Take even a casual look around and you’ll find a slew of gratis events and ‘first-time free’ experiences up for grabs in Victoria. Here are 17 ways to eat, sip, learn and play without taxing your plastic.
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So many fabulous festivals call the Garden City home; happily, many of them won’t cost you a dime to attend. We’re highlighting four of the can’t-miss variety.
1) Ambient Picnic in Centennial Square
We’re eager to check out Victoria’s new Pretty Good Not Bad multimedia festival. Pretty Good Not Bad’s Ambient Picnic at Centennial Square (June 18, 1-7pm) is an all-ages affair that brings together experimental soundscapes, eats and drinks in the heart of the city. This is your chance to get in on the ground floor. Do it for FREE.
2) Car Free YYJ
How can a local event that has happened only once seem so mission-critical to our identity? If you attended Car Free YYJ in 2015, you’ll know the Douglas Street festival electrified the city (in a good way) and tapped into some core values: community, placemaking and fun in the sun. And by all accounts, Car Free YYJ 2016 (June 19) is poised to surpass even that killer debut. This year sees the fest grow to nine city blocks (from six), four music stages (from three) and three beer gardens (from one). A bike valet means you can leave your steed, worry-free. Don’t. Miss.
3) Free-B Film Festival
The Free-B Film Festival is a warm-weather tradition. On Friday and Saturday nights through August, grab picnic fixings and a blanket, and take in a free flic under the stars. Most screenings take place at the Cameron Bandshell in Beacon Hill Park, with shows at the Legislature and Broadmead Village in the mix, too. Last year’s lineup included Batman, The Princess Bride and Raising Arizona. Need we say more?
4) Integrate Arts Festival
The annual Integrate Arts Festival (August 26-28) art crawl is rad for many reasons, not least of which is because it showcases the diversity of local arts spaces. It also encourages pedal power. Take in the family-friendly bike tour or hop on the evening shuttle that circulates between venues. Otherwise, an event map and your feet are all you need to explore some of the city’s most colourful venues.
We’re grateful that the mindful movement crowd is a generous lot, intent on sharing. There are loads of things to try at no or low cost to boost your health and spirit.
5) Yoga practice at local studios
Because so much about where and how you practice yoga comes down to fit, an option to test drive a new space or teacher is always welcome. You’ll want to put Iyengar Yoga Centre and MokSana Yoga on your list; they’re among the local studios offering a first yoga class for free (some restrictions apply).
6) Meditation at the Victoria Shambhala Meditation Centre
If you’re curious about meditation, but don’t know where to start, the Victoria Shambhala Meditation Centre in Fernwood offers a weekly open house by donation. Session talks vary by theme each week (think ‘Fearlessness’ and ‘Passion’) and tea is served. The everyone welcome events are a great way to connect — and disconnect, too.
7) Low-cost acupuncture at Hemma Yoga
We snuck this one on the list because it’s such a deal, we feel like it’s free. If you haven’t tried Hemma Yoga’s community acupuncture, you’re missing out. It may be counterintuitive to skeptics, but getting poked with tiny needles while you get horizontal in a comfy chair (in the company of others doing the same thing) is a most relaxing and healing experience. The group setting is also practical in that it keeps costs down (a sliding scale applies). Join Hemma’s mailing list and watch for acupuncture promotions (as low as $5 on special event days).
Chances are there’s a new skill you’ve been secretly yearning to master. You may just be able to give it a whirl for free.
8) Cuban Salsa dancing at the University of Victoria
The UVic Cuban Salsa Club has won us over and we haven’t even signed up yet. Everything about this group seems so darn friendly, including their online welcome. The club meets weekly and invites newcomers to join in for lessons and social dances at no charge (usually Wednesdays from 7-9pm in UVic’s SUB). Drop-ins are fine. Heck, you don’t even need a partner. Now there’s no excuse not to take your skills beyond ‘The Sprinkler’ and Macarena.
