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Long Beach | © Kenny Louie / Flickr
Long Beach | © Kenny Louie / Flickr
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The Top 10 Things to See and Do on Vancouver Island

Picture of Hayley Simpson
Updated: 3 June 2017
Vancouver Island is a lot more than simply the place where you will find British Columbia’s capital, Victoria. The large island is home to beautiful beaches, breathtaking parks, and unique architecture. Keep reading to discover the best things to see and do on Vancouver Island.
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Butchart Gardens

Located near Victoria, Butchart Gardens is a designated National Historic Site and one of the world’s best gardens. Almost one million people visit annually, as each season at the garden is different. There are the colors of spring’s new blooms, the entertainment and fireworks in summer, fall’s golden hues, and the Christmas decorations in winter. Some of the Butchart Gardens highlights are the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Concrete Lawn Walk, and the Japanese, Italian, and Mediterranean Gardens.

Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay, BC, Canada, +1 250 652 4422

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Royal BC Museum

The Royal BC Museum, founded in 1886, is both the province’s natural and human history museum and the home of its archives. This combination has led the museum to be called one of Canada’s “greatest cultural treasures,” and following Queen Elizabeth II’s approval, HRH Prince Philip bestowed the museum’s Royal title in 1987. Featured collections currently include Royalty in BC, the Frederick Dally Collection, and the First Nations Collection.

Royal BC Museum, 675 Belleville Street, Victoria, BC, Canada, +1 250 356 7226

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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

There are three sections to Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: the Broken Group Islands, Long Beach, and the West Coast Trail. The combination of the land and sea area encompasses 511 square kilometers (197 square miles). The reserve is known for its rugged coast and temperate rainforests, which visitors can experience along the 75-kilometer (47-mile) West Coast Trail.

The Broken Group Islands consist of over 100 small islands and inlets in the Barkley Sound, while the Long Beach section is the most visited and includes the picturesque coast between Tofino and Ucluelet (including Long Beach itself).

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, BC, Canada, +1 250 726 3500

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Victoria Harbour

Tourism Victoria says Victoria Harbour “is one of the most beautiful harbors in the world.” Historically, the First Nations used it, but now it’s the base for ferries, seaplanes, and water taxis. In summer, Victoria Harbour is home to festivals, markets, and concerts, but its most beautiful feature may be the historic architecture in the background, including the Fairmont Empress and BC Legislature Building. A visit there isn’t complete without seeing the Inner Harbour either.

Victoria Harbour, Wharf Street, Victoria, BC, Canada, +1 250 383 8300

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Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove is a “rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas fir ecosystem” in MacMillan Provincial Park on central Vancouver Island. The grove’s biggest trees are 800 years old, 75 meters (250 feet) in height, and nine meters (29 feet) in circumference. People from around the world visit Cathedral Grove every year, which was shortlisted for CBC’s Seven Wonders of Canada contest in 2007.

MacMillan Provincial Park, BC-4, Nanaimo F, BC, Canada

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Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park

Yes, Vancouver’s Island parks are definitely some of the best things to see on the island. Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park’s point of difference is that at low tide, the water can recede up to one kilometer (0.6 miles) from the coastline. It’s a great place for camping for both friends and families, thanks to its sandy beach, ocean sunsets, and access to 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) of easy hiking trails. Rathtrevor Beach is also not far from Parksville and its amenities.

Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, 1240 Rath Road, Parksville, BC, Canada, +1 250 474 1336

Whale watching

Vancouver Island’s location means it’s a prime spot for whale watching. People can usually spot orcas (killer whales) in both the island’s north and south seas between May and October. Pacific gray whales are visible along the west coast during March and April, when they migrate north.

Humpback whales usually swim in the open waters on the island’s north side in summer, after spending their winters in Hawaii and Mexico. Other marine animals seen include minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals. There are many whale-watching adventures to experience all around Vancouver Island.

Orca whales off Vancouver Island
Orca whales off Vancouver Island | © Shawn McCready / Flickr
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Cowichan Valley

For food and wine enthusiasts, Cowichan Valley is known for its “Gourmet Trail.” It sits between Victoria and Nanaimo and has three main towns: Chemainus, Duncan, and Ladysmith. The valley’s warm climate means it’s an ideal place to grow produce, which is why it’s home to many award-winning wineries, British Columbia’s first cidery, and the impressive Duncan Farmers Market. Other activities in the valley include hiking, paddling, and tubing along the Cowichan River.

Cowichan Valley, BC, Canada

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Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle is a beautifully restored Victorian mansion built between 1887 and 1890 for Robert Dunsmuir, who was a Scottish immigrant that made a lot of money from coal on Vancouver Island. Now a National Historic Site, it’s said to be a prime example of a bonanza castle: “Massive houses built for entrepreneurs who became wealthy during the industrial age.” On a hill overlooking Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle has 39 rooms over four floors, which feature stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork, and “fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.”

Craigdarroch Castle, 1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, BC, Canada, +1 250 592 5323

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Mount Washington Alpine Resort

Vancouver Island also has its own skiing destination: Mount Washington Alpine Resort. “With the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop on one side and scenic Strathcona Park bordering the other, Mount Washington offers a pristine environment for your next Alpine or Nordic adventure.” The mountain receives, on average, 11 meters (36 feet) of snowfall annually. It has slopes for everyone—from beginners to experts—plus 55 kilometers (34 miles) of Nordic trails. In the summertime, it is naturally a hiker’s paradise.

Mount Washington Alpine Resort, Box 3069 Courtenay, Courtenay, BC, Canada, +1 250 338 1386