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Beautiful British Columbia Travel Guide (by Locals)

Are you planning a trip to British Columbia, Canada?

You’ve come to the right site! This is our home – when not accidentally getting sand in our suitcases on trips. (Oh, bad joke!)

But seriously, having lived in BC for years (first Vancouver, now Victoria), we know the province really well.

And we can tell you that BC – hailed for its natural beauty – really is one of the loveliest spots in the world! Many of the top places to visit in Canada are right here in our home province.

So in our British Columbia travel guide, we’re jazzed to share with you what we consider the best places to visit in British Columbia (BC for short) – including popular tourist attractions and lesser-known gems.

Parliament Buildings in Victoria, BC
Victoria is BC’s oh-so-pretty capital city

Below, you can find specific BC travel tips and information on where to go, what to do in British Columbia, where to stay, restaurants and getting around BC.

Beautiful British Columbia travel guide

Contents: BC travel guide

Where is BC?

Best time to visit British Columbia

BC travel tips

Vancouver

Victoria (the capital)

Whistler

British Columbia gems

  • Southern Gulf Islands
  • Great Bear Rainforest
  • Okanagan Valley
  • Haida Gwaii
  • Parksville + Qualicum Beach
  • Telegraph Cove

Gorgeous gardens in British Columbia

More information on BC

Where is British Columbia?

Canada’s westernmost province, British Columbia sits smack-dab against the Pacific Ocean to the east.

The Alaskan Panhandle and Yukon and the Northwest Territories lie to the north. Alberta is to the west.

Across the southern border is the United States (Washington, Idaho and Montana).

When is the best time to visit British Columbia?

Prime time:

The best time to go to British Columbia is from May to September.

The summer months of July and August are the peak months, with warm sunshine and bluebird skies (but also more visitors and higher hotel costs).

Summer is the hottest in the interior of BC, e.g., the Okanagan Valley (covered below). Temps often hit the 85 F (30 C) to 95 F (35 C) range, sometimes even higher. All the better for swimming in the lakes there!

Victoria and Vancouver, which are on the Pacific Coast, have a much more moderate climate.

Average daytime temps in summer range roughly from 68 to 85 F (roughly 20 to 28 C).

Sandy beach in Stanley Park in summer
Summer time and the livin’ is easy in Vancouver!

Early September is an ideal time to visit.

The weather is usually sunny, warm and dry (perhaps with some crisp mornings later in September). And the peak tourist season has subsided.

Winter in BC:

You don’t really want to visit between November and February. Of course, there are always exceptions.

You could visit the wild west coast of Vancouver Island in February for winter storm watching in Tofino – and be unexpectedly blessed with sunshine and 60 F (16 C) temps. (This happened to us once.)

And if you like the white stuff, Whistler is famous for skiing and snowboarding in the winter months.

Spring in BC:

March and April? That’s when spring blossoms are out in full bloom in Vancouver and Victoria.

But you’ll need a rain coat – and you should expect some showers.

A woman photographs pink cherry blossom trees in Vancouver, BC.
Visit Vancouver in late March and April to see pink and white cherry blossoms

What to pack for a visit to BC:

In summer, pack a sweater or jacket. Evenings can be cool. You’ll also want to bring comfortable travel sandals for city sightseeing and outdoor activities.

A brollie is always useful in case it rains, especially in winter. (Case in point: The west coast, where you’ll find Vancouver, is nicknamed the “rain coast.”)

Other British Columbia travel tips

Local currency:

As part of Canada, the official currency in British Columbia is the Canadian dollar. But U.S. dollars are also generally accepted.

Having said that, it’s better to use Canadian dollars if you can, as you won’t have to figure out the conversion – and you’ll generally get a better deal.

Credit cards are widely accepted; Visa and Mastercard are the most common. But you’ll still want some cash when traveling in British Columbia for tips and such.

Can you visit BC without a car?

The best way to get around BC is by car. Rental cars are available at the Vancouver, Kelowna and Victoria airports.

