Things to Do in British Columbia
Stretching over 56 hectares of Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fjord, the Porteau Cove Provincial Park makes a tranquil retreat from nearby Vancouver, and is renowned for its diverse array of marine life. Taking its name from the French ‘Porte d’Eau’ or ‘Water’s Gate’, the protected area offers a serene expanse of ocean, fringed by a pebble beach and dotted with campsites, swimming spots and lookout points.
While holidaymakers come for the glittering waters and dramatic sunsets, the star attraction lies beneath the ocean – an underwater playground for scuba divers, with artificial reefs, sunken shipwrecks and a diver’s float providing habitats for a colorful population of starfish, anemone and octopus. Windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing and boat tours are also popular activities.
The biggest ski resort in North America and mountain host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains feature 8,171 acres (3,306 hectares) of terrain and over 200 trails. With lift-accessed mountain biking, hiking, and more in the spring, summer, and fall, Whistler-Blackcomb is a world-class resort year-round.
Squamish’s Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is home to one of British Columbia’s most iconic landmarks: The Chief. The popular rock-climbing and hiking destination towers 2,300 feet (700 meters) above Squamish and is the second-largest granite monolith (freestanding piece of rock) in the world. Though it might be hard to believe from looking at the steep rock face, hiking to the top is a relatively moderate, two-hour hike. The Chief doesn’t get as much snow during the winter as the other nearby mountains and so enjoys a fairly long hiking season. The summit is usually clear of snow in the early spring, making The Chief a great warmup hike for the summer months ahead. There are three peaks, each accessible from the single trailhead. You can hike up each one individually, or summit all three if you’re feeling ambitious. Hikers should be prepared with sturdy footwear, clothing, food and water.
In addition to being a popular hiking destination, Stawamus Chief Provincial Park is a rock-climber’s paradise. There are hundreds of granite walls and multi-pitch crack climbing routes, the most well-known being The Apron and The Grand Wall. Even the most advanced rock climbers come from all over the world to be challenged during the busy summer season by these routes.
Dedicated to the rehabilitation and protection of Canada’s native wildlife, the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops is home to over 200 animals, including Arctic wolves, bison, and cougars, most of which have been rescued. Visitors can engage in activities ranging from observing grizzly bear feedings to holding a snake.
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is bursting with vineyards, orchards, outdoor activities, and charming small towns. The latter offer wine-tasting rooms, fantastic restaurants, vibrant arts scenes, and resorts that serve as jumping-off points for adventures around the area. It all combines to make for a deservedly popular year-round destination.
Butchart Gardens, established in 1904, treat visitors to an enchanting floral show that changes with the seasons. Covering 55 acres (22 hectares) on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the botanical space is intricately laid out into separate themed gardens with landscaping that impresses and inspires gardeners and nature lovers alike.
Get your fill of Vancouver's famous natural landscapes at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, a quintessential British Columbia experience and one of the Pacific Northwest's most popular attractions. Travelers are drawn to the park to walk out onto the the 450-foot (137-meter) suspension bridge as it sways between the temperate rain forest trees over the rushing Capilano River below. Other highlights include kid-friendly guided nature walks; several First Nations totem poles; the 700-foot-long (213-meter) Cliffwalk; and the TreeTops Adventure, a swinging network of smaller, open-ended suspension bridges strung between eight towering Douglas fir trees.
Vancouver’s Stanley Park enjoys a stellar natural setting, surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and laid out against the backdrop of the snow-capped North Shore Mountains. At nearly 1,000 acres (405 hectares) in size, it’s a mix of coastal red-cedar forest, lakes and lagoons, and scenic meadows. A walk along the public park’s seawall is an essential part of experiencing Vancouver.
Overflowing with art studios, theaters, restaurants, and kid-friendly activities, Vancouver’s Granville Island is a popular spot for both tourists and locals. The “island”—really a small peninsula—is an ideal getaway from the bustle of city life, with waterfront views, scenic alleyways, and a thriving food and art culture.
The impressive Lions Gate Bridge spans the Burrard Inlet, connecting North and West Vancouver with the downtown area. This suspension bridge originally opened in 1938, and is designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. At the bridge’s south end is leafy Stanley Park, another major attraction in Vancouver.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
One of Vancouver’s oldest and buzziest districts, Gastown is packed with Victorian architecture and cobbled streets. Named after John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, an English mariner who opened a saloon in the area in the 19th century, the district is filled with heritage buildings now hosting boutiques, coffee shops, hip restaurants, and bars.
