These free things to do in Vancouver make for the ultimate weekend itinerary whether you are planning a weekend trip to Canada’s west coast or you are a local looking to fall in love with the city again.
Last updated on August 13, 2022.
In 2021, Vancouver ranked as the number one most unaffordable city in all of North America. With this in mind, it’s no wonder locals joke about BC (British Columbia) meaning “bring cash.”
While the standard of living may be slightly higher, there are in fact a wide range of exciting and affordable activities to try.
Without further ado, here are the city’s best, free attractions – according to a local!
Popular Vancouver Attractions that Are Free
1. Explore Stanley Park.
Stanley Park spans across 405 hectares of land through Downtown. Not only is it surrounded by waters from both the Burrard Inlet and English Bay, it is home to the famous 1,000-year-old Western Red Cedar Hollow Tree.
From cycling and going on hikes to picture-taking exploring by horse-drawn carriage, this green oasis is one of the absolute best places to visit in Vancouver.
Tip: Don’t forget to download this comprehensive Stanley Park map!
2. Hear the Gastown Steam Clock whistle.
This antique-style clock is one of the most photographed Vancouver Instagram spots.
It whistles every 15 minutes and despite its name, it actually has a motor engine. In other words, it’s not 100% steam-powered. Still a cool sight to see regardless!
3. Watch a street performance at Canada Place.
During summer, you can often find crowds gathered at Canada Place cheering on street performers. Grab yourself an ice cream cone from the nearby Bella Gelateria and enjoy the show!
4. Tour the food market + arts and crafts stores at Granville Island.
If you’ve done your research then you’ve probably come across Granville Island in best things to do in Vancouver guides.
This vibrant market is filled with delicious restaurants and food stalls, microbrewery, artisan workshops, craft studios, and more. You can easily spend an afternoon here browsing through the shops, or better yet, treat yourself to a snack or two!
- Donuts from Lee’s Donuts
- Flat white at Petit Ami
- Candied salmon from Longliner Seafoods
- Artisanal sausages from Oyama Sausage Co.
- Lobster Roll from The Lobster Man
- Clam chowder at À La Mode
- Award-winning beer from Granville Island Brewing
5. Go window shopping on Robson Street.
Shop ’til you drop at Vancouver’s best-known shopping precinct. Aritzia, Nike, Zara, Plenty, Roots, Muji, Swarovski, Banana Republic, Aldo, Arcteryx… You name it! A little retail therapy never hurts.
6. Take a picture with the A-maze-ing Laughter sculpture.
Designed by Yue Minjun, A-maze-ing Laughter consists of 14 bronze statues that portray the artist himself in a “state of hysterical laughter.”
It was created as part of the Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale, and was donated to the City of Vancouver in 2012. It now sits in Morton Park along English Bay and is a fun photo op.
7. See the famous Olympic Cauldron from 2010 Winter Olympics.
This massive Olympic torch was built for Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympics. Although its flame has long since extinguished, the cauldron does light up for special occasions every now and then.
Free Hikes & Outdoor Activities
8. Walk or bike the Stanley Park Seawall.
As I have noted, Stanley Park is one of the most popular Vancouver tourist attractions.
Even if you would much rather venture off the beaten path and explore less-crowded trails, I still highly recommend that you do not miss the Stanley Park Seawall.
It takes approximately two to three hours to walk – or an hour to cycle. There are bike rentals on Denman Street right before Stanley Park and if you’re up for something new, try tandem biking with a friend!
Tip: Download the Seawall map here.
9. Take a stroll along the False Creek promenade.
The False Creek Olympic Village walking route is a short 2.9-kilometer scenic promenade.
There are several delicious restaurants in the area and if you overindulge, a stroll here can definitely help improve digestion.
10. Embrace nature at Pacific Spirit Regional Park.
This 874-hectare park consists of numerous trails for hiking, cycling, mountain biking, and even horseback riding. There may not be Wi-Fi in the park, but you will feel more connected to your surroundings than ever before.
Tip: Check out the best Pacific Spirit Regional Park trails on AllTrails.
11. Climb the Grouse Grind.
Otherwise known as Mother Nature’s StairMaster, this 2.9-kilometer trail in North Vancouver consists of 2,830 steps over an elevation gain of 853 meters.
