For local residents, the BC in the name Vancouver, BC, doesn't stand for British Columbia, but instead means Bring Cash. Over the last few decades, this West Coast city has undergone an astonishing real estate boom, and the cost of living has risen accordingly. What that means for visitors is that visiting Vancouver can quickly burn a hole in your pocket.
Luckily, it doesn't have to. A big part of the attraction of this West Coast city is its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, the North Shore mountains, and the endless British Columbia backcountry. It needn't cost you anything to enjoy the best hikes in Vancouver, the stunning scenery is one of the best things about this world-renowned city. Plus, if you're willing to be a little creative in what you choose to do, you can find relative bargains and free things to do in Vancouver wherever you look.
One of the keys to saving money on a trip to Vancouver is being flexible. You'll be better able to get around and enjoy some of the free things to do in Vancouver if you travel light. So drop off your bags at a Bounce luggage storage in Vancouver and enjoy these options for things to do in the city.
Stanley Park is Vancouver's top tourist attraction, and it isn't hard to see why. Few cities on earth are blessed with having a 1000 acre forest preserve right in the downtown core, but that's part of what makes Vancouver so special. Most of Stanley Park was logged during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the coastal temperate rainforest has fully recovered, and Stanley Park continues to offer a glimpse of the way Vancouver looked before the city was born.
This isn't your average city park. Stanley Park offers miles of hiking trails through the woods and along the Stanley Park seawall, where you can enjoy magnificent views of Vancouver's North Shore and the bright blue Pacific Ocean. As you make your way through the park, you may encounter isolated beaches such as Third Beach, World War II defense relics, and charismatic wildlife including raccoons, geese, and even coyotes. And it's all completely free.
Stanley Park is also home to some paying attractions, such as Vancouver Aquarium, the Stanley Park pitch and putt course, and a miniature train, making the park one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids. But you don't need to spend any money at all to enjoy your time in Stanley Park. Plus, the park is easily reached by public transit, and is within walking distance of downtown Vancouver. There's absolutely no reason not to explore the sprawling park, free or not, while you're in town.
Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the largest in Canada and is a major attraction for art-loving locals and visitors alike. Its collection contains an impressive selection of West Coast art by legendary Vancouver artist Emily Carr and the celebrated Canadian painter collective the Group of Seven. It also holds an impressive range of First Nations art, making the centrally located art gallery a must-visit on your trip to the city.
If you time your visit right, you can visit one of the city's top attractions without paying anything. On Tuesday evenings, Vancouver Art Gallery offers admission by donation, so you can pay what you want. This makes it unquestionably one of the best free things to do in Vancouver. While you can visit for absolutely free, you probably should contribute at least a little money to helping the museum remain accessible to those on a budget. But what you pay is completely up to you, so you can save a lot of money by visiting on a Tuesday evening.
Visit Granville Island
Just to the south of downtown Vancouver, Granville Island is one of the city's most popular places to visit. Once an industrial district of factories, warehouses, and docks, the island has become a fantastic place to eat and have fun. It's home to some of the city's best seafood restaurants, and you'll also find tons of quirky boutique stores and some independent theaters and art galleries. You can explore all of these without spending anything since Granville Island is one of the city's best locations for window shopping. Plus, the island is perhaps best known for the presence of Granville Island Market, the biggest and liveliest permanent market in the city. It doesn't cost anything to explore the stalls and learn more about the local produce of the region, but you may find it a challenge not to buy something, whether it's some delicious food made by a local trader or a quirky souvenir from one of the many craft stalls.
You can reach Granville Island easily by a short bus ride from downtown Vancouver. However, a more fun way to visit is to take the short ferry ride across False Creek. While it isn't free, the $3.50 ticket is worth it for a pleasant ride on a quaint boat through the marina. Kids especially will love it, and they'll also love the destination when they hear about Granville Island water park. This is North America's biggest free waterpark and makes a fantastic place for families to visit during the summer months.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
In the heavily forested mountains of North Vancouver, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is another of Vancouver's top attractions. This impressive suspension bridge travels over the gorge created by the Capilano River, and the swaying bridge offers incredible views of the mountain scenery. Over a million visitors make the journey every year to see the bridge.
But locals know you can get a similar experience absolutely free at Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. Although not as long as the Capilano Bridge, the bridge over Lynn Canyon offers a similar thrill of gazing down at the rushing river far below while the bridge sways gently underneath you. There are also tons of hiking trails in Lynn Canyon Park itself, and you can visit Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre to learn more about the natural history of the area. As a municipal park, Lynn Canyon Park is completely free to visit and is easily accessible by public transportation from downtown Vancouver.
