46 Free Things to Do in Vancouver (for Every Season)

Besides a few exceptions, the truth is that if you want to do really cool things in Vancouver (that aren’t hiking), you’re going to have to pay!

That said, there are free things to do. They just require more imagination and openness. It’s like being sent out into nature as a kind and told to make your own fun. This might have initially seemed like a pain in the ass, but in the end it probably inspired the more rewarding, creative, and adventurous experiences of your childhood.

Also from us: Things to Do in Vancouver When it Rains (The Ultimate Guide)

If you want to do all of the expensive cookie-cutter things in Vancouver (Fly Over Canada, Capilano Bridge, etc.), I’m sure you’ll have fun—but it’s the FREE things that have the potential to be most exciting and memorable!

Sorry if that’s not what you wanted to hear! But you’ll surely find at least one cool thing on this list that you like J

This list features:

  • Free Indoor Activities
  • Free Outdoor Activities
  • Free Art Museums and Galleries
  • Free Activities in Winter Only
  • Free Activities in Summer Only
  • Free Nearby Hikes
  • and a few ALMOST free things to do in Vancouver

Free Indoor Activities

1. Stargaze at the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory

The Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory is a 5-10 minute bus ride or 15 minute walk from downtown. It’s a free observatory (by donation) open on Saturday nights from 7:30 to 11:30 pm.

It has a ½-meter Cassegrain telescope by which you can look at planets, moons, star clusters, and more. Their website invites you to “explore the most awe-inspiring views of the universe around you.” There is staff on hand to give you information and answer questions. How cool is this??

2. Learn to be more mindful at the International Buddhist Temple in Richmond

The International Buddhist Temple in Richmond is located about 1 hour from downtown by public transport or 30 minutes by car. This is a free, beautiful Buddhist temple that is open to the public in order to share Buddhist philosophy with others.

They ask that visitors respect that this is a place of worship and please not take pictures inside the temple. However, photos outside are fine. Check out their website to view current hours and plan your free visit.

3. The Engine 374 Pavilion in Yaletown

This one is for history buffs. The Engine 374 Pavilion in Yaletown is a free exhibit in the Yaletown neighborhood of downtown Vancouver that houses the CPR Engine 374 which on May 23, 1887, pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver. After years of transcontinental railway construction, mission was accomplished.

The engine was retired in 1945 and you can check out this piece of west coast history now in person for free! Check out their website for updated hours.

4. Visit the Christ Church Cathedral

“Open doors, open hearts, open minds” says the website of the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral, located in the heart of downtown. It’s an old landmark in Vancouver-years—construction started in 1889!

In addition to church services, visitors are welcome to visit. The Gothic Style church was built from old growth Douglas Fir. Surrounded by glass skyscrapers, one can only imagine the changes this little church has seen over the last century.

5. Walk Around Canada Place and take a Free Tour of the Vancouver Convention Centre

Walking around Canada Place won’t take long. It’s a multi-purpose outdoor space located in the port where cruise ships come in and out of. There’s also the famous (non-free) virtual reality activity Fly Over Canada located here if you’re interested.

But a COOL FREE activity is to take a tour of the massive Vancouver Convention Centre at Canada Place.

Their website promises to show visitors around and teach them about the building’s unique design, its unconventional quirks “including our six-acre living roof, marine habitat and much more!”

6. Visit Capilano Salmon Hatchery

The Capilano Salmon Hatchery is a unique facility accessible by public transport or car from downtown that allows you to peek in on the life cycle of salmon (for free!).

It’s a good idea to couple this with other free activities nearby, including the Cleveland Dam and beautiful hiking trails recommended in the linked website.

7. Learn about Golf at the BC Golf Museum

Ok, so if golf isn’t your thing, don’t go here. But if you happen to be super into golf, and super into the history of golf, you are going to love this place. The BC Golf Museum is more like a library and research center for golf. And it’s free.

Located about a 15-minute drive or 30-minute bus ride from downtown at Blanca and University Drive, the BC Golf Museum is truly for the golf aficionado who wants to learn a little something new.

8. Be Nosy at the Vancouver Law Courts

For law buffs, investigation-story TV nerds, and enthusiastic voyeurs of all kind, you may be interested in watching a live court case at the Vancouver Law Courts, where proceedings take place every day.

