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Free things to do in Vancouver

May 28, 2012
guest blogger

Welcome to Vancouver.  I love summer in the city!  It means barbeques, beaches, and fireworks.  First, let me ask which Hostelling International (HI) – Vancouver hostel is right for you?  Once you are here, take a look at the Activities Board posted in the lobby.  We are doing tours that will showcase the spectacular beauty of Vancouver.  The tours are also a great way to meet new friends.  Look around you, it is a global community of travelers from six continents.  When will you have another opportunity, to meet someone from around the world, who could change your life?!  Summer in Vancouver means a celebration of multicultural diversity through world music, exotic foods and a cosmopolitan of festivals.  The best things in life are free.  At HI-Vancouver, enjoy free Wi-Fi with your free breakfast.  Now, let’s explore some of the best things you can do in Vancouver for free, or nearly free.

Lynn Canyon Park

Lynn Canyon Park

Meet new friends by joining an HI group tour of Lynn CanyonErik Graff, your HI-Vancouver guide, is world renowned for his tours.  In fact, Lonely Planet goes so far as to describe Erik’s tours as “legendary”!  Erik himself says, “I love this city. I love showing it in all its beauty.”  His Tuesday tour of Vancouver and Lynn Canyon is free.  The transportation cost is $12.50.  For one hundred years, Lynn Canyon Park has delighted visitors with its abundant beauty.  It spans 617 acres.  There are picnic areas, hiking trails, outdoor swimming areas, and waterfalls.  Experience the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, 48 metres (157 feet) long and perched 50 metres (164 feet) above the canyon.  Tour the Ecology Centre to learn more about local plants and animals.  The best kept secret is nearby Rice Lake.  The lake is stocked, every summer, for trout fishing.  Just imagine catching fresh fish and taking it home to prepare as a sushi, sashimi, or grilled BBQ entrée.


Grouse Grind

Grouse Grind

Fit Vancouverites don’t talk about how much they can bench press, or how fast they can run.  They compare completion times for the 2.9 kilometre Grouse Grind hiking trail.  It’s free to do the forty-five degree hike, straight up to the peak of Grouse Mountain.  It’s really more like a giant outdoor Stairmaster – 2,830 steps, to be exact.  Over 100,000 people do the trail every year. If you’re wondering why you’re out of breath, it’s because the air gets slightly thinner, as the elevation rises.  The elevation gain is 853 metres (2,800 feet).  Be sure to bring lots of water and a good pair of shoes.  It takes about 90 minutes, on average, to complete the hike.  If you’re still tired, you can always take the mountain gondola back down for $10.  While you’re at the summit, look at the wonderful vista of Downtown Vancouver.  Sometimes, I just go for the awesome view.  Experience the majesty of our rainforests on other North Shore hikes too.

Lonsdale Quay Market

Lonsdale Quay Market

Visit the seaside port of Lonsdale Quay Market in North Vancouver.   There are eighty specialty shops.  Have lunch at the international food court.  Walk to the outdoor lookout, situated right under the giant letter “Q”.  It’s a great perch for photographers.  Just climb the staircase for a wonderful bird’s eye view of Lonsdale Quay and the Downtown waterfront.  Twice a week, join the North Vancouver Museum and Archives’ costumed Shipyard Pals on a free tour of the North Vancouver waterfront.  The adjacent Waterfront Park is the setting, each July, for the Trinidad & Tobago Cultural Society – Caribbean Days Festival!  Food vendors have delicious tropical foods: roti, jerk chicken, flying fish, and Jamaican patties.  Experience the Caribbean Days Festival Parade that celebrates Latin American and Caribbean culture.  Afterwards, sit and listen to the lineup of bands playing Soca, Reggae, Calypso, Latin, African and other international music.



Gastown was established in 1867, the same year that Canada became a nation.  Its distinction is Victorian-style architecture and charming cobblestone streets.  Gastown was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2009.  Enjoy Canadian souvenir shops, art galleries, Irish pubs, and seafood restaurants.  Have a pint at Steamworks Brewing Company.  I know, I know…everyone takes a picture in front of the famous steam clock.  Can you keep a secret?  It doesn’t actually run on steam.  The original design made the clock components rust.  Sorry hostellers, it’s actually run on electricity; check it out nonetheless.  2012 marks the return of the Gastown Bicycle Grand Prix!  It is a professional bike race that loops through Gastown.  One last piece of trivia, Gastown’s most famous business resident, is Disney Pixar Canada.  We’re thrilled to have Pixar’s dream-making animation factory, headquartered right here in Vancouver.

Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival

The Vancouver Dragon Boat Festival is the biggest dragon boat race in North America.  There’s free admission.  Last year, 180 dragon boat teams came from Greater Vancouver and around the world.  The sport of dragon boat racing dates back over 2000 years to southern China.  It’s celebrated in modern times as a harvest festival with food, wine and boat races.  The standard crew comprises 20 paddlers, 1 drummer at the bow, and 1 person to steer at the back of the boat.  A dragon’s head adorns the front bow of the boat.  Vancouver Dragon Boat races are held in the waters of SE False Creek.  In between races, shop the marketplace around the former 2010 Olympic Athlete’s Village.  Enjoy Asian food, a beer garden, live world music and unique street vendors.  I love that False Creek has a wonderful cityscape view of the downtown core.

