Vancouver, Canada, has much to offer the visitor in terms of restaurants, nightlife, hotels and culture. However, while it’s a worthwhile destination, it can also get expensive. To help you make the most of your trip to the city without breaking the bank, here is a budget-friendly guide to Vancouver.
Vancouver’s waterfront location, mountainous terrain and many microclimates allow for some beautiful landscapes. One of the best ways to experience this is by walking the Seawall. Stretching 14 miles from Coal Harbour to Kitsilano Beach Park, you’ll stroll past colorful sailboats, beaches, parks, bridges and ancient trees. You’ll pass through Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in the world. Encompassing 404.9 hectares, the park features First Nations artwork, beaches, gardens, forests, monuments, recreation areas and the Vancouver Aquarium. You can also stroll through Queen Elizabeth Park, Crescent Park or Pacific Spirit Park.
While Chinatown’s Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden offers a free park, I would recommend spending the fee and visiting their traditional Chinese garden. According to their website, it is the first of its kind outside China, with the site mimicking the private spaces within a Ming scholar’s residence.”With its asymmetrical arrangement of rocks and plants, its winding paths and corridors, and the vistas that overlook its courtyards, the Garden emulates the rhythms of nature,” it says on their mission statement.
Prices are $14 for adults, $11 for seniors, $10 for students and $28 for families and free for children under 5.
Explore With A Free Walking Tour
Vancouver Tour Guys offer free walking tours seven days a week. Guides are energetic and passionate about Vancouver, and you’re almost guaranteed to get a great tour as they work for tips. Some tours they offer include:
- Granville & Gastown
- Murders, Mysteries & Mayhem
- Eat Your Cart Out
- Beer Makes History Better
- Downtown & Olympic Waterfront
Click here to view a tour calendar.
Skip The Capilano Suspension Bridge And Visit Lynn Canyon Park
While admission to Capilano Suspension Bridge costs $33.95, the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is free to enjoy. The 164-foot shaking, bouncing bridge offers views of waterfalls, rushing rapids and deep pools. For a virtual tour, click here.
Visit The City’s Museums
Vancouver doesn’t have too many free museums; however, there are a few ways around the system. The Vancouver Art Gallery, which features a permanent collection of more than 10,000 artworks as well as rotating exhibitions, is pay-by-donation on Tuesdays after 5 p.m. Additionally, while the Museum of Anthropology is usually $16.75, it drops down to $9 on Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. At the H.R. McMillan Space Centre, you can visit the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory by giving a donation of your choice.
There’s also the Wing Sang Building – the oldest building in Vancouver’s Chinatown – which is the permanent home of the Rennie Collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada. The collection is dedicated not only to the acquisition of established international artists, but also to the work of emerging artists. Public viewing of the exhibition is available through guided tours on Thursdays and Saturdays, free of charge.
Learn Some History
Around Vancouver, there are pieces of history you may not notice if you don’t know where to look. For example, in 1887 the Engine 374 Pavilion at Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into the city. Additionally, you can visit Hastings Mill Store Museum, the city’s oldest surviving structure, as well as the Christ Church Cathedral, which has been a house of worship since 1888.
Granville Island, which isn’t really an island but a peninsula, as it’s walkable from downtown Vancouver, is an area full of quirky shops, public art, outdoor entertainment and a bustling public market. For a free day, you can simply wander around, taking in outdoor art, sampling free treats at Rogers’ Chocolates and the Public Market, watching street performers and wandering in and out of creative galleries. I’d also recommend checking out the Granville Island Broom Company store and browsing their quirky Harry Potter-style brooms.
For interesting and affordable drinking options in Granville Island, you have a few choices. First, visit the Artisan Sake Maker, who makes in-house sake. For $5, he will teach you about sake and the creation process, as well as give you three tastings. At Granville Island Brewing, tours are offered for $10.92 at 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily. It includes in-depth knowledge about the beer production process, a behind-the-scenes tour and three tastings of beers made with all-natural ingredients. If you’d just like to relax with a drink without needing to think, Cats Social House near the waterfront offers $4 drinks all day and night.
Get In Touch With Your Inner Rock Star
For all you Jimi Hendrix fans, there is a Jimi Hendrix Shrine in southern Chinatown. Apparently, the musician would practice guitar while his grandmother Nora cooked at Vie’s Chicken and Steak House. Go inside the red shack, and you’ll see album covers, old photos, artwork and photocopies of Hendrix’s notes.
Although Vancouver is a city, it offers numerous worthwhile and free hikes. Cypress Mountain includes three mountains – Black Mountain, Mount Strachan and Hollyburn Mountain – all offering jagged peaks, sub alpine lakes, meadows and some of the oldest trees in British Columbia. There’s also the extremely challenging Grouse Grind (pictured right). While only 1.8 miles one way, it goes uphill at a steep incline. Hikers gain an elevation of 2,800 feet and climb 2,830 stairs. Luckily, you can ride the Skyride down if you prefer, although this will cost you $10. For an easy hike, trek from Vanier Park to Spanish Banks Beach. The roads are paved, and you’ll pass through Kitsilano Beach, Jericho Beach and Locarno Beach. Which brings us to our next budget-friendly Vancouver option.
Hit The Beach
Although a city, Vancouver has numerous beaches. In fact, almost 11 miles of beaches surround the city, including ocean beaches and one freshwater lake. Along with the ones previously mentioned, some other worthwhile ones include English Bay Beach, Second Beach, Third Beach and Trout Lake Beach.