Sometimes they are big, serious crime cases and other times you’re watching people fight over something petty (which I guess could also be interesting). You can check out the schedule the day before and see what cases are going to be discussed.

9. Go Back in Time at the Burnaby Village Museum and Carousel

The Burnaby Village Museum and Carousel is an adorable museum with free admission (and less than a few bucks to ride the carousel if you want).

This is an adorable 1920s village with actors-staff in period costume. There are many different tours and activities available, including a ride on the 100-year-old carousel.

At Christmas time, you can walk around and enjoy the light displays and cozy atmosphere!

10. Visit a Dispensary

Since the legalization of marijuana in Canada in 2018, there has been an explosion of legal marijuana dispensaries opening up around the city offering weed in every form and for every desire/ailment imaginable.

If you’re from out of country, it might be an interesting experience for you to drop in one or two of these shops and chat with the staff. You may learn some things that surprise you! And chatting and learning is free!

11. Learn at the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre

So, you wouldn’t just come here for the Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre. You would probably be coming here to see Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and do the awesome little hike, and then stop at this museum on your way out. But it IS free and it IS indoor, so here we are putting it on the list.

Here you’ll see ecology and nature displays and be able to browse the gift shop. There’s also a little café here with good food if you get hungry after your hike and Ecology-center adventure.

12. Take photos at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park

Careful with this one—admission is free to the Sun Yat-Sen Park, but you have to pay to enter the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. However, even the free park is cute and offers nice photo opportunities. It’s peaceful, with a pagoda, coy fish, and lots of beautiful plants.

13. Check the Schedule at the Vancouver Public Library for Free Workshops and Classes

The Vancouver Public Library is a beautiful Colosseum-like building in downtown Vancouver—a great free place to visit on its own—but it also offers free workshops, classes, and lectures every month.

I recommend stopping by and grabbing a paper schedule at the entrance or checking out their website and looking at what’s on this month!

There are several branches of the Vancouver Public Library located around the city in various suburbs, so make such you pay close attention to which location the event is being held at.

On a sunny day, get a coffee at one of the cafes downstairs (or not) and go on up to the top floor where there’s a free outdoor rooftop and garden with a view.

14. Tour CBC Studios

CBC/Radio-Canada, the major Canadian news radio and television broadcasting corporation, is located in downtown Vancouver. Although not publicized, CBC has been known to give tours to people (for free) who call and ask politely. You may even get lucky and catch a live broadcast. Don’t be afraid to call some of these places and ask for a tour. The worst they can say is no.

15. Tour Vancouver Film School

Don’t miss out on a chance to get a free tour of a major film school in a city full of industry giants. Similarly to CBC, the renowned Vancouver Film School in downtown Vancouver doesn’t advertise free tours, but all you need to do is give them a call and ask. They’re a school and so prospective students will definitely want a tour of the school if they’re in town and have dreams of applying. Vancouver is a great place to learn about film, with a growing reputation as “Hollywood North” and movies/Netflix TV series filming sites a common sight to behold in the city.

Free Outdoor Activities

16. Chase Murals Around Vancouver for Photos

There are some really amazing street murals around Vancouver that change every year during the Vancouver Mural Festival.

Check out this Vancouver Mural Map to find out where they all are. You can even download a printable map (with the names of the artists) from their website.

Make it a game to find and photograph as many as possible! This is such a great free activity for people who love street art in the places they visit.

17. Take a Free Walking Tour of Vancouver

This is pretty cool. Every day, the Tour Guys give free walking tours around Vancouver (“tips are appreciated”). They take you through Waterfront, Chinatown, Granville Island, and more telling you information and stories about Vancouver that “even most tried-and-true locals don’t know about!”

This is a good option if you’re traveling alone and want to make some friends to explore the city with, or simply have some company for a few hours.

18. Take a Tour of UBC

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is a massive school located about 30 minutes from downtown on a peninsula, surrounding by Pacific Spirit Park and the water. It’s a gorgeous campus and you should definitely check it out if you’re in town.

Since it’s so big, it’s a good idea to take a free guided tour! UBC offers two types of free tours—one for general visitors and one for prospective students. Just register on their websites and enjoy a tour around this beautiful place!

