Vancouver is a beautiful coastal city located in British Columbia on the western coast of Canada, about 165 miles north of Seattle. This world-class city truly offers the best of both worlds: a bustling urban center and breathtaking natural landscapes and outdoor experiences. Vancouver offers an impressive lineup of natural, cultural and historic experiences. Best of all, many of these experiences are free of charge! So if you’re a budget traveler visiting Vancouver, be sure to check out this list of free things to do around the city:
1. Tour the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was the first Ming Dynasty-style garden to be built outside of China. This enchanting garden was painstakingly built using the time-honored principles and techniques of China’s original Ming Dynasty gardens and features asymmetrical arrangements of rocks and plants, winding paths, and corridors and vistas that overlook courtyards. Described as a “window to another world,” strolling through this serene and majestic garden lets you journey back in time to 15th-century China.
Admission to the garden is normally $12 for adults and $9 for children over five, but if you arrive at the garden a half hour before it closes, admission is free for everyone. For the garden’s hours of operation, which vary according to the season, click here. Also, adjacent to the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Garden is the Dr. Sun-Yat Sen Park, which is a public park space that is free to visit at all times of the day.
2. Cool off at the Granville Island Water Park
With temperatures rising above 100 degrees during the summer in Vancouver, the heat can get sweltering. If you’re looking for a fun and free way to cool off, visit the Granville Island Water Park, which is the largest free water park in all of North America. Located at the False Creek Community Centre, this water park is only open during June, July and August.
3. Enjoy the beach
If you’re visiting Vancouver during the summer, make sure to visit one of the city’s beautiful public beaches.
Kitsilano Beach (a.k.a “Kits Beach”) is one of Vancouver’s most popular beaches. It features a concession stand, Boathouse restaurant, washrooms, tennis courts, basketball courts, playground, swimming raft and summer lifeguards. Admission to Kits Beach is free, although you’ll have to pay a small parking fee.
Jericho Beach is another popular Vancouver beach that is also a great fishing spot. In addition to fishing, Jericho Beach offers a concession stand, athletic playing fields, tennis courts, picnic tables, Jericho Sailing Centre, swimming raft, summer lifeguards, and a beach wheelchair for persons with physical disabilities. Admission is free, but parking costs $2 per hour or $6 for the day.
The least crowded beach in Vancouver is probably the Spanish Banks Beach. This beach, which is a great spot for skim boarding, also features a concession stand, volleyball courts, picnic tables, and summer lifeguards. Admission and parking are free.
If you are traveling with children, avoid Wreck Beach—it’s clothing-optional!
4. Tour the Capliano Salmon Hatchery
Salmon farming is big business in the Pacific Northwest. Learn about these famous fish by taking a free, 30-minute self-guided tour of Vancouver’s Capliano Salmon Hatchery. Depending on what season you visit the hatchery, you can observe salmon developing from eggs to juveniles or watch mature salmon returning to the fish ladder. Kids will love watching the salmon jump from pool to pool as they move along the fish ladder! At the hatchery, there is also a free park with hiking trails and a picnic area. Admission to the Capliano Salmon Hatchery and the surrounding park is free.
5. Stargaze at the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory
Vancouver’s H.R. MacMillian Space Center is an amazing museum, but unfortunately it has pretty steep admission fees (Adults are $18; Youth (12–18) and Seniors are $15; and Kids (5–11) are $13). Fortunately for cost-conscious travellers, located right next to the Space Center is the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory. This well-known observatory has a 10-meter observatory dome, featuring a half-metre Cassegrain telescope that you can use to explore the skies around Vancouver. On Friday and Saturday nights between 8 p.m. and midnight, when the sky is clear, you can visit the observatory for free to stargaze through the telescope and learn from the staff about what you are seeing. While admission to the observatory is free on Friday and Saturday nights, a small donation is suggested.
6. Hike the Grouse Grind
If you are an experienced hiker and outdoor enthusiast, lace up your hiking shoes and make the 1.8-mile trek up the Grouse Grind. This hike is considered pretty strenuous and is not for young children or couch potatoes—the trail climbs nearly 3000 feet over the course of just 1.8 miles. If you make it to the top, you’ll not only earn bragging rights by being able to say that you hiked the “Grind,” but also you’ll be treated to some of the most spectacular views in the city. You can also enjoy a beverage at the Grouse Mountain Chalet and take in various events. While it is free to hike up and down the Grind on foot, if you get tired and don’t want to walk back down, you can buy a gondola ticket for $5.
7. Enjoy a day outside at Queen Elizabeth Park
The 130-acre Queen Elizabeth Park is one of Vancouver’s most popular recreation areas, and admission to the park is free. You can take a stroll through the park’s grounds and gardens (which feature over 3,000 different kinds of trees), view the park’s sculptures and public art exhibits, or have a picnic. If you’re the sporty type, the park features free roller hockey and basketball courts, tennis courts, and a Frisbee disc-golf area.
8. Explore Stanley Park
The 1000-acre Stanley Park is Vancouver’s most popular outdoor attraction. This massive park features scenic trails; beaches; natural, cultural, and historical landscapes; athletic activities; picnic areas; restaurants; and a slew of other activities. Admission to the park is free.