Vancouver is an expensive place to live. There are though hundreds of affordable, cheap and even free ways to enjoy the Lower Mainland on a budget.
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Affordable Vancouver Activities
Vancouver’s best places on a budget include the region’s beaches, parks and free attractions. Even if you don’t have a lot of money to spend, Vancouver can still be an amazing place to visit.
Below is a list of some of Vancouver’s best things to do on a tight budget. As you’ll see, some of these are also ranked as best places even if you do have lots of money!
2-for-1 ENTERTAINMENT COUPONS
Do you remember Entertainment Coupon Books? They used to be full of valuable coupons for restaurants, attractions and retail shops. The hard-copy books no longer exist. The 2-for-1 coupons, however, do still exist, but now in a mobile app that you can access via your phone. If you want to get discounts worth up to 50% on hundreds of things in the Lower Mainland, and tens of thousands more across North America, then click the banner ad above or see our article about the Entertainment Coupon App.
Special Seasonal Things to Do
Free and inexpensive events happening this time of year include the following:
- Lights at Lafarge – winter light displays around Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake throughout the winter holiday season.
- LunarFest – free activities take place at the Ocean Art Works Pavilion at Granville Island on various weekends in February.
- The Lantern City – there are lantern art displays at a few places in downtown Vancouver.
- University and College Fair – a free event with information about study opportunities for post-secondary students at the Vancouver Convention Centre. (February 29, 2024)
For a list of other great places to visit that don’t cost a lot, including some of the Lower Mainland’s best museums, continue reading.
Some of the best free and inexpensive things to do this time of year include the following:
- C.P.R. Engine 374 – a railway museum at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown. It has a real locomotive inside and admission is free.
- Museum of Surrey – the museum in Cloverdale is very interesting and admission is free.
- Fort Langley – admission to the historic site is free for youth ages 17 and under.
- Gulf of Georgia Cannery – admission to this historic site is also free for youth ages 17 and under.
- Vancouver Maritime Museum – Vancouver’s museum at Vanier Park showcases the maritime history of the Pacific Northwest and Arctic. For a limited time, if use the promo code BESTVANCOUVER and save 25%. (Note: The offer is only valid with bookings made online.)
- Granville Island – admission to the shopping and entertainment district is always free (although you obviously have to pay for what you buy and eat).
- Shipyards – North Vancouver’s Shipyards and Lower Lonsdale District is an interesting place to visit. That’s where you’ll find the Polygon Gallery (which has admission by donation) and the Lonsdale Quay Public Market. In winter, there is also usually (but not always) free ice skating in the plaza.
- Vancouver Farmers Markets – there are great markets all over the Lower Mainland. You have to pay for what you buy, but admission to the venues is free, as is the live music.
- Heritage Harbour – a marina that’s open to the public and home to a number of vintage boats near the Vancouver Maritime Museum at Vanier Park.
- Lower Mainland Parks – if it’s nice out, then one of the best places to be is in one of the area’s parks and places in nature.
For a list of free and extra cheap things to do on different days of the week, check out our Free April Calendar listings.
Best Places on a Budget
The following are some of the best places in the Lower Mainland that don’t cost anything to visit, or only very little.
Metro Vancouver Museums
- Beaty Biodiversity Museum – admission at the UBC attraction is between about $10 and $14 depending on your age. It’s free though for children ages 4 and under. On the third Thursday of most months, however, it has its Beaty Nocturnal event when it’s open by donation between 5 and 8:30 pm (although not recently because of the pandemic).
- Bill Reid Gallery – a Northwest Coast First Nation art gallery that offers free admission on the first Friday of the month from 2 to 5 pm.
- Burnaby Village Museum – this is an attraction you would expect to have to pay money for, and you did have to up until recently, but now it’s free. It’s a great place to bring the family. (Note: open only seasonally and in the summer.)
- Museum of Anthropology – at $18 for admission it isn’t ideal for people on a budget.
- Museum of Surrey – the museum at 17710 56a Avenue in Cloverdale is a pretty good one and admission is free.
- Polygon Gallery – the art gallery in North Vancouver has admission by donation and a focus on photography.
- Port Moody Station Museum – a small museum with a historic train car and information about Port Moody. Admission is by donation.
Other Tourist Attractions
- Granville Island – it’s got lots of art shops and a market to explore, plus amazing views of the city and False Creek. Even the parking is free (or at least some of it).