19. Walk around Granville Island

You’ll probably be tempted to buy something if you go to the Public Market on Granville Island, but it is possible to just walk around and browse. There are a ton of artsy shops, galleries, and a port to hang out in.

Other cool “just for looking” sites include the 7,200 square meter, 360-degree, 23-meter tall mural called “Giants” which is painted on six enormous industrial silos.

20. Go on a Personal Scavenger Hunt to find all 350+ of Vancouver’s Public Artworks

Just like walking around to find cool murals, you could hunt down amazing art installations and take pictures of them and with them. There are around 350 art installations in Vancouver! Many are centered in Olympic Village and along the various beaches in Vancouver.

Some of the coolest ones include Yue Minjun’s “A-maze-ing Laughter” in English Bay and Myfanwy MacLeod’s 18-foot “The Birds” in Olympic Village Plaza.

21. Visit the Haunted Places of Vancouver

Give yourself a free ghost tour of Vancouver! There are many reported ghost sightings, especially around Gastown. You can look up a bunch of Ghosts of Vancouver stories here and explore the haunted places for yourself. For free!

22. See the Stanley Park Totem Poles

There are nine totem poles located at Brocton Point in Stanley Park that you can walk around and photograph (along with your exploration of the rest of Stanley Park).

These nine beautiful totem poles are one of the most visited areas of Vancouver.

23. Spend an afternoon in Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park is 152 meters above sea level, giving visitors an incredible view of downtown and the mountains. It’s 52 hectares of gardens, fountains, public art, an arboretum, and more.

There are also tennis courts and other facilities available if you have your own sports equipment.  

24. Go to any Beach

Any beach in Vancouver will be guaranteed cheap fun! English Bay, Kitsilano, Spanish Banks, Jericho, and Wreck (the “clothing optional” beach at UBC) are all great for different reasons.

Have a picnic, play frisbee, busk—and maybe you’ll even make some money! You’ll definitely meet some people anyway.

Free Art Museums and Galleries

25. Visit the Chali Ross Art Gallery

Not sure why the Chali Ross Art Gallery isn’t more well-known to travelers to Vancouver. It’s a free gallery that has work from famous modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Andy Warhol, and Henri Matisse. Oh. my.

26. Visit the Rennie Museum

The Rennie Museum is a private collection in Chinatown available by appointment only (guided tours). It’s a really cool museum with super knowledgeable staff. Completely free. We went to an interactive Yoko Ono exhibit here that was amazing.

27. Visit the Spirit Wrestler Gallery

The Spirit Wrestler Gallery in Gastown showcases contemporary indigenous art and represents master Inuit, Northwest Coast and Māori artists.

It’s small but beautiful and worth stopping in if you’re in Gastown.

28. Visit Arts off Main Gallery

The Arts Off Main Gallery and Gift Store is a tiny little gallery in the Commercial Drive neighborhood of Vancouver. A collective run by local artists, this little place used to be a café! Here you can browse a range of eclectic art, and when you’re done walk around this awesome and diverse neighborhood.

29. Go to the Vancouver Art Gallery on TUESDAY evenings

Normally kind of pricey, the Vancouver Art Gallery opens its doors “by donation” on Tuesday nights from 5-9 pm. There is usually a long line up for this event so get in line early!

30. Check out the Contemporary Art Gallery

The Contemporary Art Gallery is a tiny downtown art gallery that you can see all of very quickly. The exhibits are always changing and some are much more interesting than others, so check out their website before you head over there.

31. Walk around Six Hundred Four

“It’s an art and sneaker experience unlike anything else in the world, found exclusively here in Vancouver” as their website reads.

Six Hundred Four is a brand, a sneaker shop, event space, and an art gallery rolled into one, located in Gastown. Check it out for a truly unique visual experience.

Free Activities in Winter Only

32. Skate at Robson Square Ice Rink

The Robson Square Ice Rink, located in the heart of downtown, offers free ice skating to the public from November to February (with a fee to rent skates).

33. Do the Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day

Brave souls in Vancouver on New Years Day are invited to jump into the icy cold water with fellow citizens thereby joining the 100-year old “Polar Bear Swim Club.”

The Polar Bear Swim is free, it’s a spectacle, and you have a chance to win prizes.

