Vancouver, British Columbia, is a large seaport city with a culturally-diverse population. This makes it an interesting place to visit for the festivals, cuisine, and urban sights, many of which are inexpensive.
With its gorgeous scenery, historic neighborhoods, and close-by access to nature, finding cheap things to do in Vancouver is not difficult. You can stroll the public market, follow the trails in a beautiful park, and go hiking.
Located at the edge of downtown Vancouver, this 37-acre island was once an industrial area but today is a charming destination for shoppers and culture seekers. Granville Island features a wonderful public market, many artsy shops, and galleries, a theater, restaurants, a brewery, and a hotel.
Granville Island is free to visit, but there are many things that will tempt you to open up your wallet.
Covering 1000 acres, Vancouver's Stanley Park is a downtown sanctuary that offers city dwellers and visitors a multitude of indoor and outdoor activities. The park features an 8.8 kilometer (5.5 miles) seawall that runs the perimeter and provides a perfectly flat, paved path for rollerblading, biking, jogging, and hiking. In addition, a petting farm, the Vancouver Aquarium, and numerous other recreational facilities are in Stanley Park.
There is no admission to Stanley Park and much to do there is free; however, some activities will cost money.
Observe one of the greatest life cycle stories in nature at North Vancouver's Capilano Salmon Hatchery (about 20 mins outside of downtown Vancouver). Juvenile salmon are raised on site, and visitors are invited to see them before they return to the river, free of charge.
Just 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver, take a close-up look at 200 farm animals, birds, pet bunnies, horses, and goats. Maplewood is a working farm, so visitors are treated to milking demonstrations, sheep shearing, and more. Admission is minimal, parking is free, and families can easily enjoy two to three hours at the farm.
Vancouver's waterfront public art installations add a lot to the city's character. Get yourself a coffee and take a self-guided tour of these local treasures and monuments.
Take a spin around False Creek on an Aquabus ferry. Start or end at Granville Island, Yaletown, Science World, and five other locations. Hang out on the Aquabus for the whole circuit, which takes about half an hour, or head straight for your destination. Each trip is only a few bucks and you get to see Vancouver from a unique vantage point.
Earn your bragging rights by tackling the Grouse Grind, a 2.9-kilometer trail up the face of Grouse Mountain, a popular local ski hill in winter. If you reach the top, you will have gained 853 meters (2,800 feet) from the start. Mucky and steep but gorgeous, the Grouse Grind is a difficult hike/climb that will give you not just a sense of accomplishment, but a stunning view of Vancouver and its surrounding area.
The hike up is free, but the suggested return trip is by gondola, which will cost you about $10. Depending on where you park, you may have to pay for parking, which is about $8 for the day.
Novices should expect to take 1.5 to 2 hours to complete the Grind.
Vancouver and the surrounding area is one of the biggest film production locations in North America. Futuristic productions such as TV's Battlestar Galactica and X-Men: The Last Stand is especially popular due in part to the architecturally innovative Vancouver Public Library.
At almost any given time, a potential Hollywood hit is in the making somewhere in the city. Just check out Creative BC for the latest scuttlebutt.
If you happen to be exploring the city, you may see signs of a film production by way of large, temporary neon signs tacked to posts with arrows, lines of large white trucks, or bright movie lighting.
Sail on the SeaBus to Lonsdale Quay
For the price of a two-zone transit ticket ($4.20 or $2.95 after 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends), you can take a 15-minute trip on the SeaBus from Waterfront Station in Gastown across to Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver.
Take a Tour of Main Street's Murals
Every summer the Vancouver Mural Fest brings a fresh coat of paint to the buildings and alleyways of East Vancouver, especially around Main Street. The city's largest public art celebration leaves a legacy of colorful displays that are ideal for photographing.
Be Inspired With the Library
The Vancouver Inspiration Pass is a program from the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) that lets families and kids "borrow" a Pass for free general admission to many Vancouver attractions and activities. Any Vancouver resident 14+ with a VPL library card can place a "hold" on one of the VPL's 140 Vancouver Inspiration Passes and then "borrow" the pass (like a book) for two-weeks.
Spend the Evening at a Summer Night Market
Kicking off on Victoria Day weekend and running through September, summer night markets are a Lower Mainland tradition that recreates Asian night markets right in Vancouver. One of the top summer events in Vancouver, the two huge night markets in Richmond have over 300 vendors, tons of food, live entertainment, and attract nightly crowds of thousands. It's not technically free—admission is $2—but that's low enough to warrant a spot on this list! That said, you will spend money on the food. Who can resist hurricane potatoes, sui mai and sno cones?
Hike Lynn Canyon
Located just north of Vancouver, Lynn Canyon is the free alternative to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. Not only does Lynn Canyon have its own free suspension bridge, but it also boasts waterfalls, mini hikes and a swimming hole for summer.
Explore the Gardens at Queen Elizabeth Park
From lawn bowling and disc golf to the famous dancing fountains at its peak, Queen Elizabeth Park has lots of free things to do and see, but it's hard to top a trip to its beautiful quarry gardens. Queen Elizabeth Park's two quarry gardens are horticultural delights, with pathways, bridges and mini waterfalls set amongst hundreds of plants and flowers.
Garden lovers can also check out the equally free Stanley Park Gardens.
Have Fun at a Free Festival
Every month Vancouver has free festivals, events, and multicultural celebrations—events like June's International Jazz Festival, July's Celebration of Light Fireworks Competition, April's Vaisakhi Parade, and December's Christmas at Canada Place—that offer free fun for people of all ages.
Use these monthly event calendars to find the free festivals, events or celebrations happening this month:
Visit Chinatown's Sights
All of Chinatown's most historic sites are free to visit, and touring the sites makes an ideal, free day-in-the-city. Take your own walking tour of this famous neighborhood and see landmarks like the Millennium Gate, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese garden, and the world's narrowest building, the Sam Kee Building.
Hit the Beach at English Bay
Vancouver beaches are some of the best in the world, boasting soft sand, thrilling mountain-and-city vistas, and lots of chances for outdoor sports and adventure. Whether it's a hot summer day and you're looking for fun in the sun, or a cool autumn afternoon and the family wants the perfect barbecue spot, Vancouver's gorgeous beaches are a perfect free getaway.
Scenic beaches include English Bay Beach, Kits Beach, Spanish Banks, Wreck Beach, and Jericho Beach.
Check out Vancouver Art Gallery
The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is the largest art gallery in western Canada and one of downtown Vancouver's most important landmarks. VAG hosts two to three large, international exhibits every year, plus 10 to 12 exhibits of its own extensive collections, and you can see the current exhibits by donation every Tuesday, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Another way to see free art is to browse South Granville's Gallery Row.
Take a Hike on the North Shore
If you love exercise and the great outdoors, hiking can be one of the best free things to do in Vancouver and there are many options for great Vancouver hikes. Vancouver is blessed with a variety of great hiking trails, from the difficult-but-popular Grouse Grind up Grouse Mountain to less strenuous hikes and nature walks that are great for kids.