The YWCA is one of the nicest hostel-level accommodations in the city; clean, nicely furnished and completely secured via key card, it offers a special kitchen package so you can trim your budget by eating in. Even better? It's just a short walk from the famous Steam Clock of Gastown, a prize tourist photo opportunity that's completely free. Every 15 minutes, this marvel of the steam age - powered entirely by a series of underground pipes - shoots a plume of steam in the air and plays the Canadian national anthem.
When you're ready to explore further, Stanley Park, with over a thousand acres (405 hectares) of unspoiled green space and plenty of cost-free activities, is one of the most appealing attractions in Vancouver. A not-to-be-missed spot is the Stanley Park Seawall, which runs along the western shoreline and takes about two hours to walk. Another is the totem poles at Brockton Point, a cluster of sublime First Nations art that has been painstakingly collected over the last century.
For a glimpse into the more urban side of the city, head over to the downtown shopping mecca of Robson Street. You may not want to shell out on the goods available here, but it's a prime location for both window shopping and people-watching. Browse the high-end fashions and housewares, and then stop off at a quintessentially Vancouver food-truck-turned-restaurant called Japadog. This may be the only chance you'll have to eat a Kobe beef hot dog topped with teriyaki sauce and seaweed, all for $10 and under.
Another free fixture on Vancouver's cultural landscape is Christ Church Cathedral, just a ten-minute walk from Japadog. A compelling architectural structure with gleaming stained glass windows, this is one of the most inclusive parishes in the city and has made it a priority to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. If you happen to be around on a Sunday evening stop, in for a free performance of Gregorian chants.
The Vancouver Art Gallery is the most important art-related destination in the city, but at $24 per person it can get pricey. Every Tuesday night from 5 pm to 9 pm, however, the Gallery is completely free, and the exhibits are world-class, including Marc Chagall, Picasso and Douglas Coupland along with local luminaries like Emily Carr. Don't feel like being inside? If it's summertime, you can head to Robson Square for free dance performances and lessons. Friday nights are ballroom, and Sunday nights are salsa; this is a great way to meet locals and cut loose without spending a penny.
The best cheap eats in Vancouver are undeniably found at Mexican restaurants. One of these is Budgie's Burritos, a completely vegetarian establishment that serves up a mean meat-free burrito. The seating at Budgie's is sparse, so if you'd rather sit down, try The Mexican Antojitos y Cantina. It's a little bit pricier, but the portions are huge and the cheery buzz of the dining room is a great way to catch a slice of Vancouver at play.
To end your low-cost adventure in style, walk over to Davie Village and stretch your legs with a stroll up and down Davie Street, complete with rainbow painted crosswalks. There's some shopping here, but it's really best for people-watching and bar-hopping. One of the best dive bars in the neighborhood is The Fountainhead Pub, which has 16 beers on tap and a good game of pool. The management also contributes greatly to local LGBTQ causes, so you'll know your money is going to the right place. After a few rounds, head back to the YWCA for a good nights rest, or stay up and chat with your fellow travelers in the common room.