A multicultural oceanside metropolis with fantastic cuisine and easy outdoors access, Vancouver, British Columbia, is a million adventures bundled into one place.
In warmer months, you can literally ski and enjoy the beach on the same day: Some slopes are open through April, and while you probably shouldn’t hop in the ocean (🥶), the beach can be quite pleasant on a warm spring day. The city itself is both walkable and bike-able. Brimming with galleries, theaters and festivals, this Canadian megacity’s position on the water gives it a true Bay Area feel.
Unfortunately, that can also translate into Bay Area-like prices: A 2019 study found Vancouver to be the second most expensive city in Canada, behind only Toronto. Lucky for you, with Wanderu, the actual act of getting there doesn’t have to be a dollar drain. In fact, bus tickets from cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Portland start at just $1.
And you don’t have to be loaded with Loonies to have a good time once you’re there. Because it’s such a cultural hub, Vancouver has loads of museums and galleries that offer free admission. It’s also a natural playground, with plenty of outdoor adventures to embark upon without paying a dime. (It’s also one of our top destinations for solo travelers!)
Let us do the currency conversion for you: USD$0 = CA$0. So what’s the hold up? Simply pick your favorite subject from the links below, or scroll through the full list of free activities.
MUSEUMS & ART
1. Vancouver Convention Centre
1055 Canada Pl.
Vancouver, BC, V6C 3T4
8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Open to Public Monday to Friday
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The words “convention” and “centre” don’t exactly jump off the page, but Vancouver’s Convention Centre is an architecturally stunning, sprawling venue right on Vancouver harbor. There are free walking tours (reservation required), so whether it’s the six-acre living roof (not living room — we’re talking plants on the roof) or awe-inspiring artwork inside, this space is a sight to behold.
2. Engine 374 Pavilion
181 Roundhouse Mews
Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2W3
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Summer)
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (Winter)
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A historical landmark, the Engine 374 Pavilion is home to the CPR Locomotive No. 374. What’s the big whoop about an old train in a building? In 1887, the train was the first passenger locomotive to chug into Vancouver, effectively linking Canada’s east and west coasts. This is a fun historical monument to check out for an hour or two, and it’s a great spot for train-obsessed kids.
3. Burnaby Village Museum
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Think colonial Williamsburg, but make it Canadian and from the 1920s. This recreation of village-life from 100 years ago has everything: costumed townsfolk, a general store, a blacksmith, an ice cream parlor, and so much more. You can check out the restored carousel, which has been going ‘round for over a century, and get a look at Chinese–Canadian history with the “Across the Pacific” exhibit running through 2021.
4. Vancouver Murals
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A vibrant, free public art experience, the murals in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood are a must-see. You can take a walk to check out some of the work currently there, but the annual Vancouver Mural Festival makes a whole thing of it, with a week-long slate of events, food and activities in the summer.
5. Contemporary Art Gallery
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: An art gallery located right downtown, work from artists local, national and international are showcased with free admission (donations encouraged). At the forefront of the art scene in Vancouver, there’s also the Vancouver Art Gallery, with free admission Tuesday evenings. The Contemporary Art Gallery is your best bet for free, compelling art any day of the week except Monday.
6. GMS Observatory
1100 Chestnut St.
Vancouver, BC, V6J 3J9
7:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Summer)
7:30 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. (Spring, Fall, Winter)
Only Open Saturday
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Don’t be afraid to look up! At the Gordon Southam Observatory, adjacent to the MacMillan Space Centre, a half-meter Cassegrain telescope is at your service at admission by donation. Unclear which one is the Little Dipper and which one is the Big Dipper? Staff are on hand to point you in the right cosmic direction.
7. Lonsdale Quay Market
123 Carrie Cates Ct.
North Vancouver, BC, V7M 2E4
9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. (Mon – Fri)
9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. (Sat – Sun)
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Dotted with fresh eateries, boutiques, vendors and more, the Lonsdale Quay Market offers up fantastic harbor and skyline views. Of course, you’ll need to shell out some coin for food and drink, but this is the ultimate people-watching destination, and it’s always fun to browse. The market is all indoors, so this is a great option for a rainy day.
8. Stanley Park
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The massive, sprawling Stanley Park is the crown jewel of Terminal City. Home to the Vancouver Aquarium, the Seawall (erected to prevent erosion), beaches, lagoons, lakes and so much more, Stanley Park is a lush campus for a day of outdoor fun.
9. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: The first Chinese garden to be built outside of China, the public park here is free, while there’s a fee for garden access. You don’t have to go to the garden to experience the intricacies and beauty of the Chinese garden, though, as the park’s trails meander around a lagoon, through bamboo trees, and even lead to a pagoda.
10. Granville Island
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: A neighborhood-island, Granville is in False Creek, just south of downtown Vancouver over the Granville Bridge. It’s a bastion of the art community, and there are seemingly endless options for food, drink, activities, and entertainment. Whether it’s for an hour or an entire day, you’d be hard-pressed to not find something fun to do here: Their website even has a trip planner!
11. Wreck Beach
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Located all the way west, just off of the University of British Columbia campus, is Wreck Beach. Here, clothing is optional — yes, you heard that right. You can enjoy the summer sun sans Speedo or swim trunks. Just remember to re-robe before you leave the beach.
12. Queen Elizabeth Park
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Queen Elizabeth Park is another one of Vancouver’s prized parks, and its sculptures, sports courts and manicured gardens are worth their own due time. But you also can play a round of disc golf for free, which is always a fun activity with friends or strangers — whoever is there to play, really.
13. Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Warning: This one is not for the faint of heart. The Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge teeters some 50 meters (a little more than half the length of a football field) over Lynn Canyon. Gulp. Our hands aren’t sweating, yours are! The bridge is free to cross, and Lynn Canyon Park is a gorgeous place to hike or sit on a blanket with family, so you don’t need to make your heart pound if you don’t want to.
14. Grouse Grind
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Do not underestimate “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster.” This challenging hike is almost 3,000 steps upwards! The view at the top, however, is like no other. Let your eyes scan the entire Vancouver area from atop Grouse Mountain as a reward for the hike. If you’re tuckered out after the climb, you can pay $10 for the gondola ride down.
15. Capilano Salmon Hatchery
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT: Tap into nature at the Capilano Salmon Hatchery. In addition to being immersed in evergreen trees just south of Capilano Lake, you can catch salmon jumping out of the river if you’re there at the right time. Year-round, the interpretive center offers a self-guided tour where you can learn about the life cycles of the various native fish species and the role of the hatchery to the local ecosystem.
So, see it here for yourself — with all the free activities this city has to offer, there’s no need to blow your budget on a trip to Hollywood North. From nude beaches to gnarly rope bridges over breathtakingly beautiful ravines, Vancouver is an essential stop on every traveler’s bucket list.
Even better, you don’t have to sell your firstborn to afford to get there. Just look for tickets on Wanderu.com or on the free Wanderu app, where you can compare buses, trains and flights all in the same search results.