What are the best things to do for free in Vancouver?

It’s no secret that Vancouver is an expensive city to call home, but one of the many perks this city has to offer is a long list of free things to do that can be enjoyed throughout the year. From hikes with stunning views to cultural experiences, this city’s got you covered.

For a quintessential Vancouver experience, head to Stanley Park. It’s here that you can spend an endless amount of time walking through the trails, biking along the Seawall, cooling off the kids in the free water park, hanging out at Third Beach, and exploring the different seasonal attractions and beautiful gardens. If the weather’s nice, pack yourself a picnic and take it to the gardens or beach.

There are two suspension bridges in Vancouver and they both offer a totally different experience. Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge is the free version and it’s here that you’ll find hikes, the freshest of air and beautiful scenery. If you’re visiting in the hot summer months, there are a few different places where you can cool off by swimming. Just be sure to take note of the safety signs and avoid the areas they mention.

If it’s culture you’re after, make your way to the Vancouver Art Gallery on a Tuesday night when admission is by donation. This art gallery houses incredible pieces of art and has a rotating exhibit that changes every couple of months.

HR MacMillan Space Center

Photo courtesy of Kenji Nagai

This fascinating space museum features a series of hi-tech learning systems and interactive exhibits that include Virtual Voyages and a flight simulator. The Cosmic Courtyard is an exciting exhibit about the solar system, and Ground Station Canada showcases the achievements of Canada’s space program.

While the space museum does have an entry fee, the Gordon Southam Observatory, which is located next to the main museum building, is by donation. This planetary complex is open for stargazing.

If you do want to spend a bit to see the main museum, general admission includes unlimited shows in the H.R. MacMillan Planetarium and GroundStation Canada, unlimited time in Cosmic Courtyard, and one ride on the Virtual Voyages Simulator.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: HR MacMillan Space Center’s admission to the Gordon Southam Observatory is by donation and is something totally unique to do.

Natasha’s expert tip: If you want to check out more than the observatory, kids under five are free.

Read more about HR MacMillan Space Center →

English Bay Beach

This popular West End beach is a favorite spot where locals come to kick back, relax, swim and soak up some vitamin D. Located right at the end of Davie Street and Denman Street, English Bay Beach is easily accessible by bus, foot and Seawall.

Driving may prove to be slightly challenging on busy days during the summer months as it can be difficult to find a parking spot.

If you’ve got a bike handy, skip the car and take the Seawall. The scenic path will lead you directly to the beach and you don’t have to worry about parking.

Packing a picnic is one of the best ways to enjoy lunch at the beach. If you don’t have the time or resources, there are a number of cafes, take out restaurants and food stands either on or close to the beach.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Pack a picnic and head to the beach. You’ll find some of the best sunsets in the city from English Bay Beach.

Natasha’s expert tip: The Honda Celebration of Lights happens each summer in July/August at English Bay. It’s a multi-night epic display of fireworks.

Read more about English Bay Beach →

Granville Island

Once Vancouver’s industrial manufacturing area, Granville Island is now home to many local artists, restaurants, theatres, a hotel, and the Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Window shopping is a real treat here as Granville Island has something for everyone; a children’s area, jewelry stores, art shops, a brewery, boat rental offices, and unique clothing stores.

Once you have made your way around the shops, head over to the Public Market if you want to spend a bit on food (or just look at it). There you can get local smoked salmon, artisan cheeses, local produce, and sweets.

Outside are talented street performers that add to the atmosphere of the experience. Located in False Creek, an adventure to Granville Island is just a walk, a boat ride or bus ride away from Downtown.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Granville Island has plenty of shops and galleries for both kids and adults. The water park is a great way for kids to cool off.

Natasha’s expert tip: Go during the weekday to avoid weekend and holiday crowds.

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Kitsilano Beach

Kitsilano Beach is one of Vancouver’s most popular beaches. It’s close proximity to downtown Vancouver and easy accessibility by public transportation, car and bicycle make it easy to get to any time of day.

There’s plenty of sand to stretch out and soak up the sun, plus grassy areas for those who want to keep sand out of their sandwiches. Along with the free tennis and basketball courts, there’s an outdoor salt-water pool for a small fee. On a hot summer’s day, it’s totally worth it. The facilities also include washrooms, change rooms, and a couple of different dining options on the beach.

For the little ones, there’s a park that overlooks the beach. Going with your dog? There’s a dedicated dog beach for them to run around and swim.

Also not to be missed are the sunsets from Kits Beach. They’re pretty epic.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Not only are there plenty of spots to lay around at Kitsilano Beach, but there are also basketball and tennis courts that are free to use.

Natasha’s expert tip: There’s a bus stop right by the beach so you don’t have to walk far.

Read more about Kitsilano Beach →

Grouse Mountain is open all year long for outdoorsmen and women to enjoy and it’s conveniently located right across the water from downtown Vancouver.

You can do a round trip up and down the mountain on the gondola, but that’ll set you back a pretty penny. If you’re looking to save some cash, get a good workout in and take in some awesome views, hike the Grind.

Though it’s quite tough, the views of the city and ocean from the top are worth it. « The Grind », as locals call it, is not for the unfit as it’s a 2.9-kilometer steep trek up the mountain. While hiking up the mountain is free, you have to take the gondola down and that costs $15. Not too shabby, considering you got a workout in and a gondola ride.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Hiking up the Grouse Grind is a killer workout and cheaper than most drop-in classes at gyms in the city.

