A 2012 report from the
Economist Intelligence Unit recently named Vancouver, British Columbia North
America’s most expensive city for residents. But for budget-conscious travellers
– and belt-tightening locals – there are plenty of ways to save a buck and
still have a good time in western Canada’s largest metropolis.
No cash is needed to
appreciate the totem poles and vista-hugging seawall trail in Vancouver’s giant
Stanley Park. But a
visit to its admission-free Lost Lagoon Nature
House is also recommended if you want the lowdown on the region’s
multitudinous flora and fauna. Aside from wildlife exhibitions and chatty
staff, there are regular bird watching walks through the park for a suggested five
Canadian dollar donation. In many of Vancouver’s free-entry, volunteer-run
attractions, donations are usually gratefully accepted.
also check out Chinatown. The neighbourhood’s Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese
Garden charges admission, but right next door is free-entry park, Dr Sun Yat-Sen Park, that echoes the same horticultural principles. While
the paid attraction is more ornate and has guided tours, its freebie sibling
includes a turtle-rippled lily pond, neon-bright koi carp and terracotta-topped
buildings framing its verdant foliage.
After a bit of nature
gazing, marvel at the universe with a by-donation Saturday evening viewing at the
Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory
in the Kitsilano neighbourhood, where guides point out night-sky highlights
through a half-metre telescope. Back on terra firma, North Vancouver’s free Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre immerses
visitors in the regional rainforest, while the surrounding park’s woodland
trails lead to a suspension bridge that sways over the canyon.
If the past is your
bag, Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre
is home to the Engine 374 Pavilion,
which sounds fairly nondescript until you realise the hulking steam locomotive
on display pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in
1887. Peruse the old photos on the walls and quiz the enthusiastic volunteers
on its fascinating story.
Even more geriatric
than the train is the wood-framed building that houses the Hastings Mill Store Museum,
located across the city in the neighbourhood of Point Grey. Built in the 1860s
and now Vancouver’s oldest surviving structure, it was barged over from Gastown
in the 1930s to become a museum. Today, it displays eclectic curios including Vancouver’s
first city council table, artefacts salvaged from the Victorian-era steamship
SS Beaver, and relics such as heat-twisted knives and forks from the 1886 Great
Fire that destroyed most of the fledgling city.
your neck at the elaborate hammerbeam ceiling in downtown’s 19th-century Christ Church Cathedral. Then
peruse its gorgeous stained
glass windows – including one by London’s celebrated Morris & Company
in the downstairs vestibule. Founded by arts and crafts pioneer William Morris
in 1875, the company was at the forefront of Victorian stained glass window
History of a different
vintage is celebrated at the quirky Jimi
Hendrix Shrine on Chinatown’s southern edge. Reputedly occupying the homestyle
eatery called Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, where Hendrix’s grandmother cooked
and the then-unknown guitarist often strummed, the red-painted shack is lined
with old photos, album covers and eye-popping artwork.
If you have kids in
tow, head to Vancouver’s excellent free-access water parks instead. The Variety Kids Waterpark
by Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park has smashing waterfront vistas, but the
larger layout at the Granville
Island Water Park – with pipes, slides and sprinklers – is even more
popular. You will only save money if you can keep your sprogs away from the
nearby daily Kids Market, though.
Anyone can shimmy along
for free during summer’s Sunday afternoon salsa lessons at downtown’s Robson Square. And if you still
have energy – rather than money – to burn afterwards, tackle North Vancouver’s
ultra-steep, calf-busting Grouse
Grind hiking trail, a 2.9km route that starts near the main parking lot at
the entrance to Grouse Mountain, one of the region’s most popular attractions.
Taking the well-marked trail
to the mountain summit saves on the cost of the Skyride gondola, and once you
are up top, you can freely enjoy attractions including lumberjack shows,
wildlife enclosures and bird of prey demonstrations. The downside? The trail is
one-way only, which means you will need to pay 10 Canadian dollars to take the
gondola back down.
For a less sweaty
endeavour, consider one of the free – tips encouraged – city walking tours with
Guys. Or relive your student days with a gratis, summer-only guided amble around
the waterfront University of British Columbia campus.
If you really want to
get off the beaten path, book ahead for a free guided bus and walking tour of
the area’s forest-encircled
reservoirs, run by the Metro Vancouver regional authority.
Vancouver is studded
with eye-popping outdoor public
art – the gaggle of giant laughing figures near the shoreline of English
Bay is arguably the most popular -- but there are also many free-entry
galleries for those ever-regular rainy days. Rub your chin in contemplation at
the changing exhibitions inside the Charles
H. Scott Gallery at Granville Island’s Emily Carr University, including frequent
shows by graduating students. Or check out the often-challenging contemporary
works in the Belkin Art Gallery at the University
of British Columbia.
Downtown’s popular Vancouver Art Gallery also curates a
free outdoor art installation called Offsite
near the Shangri-La
Hotel. Changing twice-yearly, past exhibitions included giant photographs
and scale models of old-time cabins. And if you want to save on entry to the gallery
itself – where blockbuster visiting shows combine with a strong focus on
photography by Vancouver artists – drop by between 5 pm and 9 pm on Tuesdays
when entry is by donation (five Canadian dollars is typical).
There is also a freebie
gem nearby that even some locals do not know about. Nip into the Royal Bank of
Canada at the corner of West Georgia Street and Burrard Street, and take the
escalator up one floor. In front of you will be the giant ‘Ksan
Mural, a nine-panel, 36.5m-long First Nations carving that is one the
largest aboriginal artworks in Canada. And although it is in a bank, you do not
have to pay a cent to see it.
The article 'The best of Vancouver for free' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.