A trim wedge of water rimmed with top landmarks, Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the city’s bustling port. Whether you’re hopping a whale-watching cruise or enjoying a sea breeze, the Inner Harbour is an essential stop when exploring Victoria. Among its highlights are the elegant Fairmont Empress hotel and the narrow streets beyond.
Surrounded by water on three sides, downtown Vancouver is the place to go for sea views, bright lights, and action. The city’s commercial core, it encompasses several distinct areas including shop-lined Robson Street, the green expanse of Stanley Park, historic Gastown, and one of the largest Chinatowns in North America.
Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown.
When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.
The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the front yard, while a figure of George Vancouver sits atop the central dome. There is also a statue of a soldier to commemorate the province’s fallen heroes from WWI, WWII, and the Korean War.
Perched 545 feet (167 meters) above sea level, this well-kept park affords wonderful views over downtown Vancouver. A sunken quarry garden, a 1,500-tree arboretum, a rose garden, floral displays, and public artworks make this 128-acre (52-hectare) recreational space one of the most pleasing outdoor hangouts in the city.
Sheer natural beauty is just the start of the appeal of of Beacon Hill Park, which sprawls across the southern edge of Victoria, British Columbia. It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, with a petting zoo, splash parks, playgrounds, sports fields, seemingly endless footpaths, and one of the tallest totem poles in the world.
In 1890 Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir built Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia, to showcase his inordinate wealth. This 39-room hilltop mansion is rich with opulent details, including multiple turrets and chimneys, a red slate roof, stained-glass windows, wood carvings, antique furnishings, and gold-framed paintings.
Established in the 1890s by migrant workers, this Vancouver neighborhood is now among the biggest and most vibrant Chinatowns in North America. It’s packed with Asian grocers, Chinese herbalists, dim sum restaurants, trinket stores, and meat shops filled with tempting displays of hanging char siu and roast ducks.
Opened in 1986, Canada Place is hard to miss: The complex was built to look like a ship, and its five large fiberglass “sails” are visible above the Vancouver waterfront. This is the city’s main cruise ship terminal, and the complex is also home to a convention center, a hotel, and FlyOver Canada, a flight-simulation ride.
Situated between Kistilano and Stanley Park, English Bay is one of Vancouver’s best spots for water sports, such as swimming, kayaking, and fishing. Two popular beaches—Kitsilano Beach and English Bay—face out onto the bay, as does part of the Stanley Park seawall, a waterside promenade used by cyclists and walkers.
Tumbling 1,099 feet (335 meters) over granite framed by evergreen trees, Shannon Falls are a scenic highlight of the Sea-to-Sky Highway linking Vancouver to Pemberton. The hike to the falls from the parking lot is a beautiful way to get some fresh air and stretch your legs.
Once the British Empire’s biggest copper mine, the Britannia Mine’s tunnels, shafts, and structures are now preserved in an award-winning museum. Come to the Britannia Mine Museum to ride a train into a mine, pan for gold flakes, and learn about the lives of generations of miners who worked copper deposits at the edge of Howe Sound.
First established in the mid-19th century, Victoria Chinatown is among North America’s oldest. Now a National Historic Site, Victoria’s Chinatown is home to cafes, studios, herbalists, tea rooms, and shops, as well as the narrow Fan Tan Alley, which measures 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) wide at its narrowest point.
Running through the heart of Downtown Victoria, Government Street is home to plenty of shopping and local history. Along the Victoria Harbour front, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings and the Fairmont Empress are important historical landmarks, both designed by the untrained British architect Francis Rattenbury. His design for the BC Legislature Buildings, which uses white marble, a massive central dome, and lengthy façade to create an architecturally impressive home for the provincial government, was his first project. This early success led him to be awarded the contract to design the Empress Hotel, which is now one of the oldest hotels in Victoria. Between these two buildings lies the Royal British Columbia Museum, which houses a natural and human history museum and the British Columbia provincial archives.
Heading north from the Empress Hotel, Government Street soon becomes an iconic shopping street. Native artwork, high fashion, and a variety of specialty stores holding everything from handcrafted jewelry to handmade chocolate take up the storefronts. More shopping is found just off Government Street, too, including Trounce Alley, known for its European fashion stores; Bastion Square, where local artisans sell handmade arts and crafts; and Johnson Street, which is a local’s favorite for exclusive design boutiques.
The corner of Government Street and Fisgard runs beneath the Gate of Harmonious Interest and the entrance to Victoria’s Chinatown. Founded in 1858, it’s the oldest Chinatown in Canada and second only to San Francisco in North America.
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