Natasha’s expert tip: Make sure to bring a camera, the view from the top is awe inspiring. If you’re doing the Grouse Grind, be sure to bring plenty of water and pace yourself while you climb the very steep hike.

Read more about Grouse Mountain →

Vancouver Art Gallery

The Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG) is the fifth largest art gallery in all of Canada. It has rotating exhibitions, along with its permanent collection that boasts over 9,100 items. Art junkies will be impressed by the 200 major works by the Group of Seven, Emily Carr and Marc Chagall, which are all housed in the VAG. On Tuesday evenings, admission is by donation so while it’s not totally free, you can make it as affordable as you need it to be.

In 1931, when the VAG was founded, it started out at a different location and in 1983 it was moved to its current address, the old provincial courthouse on Robson Street and Hornby Street.

After checking out the show, head to The Art Gallery Cafe. It’s the perfect spot to spend a sunny afternoon or evening. Grab a bite, sip on a glass of wine or tea and listen to the classical music that surrounds the umbrella scattered patio.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Vancouver Art Gallery is the city’s major gallery. It offers new shows every couple of months that will impress art aficionados.

Natasha’s expert tip: Tuesday night is their cheap night and you pay by donation, which makes it hard to resist visiting the Gallery. The cafe offers affordable meals, delicious desserts and freshly made coffee.

Read more about Vancouver Art Gallery →


The full Seawall is 17.5 miles and goes along the city’s waterfront, and if you can’t do the full stretch, make sure to do the 5.5-miles around Stanley Park. This lovely jaunt is perfect on a sunny day to bike, walk, run and blade around.

The Seawall is best enjoyed with a few stops here and there, and fortunately for you, there are benches, beaches, public pools and scenic spots to stop along the way. Wherever you decide to stop, epic views are always within reach.

If the sun is shining and the temperature’s rising, pack your towel and swimsuit and take advantage of the sandy beaches and cool ocean waters. No matter what your skill level is, the Seawall is enjoyable for all ages and athletic abilities.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Seawall is one of the most iconic things to do in Vancouver and after making your way around it, you’ll see why.

Natasha’s expert tip: There are set paths for specific directions and different lanes for those walking or biking, so make sure to be in the correct lane and avoid getting in the way of oncoming traffic.

Read more about Seawall →

Lighthouse Park

Photo courtesy of Natasha John

This rugged park is located along West Vancouver’s Marine Drive and is about a 30-minute drive from downtown. It features several trails that lead to tidal pools and stunning views. The trail from the parking lot to the lighthouse viewpoint is somewhat steep so be sure to wear your hiking boots.

If you don’t have a car, you can hop on a bus from downtown Vancouver and it will take you directly to a bus stop right by the park’s entrance. When you’re ready to go home, simply go to the other side of the street and make your way to the opposite stop. It doesn’t hurt to look at Translink’s (Vancouver and the Lower Mainland’s public transport service) website for schedules. Should you be driving here, the parking is free.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: There are a few different trails at Lighthouse Park so there’s something for all skill levels. The views from here are spectacular, too.

Natasha’s expert tip: There are a few areas of flat rock that are perfect spots to take a little rest, snack on a picnic or take in some sun while a beautiful view makes itself at home in front of you.

Read more about Lighthouse Park →

A majestic and lush rainforest set in the heart of North Vancouver is calling. The park is loaded with hiking trails, natural swimming pools, an ecology center, and a suspension bridge. The best part of it all? Everything including parking is free. Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge has been open to the public since 1912 and is a local favorite. The natural beauty is simply stunning.

This easy-to-find park is ideal during the summer months, but can also be explored and enjoyed throughout spring and fall. There are several different trails you can do and they vary in difficulty and some are definitely more challenging than others, so plan your route accordingly.

The water is popular in the summer months and if you’re going to take a dip, make sure to watch for safety signs. The currents can get quite strong and dangerous in some areas.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge is a free alternative to a popular local attraction. Those looking for something more natural will enjoy this.

Natasha’s expert tip: Make sure to know the trail you’re taking and wear proper shoes. If you go off the path, things can get quite steep.

Read more about Lynn Canyon Park and Suspension Bridge →

Located in Downtown Vancouver, Stanley Park offers a green oasis to city dwellers that stretches over 1,000 acres of land and has plenty of free things to do. Lord Stanley of Preston opened the park in 1888, and at the time it was a haven for gathering various material and food. Today, Stanley Park is home to half a million trees, the Vancouver Aquarium, the Malkin Bowl, carved totem poles, monuments, beaches, a lighthouse, and plenty of trails to take in the fresh air.

If hiking through forests isn’t your thing, take advantage of the Seawall where you can run, walk or ride a bike around the 5.5 miles around Stanley Park. The lush greenery is a welcome escape from the busy city and though it’s right downtown, you’ll feel miles away.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: From beaches to water parks, trails and gardens, Stanley Park has plenty of fun free things to do.

Natasha’s expert tip: There’s a small, free water park along the Seawall and it’s a great way to cool kids down on a hot day.

Read more about Stanley Park →

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