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British Columbia Travel Guide 2024 (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 decades (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 our insider info on visiting BC.

Here, you’ll discover the best places to visit in British Columbia (from popular tourist attractions to lesser-known gems), where to stay, what to do in British Columbia, specific BC travel tips (including info on getting around BC) and more…

(You can also jump straight to all our guides and posts on British Columbia.)

Beautiful British Columbia travel guide

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

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

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

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.

Getting around BC

Can you visit BC without a car?

To experience the best of British Columbia, you’ll want to rent a car.

Mountain scenery on the Sea-to-Sky Highway drive from Vancouver to Whistler
Driving the Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler

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.

The best way to get around BC to explore these natural wonders 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 and 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

Because our province has so much to offer, 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 are particularly popular destinations – and they’re on most people’s British Columbia bucket list (for good reason).


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.)

The city of Vancouver has a population of about 662,000. But when you add in the surrounding suburbs (Greater Vancouver or Metro Vancouver), that number mushrooms to almost 3 million residents.

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. It’s lovely to sail 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 one of the Arts Club theaters?

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).


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.

The population of Metro Victoria (the city of Victoria plus 12 surrounding municipalities) is about 423,000 – and growing.

Tour Craigdarroch 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. You’ll find oodles of great restaurants in Victoria, ranging from Italian trattorias to take-out and delivery places offering excellent Indian food.

For fine dining, we 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.

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 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 in Whistler 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. Check out the various Butchart Gardens day tours you can enjoy from Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle.

Bears in BC

Will you see bears in BC? Absolutely, they’re part of the British Columbia landscape!

A black bear off the side of a highway in BC
A black bear off the side of a highway in BC

Spotting a black bear here is pretty normal, especially in Whistler and the mountains. It’s more rare to see grizzly bears, though we’ve spotted them hiking in Yoho National Park.

When you travel BC, the most likely place to see bears is from your car in parks and wilderness areas.

If you see one, resist the urge to get out of your car to photograph it. Stay inside your car, safely parked if possible, and let the bear have its space.

If you’ll be visiting BC’s wilderness parks or doing any hiking, brush up on wildlife and bear safety tips. And consider packing bear spray as a precaution, though it’s hardly ever needed.

Yellow bear warning sign in Tofino, BC
Bear sign in Tofino

If you fancy a closer look at bears, bear-watching tours out of Tofino, Bella Coola and Campbell River are a great bet.

And for some of the most awesome grizzly bear viewing in the world, check out Knight Inlet Lodge, located in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest. We spent a few nights here – and had more up-close-and-personal (safe) encounters with grizzly bears than we could have imagined!

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.

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.”)

Tipping in BC

In British Columbia, tipping is a nod to good service and is part of the service culture here:

  • Restaurants – 15% to 20% is customary
  • Cafés, taxis and Uber 10 to 15% is a good gratitude gesture
  • Hotel maids – $2 to $5 per night is a nice way of saying “thanks” (though it’s not mandatory)

More information on beautiful British Columbia

For more on must-see tourist attractions in British Columbia, itineraries and tips for visiting BC, 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.)

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

Pssst! If you make a booking or purchase through our site, we may earn a small commission (at no cost to you). Thanks!

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Photo credits: 4 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors

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

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