Visiting Vancouver, British Columbia, doesn’t have to be expensive. Accommodation aside, there are many attractions and activities on offer in this beautiful city that are either low cost or completely free.
I have visited Vancouver so many times over the last seven years (I even lived in North Vancouver for a while) and it is always a place I try and watch my pennies. Here are my favourite trip eats, sights and things to do when visiting the beautiful city of Vancouver on a budget.
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Walking around Vancouver
Home to the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path (the 28km Seawall), Vancouver is a perfect city to explore by foot. Vancouver’s downtown area is relatively compact, almost entirely framed by water and the surprisingly big Stanley Park.
The whole Seawall route is pretty awesome, but a short 9km section hugs the edge of Stanley Park; views of mountains, ocean, huge trees and North Vancouver abound. As a side note, Stanley Park is one of the few places I have seen raccoons in Canada!
Back amongst the high rises in the city, don’t miss a walk through Chinatown. The Chinese community has had a big impact on Vancouver’s growth as a city. Follow Pender Street east, all the way to Dr. Sun Yat Sen’s Chinese Garden where there is a tranquil park with a lily covered pond. The Chinese Classical Garden next door charges an entry fee.
Shopping on a budget in Vancouver
Granville Island Market just south of downtown is an interesting and fun place to visit, even if you have a low budget. A browser’s heaven, Granville Island is a unique artist community made up of galleries, workshops and studios.
There is also a huge food market, great choice of places to eat and a brewery. Take the bus, ferry or walk to get to the Island (which is actually a sandspit).
All the big names in Canadian shopping can be found on or around Downtown’s Granville St including Nordstorm’s, a huge department store in the Pacific Centre mall. A cluster of outdoor gear retailers can be found along West Broadway, easily accessible via the Skytrain (Broadway City Hall station).
Low cost eats in Vancouver
Whenever in Vancouver, I always make sure to have brunch at Catch 122 in Gastown at least once. All their breakfast options are $13, something of a bargain for such high-quality dishes in Downtown Vancouver. Cosy with a hipster edge, Catch 122 is all about eggs benedict three ways, duck confit, bacon porridge and amazing Yukon potato hash.
The best places to see when visiting Vancouver on a budget
Aside from walking, another great (and cheap) way to see Vancouver is from a boat. Part of the city’s transit network, the SeaBus crosses between downtown Vancouver and North Vancouver’s North Shore every 15 minutes.
The ferry has a killer view from all directions on the 12 minute journey. From here you can explore Lonsdale Quay or further afield to Deep Cove or Lynn Canyon (a free suspension bridge!)
When shopping, eating and exploring is all done, my favourite place to relax in Vancouver is on West End’s English Bay Beach. Epic panoramas of the Pacific Ocean are on offer plus soft sand and huge pieces of driftwood.
Cheap travel outside of Vancouver
Surrounded by temperate rainforest, mountains and ocean, Vancouver is based in an incredible location. As awesome as the city may be, there is much more to explore beyond its borders and the most budget-friendly way to do this is to explore using the rail and bus system.
Look up train and bus schedules for your next destination in advance, secure a ticket and then head to Pacific Central Station south-east of downtown (very close to the giant Science World dome).
VIA Rail trains and long distance buses (Pacific Coaches, eBus) leave from here to the rest of Canada. Please note that Greyhound stopped running in British Columbia at the end of October 2018.
Consider heading over to Vancouver Island to visit BC’s oldest city (Victoria) or experience surf and storms on the edge of the world in Tofino.
In the other direction is the coastal mountains region with the resort town of Whistler. Further inland is the beautiful Okanagan Valley with hundreds of wineries and too-blue-to-be-true lakes. Beyond that are the magnificent Canadian Rockies.
Cheap hotels in Downtown Vancouver
Looking to book a stay in Vancouver on a budget? Check out my top picks for cheap hotels in downtown Vancouver.
Samesun Vancouver – Central location on Robson Street, surrounded by bars and shops and opposite another popular hostel (HI Vancouver Central). It is a hostel but private rooms (with or without an en-suite bathroom) are available. The area can be noisy and a little sleazy late at night.
Barclay Hotel – Basic hotel with private bathrooms on Robson Street. As mentioned above, Robson Street is a great central location to be based, with many shops, bars, restaurants around. The nearest SkyTrain station (Vancouver City Centre) is only a short walk away.
YWCA Hotel Vancouver – Located very close to BC Place (home of the BC Lions Football team), the YWCA Hotel is only a few blocks from the main shopping and entertainment streets of Vancouver. The quieter area (besides game nights) will be a bonus for those who find it hard to sleep.
For couples and groups, I’d also recommend looking on Airbnb for a cheap place to stay. New to Airbnb? Use JR’s referral link to sign up and you’ll receive a $45 discount on your first booking.
Do you have any tips to save money when visiting Vancouver on a budget?
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada