Free Things To Do in Vancouver
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This nearly 1,000-acre park on the tip of Vancouver's "thumb" (just north of the West End) is home to some of the city's favorite, most-visited attractions. In fact, you could easily spend more than a day here and still not see everything this urban oasis has to offer. If you want to experience the park the way the locals do, walk, cycle or jog around the nearly 20-mile-long Seawall that hugs Vancouver's waterfront. The path starts at the Vancouver Convention Centre and ends at Spanish Banks Beach Park. If you're not up for the walk, you'll find several bike rental companies near the park. With your bike, you'll be able to explore the more than 17 miles of forest trails that are much less crowded than the rest of the park. Travelers recommend biking the South Creek Trail, which leads to the lily pad-covered Beaver Lake. If you're not up for all that exercise, you can ride a hop-on, hop-off trolley or a horse-drawn carriage. Both guided tours (offered seasonally) include informational narration. Recent visitors said the park offers a great escape from the city and has one of the prettiest seawall walks around.
Families with kids in tow will find plenty of family-friendly to-dos here as well, including an outdoor water park and a separate heated, outdoor pool. The park also boasts four playgrounds and a miniature train that snakes through more than a mile of forest. The Vancouver Aquarium is also nestled within the park, but costs extra. Art and history buffs will likely want to stop at Brockton Point to see the First Nation totem pole display (along the Seawall). It's estimated that some of the original totem poles were carved in the late 1880s.
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This former industrial site is now one of Vancouver's most beloved neighborhoods. Practically its own mini-city, Granville Island's former factories now house trendy restaurants, galleries and theaters. But the main draw here is the Granville Island Public Market, often described as one of the best open-air markets in North America. Among the seemingly endless aisles of fresh produce and local crafts, you'll find a variety of food stalls selling everything from baked goods to ethnic snacks. If the weather is nice, try and grab a seat outside by the water. You can watch ferry boats putter back and forth in English Bay while enjoying the performances of the buskers who regularly play for market crowds. After filling up on market eats, head to the perpetually busy Kids Market. This playtopia sells toys and crafts and features an indoor play area. If you don't have kids in tow, visit Canada's first microbrewery – Granville Island Brewing. You can enjoy daily tours and tastings in the taproom. Visitors call the island lively, colorful and a great place to shop for both gifts and food.
Though Granville Island can be enjoyed year-round, it offers the most activities when the weather is warm. Consider renting a kayak to explore the marinas or passing some time at the free waterpark. Located just 2 miles northwest of central Vancouver, Granville Island is accessible from central Vancouver by bus, car and ferry daily. If you're coming from downtown, the No. 50 False Creek stops near Granville Island. The market is open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; some retail shops operate on different hours. Entry to the island is free, but specific attractions may charge admission. For more information, check out the Granville Island website.
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Attracting more than 6 million visitors a year, Queen Elizabeth Park is one of Vancouver's most popular outdoor spaces (second only to Stanley Park). Spread out across nearly 130 acres, the park features a rose garden, a meticulously manicured quarry garden, and an arboretum with about 1,500 native and exotic trees. When you're not admiring the park's flora, head inside the Bloedel Conservatory to visit the fauna. The conservatory features more than 120 free-flying exotic birds, not to mention 500 tropical plants and three different climate zones. Step outside the conservatory and you'll spot the Dancing Waters fountain display, along with several sculptures scattered throughout the plaza. Since the park sits at the highest point in Vancouver, it offers spectacular views of the city skyline, mountains and shoreline from the fountain plaza.
If you don't have time to devote an entire day to touring Stanley Park, Queen Elizabeth Park, located about 2 miles due south of downtown Vancouver, is a great alternative. Many visitors say it has the best views of the city you can find and the grounds are well maintained. While you don't have to pay anything to get into the park, you will have to pay to park. From May 1 to Sept. 30, you can expect to pay CA$3.50 (about $2.70) per hour or CA$13 (about $10) per day; rates from Oct. 1 to April 30 decrease to CA$2.50 per hour (about $1.90) and CA$7 (about $5.40) per day. The park is also accessible via the Canada Line on the SkyTrain – the Oakridge-41st Avenue Station is within walking distance of the park. For more information, visit the City of Vancouver website.
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When the weather's nice, follow Vancouverites down to the shores of English Bay to Kitsilano "Kits" Beach. Often compared to L.A.'s Venice Beach, this shoreline along the northern edge of Kitsilano is the city's most popular swim spot, especially for the city's 20-something crowd. When you're not relaxing on the sand or admiring the skyline views, you'll find areas for in-line skating and volleyball, along with tennis courts and a playground. Visitors do warn that the beach can get quite busy in summer, but it is clean and always has "good vibes." If you're in the mood for swim but the bay water is just a little too chilly for your liking, try the area's heated, saltwater Kitsilano Pool (open May to mid-September). You can also visit the nearby Vancouver Maritime Museum, which offers an educational respite from the summer sun. When you need to grab a refreshment, you'll find several concession stands as well as a more formal dining room at The Boathouse Restaurant on Kits Beach.
You don't have to pay to access the beach, but you will have to pay for parking. Parking from April 1 to Sept. 30 will cost you CA$3.50 (about $2.70) hourly and CA$13 (about $10) daily. From Oct. 1 to March 31 hourly parking rates decrease to CA$2.50 (about $1.90); daily rates decrease to CA$7 (about $5.40). If you're traveling via public transportation, the No. 2 bus offers service between downtown and Kits Beach. Entrance to the pool will also cost you. Single-day admission for adults costs CA$6.10 (about $4.70); youths ages 13 to 18 years old get in for CA$4.36 (about $3.35) and children ages 3 to 12 enter for CA$3.07 (about $2.35). Check out the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation website for more information on Kits Beach.
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Spanish Banks boasts a few features that set it apart from the city's other beloved shorelines. Thanks to its location about 5 miles northwest of downtown Vancouver, Spanish Banks is the least crowded and most quiet. It's also the best place to try your hand at skimboarding – a cross between surfing and skateboarding – due to the low tidal conditions (at low tide the water is more than half a mile off shore). If the ocean water is too chilly, there are plenty of volleyball courts available for pick-up games. Visitors call the beach beautiful and say exploring at low tide can be lots of fun, especially for kids.
The easiest way to reach Spanish Banks is by car, but several bus routes also service the area. Parking is free from Oct. 1 to March 31. The rest of the year, it costs CA$3.50 (about $2.70) an hour or CA$13 (around $10) for the day. To find out more about the facilities offered at the beach, consult the Vancouver Parks and Recreation website.
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Vancouver's definitive late night hot spot, Yaletown has steadily increased in popularity since it transformed from a warehouse district to the trendy area it is today. Often compared to New York City's SoHo neighborhood, Yaletown features chic boutiques, restaurants and hotels (including one of the city's top properties, OPUS Vancouver). Even if you don't plan to hang your hat at OPUS, you should still plan to check out the hotel's cocktail lounge of the same name. Other top nightlife spots include Yaletown Brewing Co., Pierre's Lounge and Bar None. Recent visitors say there is something for everyone there, with a wide range of dining and drinking options in a variety of prices.
You'll find Yaletown in downtown Vancouver, about 2 miles southeast of Stanley Park. If you don't have your own set of wheels, you can get to Yaletown via the Canada Line SkyTrain; take the train to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station. Several buses also service the area. For more information on the restaurants, hotels and events in Yaletown, visit the area's website.
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