It takes 90 minutes to complete on average, or longer if you’re not an avid hiker.
Tip: Plan your hike with Vancouver Trails.
12. Challenge your fear of heights at Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park can be seen in practically every single top things to do in Vancouver guide. Admission is not cheap, however, and costs roughly $55 per person.
Lynn Canyon Park, on the other hand, is free to the public and it too has a beautiful suspension bridge where you can challenge your fear of heights.
Like the Grouse Grind, it is located in North Vancouver. Nonetheless, it’s a short drive from Downtown.
13. Watch the sun set at Lighthouse Park.
Lighthouse Park is a neighborhood park located in West Vancouver. (Again, not really in Vancouver, but it’s worth the drive.) It houses important natural and cultural resources, and is a National Historic Site of Canada.
Even though the area directly around the lighthouse is not accessible, there is a vantage point in the park that offers gorgeous views, especially during sunset.
Tip: Parking is limited and can fill up quickly if the weather is nice. The lot will close once full so plan ahead accordingly.
14. Take in the views at St. Mark’s Summit.
If you head further north from Lighthouse Park, you will find yourself at one of the most breathtaking trails in BC.
St. Mark’s Summit is a moderate 10.5-kilometer hike with an elevation gain of 587 meters.
The trails are dog-friendly and you can observe wildlife here whether it be bird watching or befriending a chipmunk. And I know, I know… This hike isn’t in Vancouver, but if you have an extra day or two to spare, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. The North Shore simply has such amazing outdoor sceneries that it’s hard not to include them in this list!
Tip: Plan your hike with AllTrails.
Free Things to Do in Vancouver If You Love Art
15. Check out the exhibits at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest art museum in Western Canada (in terms of building size).
Its primary focus is on BC’s historical and contemporary art, with special emphasis on achievements of First Nations artists as well as art of the Asia Pacific region. On top of that, the building itself is #aestheticgoals. It has often been Instagrammed and is a highly sought-after venue for engagement photoshoots.
Tip: Admission is by donation from 5:00PM to 8:00PM on Tuesday evenings. Not entirely “free” per se, but still extremely affordable.
16. Explore Vancouver’s street art scene.
Formed in 2016, The Vancouver Mural Festival is an annual celebration of public art.
It highlights social-cultural issues and creates unique visual experiences that connect people through art.
There are more than 300 murals in the city to date, and the portfolio continues to grow each year.
17. Go star spotting in Downtown.
From blockbusters like Deadpool, X-Men, Star Trek, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Man of Steel, Juno, and 50 Shades of Grey to TV shows such as the X-Files, Riverdale, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Arrow, and The Flash, Vancouver can be seen in countless productions. After all, we have the largest film industry in Canada and there’s a reason we’re known as the Hollywood North!
If you’d like to try your luck at celebrity sighting, Downtown (by the Vancouver Art Gallery or by the Vancouver Convention Centre) is a prime filming location during the summer months.
18. Tour the Museum of Vancouver.
The Museum of Vancouver is all about showcasing Vancouver’s diverse communities and histories. Similar to the Vancouver Art Gallery, you can visit by donation on the night of the last Thursday of each month from 5:00PM to 8:00PM.
19. Browse The Rennie Collection.
The Rennie Museum is one of the lesser-known free Vancouver museums.
Hotspot by Mona Hatoum. Photographed by Scott Massey, courtesy of Rennie Museum.
It is privately-funded by real estate marketer, Bob Rennie, and focuses strongly on topics including but not limited to identity, social commentary, injustice, and appropriation.
Over the last 30 years, the Rennie Collection has grown to include over 1,700 works of painting, photography, sculpture, and film, making it one of Canada’s largest and most important collections of contemporary art.
Tip: Visits need to be booked online in advance.
20. Brighten up your Instagram feed with a photo from Bill Curtis Square.
If you’re looking for cute things to do in Downtown Vancouver with your best gal pals, grab your cameras and head to Yaletown.
“Underbrella” is a vibrant art display installed by the Yaletown Business Improvement Association. The umbrellas change color periodically and add a pop of color to Raincouver’s gloomy skies.
