In Vancouver, you can ski in the morning and swim in the ocean in the afternoon. But if a lift ticket doesn’t fit in your budget, you’re not alone. Vancouver has a reputation as an overpriced resort town for the super-rich. Don’t let that discourage you from visiting as a budget traveler.
The locals here have sly ways to get the most out of their beautiful city. This guide will show you how to stretch your dollar and have a uniquely Vancouver travel experience.
1. Get Vancouver culture in Kits on a budget.
Some of the trendiest Vancouver neighbourhoods for travelers are Kitsilano, Commercial Drive, and Mount Pleasant. Kitsilano, or “Kits” for short, is the more expensive and exclusive of the three. Here’s how to do Kits on the cheap.
After window shopping on West 4th Avenue, drop by the O5 Tea Bar. Try some of the kombucha on tap or a fermented pu’er tea. Each tea is prepared in front of you by knowledgeable tea sommeliers. A cup of tea will cost you between $5 and $10 dollars, but it comes with free refills and the cost is well worth it.
If you visit Vancouver in the summer, don’t miss the chance to take a dip in the Kits Beach Pool. It’s a heated saltwater pool abutting the ocean. Although it’s in a modest and old-school facility, it’s run by the city so it’s less than $5 to get in. You’ll get epic views of the city, ocean, and the surrounding mountains while getting a little exercise.
Kits is ground-zero for Vancouver’s health-conscious culture. For a real Kits experience, wind down from your day with a relaxing yoga class. Studios like YYoga and Semperviva have sweet deals for newcomers and reasonable drop-in rates. If you’re more doughnut than downward dog, then check out Lucky’s or Cartems for a coffee and doughnut.
2. Eat on the cheap.
Vancouver’s burgeoning foodie scene is exciting but it can take a bite out of your budget. If you get hungry, then fill up on cheap and healthy sushi rolls. Japanese restaurants are as plentiful as Starbucks in Vancouver. Even the most hole-in-the-wall sushi joints tend to be not too shabby.
If you’re downtown, try the tiny Yamato restaurant to get the best sushi at the lowest price. It’s where lazy Vancouverites go for a cheap, filling meal. Shizen-ya is the best option for cheap and healthy sushi. They use sprouted organic brown rice in all their meals so you can feel good about that extra dynamite roll. If you’re brave, consider trying all-you-can eat sushi places like Tomokazu on Broadway. When you go for lunch on a weekday, you’ll get the best deal.
If you have your heart set on visiting one of the swanky hotels or restaurants, drop by for Happy Hour. Since liquor laws were relaxed recently, Happy Hour specials have taken off in the last couple of years. Plenty of bars and restaurants have discounted food and drink items before their dinner rush. Catch Happy Hour at Joe Fortes Seafood & Chop House to try a classic Vancouver restaurant on the cheap.
3. Save on transportation.
There’s no need to drive in Vancouver. The city has no highway system and traffic is notoriously bad. The Canada Line is a monorail line connecting the airport with the city, so forget about the taxi line! Taxis are expensive and Vancouver still doesn’t have ride-sharing like Uber and Lyft. Fortunately, the transit system in Vancouver is a cheap and effective way to get around. Day passes are available for less than $10 and will get you anywhere in the city all day long. For bus timetables and routes, download a free app like Transit.
Vancouver is highly walkable and you’ll be able to navigate easily. Many locals don’t have a car of their own and more still love to bike to work. Vancouver has almost 22 km of seawall that includes Stanley Park, Downtown, and False Creek. This pedestrian and bike trail is an ideal way to get the best of the waterfront in Vancouver.
If you want to join in the fun, keep in mind that renting a bike isn’t cheap. Expect to pay between $25 and $35 dollars for a full day rental. However, an afternoon spent biking around Stanley Park is never wasted. Opt for an hourly rate at a bike shop close to Stanley Park and have a bit of fun on the seawall.
4. Immerse yourself in the real art scene.
Vancouver’s art scene is young. At the centre of the city, you’ll find the Vancouver Art Gallery. Admission to the VAG is pricey at $20, but if you come by on a Tuesday evening, admission is by donation. You can skip the VAG altogether in favor of a free gallery crawl. In the South Granville neighborhood, you can’t wander far without seeing a local gallery or two. Drop in during business hours to see work from local and new emerging artists.
The revitalized False Creek Flats neighbourhood is filled with gallery spaces converted from old warehouses. At its hub, the Emily Carr University of Art and Design brings together young artists and creatives. They have a public contemporary art gallery that’s free to visit.
If street art is your jam, be sure to make your way up Main Street to the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. You’ll see dozens of murals dotted throughout the neighbourhood on buildings, back alleys, parking lots. An annual mural festival celebrates local artists and refreshes the Mount Pleasant area with new murals every year.
5. Chill out at the VPL.
The Vancouver Public Library is an awesome place to hide out from the rain for a while. Connect to the free wifi, use the bathroom, and browse around in this Coliseum-esque building in Vancouver’s Downtown core. You can flip through Vancouver travel guides for free and read local publications like Vancouver Magazine, MONTECRISTO, and Geist. While you’re there, check out the VPL inspiration lab. It’s a workspace “dedicated to digital creativity, collaboration and storytelling” where you can see local creatives recording their latest podcast episode or editing their vlogs.
6. Granville Island
You can walk to Granville Island from Downtown pretty easily, but nothing beats taking the water taxi across False Creek. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to get a bit of fun and it gives your legs a chance to rest before you explore Granville Island. This place is popular with tourists so expect to shell out more for food while you’re there. While not technically an “island”, this neighborhood beneath the Granville bridge is an amazing place to visit. Browse the market, see artists workshops and studios, and check out shops like the Granville Island Broom Co. and the Artisan SakeMaker.
One Granville island trip definitely worth the money is a brewery tour. For just over $10, you can get a tour of the Granville Island Brewery. You’ll learn about beer making and get a behind-the-scenes look at Vancouver’s burgeoning microbrewery scene. Your tour wraps up with an awesome beer tasting. It’s an easy way to mingle with other travelers and beer-loving locals who come here, too.