Free Activities in Summer Only

34. Try Free Yoga at Kitsilano Beach

For years, there has been free yoga running at Kitsilano Beach during the summer. All you have to do is show up. The classes are conducted with a fabulous view of the water and mountains, making it the perfect free summer activity.

35. Attend Free dance lessons in Robson Square (Friday Nights)

In Robson Square throughout the summer, there are free dance lessons for singles or couples on Friday nights. A different style of dance is taught every week, including the waltz, cha cha, and jive! No experience required.

36. Attend Free SALSA lessons in Robson Square (Sunday afternoons)

In the summer on Sunday afternoons for over a decade, Robson Square has played host to Sunday afternoon salsa lessons. You can attend the dance classes or just come and watch the performances!

37. Watch Lansdowne Centre’s Free, Annual Drive-in Movies

In the summer, the Lansdowne Centre in Richmond puts on free drive-in movies (every Wednesday in July and August)! The first 200 cars can park free and there’s place for people to just come sit in front too. How cozy!

38. Watch Summer Cinema Outdoor Movies at Stanley Park

Every summer in Stanley Park, Vancouver hosts free outdoor movies on Tuesday nights! This event is super fun, family friendly, and a great cheap date night. Bring a picnic and watch a movie cuddled up on the grass!

39. Check out Vancouver’s Summer Festivals

There’s a range of free or partially free festivals that happen in Vancouver every year, but they are seasonal.

These include: the Jazz Festival, Celtic Festival, Heart of the City Festival, Canada Day festivities, the Khatsalano Street Festival, the Italian Festival, the Celebration of Lights fireworks displays, the Pride Parade, the Dragon Boat Festival, and Symphony in the Park. And that’s not even all of them!

Check when you’ll be in town and make sure to do some research to see if there is a big free event happening the same weekend!

Free Nearby Hikes

Hiking is free, of course, and one of the things that makes Vancouver most fun according to many. All of these hikes are free, beautiful, and must-sees while in Vancouver:

40. Hike Quarry Rock in Deep Cove

Location: Deep Cove, 1 hour from downtown on public transit or a 25-minute drive

Difficulty: Easy

Why do it? Beautiful views and easy enough for most to do

41. Walk around Pacific Spirit Park

Location: 20 minutes from downtown, located next to the University of British Columbia

Difficulty: Flat and easy

Why do it? It’s a nice walk of peaceful, endless trails and enormous trees in beautiful temperate rainforest

42. Visit Lighthouse Park

Location: West Vancouver, about a 30-minute car ride from downtown.

Difficulty: Easy

Why do it? It’s a nice easy loop with a lighthouse and a cool view of Vancouver from across Burrard Inlet.

43. Cross the Suspension Bridge at Lynn Canyon

Location: North Vancouver, about 30 minutes from downtown by car and 1 hour on public transport

Difficulty: Easy

Why do it? It’s the FREE version of Capilano Suspension Bridge! And it’s gorgeous in both sunny and rainy weather.

44. Walk the Stanley Park Seawall

The Stanley Park Seawall is just something that everyone has to do at some point in Vancouver! It’s free, but long, to walk it. There are ponds, big trees, artwork, and more to discover.

45. Walk the Ambleside Centennial Seawalk in West Vancouver

Like the Seawall but the other side of the water… kind of! This is a beautiful family-friendly area with parks, benches, and gardens. Also, amazing photography opportunities.

46. Grouse Grind (up the Grind and down the BCMC trail to keep it free)

The Grouse Grind is a tough vertical “grind” with beautiful views at the top (and a café and restaurant). You’re not allowed to come back down the grind—you have to pay for the gondola ride.

If you want to keep it free, go down the BCMC trail if possible, with your transportation situation.

ALMOST free things to do in Vancouver

East Van Flea Market

East Van Flea is a cool flea market in a rad part of town to find some treasures, but there’s a small fee to get through the door.

Richmond Night Market (summer only)

The Richmond Night Market is a fairyland of FOOD stalls, but not completely free because (1) there is a small entrance free and (2) walking around only smelling the food is no fun. You’re going to want to spend money on something. It’s a cheap night though, compared to other destinations.



Brittany is a Wayfaring Human who loves to adventure with her husband and son. When she's not having adventures, she's taking pictures of them and writing about them.

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