If you plan a British Columbia road trip, you’ll obviously need a car.

For example, you might want to do a road trip up Vancouver Island from Victoria (at the bottom of the island) to Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy (at the top of the island).

We’ve done this trip – it’s the perfect BC itinerary for a combination of city sightseeing and outdoor adventure (kayaking, hiking, whale watching and grizzly bear viewing).

British Columbia grizzly bear eating a fish
Yes, you can view grizzly bears in the wild on tours from Telegraph Cove!

Rural areas are hard to get around without a car, so if you’d like to travel in British Columbia without a car, you’re best advised to stick to the most popular tourist destinations – Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler.

Vancouver and Victoria are very walkable cities if you stay downtown. In addition to taxis, there’s also Uber in Vancouver (but not in Victoria).

And you don’t need a car in Whistler (the town center is pedestrian-only).

Taking the ferry in BC:

BC Ferries has a network of car ferries connecting the BC mainland with Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and other islands off the BC coast.

For getting to Victoria, see our complete guide on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. Find out all you need to know – from the most convenient Vancouver terminal to bus-and-ferry options.

Taking the train in BC:

You can also take the Rocky Mountaineer train from Vancouver to Banff and Lake Louise (both in Banff National Park) or Jasper.

The scenery as you journey through the Canadian Rocky Mountains is nothing short of spectacular.

Unmissable British Columbia destinations

British Columbia is a big province.

At almost 365,000 square miles (944,735 sq. km) in size, it’s larger than Washington, Oregon and California combined.

We have magnificent mountain ranges (meet the Canadian Rockies!), epic national parks, sandy beaches, thousands of lakes and ancient temperate rainforest hugging much of the rugged coastline.

So it’s a hard job coming up with a list of the most special and best places in British Columbia to visit!

That said, however, Vancouver, Victoria and Whistler – particularly popular destinations – are on most people’s British Columbia bucket list (for good reason).

Vancouver

Vancouver, Canada
The first thing you notice in Vancouver is that it’s surrounded by water

Most visitors who travel to British Columbia begin in the city of Vancouver. There are direct flights from many places around the world to the Vancouver International Airport (YVR).

One of the world’s most beautiful cities, Vancouver is famous for its ocean-fringed vistas, mountain backdrop, fresh local salmon, delightful neighborhoods and healthy outdoor vibe.

(And just to confuse you, it’s not on Vancouver Island, but on the mainland.)

What to do in Vancouver?

Hang out in Stanley Park:

For the mother of all urban parks, don’t miss Stanley Park!

The best way to explore it? Rent a bicycle and go biking around Stanley Park on its impossibly scenic Seawall.

Tour the Vancouver Art Gallery:

Right in downtown Vancouver, the Vancouver Art Gallery is the largest art museum in Western Canada, with over 12,000 works of art by Canadian and international artists.

Be sure you see the modernist landscapes by Emily Carr, painted between 1913 and 1942.

Probably Canada’s best-known artist, her paintings are all about Pacific Northwest coastal forests and the First Nation tribes that lived there.

In future, the gallery is expected to move to a new purpose-built facility that’s twice as large – where even the building is a work of art. We can’t wait!

Visit the Museum of Anthropology:

For an understanding of the First Nations peoples of British Columbia, tour the acclaimed Museum of Anthropology at the University of BC.

First Nations totem poles and Haida houses at the UBC Museum of Anthropology
First Nations totem poles and Haida houses at the Museum of Anthropology

See carved totem poles, cedar sculptures, contemporary native art, indigenous masks, bentwood boxes and other fascinating exhibits.

Don’t miss Granville Island!

For Vancouverites, Granville Island is to weekends what ham is to eggs.

Actually a mini-peninsula, the corrugated-metal sheds of this former industrial site have been recycled into a thriving public market surrounded by artists’ studios, shops, theaters and coffee bars.

The six concrete silos of the cement factory at Granville Island are painted as colorful smiling giants.
The six concrete silos of the cement factory at Granville Island are painted as colorful smiling giants

At Granville Island, you can pick up everything from hand-carved stone sculptures from Zimbabwe and 24-karat gold, diamond-studded toe rings to local Salt Spring Island brie for snacking in your hotel room.