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park is my favourite local park.  It’s easily accessible because it’s right in the heart of Vancouver city.  It gets more than six million visitors a year.  QE was lovingly transformed from a basalt rock quarry, to an elegant sunken garden park and arboretum.  It has 130 acres available for picnics, pitch and putt golf, and tennis.  The focal point of the park is really the view, 152 metres (498 feet) above sea level.  Queen Elizabeth Park is the highest point in Vancouver.  Gaze north, to enjoy a visual panorama of Vancouver city.  At the top is also the domed conservatory.  It’s the crown jewel of the Vancouver Parks Board.  Admission to the QE Conservatory is $5.  The conservatory is a tropical sanctuary that houses rare birds, koi fish and exotic flora.  It’s a warm and lush, enticing modern-day Xanadu.  Come to QE Park for the gardens and stay for the sunset.

Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Vancouver International Jazz Festival

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival is British Columbia’s biggest music showcase.  Last June and July, there were 400 individual performances.  Music lovers had their choice of 130 free concerts in parks, community centres, public plazas, and street corners!  Of course, there are excellent ticketed concert events too.  Just imagine 1800 musicians performing a wide spectrum of jazz, blues, world, creative, and improvised music during a ten day period.  “Trying to explain music is like trying to dance architecture” ~ Thelonious Monk.  Popular jazz singer, Diana Krall, is actually from Vancouver Island and got her start at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.  Come to the jazz festival and discover the next great jazz performer!

Hostelling Vancouver Bike Tour

Hostelling International Bike Tour

The HI-Vancouver Bike Tour takes you cycling around some of the most gorgeous beaches that the city of Vancouver has to offer.  The tour is free every Thursday.  HI-Vancouver rents bicycles at the HI-Vancouver Jericho Beach and HI-Vancouver Downtown hostels.  The cost to rent a bicycle for the tour is $15.  We start at the HI-Vancouver Jericho Beach hostel.  HI-Vancouver Programming Director, Micah Hermesmann, or one of our other terrific volunteers, will guide you from family friendly Jericho Beach on to Vancouver’s most popular Kitsilano Beach.  From there, you’ll cross the art deco inspired Burrard Bridge.  The bridge is designated as one of the top historic structures in Vancouver.  Once across the bridge, we meet our second group of hostellers at the HI-Vancouver Downtown hostel.  Together, you’ll enjoy a beautiful ride along Sunset Beach and English Bay.  We then enter historic Stanley Park for a ride around the famous seawall.  Make sure you bring a camera!  Explore Vancouver on bike!  You can cycle throughout the City of Vancouver.

Canada Day

Canada Day at Canada Place

Canada Day is a celebration of our history and culture.  The name “Canada” comes from the St. Lawrence Huron-Iroquois aboriginal word “kanata”, meaning “village”, or “settlement”.  Canada is a global village, one that embraces multiculturalism.  We are a land of immigrants.  Our ethnic diversity gives us a rich mosaic of cultural heritage.  Canada has two official languages: English and French.  On Canada Day, July 1, we come together to celebrate our love of Canada.  Many free celebrations take place throughout Vancouver.  My favourite celebration is at Canada Place.  Grab a free maple leaf tattoo and put it on your face, wear red clothes to be patriotic, wave a Canadian flag, and taste Canada’s 145th birthday party cake!  You can gaze at the picturesque North Shore mountains, enjoy live music outside Canada Place Convention Centre, or congregate under the 2010 Winter Olympic flame monument at Jack Poole Plaza. There are fireworks at sunset.  O Canada!

Celebration of Light

Celebration of Light

Vancouver’s signature summer event is the Celebration of Light Fireworks Festival.  It is the world’s biggest offshore pyrotechnical tour-de-force.  The fireworks are always free and always fun.  Come for the day to relax at Sunset Beach and English Bay.  You can walk, rollerblade or bike along the beachfront paths.  Join 200,000 of your newest friends.  Have a beach picnic, go for a swim, or just lie back and even out those tan lines.  There is a proposal for a festival beer garden in 2012.  The Celebration of Light will again feature an exciting air show – a display of aerial acrobatics at sunset.  Watch three countries compete: Vietnam on July 28, Brazil on August 1, and Italy on August 4.  Enjoy fireworks synchronized to music from around the world.

And more,

Would you like to save more money? Visit the Southam Observatory, in Kitsilano, for some romantic stargazing. Their admission is by donation.  The Vancouver Art Gallery has admission by donation on Tuesday nights.  The UBC Museum of Anthropology has $9 admission on Tuesday nights.  Live theatre fans will appreciate half-price venue discounts at Tickets Tonight.  The Vancouver Attractions Passport offers discounts at 60 different attractions.  Locals buy the Entertainment Book.  It has hundreds of coupons for restaurants, attractions and local businesses.  Please read “Top 10 Places to Visit in Vancouver” for more ideas to make the most of your visit.  Are you travelling across British Columbia and Canada?  Your HI Membership will give you 25 percent off Greyhound Bus and exclusive discounts at Flight Centre travel offices.  Enjoy incredible adventures that you will remember for a lifetime.  HI-Vancouver wants you to have a great summer!

Written By:   Ron Au-Yang (HI: Pacific Mountain Region – 2011 Volunteer of the Year)

Photo Credit: Ron Au-Yang

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