Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

The best things in life can be free. So stop spending

Astronomers set up telescopes on the beach at Mew Lake Campground in Algonquin Provincial Park, as they wait for night to fall so they can begin oberving the sky.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

We're three weeks into the new year: How are you doing with those resolutions?

If, like most people, you resolved to get your financial house in order, you are probably feeling the first stirrings of wanting to get out there and spend. Don't do it. Put your money away. Instead, get out there and experience all the great things in life that are free – and, no, stopping to smell the roses is not required. Never underestimate the thrill of getting or doing something for nothing.

Here are seven ways to have fun without spending a dime.

Story continues below advertisement

1. Free books: Project Gutenberg

It all started with the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Bible and works of Shakespeare. In 1971, Michael Stern Hart, a "cyber hippie," started to type historic texts into a mainframe computer, believing in e-books decades before e-readers were developed. By 1989, he had completed 10 books; today, Project Gutenberg ( offers more than 38,000 books for free downloads But the Bible or even Shakespeare's finest aren't the most downloaded – that honour, according to the site, goes to something a little more risqué, The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is second.

There is also a Gutenberg Canada site (, which offers Canadian titles in both English and French, as well as international titles.

2. Free films: The National Film Board

The Cat Came Back, a hilarious seven-minute animated short film, is the perpetual leader of the most-viewed films on the NFB website (, a film lover's dream. The National Film Board has 4,000 videos that stream for free, but there's more: At, there are video-watching apps for every kind of phone and tablet, as well as the PixStop app for an iPad, which lets you create stop-motion animation. All are free to watch on the site, but cost money to download (downloads can cost less than $5 for SD, usually $2 more for HD). Feel like going out to see a movie instead? In Toronto and Montreal, the film board runs the NFB Mediatheque and the NFB CineRobotheque, respectively, with free films on the big screen and in digital viewing booths. There are also free activities like animation workshops and screening programs.

3. Be in the audience:

Still consumed by Pottermania? You could have caught Daniel Radcliffe – live – on Thursday as he's interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulos, if you had ordered free tickets for the taping.

Story continues below advertisement

Any Canadian show with a live audience, like George Stroumboulopoulos Tonightor The Marilyn Denis Show, provides free tickets for tapings. Just go to their websites for how to get them. For kids, there's Mr. Young, the YTV hit show that films in Vancouver, and for teens, MuchMusic and MTV offer a number of ways to see stars be interviewed and perform.

4. Astronomy: Get familiar with the night sky

This year "is a good year for easily visible events," says Terence Dickinson, the author of a slew of astronomy books and editor of SkyNews magazine ( That means astronomical events that you can see even if you live in an apartment building downtown.

At dusk this Thursday, DIY astronomers can witness a "conjunction" between the brightest objects in the night sky, a crescent moon and Venus (the brightest planet). It will look like two jewels twinkling in the night sky, Mr. Dickinson says. If you miss it Thursday night, you get another chance on Feb. 25 and March 26.

Also this spring, Venus passes Jupiter for three nights from March 11 to 13, which means the two brightest planets will appear close to each other.

5. Art

Story continues below advertisement

Public art galleries often have free viewings, like the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa on Thursday evenings, but it's the commercial galleries that offer amazing shows that are always free.

Right now, for example, in Vancouver at the Catriona Jeffries gallery (at 274 East 1st Ave.) you can take in abstract artist extraordinare Ian Wallace. In Toronto, the tiny Open Studio (401 Richmond Street West, Suite 104) currently features the work of Arthur Desmarteaux and Allison Moore, Micropolis 2.0, a paper sculpture/installation that Globe art critic R.M. Vaughan says crams the space "with enough life, colour, clever sight gags and goofily deadpan urbanity to make one forget that the world outside is in a meteorological deep freeze."

Another fun and free art-viewing activity involves auction houses, which always preview the works going up for sale. In Toronto, look out for auctions by Heffel, Christie's, Joyner Waddington's and Mayberry Fine Art. Heffel is also in Vancouver and many of these companies have occasional sales in other cities.

6. Smart computer games

Alec Baldwin got kicked off an American Airlines plane because he couldn't bring himself to turn off Words With Friends, but here's the best part: The addictive app is absolutely free.

There are thousands of free games available; the hard part is picking the best one for you. The first step is to figure out what kind of games you like. Word games? Start by trying Words With Friends, Moxie, Word Solita ire, WordJong – all free. Number games? There are any number of Sudoku apps. Also try Braingle, full of brain teasers and riddles.

But you don't even need an app to play great games. Websites like are full of word games and crosswords.

7. Festivals

From the summertime Celebration of Light in Vancouver to Halifax's Parade of Lights in November, festivals are a great way to go out for free.

There's one for every season: Next month, Winterlude in Ottawa lets you skate the canal, see fireworks, watch ice carvers, and more – all for nothing.

The huge music festivals, like Montreal's Festival International de Jazz, usually offer concerts for free. More than 400 outdoor concerts were free in Montreal's festival last year. Plus, many towns and cities splurge on one event – often on Canada Day – that are free.

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at