Cruise from Vancouver:

Vancouver is a major gateway for cruises to Alaska. See what it’s like sailing away from the Vancouver cruise port.

Other top things to do in Vancouver:

Wander around the cobbled streets of Gastown, possibly Vancouver’s trendiest district.

Maybe catch a musical or play at the historic Stanley Theater?

And for an easy hike through towering Douglas Fir trees (and for gob-smacking ocean views) head to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver.

Where to stay in Vancouver:

The very modern Fairmont Pacific Rim gets our vote for the premier 5-star place to stay in Vancouver.

Right on Vancouver’s harbor, it boasts an outdoor rooftop pool deck with firepits and tastefully decorated rooms. “Ofuro” rooms have some of the world’s best hotel bathrooms, with breathtaking views of Coal Harbor and the North Shore’s snow-capped mountains.

Radiating classic European style, the boutique Wedgewood Hotel & Spa in the downtown core is another favorite of ours.

Prefer something a little less pricey?

The Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier is a great 4-star hotel in North Vancouver (with a cool shipyard vibe).

It’s connected to downtown by the SeaBus passenger ferry. The ride takes 12 minutes and the ferry runs frequently (every 10 minutes in peak times and every 15 minutes at other times).

Victoria

Things to do in Victoria BC
Victoria’s Inner Harbour (spelled the Canadian way!) is home to colorful houseboats

Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria is BC’s provincial capital.

Tour Craigdarrach Castle, built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir in the late 1800s and now a National Historic Site. Go whale watching. Step out on these nine easy scenic Victoria walks. Take selfies in front of the neo-Baroque BC Parliament Buildings.

Maybe sip afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel too!

Then there’s the Royal BC Museum.

Founded in 1886, it showcases BC’s human and natural history over the centuries.

One of its most photographed exhibits is a life-size mammoth (dubbed “Woolly”), complete with giant curving tusks and long muskox hair to simulate real mammoth fur.

If it’s a hot summer’s day, you might want to cool off at one of the many lakes and beaches in Victoria.

And don’t forget to explore the Gorge waterway on a fun pickle boat ride with Victoria Harbour Ferry.

Really, there are so many great things to do in Victoria!

Victoria Inner Harbour at sunset
There’s no end of delightful things to do in Victoria, known as the “City of Gardens”

Where to eat in Victoria:

Victoria has a foodie-worthy dining scene, with a focus on farm-to-table cuisine.

For fine dining, Saveur is a hit. (Crispy pork belly with squash velouté and peanut sesame granola, anyone?) We also love the half-portion plates served at Café Brio.

For casual eateries, Spinnakers is known for its tummy-satisfying pub classics and craft beer.

And NUBO teases the tastebuds with quality Japanese fusion cuisine.

Hungry? But don’t feel like going out?

These 12 great restaurants in Victoria offer takeout and delivery of Indian food, sushi, pasta, pizza and Thai curries.

Where to stay in Victoria:

See our reviews of the best hotels in Victoria, BC.

For something more like home, check out these five utterly charming Airbnbs in Victoria.

Whistler

Whistler is one of the best places to visit in British Columbia
The Peak 2 Peak Gondola travels between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains

One of North America’s largest ski resorts, Whistler is a resort town about a 90-minute drive north from Vancouver up the Sea-to-Sky Highway.

Whistler in winter:

The resort is home to two majestic mountains.

How to choose? Whistler or Blackcomb: Which has better skiing?

One difference: Whistler has more green runs so it’s more beginner friendly. But you can’t beat Blackcomb’s groomed slopes on Seventh Heaven on a sunny bluebird day!

Whistler in summer:

There’s no question the skiing is epic.

But Whistler is also one of the best places to visit in BC for a summer getaway.

