The Top Things to Do in British Columbia

Scenic flight above Tofino Harbour, Vancouver Island
Scenic flight above Tofino Harbour, Vancouver Island | © ronnybas / Alamy Stock Photo
Alex Allen

British Columbia is arguably Canada’s most varied and dramatic province – encompassing forested archipelagos, sophisticated cities like Vancouver and snow-blanketed mountain ranges. It’s also one of its biggest – but not to worry, we’ve broken it down into its bear necessities (pun intended), to get you started on that bucket list British Columbia itinerary.

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Canada’s great outdoors is unlike anywhere else on earth – from temperate rainforests populated by mysterious Spirit Bears to Rocky Mountain ski resorts where the snow dumps are deep enough to hide a moose. But it’s not just the natural environment that makes BC a must-visit destination – the cities, cultural heritage and culinary scene here are all top-notch, too. There’s so much going on, it can be hard to know what to tackle first – check out our suggestions of the top things to do in British Columbia.


Architectural Landmark

© Feng Wei Photography / Getty Images

Vancouver, or Rain City, as it’s wryly known by locals, is BC’s urban heart. The contrast of its glassy skyline against the surrounding mist-skirted mountains give it major postcard-appeal points – and that’s before you dive into its food markets, parks and historical ‘hoods. Set aside time for Stanley Park, a vast green sprawl with gold-sand beaches, an aquarium and iconic, towering totem poles; as well as Granville Island Market, home to breweries, street food stalls and artisanal deli counters. Exploring the historic Gastown district, with its cobblestone streets and hip shops and bars, is also among the top things to do in Vancouver. Make sure you reserve a room in one of these Vancouver hotels before you go.


Natural Feature

© Elena Elisseeva / Alamy Stock Photo

On the west shore of Vancouver Island, pretty Tofino is just about Canada’s last point of civilization before it’s open Pacific all the way to Japan. That fact alone adds an end-of-the-world magic to this already beautiful spot, where surfers, artists and subsistence living types have coagulated into a small community, nestled among ancient growth forest at the water’s edge. This isn’t the place to come if hustle and bustle is your bag: the gently rippling waters of Clayoquot Sound, dotted with little islets, the sweeping, empty beaches, and mushroom-sprouting woodlands are your playground in these parts. Stay overnight in a rustic cabin or chic five-star hotel.


Architectural Landmark

© Peter Elvin / Alamy Stock Photo

While Vancouver has the cutting edge, carbon-zero metropolis thing going on, Victoria is the province’s historical capital. Named for Queen Victoria, and built during her reign, the city is studded with landmark buildings that wouldn’t look out of place in central London, such as the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel. Despite its venerable architecture, the demographic is young, fun and student-heavy – the University of Victoria is right in the middle of things – with plenty of cool coffee shops and cozy pubs to keep you topped up. Stay in one of these top boutique hotels while you’re there.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve


© Ron Watts / Alamy Stock Photo

Just down the coast from Tofino is, arguably, the most dramatic National Park in Canada. Albertans will dismiss this in favor of Banff, or even Jasper, and it’s a close-run thing. But, for us, the primordial timelessness of the Pacific Rim, with its moss-draped cypress trees, mineral-rich waters teeming with life (including orcas and humpback whales), and craggy shoreline that pounds Pacific breakers into a salty mist, is what clinches the top spot.


Architectural Landmark

© robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo

Even if you’ve never strapped on a ski boot before, you’ve probably heard of Whistler, the biggest winter sports mecca in Canada. Here, a spider’s web of cable cars and chairlifts connect the town to Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, depositing you at the top of some of the most thrilling runs you’ll find in North America. From forested off-piste, perfect for snowboarders who like to float their way down on a cloud-like cushion of powder, to hard and fast downhill slopes for serious skiers, there’s something for all skill levels. Book one of these cozy Whistler hotels in advance.

The Okanagan

Natural Feature

© All Canada Photos / Alamy Stock Photo

Beer drinkers can get top-quality suds all across British Columbia, but those with a nose for wine should make a detour towards the Okanagan Valley. Around five hours inland, where the Rocky Mountains soften into rolling hills and sun-soaked floodplains, you’ll find a patchwork quilt of vineyards surrounding Kelowna. No surprise then that wine tasting is one of the top things to do here. For reasons that are not entirely clear, The Okanagan receives around two hours more sunlight per day than California’s Napa Valley, producing crisp whites and rich, velvety reds. Extend your trip by booking one of these places to stay in Kelowna.


Architectural Landmark

© Spring Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Once a coal mining outpost on the fringes of civilization, Nanaimo is now the de facto gateway to Vancouver Island. This culture-loving harbor town is stuffed with galleries and museums. The pick of these is the Nanaimo Museum, where you’ll find exhibits that tell the story of the town’s heritage, from its settlement by the Snuneymuxw First Nation, to how its World Championship Bathtub Race got started. As for galleries, Hill’s Native Art showcases the craft of every nation in the northwest, which amounts to works from over 1,200 artists.

Yoho National Park


© Alpine Rafting / Valerie Pleym

It sounds like the start of a pirate shanty, but Yoho National Park is strictly for landlubbers. Found straddling the spine of the Rocky Mountains in eastern British Columbia, it’s a wonderland of glacial lakes, waterfalls and dizzying hiking trails that would give Yosemite a run for its money. You’re in grizzly bear territory here, however, so if you plan on camping, make sure you read up on the precautions to take and avoid going into the wilderness on your own.

Great Bear Rainforest

Natural Feature

© BIOSPHOTO / Alamy Stock Photo

Covering a tract of coastline the size of Ireland, this immense area is home to the densest population of bears in Canada, from grizzlies to the elusive white-coated spirit bear. So, if you’ve come to British Columbia for a glimpse of these animals, here’s the place to get your binoculars out. But it’s not just the wildlife that makes this journey worth it. This area is also the home to a number of coastal First Nations; book an indigenous-led tour to learn more.
Looking for more inspiration? Discover the most beautiful towns in British Columbia.

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