British Columbia Holiday Planning Guide
Approximately four times as large as Great Britain, the westernmost Canadian province of British Columbia remains a sparsely populated land of soaring mountains, picture-perfect coastlines, and dense forests filled with a diverse wildlife. Ideal for active and adventurous vacationers, British Columbia holidays usually include a blend of wilderness experiences and tours of urban attractions. Most visitors come here to kayak, whale-watch, ski, snowboard, golf, fish, surf, and hike through four national parks and 140 ecological reserves. For a comprehensive British Columbia tour, make sure your visit includes stops in Vancouver and Victoria, two big cities packed with modern attractions and perfectly positioned for exploring this part of North America.
Places to Visit in British Columbia
Cities in British ColumbiaVictoria
: Featuring a harmonious blend of manicured parks, restored 19th-century buildings, and modern architectural gems, this "Garden City" provides quick access to both water-based activities and adventures in rugged mountain terrain.Vancouver
: Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the snow-dusted North Shore Mountains, Vancouver promises a British Columbia vacation filled with outdoor activities and urban experiences.Whistler
: Consistently listed among Canada's top ski resorts, this former logging town also attracts nature lovers and adrenaline seekers with its record-breaking downhill bike park.Kelowna
: Encircled by picturesque hills and facing a long lake, the "Orchard City" makes an ideal base for touring British Columbia's wineries, golf courses, and ski resorts.Revelstoke
: Serving as the gateway to the Columbia-Rockies, remote Revelstoke offers tours of the local railway museum and heli skiing experiences at the area's mountain resort.Tofino
: Situated at the edge a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, this tiny settlement deserves a place on any nature lover's British Columbia itinerary, with opportunities for surfing, whale-watching, and hiking through the old-growth forest.
Popular British Columbia Tourist AttractionsStanley Park
: Hugely popular with locals and tourists alike, Vancouver's beloved recreational area features thick forests, large swathes of wetlands and seashores, and landscaped flower gardens.Granville Island
: Get a feel for Vancouver's street life at one of the city's main entertainment and tourism hubs, filled with artist studios, theaters, bars, shops, and galleries.The Butchart Gardens
: Transforming dramatically throughout the year, these fairytale-like gardens invite you to explore their plant and floral displays along hidden paths and secret staircases.Capilano Suspension Bridge
: Crossing a deep valley, this park's 19th-century suspension bridge is a favorite British Columbia tourist attraction among outdoor enthusiasts.Peak 2 Peak Gondola
: Soar high above the famed ski slopes on a scenic glass-bottomed cable car, then peek behind the scenes to get an understanding of the funicular's mechanics.Royal BC Museum
: The impressive collection of this premier cultural institution includes natural history dioramas, a famous First Nations mask gallery, and a replica of a cobblestoned street from the early 20th century.Vancouver Aquarium
: Home to rare dolphins and beluga whales alongside 300 species of fish and 50 species of amphibians, Vancouver Aquarium is not to be missed on your family vacation in British Columbia.Grouse Mountain
: A major year-round playground for both tourists and locals, the "Peak of Vancouver" offers plenty of attractions, including lumberjack events, a network of rustic hiking trails, and helicopter sightseeing tours.Seawall in Vancouver
: Stretching uninterruptedly along the water for almost 30 km (18 mi), the Seawall provides city dwellers with an outdoor venue for jogging, cycling, and walking.Inner Harbour
: Boasting a bustling waterfront and history-steeped streets, Inner Harbour offers numerous shopping and dining opportunities as well as whale-watching tours.
Planning a British Columbia Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in British Columbia with Kids
Arguably Canada's most geographically and culturally diverse area, British Columbia offers numerous places to visit on family holidays. No matter where you go on your British Columbia trip, you will find unprecedented scenic beauty and a melting pot of indigenous First Nation, European, and Asian cultures.Vancouver Island
, with its sandy beaches, old-growth forests, and backdrop of snowcapped mountains, serves as a sprawling natural playground for the whole family. Just a short drive away from pristine nature, the charming Victoria
offers more outdoor activities, as well as a children's museum and bug zoo.
Canada's premier destination for hiking, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting, the Kootenay Rockies
are an ideal option for nature lovers of all ages. Visits to tiny heritage towns and thriving artist communities can supplement your family's outdoor adventures here.
Tours of scenic vineyards and photogenic hillside orchards aren't the only reason to take a trip to Okanagan Valley
: your kids will love the local kangaroo and marsupial farm.
If your children are fans of winter sports, a trip to Whistler
--one of the largest ski resorts in North America--should top any winter British Columbia itinerary. In warmer months, work in some good swimming and basking on the golden sands at Parksville
or Qualicum Beach
Things to Do in British Columbia with Kids
Make the most of your family holiday in British Columbia by balancing various active attractions with enriching learning experiences.
