Next up in the series of free things to do in North American cities is Vancouver, Canada. Vancouver has been on my bucket list for a long time now, so I asked Campbell and Alya from Stingy Nomads to share their favourite free things to do in Vancouver Canada.
The city of Vancouver on the south-west coast of British Columbia, Canada is a beautiful cosmopolitan city surrounded both by ocean and mountains. This amazing location in nature allows for a huge variety of outdoor activities, from snow sports in winter to hiking and even surfing in summer. This modern city is also home to upscale shopping, excellent restaurants, exciting markets and a happening nightlife. Although Vancouver is not the cheapest place to visit, in this article we highlight some of the best free things to do in Vancouver, including several outdoor activities and places to visit in the city without breaking the bank.
The Best Free Things to do in Vancouver Canada
Hike Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain, at 1250 metres (4100 feet) above sea level, is often called ‘the Peak of Vancouver’. Located close to downtown Vancouver, this mountain is the city’s outdoor amusement park with a range of activities and entertainment for all seasons open the whole year.
In winter on Grouse Mountain skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing and other winter activities are very popular. In summer, the Grouse Grind is one of the city’s favorite activities; a legendary hiking trail up Grouse Mountain renowned for its difficulty.
The Grouse Grind is seen as more of a fitness challenge than a hike by many local trail runners. It deserves this reputation climbing just shy of 3000 stairs with an 800 m elevation gain over only 3 km.
Going up Grouse Mountain is free, the trail is a one-way trail and coming down you have to pay to use the Skyride. You can hike down for free on the BCMC trail, just be careful as this trail is known for loose rocks.
HR Macmillan Space Center
The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre is an astronomy museum in Vancouver. This exciting space museum features several interactive exhibits including Virtual Voyages and a flight simulator. The planetary complex is open for stargazing. The space museum is located at Vanier Park in Vancouver and the entrance is by donation.
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Visit Granville Island
Granville Island is located across downtown Vancouver, and technically it is a peninsula connected to Vancouver. This popular shopping district is a hotspot for tourism and entertainment with over 10 million visitors per year.
Granville Island is an awesome place for foodies and music lovers with plenty of buskers performing in the streets all day and a huge variety of tasty treats for sale.
Granville Island Public Market is one of the most popular places to visit on the island. An indoor market hosting an assortment of food and produce stores, handcrafted products and unique gifts with 50 permanent retailers and typically more than one-hundred day vendors on stalls. The market is open daily from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Beer lovers shouldn’t miss Granville Island Brewing for a beer and a bite to eat, this was Canada’s first microbrewery. The peninsula used to be an industrial manufacturing area and the architecture still incorporates in the innovatively remodelled warehouses.
The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG)
The Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the five largest art galleries in Canada. It hosts more than 9000 pieces, with rotating exhibitions and 200 major artworks, and is the city’s leading gallery. Visit this impressive art gallery on Tuesday evenings when the admission fee is by donation. The gallery is situated in Downtown Vancouver next to Robson Square.
Enjoy Stanley Park
Stanley Park is a 405-hectare public park that borders downtown Vancouver. The massive park is almost completely surrounded by Vancouver Harbour and English Bay and has a total of about 27km (17 miles) of trails winding through the forest.
Stanley Park is very popular with hikers, runners, bikers, families, rollerbladers, and even to go for a swim. The Stanley Park Seawall that loops around Stanley Park is another very popular free activity in Vancouver, looping 9 km around the park all the way next to the ocean.
The Stanley Park Seawall is part of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path which together with the Seaside Greenway forms a 28 km uninterrupted pathway. This is the best place to go for a long walk in Vancouver!
Kitsilano Beach is one of Vancouver’s most popular beaches. Located close to downtown Vancouver it is easy to get to by public transport. It is a sandy beach nice for catching a swim and a tan, but with some grassy areas perfect for a picnic.
There is also an oceanside heated saltwater pool for swimming. The beach has nice facilities for washing and changing for a small fee. Kitsilano even has a dedicated dog beach for locals wanting to take their dogs to the beach for the day!