9) Lawn bowling at Victoria Lawn Bowling Club
Like bocce and croquet, lawn bowling is back with a vengeance after — arguably — a brief slumber on the sidelines. At the Victoria Lawn Bowling Club in Beacon Hill Park you can mingle with whites-clad club members who know how to toss a bowl (yes, it’s ‘bowl’ not ‘ball’) and will show you what to do with yours. It’s not quite free, but close — just $10 to drop-in for the Friday night community bowls beginning at 6 p.m. and instruction is free. One word: Deal.
10) Music lesson at the Victoria Conservatory of Music
Okay, this one gets our vote for sheer we-had-no-idea awesomeness. Like us, you may be surprised to discover the venerable Victoria Conservatory of Music offers a free sample music lesson in any genre (classical, rock, pop, bluegrass, country and more) to get to know the Conservatory — quite a coup, given its reputation for excellence. Don’t dawdle if you’re a Chopin or Cobain just waiting to bust out.
While we can’t promise full meal deal freebies, the sheer variety of things to taste and quaff about town is boggling.
11) Sample the wares at Olive the Senses
The charming Olive the Senses in the Victoria Public Market offers weekly tastings of authentic olive oils and vinegars (usually Thursdays at 6:30 pm). The ‘tailored’ experiences promise to help you zero in on your favourites. While tastings are free, registration is required.
12) Try local roastery brews
Beloved coffee houses and roasteries like Fernwood Coffee, Discovery Coffee and Caffé Fantastico regularly offer public tastings to introduce their latest beans and brews, or when their baristas are prepping for competition. Follow their social accounts to stay on top of opportunities to sample the house wares.
13) Taste the gluten-free gamut at Lifestyle Markets
Even if you’re one of the stragglers who hasn’t gone gluten free, chances are you may have to cook for a GF’er at some point. Bone up with ‘Try Before you Buy: Gluten-Free Tastings’ hosted at Lifestyle Markets (Douglas). Led by Ellen Bayens of The Celiac Scene, the tastings not only showcase what’s for sale, but let you sample GF products, many made right here in B.C. The free tastings run the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month from 12-2pm at Lifestyle’s Douglas Street store. No registration required.
14) Nosh gourmet popcorn at Tre Fantastico in the Parkside Hotel
You probably know by now that Tre Fantastico (Caffé Fantastico’s Parkside location) offers more than specialty coffees and dreamy outlooks to St. Ann’s Academy. But you may not know to stop in for ‘Wine Wednesdays’ when premium bottles of vino are $10 off. Better still? Enjoy free gourmet popcorn with any wine purchase between 7 and 10 p.m. Trust us: It’s yum.
15) Cut the cheese (wheel) at Ottavio’s
The divine Ottavio Italian Bakery & Delicatessen on Oak Bay Avenue regularly hosts public events that offer samples of its specialty fare. For example, the annual ‘Big Cheese Cut,’ held in Ottavio’s fountain-side piazza, slices and dices some of the biggest wheels around, while educating visitors about the art of cheese making. Whatever the event, good luck resisting the brioche and flaky croissants while you’re there.
16) M.V. Coho to Port Angeles on your birthday
On any day, a trip aboard the M.V. Coho feels like the best kind of retro adventure; on your birthday, you’ll feel like high-seas royalty. That’s because if it’s your big day, BlackBall Ferry Line will pick up the tab for your round-trip passenger fare between Victoria and Port Angeles. Whether your getaway ends with the bumps is up to you.
17) Pants-free bungy at WildPlay Element Parks (Nanaimo)
Speaking of birthdays: if donning your birthday suit and hurling yourself off a sky-high platform toward the Nanaimo River is your thing, watch for WildPlay Element Parks’ (Nanaimo) annual naked bungy jump in support of the BC Schizophrenia Society. While not technically free, your pants-free tumble is by (set) donation for a good cause — the reason we encourage you to open your wallet for this one. 18+, because let’s face it: nobody should be making that choice under age.
> What did we miss? Tell us about your favourite freebies.
Photo credit: Ken Hawkins | flickr