Vancouver is one of Canada’s most expensive cities and with its outdoor lifestyle of skiing, beaches and hiking, it’s easy to see why. It was the first stop on our two month backpacking trip across Canada. So how do you visit Vancouver on a budget?

Avoid hotels

On my flight from London to Vancouver, I sat next to a couple from Canada. When I told them I would be staying in Kitsilano, their eyes lit up. This, apparently, is the place to be. Just south of downtown Vancouver, it has its own beach and is chock full of delightful cafés, restaurants and shops.

In Kitsilano (‘Kits’ for short) we split our time staying with my friend Ling and staying at an Airbnb near the beach. There are many great places to eat in this neighbourhood, often organic, vegetarian and made with seasonal local ingredients. Holistic wellness is clearly important to Vancouver residents as there is also a plethora of yoga shops and classes. Lululemon, now a hugely successful global yoga-wear brand, started as a small shop here in 1998, sharing its space with a yoga studio. Kitsilano also boasts the largest outdoor swimming pool in North America, as one local resident proudly informed us.

Explore the city on foot

The following day, Ling gave us a tour of the sea wall, a pathway surrounding the city’s boat-filled bay. Nearby Granville Island has a bustling market, selling a range of speciality food ingredients, and a pub where we sampled beers brewed on the premises. We saw the cute aqua-taxis that ferry people across the bay and saw some of Vancouver’s arty side as we passed artisan craft shops, an art college and a giant colourful mural by noted twin Brazilian street artists Osgemeos being painted onto grey concrete plant silos to brighten up an industrial site.

Local green spaces include Hadden Park, where we spotted a towering totem pole and a little further out Morton Park, where there was an array of Canadian flags. You will often see flags flying in this city, displaying the sense of national pride.

There are some stunning views in Vancouver. When you walk across Burrard Bridge, around the Waterfront and through some of the parks, your eye is drawn to the blue waters of the bay and to the seaplanes taking off.

There seem to be a lot of sunflowers here, which is a delight for me as they are one of my favourite flowers. We found a gorgeously tall one standing proudly over the community gardens at False Creek Village. And a walk around Gastown reveals one of the city’s quirkier attractions, a steam-powered grandfather clock.

Take public transport

The people here are lovely. Friendly shop workers and bus drivers were consistently patient and helpful as we tried to navigate our way around, sometimes with our huge backpacks in tow. They gave us advice, would tell us when we were at our stop and sent us on our merry way with a smile.

The first time, we were heading out north to visit a suspension bridge. I had heard about Capilano Suspension bridge, one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions, set in its own park in North Vancouver. However, Ling let us in on a secret. Instead of spending $35 to enter Capilano, you can visit Lynn Canyon Park, another North Vancouver park with a suspension bridge – but this one is free. Travelling on a backpacker’s budget, this sounded like a great option. It took us three buses to get there (again, thanks to the helpful drivers) and, like the photos I had seen of Capilano, it had a walkway suspended high between the tree-covered banks of a valley, with a waterfall crashing down over rocks some distance below.

There is plenty more of the park to explore. You can climb around boulders and crazily shaped tree stumps, discover swimming holes and embark on a hike. The one disappointment was our walk several kilometres to the ‘twin bridges’ which we found didn’t exist – merely a sign saying that they had been demolished some years ago and replaced with a distinctly unexciting single bridge, though the name of the hike remains in their honour.

As we waited for the Greyhound bus to take us to our next destination at midnight we were shattered. A few days in this lovely city had seen us walking around so much that we dropped off to sleep at the bus depot.

How to Visit Vancouver on a Budget: The Verdict

So, is it possible to visit to Vancouver on a budget? Absolutely. Just avoid trying to get a local mobile phone SIM card – a salesperson told us the region has the world’s priciest phone networks! But by eating at the local markets, hiking in the beautiful countryside or sunbathing on the beach, here you have everything you need for an affordable and happy city trip.

Next up, find out how to plan a Canada backpacking trip and the best way to cross the country, here.