and you can look out for a decked-out Heritage Christmas at the village during the holidays.

Gustav Roedde became Vancouver’s first bookbinder when he settled with his wife Matilda in the city in 1888, and five years later, built what is now one of the protected heritage homes of Vancouver’s West End. Furnished to represent late Victorian family life, the house is alive and full of period objects, from box cameras to family portraits. Help yourself to tea and biscuits on a Sunday afternoon tour, or catch an intimate classical concert or live jazz.

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