Exploring Vancouver Island on a Budget
22 Free or Inexpensive Things to do on Vancouver Island
On the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Island is home to nearly 800,000 people and is the 11th largest island in Canada. It’s also home to many world-class tourist attractions, many of which are free or inexpensive to check out. Below is a list of Van Isle Marina staff’s top recommended things to do on Vancouver Island if you’re on a budget.
1. Milner Gardens
Vancouver Island is home to many beautiful public gardens, where our mild climate supports a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers year-round. Milner Gardens in Qualicum is a lovely seaside garden definitely worth checking out. This ancient forest and garden oasis sits on top a bluff overlooking the Straight of Georgia.
2. Abkhazi Garden
Abkhazi Garden in Victoria is a beautiful heritage home and garden established by Prince and Princess Abkhazi in 1946. At this one-acre property you’ll find a stunning example of West Coast design where conifers, Japanese maples, rhododendrons, naturalized bulbs, and woodland companions leave a lasting impression.
Cost: By Donation
3. Butchart Gardens
Also near Victoria in Brentwood Bay are Butchart Gardens, featuring 55 acres filled with at least 900 plant varieties. Butchart Gardens has a 100+ year history and a staff of 50 gardeners tending to the grounds.
4. BC Parliament Buildings
The BC parliament buildings in Victoria’s downtown inner harbour are home to the legislative assembly of British Columbia. Free tours are offered throughout the year, and there is plenty of park space out front for picnicking and people watching.
5. Confederation Fountain
For a unique photo op, check out the Confederation Fountain tucked just around the corner from the legislature building in Victoria. You’ll also find shields of the Provinces, centered by the national Coat of Arms at this small but relaxing area just off the main drag of the waterfront.
6. Goats on the Roof
The Old Country Market in Coombs is home to the world-famous Goats on the Roof, where goats living up above oversee thousands of shoppers from March through to December. Coombs is a small town in Central Vancouver Island on the Alberni Highway, near Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
7. Cathedral Grove
On your way to explore Tofino (a seaside community that is an attraction all to itself) you’ll drive through the world-famous Cathedral Grove, an old growth forest known for its gigantic 800-year-old ancient Douglas firs and red cedars. Pull the car over and check it out! Cathedral Grove is just one of countless hikes the Island has to offer. Also explore these South Island Hikes and Central Island Hikes.
8. Duncan Totem Poles
Duncan, known as The City of Totems, is home to more than 40 totem poles. Each beautifully carved totem pole contributes to the City’s First Nations culture and history. Follow the yellow footprints in the sidewalk for a self-guided walking tour or take the virtual tour to learn more about the totems before experiencing them in person.
9. Chemainus Murals
The seaside community of Chemainus is known as The City of Murals. Check out 44 murals that serve as a tribute to the area’s mining, fishing, and forestry heritage. Grab an official Souvenir Mural Map from the Visitor Centre to take a self-guided tour of the massive murals, or simply follow the yellow footprints on the sidewalks.
10. Elk Falls Suspension Bridge
In Campbell River, the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is a must-see. Although the area features extensive forest trails, the bridge itself is a short walk to get to. There you’ll get an amazing view of the canyon and a thundering waterfall. The BC Hydro Interpretive Centre nearby is free and adds to the experience.
11. Kinsol Trestle
Located in the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the historic Kinsol Trestle is 187 metres long and 44 metres above the Koksilah River, making it one of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures in the world. Fully accessible with viewing platforms, we know you’ll love it.
12. Beacon Hill Children’s Farm
The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm and petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria is a favourite among locals, offering an educational, by-donation form of entertainment for the whole family. The petting zoo is best known for its goats.
Cost: By Donation
13. St. Ann’s Academy
St. Ann’s Academy is a national historic site in Victoria that offers tours by donation. Built in 1858, St Ann’s Academy was Victoria’s first Roman Catholic Cathedral before it became a school in 1886.
Cost: By Donation
14. The Raptors
View several different types of birds of prey at The Raptors visitor centre in Duncan. Make sure to time your visit around a flying demonstration. You can also stay for additional meet and greets and hands-on experiences.
15. Vancouver Island Wineries
Vancouver Island is home to 32 wineries (and counting!), with the Cowichan Valley being particularly fruitful due to the area being shielded from Pacific Ocean storms. Plan to visit a winery or two while you’re visiting the Island, taste some great wines and meet the passionate people behind some of BC’s best wines.
16. Whale Interpretive Centre
The Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove on Northern Vancouver Island aims to help the public to identify different marine mammals and their role within the ecosystem. Here you’ll find many sea life artifacts, including blue whale jaw, whale lice, ear ossicles, whale teeth, and skeletons of a killer whale, sperm whale, river otter, sea otter, Pacific white-sided dolphin, and more.
Cost: By Donation
Bike riding is very popular on Vancouver Island, with countless bike-friendly trails and lanes seemingly everywhere. Might we suggest grabbing one of our courtesy bikes from the marina? Here are some nearby places you can bike to from Van Isle Marina.
18. Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle, built in 1887, is a meticulously restored historic house museum and a beauty to behold in Victoria. Here you’ll find 39 rooms and four floors of exquisite stained glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.
19. Hatley Castle
Hatley Castle, completed in 1908 and located in Hatley Park and Royal Roads University is known by many as X-men headquarters, due to it being a filming location for the Hollywood blockbusters. Pay an admission fee to take the guided walking tour, or check out the free museum in the basement. The castle is also surrounded by magnificent gardens.
20. BC Aviation Museum
The British Columbia Aviation Museum in Sidney features plenty of aircraft and artifacts relating to the history of aviation in BC and the rest of Canada. They have something for everyone, including flight simulators, unique aircrafts, a kids area, and volunteer tour guides.
For more things to do in Sidney – home of Van Isle Marina – check out our post on 15 Things to Do in Sidney, BC.
21. BC Forest Discovery Centre
The BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan is a huge open air museum with its own operational railway. Check out the exhibits, logging artifacts, and heritage buildings before exploring the forest and marsh trails. This family friendly Island destination hosts plenty of special events and workshops for all ages throughout the year.
22. Military Museums
Vancouver Island is home to notable military museums:
- The Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo houses 25 exhibits focusing on the War of 1812 right through to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
- The CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum focuses on the Royal Canadian Navy and Merchant Navy’s role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and the 100+ year history of Canadian service in submarines.
- The Comox Airforce Museum includes collections on Military Aviation in WWI and WWII, Korea, the Cold War, United Nations Peacekeeping, and the Squadron section.
Read more: Attractions on Vancouver Island
The suggestions listed above are just some of the exciting things to do on Vancouver Island. If you’ll be arriving by boat, be sure to check out some of the area’s best boat-only access beaches.
Van Isle Marina is one of the largest full-service marinas in British Columbia. Moor your boat at our marina before or after you set out to explore Vancouver Island. (See our yacht park rates to learn more.) We are located at 2320 Harbour Road in Sidney, BC, just a five minute drive from the Beacon Avenue exit of Hwy 17.