Somehow, somewhere, Vancouver got the reputation of being a no-fun city. Admittedly, gentrification has contributed to independent and cultural activities becoming increasingly rare. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun to be had!
At nearly $2,000 per month to rent a 1-bedroom apartment, Vancouver is an expensive city to live in. But since the residents spend all their money on housing, more people are creating affordable, community-driven activities. Everything suggested in this article is either free or cheap, making it easy for the budget traveller to really get to know what makes Vancouver so great (and why we all stay here despite the cost of living).
Visit Vancouver Like a Local
Lynn Canyon Closer to Vancouver than Capilano and, more importantly, free. The suspension bridge at Lynn Canyon isn’t as big as the one at Capilano, but you still get beautiful views of waterfalls and can hike through the forest for as long, or as little, as suits you.
Farmers Markets Most of the farmers markets happen between May – October, but there are a couple open during the winter as well. There are new vendors all the time and this is a great way to pick up some local food stuffs.
Vancouver Art Gallery Visit the art gallery on a Tuesday evening after 5pm for a pay-what-you-can admission fee. It will be busy, but not annoyingly so.
Stanley Park While Stanley Park is on the must-do list of most visitors, it is also frequented by locals. Have a picnic in the park or walk/cycle, the 10 km sea wall.
Third Beach Located in Stanley Park, Third Beach is more difficult to access than English Bay and, therefore, somewhat more quiet. Go to this beach on Tuesday nights during the summer for the weekly drum circle and dance. Other drum circles are held at Spanish Banks on Sundays and at Wreck Beach some Saturdays.
Queen Elizabeth Park Another free park that makes a beautiful picnic spot, especially when the cherry blossoms are out.
Catch a Show Theatre might be dying, but it isn’t dead yet! The Cultch hosts some of the best independent shows in the city. My two favourite shows ever (The Goblin Market and Hot Brown Honey) were seen here! The Cultch has two theatres in the Commercial Dr. area – the Historic Theatre and the York Theatre.
Main St. Get away from the chain stores on Robson St. and do your shopping on Main St. between Broadway and 30th Ave (though the best shopping is really on 20th Ave and up). Here you will find a mix of vintage, antique, and independent designers shops. When you’re feet get tired, there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, and bars to rest up at.
Commercial Drive Gentrification is taking over the city, but Commercial Dr. is still holding on to some of Vancouver’s oldest and best Italian coffee shops. There are also a few clothing and knick-knack stores with curious goodies. Check out Rabbit & Empee for locally designed festival clothing made from organic cotton. JQ Clothing has affordable and funky attire, as well as a very diverse selection of tutus. LaLa’s is my favourite store for random curiosities and funky socks.
Grouse Mountain Skip the gondola fee and hike your way to the top of the mountain. The Grind is an extremely challenging hike that should only be undertaken by those who are suitably fit and have the proper footwear. This is a popular trail so don’t expect solitude. However, you can expect your whole body to wish it was over before you get to the quarter-way mark.
Camping If you are looking to experience the beauty of British Columbia Provincial Parks, you will find a few within a couple’s hours drive from Vancouver. Cultus Lake, Golden Ears, and Alice Lake are relatively close to the city and will provide you with plenty of trees and lakes. Campsites at the provincial parks fill up quickly – often months in advance. Make your reservations early, especially if you want to camp on the weekend. Otherwise, there are plenty of private campgrounds that are usually cheaper than the provincial parks. For backcountry camping, check out the many locations in Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Hiking All of the above mentioned parks offer great hiking as well. If you don’t have time to leave the city, Pacific Spirit Park has some easy trails and you can choose to start/finish at the very pretty Spanish Banks Beach. If you have time to visit Vancouver Island and love multi-day hikes, the Juan de Fuca Trail is shorter and cheaper than the more famous West Coast Trail.
Note: If you don’t have access to a vehicle, consider ParkBus to shuttle you to some of the area’s most popular parks.
Sushi I don’t know if there is anywhere else in the world where you will find so much sushi for such reasonable prices. Quality varies, but even the worst places have edible sushi at the prices they offer. Gone are the days when you could get unlimited wild salmon sashimi at Tanpopo, but all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants are still a great way to try a bunch of different dishes. Visit these restaurants during off hours to save a bunch of money.
Eat your way through Gastown & Chinatown Gastown has to be the trendiest culinary neighbourhood of Vancouver. Chinatown is a close second as the neighbourhood is currently undergoing gentrification. Chinatown is also a great place to get dim-sum if you don’t have any food restrictions.
Japadog Gluten-free readers will have to pass on this one, but this hot dog stand is such an icon of the food cart industry in Vancouver, I had to include it. If you’ve never heard of Japadog, it is essentially a hot dog with Japanese toppings such as miso sauce and bonito flakes.
Yoga Yoga studios are almost as ubiquitous as sushi restaurants and coffee shops in Vancouver. Most places have a pretty hefty drop-in fee. If your wallet is feeling thin, go to Karma Teachers for a daily selection of yoga and meditation classes. Karma Teachers opened in 2011 with the goal of making yoga accessible to everyone. They offer free or by-donation classes with teachers, often graduates of the KT yoga teacher training program, volunteering their time. If you are looking for something more active and social, go to one of the free acroyoga classes that happens weekly during the summer at Trout Lake. Alternatively, check out the free outdoor yoga held daily at Dude Chilling Park.
Zulu Records Music stores are a dying breed, but Zulu Records is holding its own even as people switch to digital media. You will find plenty of cds and vinyl, all of which you can listen to before you buy. Check out their board for upcoming shows of indie music artists or just make your way through the listening stations to discover your new favourite band.
Bowen Island Catch a water taxi from Granville Island and be at Bowen Island in just 35 minutes. Spend the day exploring what coastal life is like away from the city.
Pitch n Putt With courses at Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park and Rupert Park, you are never far away from an afternoon of loosing golf balls in trees and scoring 20 over par as you learn there is more skill to golf than you previously thought. It’s a chill way to spend an afternoon with your friends and be a little active outside.
Poetry Slam Every Monday night at Café deux Soleils, you can snap your fingers as Vancouver poets take to the stage for competitive poetry. It’s an atmosphere of fun and encouragement where you are almost guaranteed to make a new friend. This event gets packed! Get there an hour early to avoid disappointment and be prepared to share your table with others.
Wreck Beach This beautiful beach is difficult to get to, which is how it has remained Vancouver’s only clothing-optional beach. Located with Pacific Spirit Park, here you will find 7.8km of coastline backed by the Pacific rainforest. Descend the 500 stairs for a chilled-out vibe of old hippies, young students, and people looking for a place where they can be themselves. Certainly, the atmosphere at Wreck has changed a lot in the past few years. The presence of RCMP officers has upset many locals who say that it is both unnecessary and infringes on what the beach is about – the freedom to be comfortable.
Read the Georgia Straight If you want to find out what is happening in Vancouver, start with this free newspaper. You can pick up a copy at newspaper boxes all over the city. As well as some interesting articles, the Georgia Straight contains listings for concerts, performances, and talks happening throughout the city. It also has a great sexual advice column that isn’t afraid to tell people the truth.
Have you been to Vancouver? What was your favourite thing!?
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