Public Parks & Gardens You Can Visit for Free
21. Take a stroll in Queen Elizabeth Park.
Visiting Queen Elizabeth Park on a sunny afternoon is one of my favorite things to do in Vancouver for free.
There are lovely floral displays here and you can also admire panoramic views of Downtown Vancouver.
22. Stop and smell the roses at UBC Rose Garden.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) is incredibly photogenic and its rose garden is a treat for the senses. It’s the perfect backdrop for Instagram photos and is ideal for a romantic picnic with babe.
Tip: These roses typically bloom between June to September.
23. Attend VSO’s annual Symphony in the Park at Deer Lake Park.
The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) has been putting on free summer performances at Deer Lake Park every year for the past 30 or so years.
It’s great for family outings or if you want to explore beyond Vancouver, as Deer Lake Park is technically located in Burnaby. (Fear not. It’s not too far away and accessible via public transit.)
24. Teleport to Japan at Nitobe Memorial Garden.
This hidden gem nestled within UBC is regarded as one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan.
Tip: Admission is by donation; “suggested” at $5.
25. Fly a kite at Vanier Park.
Reconnect with your inner child at Vancouver’s best kite flying spot!
26. Travel back in time to the Ming Dynasty at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park.
Situated in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park are two urban oases meant to bridge Chinese and Western cultures.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park as seen from the Jade Water Pavilion at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.
The former (garden) is the first ever full-scale classical Chinese garden built outside of China. It is inspired by the Ming dynasty and modelled after garden-homes in southern Suzhou. The entire garden was built by hand by 53 master-craftsmen from Suzhou with materials they brought directly from home.
The latter (park) came a bit later and is constructed mostly of materials found locally within in North America.
In comparison, the park doesn’t hold as much cultural significance, but is free to the public and serves as an escape from the bustling city scene. Admission to the garden is $16 per person and I highly recommend a visit!
27. Soak up Vitamin D at David Lam Park.
When I used to work in the area, this was my go-to lunch spot. Grab a blanket and sunshine and chill on the grassy field.
28. Go plane spotting at Larry Berg Flight Path Park.
Here’s a romantic date idea for ya!
Pack some sandwiches and go plane spotting at Larry Berg Flight Path Park during sunset. The park is directly in line with the end of the south runway so you’re bound to see at least one plane go past.
Tip: This is a terrific cherry blossom viewing spot during spring.
Free Beach Activities
29. Watch fireworks at English Bay.
Attending a fireworks display is amongst some of the best free things to do in Vancouver at night.
If you’re planning to visit during summer, don’t miss out on the Honda Celebration of Light.
This annual fireworks competition takes place around the end of July to early August, and is best viewed from English Bay.
30. Play volleyball at Spanish Banks.
Beach volleyball is a fantastic summer activity.
What I like about Spanish Banks is that it’s less crowded than Downtown beaches. Plus, there’s a ton of free parking!
31. Have a picnic at Jericho Beach.
Life’s a picnic. Enjoy it by the beach!
I’m going to let you in on a secret…
I love picnics so much so that I started my own luxury picnic planning business. If you are looking for a fun time sans set up or clean up, hit me up on Insta! 😉
32. Watch the sun set at Sunset Beach.
The name says it all. Watch more sunsets than Netflix!
33. Sun tan at Wreck Beach.
Wreck Beach is a clothing-optional (nudist) beach. Not a fan of ugly tan lines? This is your best solution!
34. Swing your worries away at Kitsilano Beach.
Kitsilano (Kits) Beach is one of the best beaches in Vancouver. As a result, it can often get packed during summer.
Here you can marvel at glorious views of the Downtown skyline or swing your worries away on a not-so-secret secret swing.
Note: The swing gets cut down every now and then. It’s not clear who put it up in the first place, but someone usually manages to reattach it. If this one has been taken down, there is also a new swing up at Margaret Pigott Park just down the street.
Seasonal Free Things to Do in Vancouver
35. Experience hanami at the Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.
Did you know that Vancouver is home to more than 43,000 cherry trees?
The annual Cherry Blossom Festival provides a wonderful chance for experiencing Japan’s hanami (flower viewing) traditions without having to journey half way across the world.
They also offer a detailed map of what’s in bloom where.
