Vancouver has a reputation for being a somewhat expensive city, particularly when it comes to the booming housing market. The economy of the city is also heavily reliant on the tourism industry with no shortage of opportunities for visitors to spend their money. Don’t get me wrong. Visits to the Vancouver Aquarium or Science World can be a lot of fun. Thankfully, there are also a lot of great free things to do in Vancouver too.
Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge
You’ve got your paid option over at the Capilano Suspension Bridge and then you’ve got your free option over at the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. They’re both in North Vancouver, they both give you that “walking across a swinging bridge” experience, and they both expose you to the natural forested beauty of the area, but Lynn Valley won’t cost you a dime.
International Summer Night Market
The notion of the “night market” in Metro Vancouver has really grown in recent years and now we have several of them all over town. There’s one in North Vancouver and another Surrey, not to mention the two in Richmond. The key difference is that while you have to pay for admission at the Richmond Night Market near River Rock Casino, admission is free at the Summer Night Market near Home Depot and IKEA.
In addition to the various vendors and stage entertainment, the biggest draw to the Summer Night Market is the international “street food” area. The exact dates vary each year, but you can expect the night market to run on weekends from May to September.
Located on the Downtown Vancouver peninsula just before you cross the Lion’s Gate Bridge across to North Vancouver (to walk across the Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge, no less), Stanley Park is easily one of the best free things to do in Vancouver. It’s an expansive urban park with all sorts of fun things to see and do, many of which for free. Just walking around the park can be a great respite away from the urban jungle and you can go even deeper by walking some of the forest trails.
Visit the totem poles (pictured at the top), send the kids into the water spray park, and check out the portrait artists drawing caricatures of your fellow tourists. Of course, there are opportunities to spend money too, like visiting the Aquarium or taking a ride on a horse-drawn carriage, but these are all entirely optional.
Realistically, one of the best things you can do is strap on a pair of rollerblades or hop onto a bike and ride along the Seawall. It’s a gorgeous and relaxing way to spend an afternoon.
For the more athletically oriented, there is “nature’s staircase” at Grouse Mountain. Affectionately known as the Grouse Grind, this is an uphill hike that will take to you to the peak of the mountain where you’ll get an incredible bird’s eye vista of the city. Most people can complete the hike in an hour or two, though the real speedsters are known to finish it in as little as half an hour.
I have some tips for those of you who are doing it for the first time, but you really shouldn’t be all that intimidated by it. While the hike up is free, parking isn’t and neither is the $10 gondola ride back down.
Rather than hiding away in yet another shopping mall filled with Starbucks and Apple Stores, get a more unique retail experience at Granville Island. You don’t have to buy anything to have a good time, though you will likely be tempted. The Kids Market is a fun place for the young ones to explore and you can head over to the Public Market to check out fresh produce and delicious bites. The location along the water and under the bridge makes for an interesting atmosphere at any time of the day.
Granville Island is home to quite the eclectic assortment of businesses, including a culinary school, a craft brewery, an improv theater and a great fish and chips joint.
Burnaby Village Museum
Museums, as a general rule of thumb, charge an admission fee. Such is not the case with Burnaby Village Museum, likely one of the most underrated and under-known free things to do in Vancouver. In this village styled after life in the 1920s, you will be greeted by “period costumed townsfolk” before you pay a visit to the blacksmith, the print shop and the general store. And there’s a carousel too. While in the area, take a stroll around Deer Lake Park too.
Bienvenue à Vancouver
To be fair, many of these are outdoors and center around the summer season. If you want to avoid the rain that characterizes most of the year in this city, you might want to visit during the summer months anyhow. For all my fellow Vancouverites, do you have any favorite free things to do in Vancouver that you’d recommend to our guests?