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Visit Gas Town
The trendy Gastown in downtown Vancouver is one of the oldest parts of the city, and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire steamboat captain who arrived in 1867.
Gas Town is filled with a mix of contemporary fashion and tourist-oriented businesses like souvenir shops, restaurants, nightclubs, indie art galleries and decor stores in Victorian-style buildings.
The food and drink scene in the busy streets includes chic cocktail lounges and restaurants serving everything from gourmet sandwiches to local seafood.
Don’t miss the Gas Town Steam clock located near Waterfront Station. The iconic Gastown Steam Clock has been a major tourist attraction for decades. Built in 1977, this working steam clock is one of the only functioning steam-powered clocks in the world. The Steam Clock whistles and blows steam every 15 minutes.
You can also go for a pint of craft beer at the popular Steamworks Brew Pub.
Hiking in Deep Cove
Deep Cove is a neighbourhood in the easternmost part of North Vancouver. This beautiful area at the sea has some boutique shopping, a beach with kayak and paddleboard rentals, and the hike to Quarry Rock.
The Quarry Rock hiking trail is an easy out-and-back hike that overlaps with the first part of the famous Baden Powell Trail. The trailhead where the route starts is located in Deep Cove, and the trail passes through a forest with dense growth of Hemlock and Douglas Fir trees with beautiful views of the bay at Quarry Rock.
Explore Lynn Headwaters Park
Lynn Headwaters is the largest of Vancouver’s regional parks. It is a beautiful park with many hiking trails to explore for all skill levels, totalling 74 km of trails. Routes in the park range from fairly flat trails with easy to walk boardwalks to backcountry trails with difficult sections.
The Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is a popular attraction in the park. Unlike the well known Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, this 50m high suspension bridge is free to enter and explore.
Go on an Adventure in Juan de Fuca National Park
Juan de Fuca Provincial Park is a provincial park located on Vancouver Island. The awesome park protects the shoreline between the towns Sooke and Port Renfrew along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The park is home to a huge variety of fauna and flora including many larger species of west coast mammals such as cougar, deer, black bear, otter and sea lions. The marine life that can be seen in the tide pools include starfish, sea urchins, barnacles, mussels and green sea anemones.
The park is very popular for hiking, with the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail, a four-day hike, being the most popular and challenging route. The trail has good facilities and is free, you only pay for camping at each site by leaving money in a box.
Any day on the trail can be done as a day hike, being easily accessible from the road, a short drive from Victoria.
Botanical Beach has great tidal pools to explore and Sombrio Beach is very popular for surfing and camping.
Walk Around Canada Place
Canada Place is a building situated on Vancouver’s waterfront and is home to several well-known buildings including the Vancouver Convention Centre. The architecture is very famous as it is designed in the form of a giant sailing ship and is visible from all over Vancouver.
This is also where many of Vancouver’s visiting cruise ships come to dock and it is interesting seeing these massive ships from up close. The outside deck at Canada Place makes for a pleasant walk with very nice views of the ocean and the North Shore Mountains.
Canada Place is also not far from the Olympic Cauldron. On Thursday evenings in July and August, free outdoor movies are shown here, making for a great picnic!
Canada Place is located close to Waterfront Station in Downtown Vancouver.
Richmond Night Market
The Richmond Night Market is an annual night market held during the summer months in Richmond in the Metro of Vancouver. The market hosts more than 100 food stalls and over 200 retail vendors.
This bustling night market offers a variety of authentic Asian snacks and street food like tornado potatoes, grilled squid, mango desserts and more interesting dishes. It is not only about eating, as you can also experience music and dance performances, carnival games and some fun rides.
The market is active from May to October and can be reached with the Canada Line SkyTrain to Bridgeport Station and then walk from here.
What do you think? Are there any other amazing free things to do in Vancouver which we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Authors
Campbell from South Africa and Alya from Russia have been traveling the world together searching for the best hikes and dives on the planet since the day they met in the Philippines in 2014. A lot has happened on the way, starting their successful travel blog Stingy Nomads, getting married and they are still traveling.
If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Canada, get a quote now from World Nomads.
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