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I’m back on the Vancouver content train, with today’s guide to the best free things to do in Vancouver. I also include some very cheap options as well and I guarantee you will find something fun on this list. From hikes to free festivals to the best views, I cover all bases.
Somehow it’s been over six months since I left Canada and Vancouver and I still have so much information to spill on Vancouver. If you have any suggestions for what you want to see next, leave them in the comments below. But for now, here are my favourite free things to do in Vancouver.
Before we dive in… if you’re looking for accommodation in Vancouver, check out this post. For fellow budget travellers though, I recommend Airbnb and Samesun Backpackers.
The best free things to do in Vancouver (plus cheap options too!)
1. Stroll through Stanley Park
Stanley Park is Vancouver’s very large urban park. It’s connected to the city, so you can easily walk there from downtown. There’s a lot to see and do around Stanley Park. This includes biking or walking the seawall and seeing sights like Brockton Point Lighthouse, the Girl in the Wetsuit statue and Siwash Rock. There’s also Beaver Lake and the Vancouver Aquarium within the park and the beaches on its west side. Stanley Park also looks very good in fall, if you’re visiting in the autumnal months. In summer, Stanley Park hosts free outdoor movie nights too. Basically, if you’re looking for free things to do in Vancouver, head to Stanley Park.
2. Do some plane spotting
My friend and I only checked out Larry Berg Flight Path Park a couple of months before I left Vancouver. But what a cool spot! It’s directly in line with the airport’s south runway, so you can see planes land and take off. There’s also a massive globe, information about the airport, paper airplane benches (I KNOW) and picnic tables. If you want to do something different but free in Vancouver, check it out.
3. Hike it out
There are too many free hikes and walking trails to enjoy around Vancouver. The most popular include Quarry Rock in Deep Cove, Lighthouse Park, Burnaby Mountain and Whytecliff Park. The seawall also stretches from Stanley Park to Kits, so you could easily pick a section of that to walk or bike along as well. If you want to do the infamous Grouse Grind (a.k.a nature’s stairmaster), you will need money for the gondola ride down the mountain, as you can’t walk back down.
4. Take plenty of photos from lovely Lonsdale Quay
Okay, so this is technically one of the best cheap things to do in Vancouver, because you have to get the Seabus to Lonsdale Quay from Waterfront Station in downtown Vancouver (if you’re using public transport). BUT, the sunset views from Lonsdale Quay and the Shipyards are SO worth it. Check out my post on where to photograph the Vancouver skyline for more photographic evidence. Another option is the view from nearby Waterfront Park as well.
For more info on how to spend the day in North Vancouver, CLICK HERE
5. Get yourself to Granville Island
Another one of my favourite places in Vancouver is Granville Island and its Public Market. The market houses stalls selling handmade goods, fresh produce, delicious treats and even a food court. Although a certain seagull scarred me for life here when it snatched half my biscuit out of my hand as I was going to take a bite, I still like it. The views from Granville Island – and from Granville and Burrard Bridges if you walk to the island from downtown – are picture perfect.
6. Enjoy a free culture night
Free nights at museums and art galleries are one of the best free things to do in Vancouver (and any city, really). Vancouver Art Gallery and H.R. Macmillan Space Centre do free evenings each week (Tuesday and Saturday respectively).
7. Check out Kits
One of my favourite Vancouver walking trails takes you from Granville Island to Kits Beach. On a sunny day, you can get some beautiful photos of the city, mountains, water and Stanley Park. It also connect two excellent free things to do in Vancouver (score!). Kits Beach is always bustling with people in summer and is home to an outdoor swimming pool too. From the beach, you could also walk up to the shops on West 4th Avenue, for a not-so-free thing to do. Otherwise, continue west towards Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach.
8. See the spectacular view from Queen Elizabeth Park
How I missed visiting Queen Elizabeth Park during my first time living in Vancouver I’ll never know. But it’s a different park compared to Stanley Park. Firstly, it’s Vancouver’s highest elevation, which equals the best city views. Secondly, it has beautiful gardens to check out and is home to Bloedel Conservatory. Thirdly, there’s free disc golf (like frisbee golf?).