Alexander Falls is a beautiful waterfall just a few miles south of Whistler.
Alexander Falls is a beautiful waterfall just a few miles south of Whistler

Go white water rafting. Tee off on the Whistler Golf Course (designed by Arnold Palmer). Swim at Lost Lake or Alta Lake. And bicycle 25 miles (40 km) of the paved Valley Trail that meanders through forest, past lakes and golf courses.

Summer is also perfect for canoeing and kayaking in Whistler. You’ll love paddling Whistler’s River of Golden Dreams!

Hiking is another fun activity in Whistler in summer.

Hike Joffre Lakes, an amazing hike to three beautiful lakes.

Or if you’re looking for a short picturesque forest walk, Brandywine Falls is a walk in the park.

And if you want to see Whistler’s famous black bears in the wild, bear viewing tours are offered from April/May to September/October.

British Columbia gems

Tofino is one of the best places to visit in British Columbia
Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island is one of our favorite vacation spots in BC

Southern Gulf Islands:

Want to hike through forests with fairy houses? What about bioluminescent kayaking at night?

These are just two of the magical things to do in Salt Spring Island.

Close by is Galiano Island. It’s also the perfect place for an idyllic island escape, where outdoor adventures include kayaking, hiking and beachcombing.

Great Bear Rainforest:

One of the most beautiful places in British Columbia for a splurge escape is Nimmo Bay Resort in the “Great Bear Rainforest.”

You’ll love the unique floating sauna. And the hot tubs overlooking a waterfall-fed stream. And bear spotting on hikes.

Dolphins? You’ll see those too on nature boat safaris.

Okanagan Valley:

Sniff, swirl and sip your way through 200+ Okanagan wineries!

Many have seriously good vineyard restaurants overlooking Okanagan Lake, serving organic food with local ingredients. (There are some especially good restaurants in Naramata.)

Blessed with vineyards and swimming lakes, the Okanagan is one of the best places in BC for a summer holiday
Blessed with vineyards and swimming lakes, the Okanagan is one of the best places in BC for a summer holiday

With more than 50 lakes, the Okanagan Valley is also a favorite spot for families to go in summer for a British Columbia vacation.

Stunning Okanagan Lake, a deep lake stretching for 84 miles (135 km), is a fan favorite for swimming, boating, fishing and other water sports.

Haida Gwaii:

Also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is a remote wildlife-rich archipelago off BC’s northwest coast.

The lower third is protected by the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

Overflowing with hauntingly beautiful scenery, these misty islands are a place of moss-covered rainforest and ancient indigenous sites with centuries-old totem poles – where orcas frolic and the world’s largest subspecies of black bears roam wild.

They’re a must-see in British Columbia if you seek unique experiences.

Parksville and Qualicum Beach:

Hey, you can see goats on the roof on a store in Coombs, splash about in warm shallow waters and explore Horne Lake Caves.

There are more crazy fun things to do in Parksville and Qualicum Beach too.

Kayaking at sunset in Qualicum Beach, BC
Who wants to go kayaking at sunset in Qualicum Beach?

Telegraph Cove:

Kayaking with orcas? Viewing grizzly bears? You bet!

These are just some of the amazing things to do in Telegraph Cove, located at the top of Vancouver Island.

Telegraph Cove itself is unique – it’s one of the last boardwalk communities in North America.

BC’s gorgeous gardens

Beautiful gardens in British Columbia
Summer flowers add vibrant splashes of color to Stanley Park

We have lots of splendid gardens in British Columbia.

In Vancouver, get your flower fix at VanDusen Botanical Garden and Queen Elizabeth Park.

If you have a crush on rhodos, the hot pink and scarlet blooms in the award-winning Rhododendron Garden in Stanley Park are a sight to behold in spring time.

You’ve probably also heard about the famous Butchart Gardens, right?

It’s one of the seven best gardens in Victoria on Vancouver Island.

More information on British Columbia

See all our British Columbia posts.

BC guide books:

Check out the Lonely Planet, Fodor’s and other British Columbia travel guides on Amazon. (As an Amazon associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.)


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About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!