Photo: Vancouver skyline sunset boats river

Stanley Park is Vancouver's most popular outdoor attraction.

Photograph by Benjamin Rondel, Corbis

By Jeannette Kimmel

Canada's third largest city has plenty to see and do for visitors with all interests, from chic city-goers to outdoors enthusiasts. But visiting this eclectic city doesn't have to empty your pocket of Loonies. Check out our comprehensive guide to activities and attractions that are free all year round.

Attractions and Culture

Vancouver is known as "Hollywood North" and has become a popular filming destination in the past few decades. Check out the B.C. Film Commission for a list of feature films and TV shows (like Life, Unexpected or Smallville) and see if you can track down any current filming locations in the Vancouver area.

Fans of Phil and Tiger should stop by the B.C. Golf Museum to learn about the history of golf in Canada. Check out the Poldi Bently Golf Library, which has some 2,000 volumes of print resources, or learn about a golfer's "assistant" in the "Caddies, Golf Bags, and Carts" exhibit. The Hall of Fame is also a must—see, and both the museum and hall of fame are free to the public.

Take a stroll around the pier at Canada Place for great photo-ops of the city. Canada Place plays host to many events (like the Canada Day Burrard Inlet Fireworks Show) and is free to explore.

The Vancouver area plays host to two summer Chinese markets. The downtown Chinatown Night Market is open weekends May-September and features vendors selling traditional handicrafts, gifts, and bubble tea. Just outside the city is the much larger Richmond Night Market (May and October), which, in addition to selling food and handicrafts, hosts cultural events and carnival rides. Both night markets are free (and fun) to wander.

The Gothic Revival-style Christ Church Cathedral is one of Vancouver's most beautiful, and some visitors stop by just to see the church's famous stained&-glass windows, which were installed between 1909 and 1979 and honor soldiers who fought in both World Wars. Stop by for a free guided or self-guided tour, or listen to one of the many free choir concerts given weekly.

Until the 1960s, Granville Island was home to industrial and logging-equipment plants. But when business declined, the Vancouver government turned the sandbar into one of North America's greatest urban redevelopment plans, with a public market, art studios and galleries, and marine activities. Take the AquaBus Ferry (about $5) from downtown and explore Granville on foot for free. The public market is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

It might cost a pretty penny to visit the H.R. MacMillan Space Center, but the adjacent Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory is admission by donation only. At the observatory, guests can observe the night sky through a Cassegrain telescope and learn about what they're seeing from helpful staff. The observatory holds public viewing sessions on Friday and Saturday evenings when the sky is clear.

Learn about British Columbia's temperate rain forest at the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre. Let the kids get hands-on in the Exploratorium or watch one of 80 nature videos for free. During nice weather, explore the nearby suspension bridge, which hangs 20 stories above Lynn Creek, or 30 Foot Pool, just a ten-minute walk from the center.

Kids

Granville Island Water Park is the largest free water park in North America. The park is located at the False Creek Community Centre and has special areas designated for children of all ages.

Granville Island has a special market just for kids. The Kids Market has 28 shops and attractions for kids, including costume, candy, magic, and kite stores. It's always free to window-shop, or kids can play outside near the pond.

Outdoors

Vancouver's beaches are popular, especially in summer. Kitsilano Beach (or Kits Beach) has a grassy area for throwing a Frisbee (it's also home to a heated outdoor salt-water swimming pool), the Jericho Beach pier is perfect for tossing a line, and Spanish Banks (the least crowded) is popular for skim boarding. Beach-goers beware: 3.7-mile Wreck Beach is Canada's largest legal clothing-optional beach, so visitors with kids might want to go elsewhere to play in the sand.

Learn about the Pacific Northwest's most famous finned residents at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery in Capilano River Regional Park. Visitors can take a free 30-minute self-guided tour of the hatchery, which explains the life cycle of salmon. Take a stroll along the trails and footbridges in the park, which afford views of Capilano River.

Check out the popular Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, the first Ming Dynasty—style gardens located outside of China. The gardens normally cost about $10 admission, but stop by during the last half hour of the day for free admission. Tip: If you want more time among the flowers, check out the adjacent Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, another Chinese garden open free to the public.

Outdoor enthusiasts don't want to miss the Grouse Grind, a 1.8-mile hike that affords fantastic views at the top. But be warned—this strenuous trail is only for the experienced hiker, as it has a 2,798-foot elevation. Hiking up and down is free, though a $5 gondola ride is also offered to tired hikers on the way down.

Lighthouse Park, located in West Vancouver, is one of the only places in the Vancouver area that was never completely logged. Hike one of the many trails, and bring binoculars to spot one of the area's 60 bird species.

Escape bustling downtown and head to 1,000—acre Stanley Park, the city's most popular outdoor attraction. The park, which opened in 1888, is home to several monuments, totem poles, and gardens. Visitors can also watch local artisans at work in Painters' Circle, where landscape artists are happy to demonstrate and explain their techniques.

Pack a picnic and enjoy 130—acre Queen Elizabeth Park, located at Cambie Street and West 33rd Avenue. Guests can explore the park's gardens, fountains, and 3,000 trees, or watch a variety of sporting events like golf, lawn bowling, and tennis. Visitors can also try their hand at disc golf, which is offered free to the public.

Theater/Music/Dance

Stop by Stanley Park in summer and learn some dance moves at Dance at Dusk. Visitors can learn Scottish country, international folk, and other traditional ballroom dancing like the rumba, cha-cha, and tango for free in Ceperley Meadow.

The Italian Cultural Centre hosts free bimonthly Italian Movie Nights, where visitors can watch Italian movies with English subtitles, followed by a discussion with teacher and movie expert Alessandro Ardovini. Visitors might also enjoy partaking in a bocce ball tournament, which is free and hosted in an indoor bocce court.

Learn the fox-trot at Mr. Dance social dance club. Dancing lessons are usually $8, but first-comers can stop by on Tuesdays for free.

More Information

Calendar of Events

CityCaucus "Where 2 Be For Free"

Clipper Cruises

Food Vancouver lists restaurant deals throughout the city.

Interactive Maps and 3D City Tour

National Geographic Drives of a Lifetime: British Columbia

National Geographic guide to Vancouver

National Geographic Walking Tours of Vancouver

Traveler Walking Tour of Vancouver

Parks and Recreation

Vancouver Tourism

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