Explore flourishing rainforests and coastlines by hiking, climbing, or kayaking at Pacific Rim National Park
. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
also offers plentiful outdoor options, from skiing and mountain biking to horseback riding and alpine sightseeing. Kids will love discovering the animals at Greater Vancouver Zoo
and exotic marine creatures at Vancouver Aquarium
. Add more wildlife by taking them whale-watching with Prince of Whales
, or pay a visit to Capilano Salmon Hatchery
To add some history and art to your British Columbia tour, visit Burnaby Village Museum
, witness traditional performances at Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre
, or see tiny replicas of fantasy and historical worlds at Miniature World
If you (or your kids) need a break from tourism, a day at an amusement park may do the trick. At the mysterious Enchanted Forest
, children will get to meet their favorite fairy-tale characters. Younger kids will find plenty of child-friendly rides, games, and arcades at Playland
Tips for a Family Vacation in British Columbia
If you have the chance, plan your family's trip to British Columbia around family-oriented festivals, many of which take place during summer. When traveling with preschool-age children, fall makes a lovely time to visit due to fewer crowds and the vibrant foliage. Finally, many of British Columbia's attractions cater to children--take time to discover the museums, theaters, living history lessons, and other hands-on learning experiences Canadians have crafted so well.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in British Columbia
Cuisine of British Columbia
One of the hallmarks of British Columbian food is its freshness. The province's diet mostly relies on fresh local produce, from fish, crustaceans, and farm-raised beef and lamb to native berries and wild mushrooms. The most iconic staple of British Columbia cuisine is Pacific salmon, while game meat is gaining wide popularity.
Creative cooks here draw inspiration from French, Italian, Pan-Pacific, Asian, and Native American cuisines. Vancouver
boasts the best selection of ethnic restaurants in the province, including Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, West African, and Sri Lankan eateries.
At Cowichan Native Village
, you can taste salmon baked on a traditional cedar plank, and several restaurants on Vancouver Island also use the same method in preparing the fish. Seafood lovers should try summer crab cakes and spot prawns--sweet-tasting shellfish that look like tiny lobsters.
Finally, sweeten up your British Columbia trip with Nanaimo Bars, a layered chocolate dessert from Nanaimo
Shopping in British Columbia
The cities and towns of British Columbia are full of quaint shops, artisan stores, local markets, and modern shopping malls--plenty to satisfy any hankering for retail therapy.
Shopping districts in Vancouver cover all the bases, from trendsetting boutiques to gift shops. Retailers and day vendors at Granville Island
stock everything from locally sourced fresh vegetables to regional art and handmade crafts, such as exotic stationary and funky hats. Victoria is a great place to search for antiques and souvenirs with a British twist, such as fine British linens.
Pick the right souvenir from a plethora of woven baskets, cedarwood carvings, exquisite jade sculptures, and intricate silver jewelry--treasures to remind you of your British Columbia holiday.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to British Columbia
Interesting Facts About British Columbia
● Half of British Columbia's population lives within the metropolitan area of Vancouver.
● The most common language in the province after English is Chinese.
● The elaborate image on the provincial flag features a Royal Union flag in the top half, while the bottom depicts the sun setting against a backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and Rocky Mountains.
● Two thirds of British Columbia's land remains covered with forest, half of which is literally untouched by humans.
● If you want to see the world's largest hockey stick--40 times the size of a regular one--go to Duncan
● The highest waterfall in Canada (approximately eight times higher than Niagara Falls), is found on Vancouver Island.
Holidays & Festivals in British Columbia
As diverse as its geography and people, British Columbia's festivals cover a range of themes, including visual arts, film, theater, music, sports, cuisine, and wildlife.
The province's statutory holiday, British Columbia Day, is celebrated the first Monday of August with fireworks, parades, cultural events, and samplings of regional food and wine. Okanagan Valley is known for its seasonal wine festivals, and in July and August you can enjoy jazz music on a floating stage in the Kootenay Rockies.
Some events let you add a bit of the offbeat to your British Columbia holiday. Nanaimo is the birthplace of the unusual sport of bathtub racing, which you can watch during the town's annual summer marine festival. Meanwhile, the coastal town of Tofino
celebrates migrating wildlife during the Pacific Rim Whale Festival in March.
Naturally, Vancouver hosts a variety of festive events year-round, including film festivals, sporting events, and the Vancouver Pride Parade.
Useful British Columbia Travel Tips
Climate of British Columbia
Influenced by the Pacific Ocean and mountain ranges, British Columbia's climate varies significantly depending on the geography of the area. Victoria, Vancouver, and other towns along the southern coast boast a mild climate throughout the year, characterized by warm summers and temperate winters with temperatures rarely dropping below freezing. In summertime, expect coastal temperatures around 20 C (68 F), while in the interior of the province (Kelowna) they can climb above 30 C (86 F).
If your tour of British Columbia takes you farther north, winters get longer and colder, with lots of snow in the central regions and plenty of rainfall along the coast. Average temperatures in Prince George
in the coldest month of January hover around -10 C (14 F). Prince Rupert
holds the title of wettest Canadian city, with an average of nearly 240 rainy days per year.
Transportation in British Columbia
Don't let the vastness of this coastal province worry you for a bit when planning your British Columbia itinerary. All cities have airports, five of which are international--Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Prince George, and Abbotsford. Renting a car is always an option; otherwise, you can take buses or trains between smaller towns. Highways are well-maintained and signposted, but you might consider using some of the scenic driving routes, such as the Sea-to-Sky Highway
leading through historic mining towns. For travel along the coastline, ferries serve nearly 50 ports.