10 things to do for free in Vancouver

Vancouver’s relative compactness enables visitors to discover much of it by foot and for free; believe me it isn’t called beautiful British Columbia for nothing, says Polly Dryden

5 mins

1. Wander through Stanley Park

Situated to the north of the city centre, this is no ordinary park but an outstanding green space covering some 1,000 acres. When the autumn colours begin to appear, the look changes every day. Spot vibrant reds, oranges and more greens than you could imagine in one palette.

Don't miss the Stanley Park Sea Wall – a flat and easy concrete walkway covering nearly 9km; ideal for walkers, joggers, and – if you're up for it – roller skaters. The paths for those on blades or foot are clearly marked making for easy navigation.

Within the park there are eight magnificent totem poles at Brockton Point, erected in the 1920s, to mark the site where the First Nation people originally settled. Plus visitors can spot lighthouses, statues, the city’s aquarium and an amazing view of the Lions Gate Bridge, which links the north and south of the city.

2. Ponder over The Pendulum Gallery

Situated in the heart of the city within the HSBC building on Georgia St, a 27m long aluminium pendulum, with a hydraulic swing that covers six metres, stands tall. The pendulum was designed by Alan Storey and weighs a whopping 1,600kg.

Underneath it is an exhibition space for temporary art shows – stop by for amazing photography and inspiring sculptures.

Open from 9am every day but Sunday, closing times vary.

3. Take a dog walking

Canine lovers should make a reservation to stay at the Fairmont Hotel. The hotel has two canine ambassadors, one of which Beau, you can walk for free. Simply visit the concierge desk in the lobby where guests may sign up to walk Beau for up to 45 minutes. Beau's walking hours are Sat-Wed from 8am–4:30pm.

The other dog, Mavis, is now 11, she no longer goes on walks with guests, but is happy to pose for photographs...


4. Explore Granville Island

Formerly a run-down part of the city, Granville Island was reclaimed in the 1970s and with federal investment Granville Island Public market opened for business in 1979. An instant hit, it has thrived ever since with a food market comparable to the tastiest in Italy. The vast array of foods is well displayed and occasionally, eager stall holders are prepared to share their wares to entice you to buy!

However, there is much more to Granville Island than food – a number of artisan arts and crafts shops have also emerged and it is easy to pass an afternoon here. Although how easy it will be to refrain from dipping your hand in your pocket, we cannot say.

Incredibly there is more, dive down the side streets to ogle the amazing house boats, or even visit the Granville Island Brewing Company.

5. Cross the city's best bridges

A smaller version of the Capilano suspension bridge, the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is just 15 minutes north of downtown Vancouver and it's free. While the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is not as long or as high as the Capilano, it is well worth a visit.

Keep your eye out for the signs, it is quite tricky to find. Nestled in among a forest of Canadian hard wood trees it's certainly a site worth seeing. Once you've traversed the bridge there are plenty of amazing hikes, picnic areas and even places to swim near by.

6. Visit the Christ Church Cathedral

Although the building work was completed in 1895 it was only designated a cathedral in 1929. Designed in Gothic Revival style, the church features ceiling beams of Douglas fir, intricately designed interior arches and a number of stained glass windows.

There is a self-guide hand-out telling the story of each of its numerous stained glass windows. Most weeks there is a Sunday Service at 9.30pm featuring Gregorian chants. It is a thriving and busy building in the heart of the city and well worth popping into to escape the hubbub outside.


7. Take a walk around Canada Place

The maritime history of the area is available on the board walk in interesting story boards. Canada Place is a great landmark, shaped like a series of sails which stand high over the harbour. Having walked to the end of the pier, take in great views of the city’s north shore, or just stand and marvel at the sea-planes as they come into land  from dawn to dusk.

The Olympic Cauldron used in the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver in 2010 is on permanent exhibition next to the convention centre.

8. Gaze at the stars

Located next to the Space Centre, the Gordon MacMillan Southam Observatory features a half-metre Cassegrain telescope to explore the skies around Vancouver. The 10-metre diameter observatory dome was built in 1979. Knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff will guide your exploration and answer your questions.

A donation is suggested and it is best to check opening times before you go. It is generally open to the public on Friday and Saturday evenings.

9. Come on down to Gas Town

Discover one of the oldest areas within Vancouver city centre, full of eclectic shops and a buzzy feel. Not so long ago, it was described as the rather ‘seedy’ side of town. Thanks to a group of locals, who loved the area, it was saved and turned into what we find today – smart, with renovated brick buildings and individual shops, boutiques, cafes and bars.

It is also home to the brass statue of ‘Gassy Jack’, who opened a bar for the saw mill workers in 1867.

You cannot visit this part of town without taking a look at the Steam Clock on Water Street – which has a variety of interesting chimes, especially on the hour.


10. Explore Burnaby

Situated to the east of Vancouver it is only a short bus ride to Burnaby Mountain. Deer Lake Park is well worth a visit and it’s free. Burnaby Mountain has a cracking viewpoint facing west at Centennial Park. Due to its relatively high elevation, snow will often fall on the higher aspects of Burnaby Mountain while rain falls in the surrounding cities. Unsurprisingly, tobogganing is a popular pastime at Centennial Park on winter days.

The park is also home to a collection of Ainu totem pole like carvings which commemorate the goodwill between Burnaby and its sister city, Kushiro in Japan. Don't miss the nearby fairly-large formal rose garden; at the right time of year when they are in full bloom, the perfume is wonderful.

The park also boasts a pair of beautiful topiary deers.

A keen traveller from an early age, Polly Dryden has always had a fascination with other cultures and ways of life. Polly recently visited Tassia Lodge in the North West of Kenya, which has dedicated itself to the local Mokogodo Maasai Tribe of whom only 600 remain. The owners have trained them in cookery, building and other skills and have also built a school. This trip inspired the writing of Tastes of Tassia – a book that guides you through a day on a plate at Tassia as well as detailing the Community projects. The book is available online via Amazon.co.uk.

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