Hit the beach
The rainy West Coast of British Columbia may not be the beach destination the Caribbean is, but the city of Vancouver is nevertheless blessed with some beautiful beaches that won't cost you a penny to visit. Each of Vancouver's beaches has its own vibrant atmosphere, so you're bound to find a favorite. English Bay Beach is the closest to downtown Vancouver, and therefore one of the busiest. Third Beach, located in Stanley Park, is small but surprisingly secluded. Kitsilano Beach, or Kits Beach to locals, is one of the best for staying active thanks to its sports facilities, while Jericho Beach has a kayak center where you can rent a boat and explore the ocean. Spanish Banks is a little more secluded than the rest, but if you really want a unique experience, head to the western edge of the city and legendary Wreck Beach. This clothing-optional beach is surrounded by pristine forest and is one of the best places to explore Vancouver's counterculture. Visiting Canada's largest nudist beach is an experience not to be missed if you're brave enough for it. Just remember, the water is cold all year round, so skinny dipping is best done in short bursts.
Free walking tours
Taking a tour is a great way to get to grips with a new city and learn more about its history and culture. There are a variety of walking tours available through downtown Vancouver and the historic Gastown district, and these tours can help you understand Vancouver on a deeper level. You'll even find lots of options for a free walking tour that will teach you a lot about the city without costing you anything. However, if you're going to take advantage of a free walking tour, you should at least tip the guide for the information they give you. In any case, this is one of the best free things to do in Vancouver if you want to learn more about the city without spending a lot.
Richmond Night Market
Located to the south of Vancouver itself close to Vancouver International Airport, the city of Richmond has been a center of Asian immigration for decades. At the last count, Richmond was 47% ethnic Chinese, with several other Asian populations living there too. As a result, parts of the city feel more like Asia than they do Canada. Nowhere is that more true than the Richmond Night Market. Held during the summer, this lively night market is a great place to shop for unique souvenirs and try cuisine from across Asia. This cultural experience feels like traveling across the world without leaving the West Coast, and the market is totally free to visit. However, once you smell the delicious food on offer, it will be very hard not to spend at least a little money here.
Christ Church Cathedral
Vancouver is a very young city, and so you can't expect the glorious cathedrals and historic monuments you'd find in Europe to be here. However, in the heart of downtown, Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1888, is one of the city's oldest buildings and is a throwback to the culture of Vancouver's first European immigrants. Step inside the hush of the Cathedral from the busyness of the downtown streets that surround it, and you could be forgiven for thinking you've entered another world.
As well as being an oasis of calm in the heart of the city, the Cathedral is a popular venue for choral and classical music concerts. Events are held here throughout the year, and admission is often free, making this another of the excellent free things to do in Vancouver for those who appreciate culture.
Although not technically in the city itself, Lighthouse Park offers one of the best free things to do in Vancouver. Reachable by public transit from the city's downtown core, this coastal park in West Vancouver on the mountainous North Shore offers an escape from civilization that you will find hard to believe is so close to the city. The old-growth forest of cedar, hemlock, and coastal arbutus trees feels like another world, and the precipitous hiking trails will give you a free workout while you enjoy the stunning scenery. Linger for a while on a rocky cliff overlooking the ocean, and you're bound to see marine wildlife like bald eagles, seals, sea lions, and possibly even killer whales patrolling the blue water. It's the perfect place to recharge your batteries and get a glimpse of British Columbia's natural splendor without going far from the city.
Grouse Mountain is hard to miss. As well as being one of the huge mountains that tower over the city of Vancouver, Grouse Mountain is one of the top tourist attractions in the area. At the top, you'll find a restaurant, a grizzly bear enclosure, plenty of hiking trails, and incredible views over the Lower Mainland and all the way into the United States.
The gondola ride to the top of the mountain isn't free. However, if you're in good shape, you can test yourself on the Grouse Grind, one of the most famous hiking trails in Vancouver that climbs right up the face of the mountain. Once you reach the top, the gondola back down is free, and so are the attractions on the summit, making the walk well worth it and one of the best free things to do in Vancouver.
Drive the Sea to Sky Highway
OK, rental cars and gas to drive them aren't technically free. But the cost is a small price to pay to enjoy some absolutely world-class scenery on the Sea to Sky Highway. This highway heads out of Vancouver north to the resort municipality of Whistler, and along the way, it runs along dramatic cliffs over Howe Sound and the Pacific Ocean. There are plenty of pullouts along the way where you can stop the car, get some photos, and take in the view, and you'll definitely want to take your time on this coastal road. Often considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world, this drive is one you won't forget.
Vancouver is in certain ways a victim of its own popularity. A cosmopolitan city surrounded by incredible natural beauty, it was only a matter of time before the world realized what a gem Vancouver is. As a result, the city can be an incredibly expensive place to visit, shop, dine, have fun, and live.
But by taking advantage of some of these free things to do in Vancouver, you can keep the cost of a trip much more manageable. Taking advantage of these free things means you'll have a little more money in your budget to enjoy more expensive treats like a fabulous meal or a fun activity. And with Bounce looking after your unneeded luggage, you can fully focus on having fun in this beautiful West Coast city.