Queen Elizabeth Park is just one of the stops listed in my 24-hour guide to Vancouver. CLICK HERE to read all about it!
9. Visit Burnaby Village Museum
Burnaby Village Museum has free admission and takes you back to the 1920s. It resembles a 1920s tram stop community, from the costumed townspeople to the shops. Although I never visited, it sounds like a fun day out, particular for families.
10. Go to Gastown
Gastown will always be my favourite Vancouver neighbourhood. The cobblestones. The twinkly lights. Those brick buildings. Tuesday trivia at The Lamplighter. Fishbowls and birthday treats at Steamworks. TACOFINO. Anyway, it would be a crime if you missed seeing Gastown while visiting Vancouver. Walking through the neighbourhood tops most definitely tops my free things to do in Vancouver list. I personally think it looks better at night too.
Here are even more things to do at night in Vancouver
11. Check out a free festival or market
Particularly in summer, there are so many free festivals and markets happening in Vancouver. My favourites include the Richmond Night Market (a cheap-but-not-free option), Shipyards Night Market, Italian Day on Commercial Drive, Celebration of Light, Khatsahlano and Canada Day celebrations at Canada Place. But there’s also the Vancouver Pride Parade, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival… SO many options. I tell you, summertime in Vancouver is the best!
12. Visit Robson Square
Robson Square in downtown Vancouver hosts events throughout the year. In winter, there’s free ice skating available. I’m too uncoordinated to take part in such an activity, but if you’re more graceful than me check it out. Robson Square also hosts free Friday and Sunday night dance classes in the summertime (ballroom and salsa respectively).
13. Hit the beach
Vancouver does have some lovely beaches, even if the water is too cold for me. Check out First, Second and Third beaches at Stanley Park (I know, original). There’s also Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, which has a beautiful beachfront walk. Or Wreck Beach, the largest nudist beach in North America (if that’s more your style).
14. Visit Jack Poole Plaza
When visiting Vancouver, make sure you check out the Olympic Cauldron in Jack Poole Plaza. It’s located on the waterfront beside the Vancouver Convention Centre, so has beautiful views across to North Vancouver as well. Speaking of Olympics, Olympic Village is a good stop on the seawall for a drink and city views. I am a big fan of Tap & Barrel’s patio.
15. Explore Lynn Canyon Park
One of Vancouver’s most popular attractions is Capilano Suspension Bridge. However, it is not a cheap place to visit, so I never actually went. However, Lynn Canyon Park in North Vancouver has its own suspension bridge. I visited with friends during my first month in Vancouver and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon. There are walking trails and you can swim in the freezing water, if you dare. Bonus: it’s accessible via public transport.
16. Spot street art
I do love to spot street art and Vancouver has some amazing pieces spread around town. Check out this guide I wrote for The Culture Trip, all about the best places to see street art in Vancouver. Your Instagram will thank you.
17. Enjoy a free walking tour
When I first arrived in Vancouver, I did a couple of free walking tours with Tour Guys. It helped me learn more about my new city and see some of the sights. I have spoken A LOT about free tours on this blog, because I basically do them in nearly every city I go to and Vancouver is no exception. Technically though, this would be classified under cheap things to do in Vancouver, as tips are appreciated.
18. Do some celebrity stalking
Let’s be honest, my celebrity stalking was abysmal in Vancouver. For the amount of shows that film in the city, I can’t believe the only celebrities I saw were the Supernatural boys (but they’re pretty so that’s okay). When I watch shows filmed in Vancouver, I notice so many distinctive areas, but alas the celebrities dodged me. Anyway, keep your eyes peeled downtown for signs, police cars and big shiny lights.
19. Catch an Aquabus
This is another one of the best cheap things to do in Vancouver. You can take the Aquabus around False Creek and it’s a unique way to see Vancouver from the water. It was one of those things I thought I had to try once and I’m glad I did.
A wrap on the top free (and cheap) things to do in Vancouver
So there it is, 19 free things to do in Vancouver (and some cheap things to do thrown in for good measure). I hope this comprehensive list helps you decide what to do in my second home. For more Vancouver goodness, check out these posts: where to stay (there’s options for all budgets), my 24-hour guide, where to take awesome photos of the skyline and the best things to do at night.