Vancouver on the cheap

How to save cash visiting North America's most expensive city

Stanley Park
Stanley Park
Vancouver Art Gallery
Vancouver Art Gallery
Lions Gate Bridge
Lions Gate Bridge
Vancouver Maritime Museum
Vancouver Maritime Museum

You won’t get far on a shoestring in North America’s most expensive city, but follow these clever tips and you’ll find thrifty thrills aplenty.

If you’re planning a trip to Vancouver, pack lots of cash. As declared back in March by The Economist’s annual Worldwide Cost of Living Survey, North America’s westernmost metropolis is also its most expensive, beating even established wallet-emptiers New York and Los Angeles (ranked joint 27th on the list, six places behind Vancouver). If you actually want to do anything in Vancouver, prepare to pay through the nose for it. Unless, that is, you know where the bargains are.

Eating out
With more than 100 registered vendors, Vancouver is big on street food. And while eating your lunch standing up and using your jeans as a napkin is very rarely as cheap as it should be, there are deals to be had. Though one portion won’t satisfy everyone, Mogu’s deliciously sweet and spicy Japanese chicken karaage is a contender for the city’s best carlorie-per-dollar grub at Dhs17 for a double serving, which comes topped with a beautiful sweet chilli sauce (ask and they’ll give you an extra drizzle).

If you’ve got someone to split it with, the mammoth platters of papusa (imagine a meat and vegetable-stuffed Indian naan bread with a South American slant) served up at Guanaco – the city’s only Salvadoran food truck – also represents good value for money at Dhs33 a pop. Gastown is the epicentre of Vancouver’s hops scene – a cluster of streets, where every place serves a local brew. Try Six Acres on Carrall Street or Steamworks on Water Street.

Sport and outdoors
Thanks in part to its location on the Pacific northwest coastline, there are plenty of ways to burn calories in Vancouver, even without burning cash. The main draw is north of downtown in Stanley Park – a 1,000 acre sprawl of cycle paths and nature trails.

A popular day out involves a trek or cycle through Stanley Park’s cedars and douglas firs, across Lions Gate Bridge and through North Vancouver to the foot of Grouse Mountain. The hardcore take on the infamous Grouse Grind – a 3km course that runs up the side of the mountain with an average incline of 17 degrees, doable in about 90 minutes with a decent level of fitness. Given the traffic coming up, heading back down by foot can be tricky, so splash out on a Dhs35 descent by cable car.

Take a trip to the open-air swimming pool in Kitsilano, southwest of downtown, towards the University of British Columbia. Located right on the beach and separated from the sea by a strip of tarmac no more than 3.5m wide, it’s essentially a public version of an infinity pool – only at 137m long, it’s bigger, and costs just Dhs20 a swim.

Art and culture
Cash-strapped culture kids will get a lot more out of a visit to Vancouver if they factor a Tuesday night into their visit. That’s when the city’s biggest art gallery, imaginatively named Vancouver Art Gallery, drops the Dhs70 entry fee and operates a pay-what-you-like policy, meaning that – providing you can cope with a dirty look from staff when you drop a fistful of brass into their buckets – you can tour the gallery’s 10,000-strong collection for basically nothing, from 5pm until 9pm. While there are few A-listers on show (despite a comparative price tag, this isn’t MoMa), the range of modern and contemporary painting and photography is impressive, especially considering that the bulk of the collection has been sourced from within British Columbia.

Vancouver Maritime Museum operates a similar system on Thursdays from 5pm, while the Museum of Anthropology drops its ticket price from Dhs58 to Dhs31 on a Tuesday evening.

Some of Vancouver’s most interesting artwork is on display in public places and it is all completely free to look at. Organised bike tours are available, but you’re much better off hiring a bike and checking out the city’s 300-odd public sculptures and murals at your own pace.

Afterwards, then head to the stretch of waterfront running from Devonian Harbour Park along to Canada Place on the edge of Gastown. Look out for ‘Digital Orca’, a Lego-like sculpture of an eight-bit whale by Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland, located outside the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Need to know

Getting there
KLM flies to Vancouver, via Amsterdam from Dhs5,193 return.

Lufthansa flies to Vancouver, via Frankfurt from Dhs5,826 return

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