My adopted hometown Vancouver consistently ranks as one of the best places to live, and with good reason. From snowcapped mountains to its many beaches, natural beauty is in abundance. Then there’s the cosmopolitan side with trendy shops, craft breweries, and some of the best restaurants in the world. That said, those that live in or visit Vancouver certainly pay a premium. Simply put, Vancouver is not cheap.
Still, those visiting on a budget will find plenty to see and do without breaking the bank. Here are 10 free-ish things to do in Vancouver, BC.
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Tour the City by Bike
First up on this list of free-ish things to do in Vancouver is seeing the sights by bicycle. Vancouver is one of the most bike-friendly cities in North America with plenty of bike lanes and pathways connecting east to west, and north to south.
You can rent a bike from one of the many bike shops in the city (~$20 for half-day) or grab a Mobi, Vancouver’s public bike share system. From there, head to the Seawall for a scenic ride around Vancouver’s waterfront.
Visit Stanley Park
While biking the Seawall, you may as well continue on to Stanley Park. The second-largest urban Park in the world, Stanley Park features plenty of bike and walking trails. On top of that, you will find two beaches, the Vancouver Aquarium, an outdoor pool, and a pitch and putt golf course.
Take a Brewery Tour
Vancouver is home to over 40 craft breweries, many of which are concentrated in pockets of East Vancouver including Mount Pleasent, and Strathcona. This makes a brewery crawl easy and fun to do.
Mount Pleasant highlights include Main Street Brewery, Brassneck, and my favourite – 33 Acres. All of these are within a five-minute walk of each other. Other East Vancouver highlights include Strange Fellows, Bomber, and Luppolo, an Italian brewery with an excellent prosciutto plate!
If you were looking to cover multiple areas, a brewery tour by bike is doable but do ride responsibly! Better, Vancouver Craft Brewery Tours offers great half-day options for a great price!
Enjoy a Sunset
Although there are many expensive things to see and do in Vancouver, sunsets are always free. English Bay in Vancouver’s West End and Kitsilano are some of the best places to watch the sun go down. Grab a six-pack from your new favourite brewery and a blanket and saddle up to a beach log to take in the Vancouver views. Even on a cloudy, cool day, the views are worth it!
Climb Grouse Mountain
Heading up Grouse Mountain is not cheap. Round-trip on the cable car runs you $60 per person. Those looking to get to the top on the cheap can “hike“ up via the Grouse Grind.
The Grouse Grind is essentially a staircase carved into the mountain. Make no mistake, this is no walk in the park and is serious work. Fit climbers can hike this in under an hour so be sure to dress accordingly. If your footwear is not up to the task, consider repairing them with glue that will help you to fix your shoes.
Those that tackle the Grind are rewarded with scenic views of downtown and beyond along with all of the activities on top of Grouse Mountain. You could also enjoy and recover with a beer from the patio at Altitudes Bistro.
Note: the Grouse Grind trail is one way only. One way down on the cable car costs $15.
Hike Lynn Valley Canyon
Another North Vancouver gem, the Lynn Valley Loop is a great hiking trail with the added bonus of a free suspension bridge. Although not as grand as the Capilano Suspension bridge, the price certainly is right.
Visit Granville Island
Vancouver’s most popular tourist traction is Granville Island. This arts and culture hub features an amazing public market, great restaurants, and tons of unique shops. Be sure to visit the sake shop to sample the most northernly made sake in the world!
If you are looking for a cheap lunch, head to nearby Go Fish for fish and chips straight off of the docks!
See False by Aqua Bus
Another fun and inexpensive activity from Granville Island is riding the Aqua Bus. Single rides are $4.50 however you can purchase all-day passes for $17 and hop on and off as you please.
These fun and colourful little tugboats make stops all along False Creek and around to the mouth of Kitsilano and English Bay. This is a fun way to tie together Granville Island and the breweries in Mount Pleasant with the shops of Yaletown and the sunsets from English Bay. Taking that even further, some busses have room for bicycles!
Take an Art Walk
Although Vancouver has an incredible Art Gallery, there are plenty of outdoor installations to take in. An outdoor art crawl is a great way to see the city and, better yet it’s free!
Mount Pleasant is a great place to start. Home to the Vancouver Mural Festival, you will quickly see the massive murals that make this neighbourhood unique. Head to the appropriately named “graffiti alley” (in between Ontario and Main running from Broadway to 2nd ave)for a high concentration of murals.
From there, make your way north towards False Creek and along the Seawall. Notable highlights along the way include:
- The Birds (Olympic Village)
- A-maze-ing Laughter (English Bay)
- 217.5 Arc x 13 (Sunset Beach)
- English Bay Inukshuk (English Bay)
- Trans Am Totem (False Creek)
- The Proud Youth (Yaletown)
Drive the Sea to Sky Highway
Last up on this list of free-ish things to do in Vancouver is taking a scenic drive up the Sea to Sky Highway. This stretch of road hugs the Howe Sound before heading up to Whistler. The drive is one of the prettiest in the world and includes plenty to see and do along the way. My personal favourites include:
- Hiking The Chief or Shannon Falls
- Sea-to-Sky Cable Car (hiking up is free!)
- Lunch at the Watershed or Backcountry Brewery in Squamish
- Visiting Brandy Wine Falls
From craft breweries to endless bike paths, there is so much to see and do on the cheap in Vancouver. With countless hiking trails, outdoor adventure seekers won’t have to crack their wallets or purses to see some of the best the city has to offer.
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