36. Do a photoshoot in front of a wisteria wall.
This one’s for all my Demon Slayer fans.
Wisterias tend to bloom in early May and you can find them at neighborhood parks or even in the alley of a random parking lot!
37. Join the Pride Week parade.
Pride Week is an annual celebration of the city’s LGBTQIA2+ community.
The Pride Parade features rainbow colored floats and marching bands, and people go all out in the most creative and colorful costumes. Talk about one of the most exciting things to see in Vancouver in the summer!
38. Attend a cultural festival.
Canada is a cultural mosaic.
In Vancouver, we celebrate Italian Day, Taiwanese Cultural Festival, and Greek Festival just to name a few. What a remarkable way to experience new customs and traditions!
39. Catch an outdoor movie at Stanley Park.
Summer Cinema is a series of free outdoor movie showings, which usually take place every Tuesday evening from July to August at Second Beach in Stanley Park.
View the movie schedule here.
Tip: Seats are first come first serve. Arrive early to secure your spot!
40. Chase fall foliage around the city.
Foliage chasing is another one of my favorite things to do in Vancouver, BC.
During this time of the year, the streets are painted in vibrant reds and oranges, and the city really comes alive. Grab your camera and go for a photowalk!
Best Fall Foliage Locations:
- The Sylvia Hotel
- Stanley Park
- Queen Elizabeth Park
- All around Kitsilano
- John Hendry Park (a.k.a. Trout Lake Park)
41. Dress up for Halloween and party the night away on Granville Street.
Downtown’s Granville strip is where you can find upbeat bars and nightclubs.
Every year on Halloween (or Halloween weekend), the entire street turns into a giant party scene. If you’re not a night owl, there is an annual Halloween day parade as well.
42. Go on an ice skating date at Robson Square.
Robson Square Ice Rink is open every winter from December to February. Admission is free and rentals are $5, or you can bring your own skates.
Other Fun Things to Do Around Vancouver
43. People watch at Coal Harbour Park.
Coal Harbour’s seawall is well-liked amongst runners and cyclists.
The marina and mountain views here attract numerous tourists from all over the world, and is a Vancouver must-see.
Find a seat on the grass or a park bench and people watch.
Tip: You can also watch seaplanes take off!
44. Walk the Lions Gate Bridge.
This 1,823-meter long suspension bridge connects Vancouver to the District of North Vancouver. A good cardio exercise is to walk the bridge on a sunny day.
45. Take a scenic drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway.
The Sea-to-Sky Highway, or Highway 99, is an awe-inspiring route from Vancouver to Whistler.
If you decide to check out any of the North Vancouver activities on this list, be sure to save some time to venture further up north and go for a scenic drive!
46. Watch a horse race at Hastings Racecourse.
Photo from Hastings Racecourse.
Hastings Racecourse is a horse racing facility near Downtown. You are more than welcome to place bets, although you are not required to to watch the race.
Tip: See their racing schedule for dates and times.
47. Observe the life cycle of a salmon at Capilano Salmon Hatchery.
The Capliano Salmon Hatchery attracts over 400,000 visitors per year.
This fish hatchery interpretive center offers self-guided tours where you can observe the process of fish developing from eggs to their juvenile stage to being released to the river in spring.
48. Attend a comedy show.
Life’s too short to be serious all the time. Why not attend a weekend comedy show!
Tip: Check Eventbrite for free shows.
49. Tour the Christ Church Cathedral.
Christ Church Cathedral is a Gothic Revival-style Class A Heritage site built in 1895. It features beautiful arches and stained glass windows, and is open daily from 8:30AM to 5:30PM.
50. Go stargazing at the Gordon Southam Observatory.
Calling all astronomy lovers! This fully functioning astronomical observatory houses a 50-cm Cassegrain telescope that is powerful enough to see planets and star clusters.
Tip: The observatory is by donation and offers public viewings on Saturday evenings from 7:00PM to 11:00PM.
And there you have it! 50 free things to do in Vancouver.
Despite having lived in Vancouver pretty much my entire life, I am still constantly amazed at how incredibly charming the city is. I hope you enjoy these places to go in Vancouver recommendations, and I can’t wait for you to experience beautiful British Columbia.
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