First Nations Art
Browsing First Nations artwork can make for an informative and budget-friendly day. The most well known piece of First Nations artwork in Vancouver resides in Stanley Park in the form of totem poles. Each totem pole tells true and mythical stories from the First Nations people. The original totem poles were brought over in the late 1800s from Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, but are now placed in museums. However, they’ve been replaced by new totem poles that replicate the originals. Supposedly, they are the most visited sight in British Columbia. There are also various galleries around the city showcasing this type of art, like the Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver and the Marion Scott Gallery.
Take Advantage Of Bar Specials
Because of their liquor laws, British Columbia doesn’t technically have happy hour. Just because they can’t discount drinks by the hour, however, doesn’t mean their bars don’t offer great deals. My top picks include:
- Rogue Kitchen & Wet Bar- This Gastown bar offers The “Don’t Care” glass of Red or White for $4.99. As they say on the website, it’s a glass to get the job done.
- Hapa Hour at Hapa Izakaya- Located in Coal Harbour, this bar offers $5 glasses of wine, $4 beers and half-price tapas from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Local Public Eatery- This waterfront venue located across from Kitsilano Beach offers $4 glasses of red and white wine.
Know Where To Eat
Samurai Sushi on Davie Street is a local favorite, not only because it’s delicious, but because you get heaping portions for a small price. The nearby Stephos Souvlaki Greek Tavern does the same, but for Greek food. At Medina Cafe, you can order a waffle with your choice of topping for less than $5. If you’d like a large selection of artisanal eats for cheap, check out the Granville Island Public Market, with stalls featuring cheeses, meats, jams, baked goods, fruits and more.
Take Advantage Of Free Samples
At the Public Market in Granville Island you’ll often find vendors giving out free samples of their products. Cobs Bread is another venue often giving away free samples of made-from-scratch goodies. Additionally, Rogers’ Chocolates, the oldest chocolate shop in Canada since 1885, will hand out samples of freshly made maple chocolates and other treats. BC Liquor Stores often give free tastings on weekends when sales reps are there, and at Swirl Wine Store you can try complimentary tastings daily.
Vancouver is home to over 50 food trucks, offering full meals without the worry of paying extra for service or space. Some of the city’s best food trucks include:
- Feastro The Rolling Bistro- Located on the corner of West Cordova and Thurlow Streets, this food truck offers delicious entrees like soft tacos, fish & chips and smoked chicken gravy poutine. Breakfast is $2.25 to $4.95, while brunch and lunch range from $8 to $13. Specials are featured daily.
- Mom’s Grilled Cheese- Residing at Howe Street and West Georgia, this rolling restaurant features home-style grilled cheese, as well as more complex sandwiches, soups and sweets. Meals range from $5 for carmelized apples, candied pecans and cinnamon mascarpone cheese on Brioche, to $8.50 for daily specials like Monday’s homemade meatloaf on French bread and Tuesday’s turkey and brie on cranberry pecan bread.
- Re-Up BBQ- You’ll find this food truck at 700 Horby, selling items like southern-style pulled pork sandwiches for $7 and beef brisket for $9. For $2.25, you can also get a “Southern Sweet Tea,” with orange pekote, lemon and sugar.
You can find out more about Vancouver’s street food scene with the free Vancouver Street Food App for iPhone, iPad and iTouch.
Get Half-Price Tickets To The Game
Located in Tourism Vancouver’s downtown Visitor Information Centre on 200 Burrard Street, you’ll find Tickets Tonight. The budget-friendly outlet sells tickets for events sold by both Ticketmaster and independent retailers.
About an hour away from Vancouver is the Fraser Valley. If you have a car you can do a self-guided Circle Farm Tour, which offers free tours of wineries, farm-gates, open-air markets, heritage sites, fairs and special events. Click on a specific community for a map.
Browse Antiques In Gastown
Walk down to the historic Gastown, and you’ll find tons of antique and vintage clothing shops. While it costs money to purchase items, window-shopping is free. Some of my favorite shops include Salmagundi West, L’atelier Home and Deluxe Junk Co.
Go To Brunch
On weekends, Vancouverites take to the streets to fill up at the many brunch spots in the city. During brunch, you’ll get excellent deals on meals and drinks. For example, La Brasserie offers brunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and will often have deals like $5 mimosas and ceasars. The Blarney Stone features a Sunday brunch and many times has deals like $4 Irish beers and $5 brunch drinks. Just take a stroll and look for the colorful chalkboards littering the sidewalk.
Stay At Budget Hotels With Ambiance
Just because a hotel isn’t expensive doesn’t mean it isn’t comfortable and nice. The Urban Hideaway Guesthouse is a cross between “a hostel, a B&B and a Traveler’s Inn.” It has character, as it was built in 1896 and is set in a 19th century Victorian house. You can book their best room, a super double with private bathroom and continental breakfast, for about $85 per night. Additionally, the Budget Inn Patricia Hotel is centrally located and offers comfortable, no-frilled rooms from $41. If you’re looking for something more luxurious, boutique hotels like Hotel LeSoleil, L’Hermitage Hotel and Opus Vancouver offer reasonable prices and often offer sales and packages. And remember, traveling during shoulder season will almost always ensure a better deal.