Tourism is becoming the backbone of Vancouver's economy. Tourists added $2.5 billion in spending to the city's economy in 1998.

Since the world discovered Vancouver during the 1986 World Expo, the number of tourists coming to the city each year hovers around the six million mark. In fact, in the year prior to hosting the World Expo, Greater Vancouver played host to about 3.8 million tourists. During 1986 and since, the number of visitors has not fallen below 5.7 million.

The city has also capitalized on its proximity to America to the south and the low Canadian dollar (U.S.$0.65 = Can$1 in 1999), drawing American tourists with bargain prices.

The city is well situated to funnel tourists heading to popular destinations, like the Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island to the west. With two ski mountains just minutes from the city and two world-class resorts just hours away, Vancouver also enjoys a brisk winter tourist season.

The bulk of tourist activity, however, is during the spring, summer, and fall months when precipitation is minimal, and temperatures are comfortable. A walking tour of Gastown, Chinatown, and the smaller Japantown highlights the early history of Vancouver. On route in Gastown is a statue of John Deighton, nicknamed "Gassy Jack" for his talkative nature and for whom the neighborhood of Gastown is named.

Also of interest is Gallery Row, between Sixth Avenue and Fifteenth Avenue on Granville Street where a number of private galleries show internationally celebrated local artists.

The Vancouver Art Gallery in the heart of downtown Vancouver houses a permanent collection that celebrates the art of famous British Columbia artists such as Emily Carr (1871–1945), a contemporary of Canada's famous Group of Seven (a group of artists that believed Canadian art must be truly inspired by Canada itself). The building, once Vancouver's courthouse, was built in 1911 and transformed into an art gallery in 1983.