- Hastings Race Course – a horse-racing venue at the PNE Fairgrounds. Admission is free and betting starts at around $2 per bet.
- H.R. MacMillan Space Centre – the Space Centre’s observatory is open Saturday evenings from 8 pm to midnight by donation. It’s just the observatory with admission by donation, not the Planetarium, but it’s an affordable way to see the stars on a clear evening.
- Polygon Gallery – the art museum in North Vancouver’s Lower Lonsdale District has admission by donation.
- Vancouver Art Gallery – admission is by donation on the first Friday of the month.
Parks and Places in Nature
- Beaches: English Bay, Kitsilano, Jericho, Spanish Banks and Stanley Park (Second and Third Beaches)
- Bear Creek Park – a popular park in Surrey with a large kids’ play area and free outdoor swimming pool.
- Lynn Canyon Park – want to cross a free suspension bridge and climb hundreds of stairs through the forest at one of the region’s best parks, then visit Lynn Canyon. It’s comparable to places you pay a lot of money for.
- Grouse Mountain – it’s normally expensive, but if you like brutal treks up stairs you can walk up the Grouse Grind in the summer and then pay a reduced rate for the Gondola back down.
- Rice Lake – a beautiful lake for walking around in North Vancouver.
- Queen Elizabeth Park – one of Vancouver’s largest and most famous parks.
- Second Beach Pool – a popular and reasonably-priced outdoor swimming pool in Stanley Park.
- Stanley Park – this is one of Vancouver’s most famous tourist sites and it’s free to explore.
For a list of other similar places see our article about Lower Mainland Parks and Nature.
- Vancouver Flea Market – on Saturdays and Sundays at 703 Terminal Avenue (just a few blocks from Science World).
- Cloverdale Flea Market – a large market with second-hand goods for sale at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds in Surrey on Sundays between 6:00 am and 3:00 pm.
- Abbotsford Flea Market – a giant year-round market on Sundays at Abbotsford Exhibition Park in Abbotsford.
Interesting Neighbourhoods to Explore
- Coal Harbour – a great area for walks, jogs and cycling along the Coal Harbour Seawall.
- False Creek – a waterfront area of downtown Vancouver that’s connected by the False Creek Seawall.
- Gastown – the old part of town with lots of interesting shops and restaurants, which makes it a great place to just look around.
Outdoor Swimming Pools
- Kitsilano Beach and Pool – a popular and relatively inexpensive place to swim in the summer in Vancouver.
- New Brighton Pool – an outdoor swimming pool at New Brighton Park in Vancouver near the Second Narrows Bridge.
- Second Beach Pool – a popular and reasonably-priced outdoor swimming pool in Stanley Park.
Places on a Budget WITH A CAR
The following are some of Vancouver’s best places to visit if you’re on a tight budget, but you also if have a vehicle to get you there as they aren’t so accessible otherwise.
- Alice Lake – a great place to spend the day and an excellent place for affordable overnight camping up the Sea to Sky Highway.
- Mount Seymour – this is a great place in the winter if you have a vehicle (as it’s a bit expensive to get to otherwise) and your own pair of snow shoes (which will make the trip really cheap as there are free snow shoe trails in the provincial park right beside the ski hill).
- Stawamus Chief – a great place for some semi-serious mountain climbing located halfway up the beautiful Sea to Sky Highway.
- Shannon Falls – just minutes from Squamish and the Stawamus Chief (see above), this park has gentle walking trails and a beautiful waterfall (which is especially striking in the spring or after a major rainfall).
For more ideas on free places to go see our article about Vancouver’s Best Parks and Nature.
Other Best Places on a Budget
- Robson Square – the venue offers free ice skating in winter from mid-November until the middle of February, weather permitting. You’ll need to rent skates, however, if you don’t have your own.
- IKEA – the large Swedish home furnishings store. It isn’t really a “best place” to visit, unless you’re looking for home furnishings. It does have affordable cafeteria food though, and a place with free childcare while you shop.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Vancouver Activities for Children
- Rainy Day Activities
- Lower Mainland Parks & Nature
- Vancouver’s Festivals & Events Calendar
This website also has a Free Events Calendar for each month of the year. They are updated with current information just before and during each respective month. (In other words, if you check out the listing further in advance than that, you’ll likely find information about that month in the previous year.)