Vancouver is the most populated city in British Columbia. This coastal destination is also the third largest metropolitan area in Canada, as well as the 5th best city in the world for quality of life. All of these make Vancouver an attractive place to visit – but is it affordable? That’s up for debate. Canada in general is an expensive country to visit due to high retail taxes, pricey hotels, and the fact that Canada is so large. However, you can significantly cut back on your spending in Vancouver by finding free things to do there!
Free Things to Do in Vancouver
I grew up just outside of Vancouver and although I live in Washington state now, I like to go back and visit on a regular basis. My family still lives in British Columbia and it’s only about an hour drive from where I currently live so there is always a reason to go back home. I may be biased but I think Vancouver is truly one of the nicest cities in the world.
If you are planning a trip to British Columbia I recommend you go during the summer months because you are almost guaranteed sunshine and hot weather. The city is still beautiful in the spring, fall and winter but you are mostly likely going to have grey clouds and rainy weather.
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Vancouver is a very expensive city but keep in mind if you are visiting from the USA or Europe the low Canadian dollar will work in your favor. While staying in an AirBnB or Couchsurfing accommodation will significantly cut down the cost of your trip, you’ll still be spending more on activities than you would in other countries. Filling up your itinerary with free activities will help you to stay within your trip budget without missing out on what Vancouver has to offer!
This island is filled with free activities! 10.5 million people visit Granville Island for a reason – their Public Market draws culinary fanatics to the neighborhood. You may even spot a top chef while you’re there! You’re also likely to witness some street performances, with talent ranging from singer/songwriters to spontaneous drum circles.
Other free attractions on Granville Island include a small water park with a slide and fountains and annual festivals. The only thing you’ll have to pay for (besides food) is an Aquabus ticket to get to the island!
In downtown Vancouver, you can watch cruise ships sail by and walk on the Canadian Trail. The Canadian Trail isn’t a hiking trail. Rather, it’s a path that goes all the way across Canada. It would take two years, two months, and one week to cross from one side of the trail to the other! If you’re a bit short on time, take the trail to the North Point for great views of the Port of Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains.
There are also several photo opportunities in the area, like the Canada Place Sails that light up at night.
Many of Vancouver’s art galleries have free admission days, but the Contemporary Art Gallery is always free! Their exhibitions rotate frequently, since the gallery offers residencies to up-and-coming artists. The artwork isn’t just visual art – you’ll also see films, mixed media, and sculptures!
The Contemporary Art Gallery also hosts off-site exhibitions that are designed to challenge stereotypes about street art. Whether you visit the main gallery or an off-site exhibition, the pieces on display will intrigue and challenge you to think deeply!
Experience the beauty of Chinatown at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park! Although admission to the garden is $10, the park itself is free. It includes lovely plants and a courtyard with some great views. While you’re at the park, explore Chinatown, which is full of cross-cultural wonders.
Take a hike at Lynn Canyon Park, one of Vancouver’s most popular free attractions! In addition to leisurely hiking trails, the park also offers swimming holes, an ecology center (with a suggested donation amount of $2, but you can pay less), and a suspension bridge. The suspension bridge sits high above the canyon, so walk across it if you aren’t afraid of heights!
Not sure which trail to hike? The Twin Falls Trail will take you to a beautiful waterfall, Baden Powell Trail is a 1.5-hour hike through the North Shore region, and a trail starting on the North side of the suspension bridge leads to a swimming hole. There’s so much to see, so you might spend all day at the park!
Are you looking for a more challenging hike? This trail will take you nearly 3 kilometers up Grouse Mountain, and it’s not to be taken lightly! The Grouse Grind is recommended only for advanced hikers, since it’s all uphill. They don’t call it “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” for nothing!
A hiker can expect to take an hour and a half to reach the 1,127-meter-high summit. With 2,830 stairs, you might be in for the toughest workout of your life!
You may not think of a steam clock as particularly exciting, but Vancouver is home to one of the only functioning steam-powered clocks in the world! The clock attracts tourists, since it whistles every 15 minutes. You won’t spend much time viewing the clock, but there’s plenty more to do in Gastown besides that!
Gastown is known for its hip, contemporary boutiques, as well as its art galleries. There’s plenty of history in this little neighborhood, so why not explore it?
Check out this artifact from the 2010 Olympic Games! Head to Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Center to see the cauldron from the Olympics hosted in Vancouver, along with incredible views of the North Shore Mountains. The 10-meter-tall cauldron still lights up at night, too!
The Vancouver Convention Center also has an Olympic Legacy Display with medals, torches, and a podium used during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games. You may never make it to the Olympics, but this is as close as it gets for non-athletes!
Although you can place bets on horses, it’s free to watch the races at the Hastings Racecourse! The vintage racetrack has been around since 1947, and includes dining and a casino. Check out their schedule to see when you can view a race!
This Canadian city is full of public beaches that are free to access! Ambleside Beach is one of several urban beaches in Vancouver. It’s less popular than Vancouver’s other public beaches, so there will be fewer crowds. Here, you’ll find 8 kilometers of hiking trails and great views of the sunset.
If you’re interested in a more popular beach, check out English Bay Beach. Located in Vancouver’s downtown area, this beach is open for swimming when lifeguards are on duty. You can also play volleyball or rent a kayak!
Vancouver is filled with pricey tourist attractions, but you can avoid them while still enjoying your trip. By taking advantage of the free activities in Vancouver, you’ll save money that you can put towards food or lodging. Don’t let the high price of visiting Canada keep you from visiting one of their best cities!