10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in British Columbia
British Columbia’s mountains, lakes, islands, rainforests, beautiful stretches of coastline, picturesque cities, attractive towns, and world-class skiing make it one of the most popular destinations in Canada.
Most visitors to BC begin in Vancouver, which makes a great starting point for touring the province. A short flight or ferry trip from here will take you to Vancouver Island and the provincial capital, Victoria. Less than a two-hour drive from Vancouver is the resort town and ski destination of Whistler. In the interior of BC, the Okanagan Valley is another year-round hot spot, with the beaches on the shores of Okanagan Lake, golf courses, and numerous ski resorts.
For a more complete overview and to help plan your itinerary, see our list of the top tourist attractions in British Columbia.
At the foot of the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, Whistler is the center of the biggest winter sports area in Canada. In 2010, this world-class ski resort attracted much international attention when it hosted the downhill ski events for the Winter Olympic Games.
While it is closely associated with skiing and snowboarding in Canada, Whistler is a year-round destination with hiking trails, mountain biking trails, golfing, and beautiful scenery to explore in the summer. Visitors don’t even need to ski or be active to enjoy this lovely town. One of the main attractions is the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, which joins Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The distance covered is a record breaking 4.4 kilometers. The ride takes only 11 minutes and offers spectacular views of the area.
Whistler Village is a modern, upscale town with luxury hotels, high-end shopping, and fine dining. Although, you can still find casual restaurants and regular retail and grocery stores.
The town’s close proximity to Vancouver, only a two-hour drive from the city, means it is also easily accessible. The drive to Whistler from Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway is beautiful. Popular stops on this route include the community of Squamish and Shannon Falls.
2. Vancouver Island
On Canada’s far western coast, Vancouver Island is home to some spectacular coastal scenery, mountains, lakes, and other natural attractions, as well as lovely small towns and the provincial capital of Victoria. Coastal beaches provide year-round surfing, particularly near the popular tourist town of Tofino and nearby Pacific Rim National Park.
Vancouver Island is the largest island on the Pacific coast of North America. Much of it is very remote with limited access. If you take the time to explore the island, you’ll find some incredible hiking trails, including the epic multi-day West Coast Trail, one of the best hikes in Canada. Campers can find a variety of excellent campgrounds spread around the island.
Vancouver Island is located west of the city of Vancouver and reached either by a short flight or a ferry ride. Ferries or flights will take you to the Victoria area or into Nanaimo, another popular town on the Island.
3. Okanagan Valley & Kelowna
Found in the interior of the BC, the Okanagan Valley, most often referred to simply as the Okanagan, is a lush, sunny valley with lakes, beaches, rolling mountains, and orchards. At the heart of the region is the 120-kilometer-long Okanagan Lake and the city of Kelowna on the eastern shore of the lake. Other popular towns in the area include Summerland, Peachland, Penticton, and Vernon.
The Okanagan has hot dry summers and mild winters making it a popular retirement destination and a prominent summertime retreat for people from across British Columbia and neighboring Alberta. Some of the most common summertime activities are houseboating, golfing, and spending time at the beach.
In winter, many people come here to enjoy some of the best ski resorts in British Columbia, including Big White Ski Resort and SilverStar Mountain Resort.
4. Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
This tiny tourist town on the edge of Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is the perfect place for nature lovers looking for a coastal retreat. Endless stretches of beach attract surfers year-round, but most people come here simply to stare out at the waves, storm watch in the off season, or walk for miles on the hard-packed sand.
Off the beach, visitors can hike through old-growth forests or camp along the oceanfront in some of the most stunning coastal scenery in British Columbia.
Couples often come here for a romantic getaway and to relax at one of the luxury seaside resorts and charming lodges. A variety of tours are also offered in the area, from kayaking on Clayoquot Sound to whale watching.
Tofino has an extremely remote feel to it, but it’s relatively easy to access from places like Victoria or Nanaimo. Nearby, Ucluelet is another small town that makes a nice day trip from Tofino.
5. Vancouver and Stanley Park
Stanley Park is one of the great features of Vancouver that sets it apart from other major cities across Canada. This huge green space on the edge of the downtown core offers a beautiful nature retreat for visitors and locals.
The park is home to ancient cedars and huge Douglas fir trees. The seawall is one of the main attractions, offering miles of scenic paved path for walking, jogging, or biking. Trails also run through the forest. Within the park is the Vancouver Aquarium, as well as various other attractions, including totem poles, gardens, and beaches.
6. Victoria & the Inner Harbour
Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and one of Canada’s most scenic cities. Removed from the mainland, this city has the feel of a small town, but is home to a wealth of attractions and things to do. The city is considered by many locals and tourists alike to be one of the best places to visit in BC.
You’ll find a mix of people living here, from retirees fleeing the cold in one of Canada’s warmest cities to young tech workers and a large segment of the population working for the provincial government. Somehow it all works, and the people of Victoria tend to be relaxed and friendly, always happy to point you in the right direction should you get lost.
At the heart of the city for both locals and tourists is the Inner Harbour, dominated by the grand Empress Hotel, built in 1908 for the Canadian Pacific Railway. This area is always alive with visitors and locals enjoying the waterfront, particularly in the summer when restaurants open their patios for outdoor dining and street performers take to the sidewalks.
If you are looking for things to do, take in the incredible mountain and ocean views from hiking trails in and around Victoria. For something a little less strenuous, consider High Tea at the Empress Hotel or wander by the Parliament Buildings.
7. Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is home to some of British Columbia’s most rugged and scenic mountain terrain. Snowcapped peaks, waterfalls, rivers, and crystal-clear lakes, including spectacular Lake O’Hara, draw large numbers of visitors to this park during the summer months.
Incredible hiking trails allow easy access to the backcountry, but even a drive through the park offers enough exposure to appreciate the landscape. If you are touring Yoho National Park by car, one of the highlights is Takakkaw Falls, one of the highest falls in North America.
8. Old-Growth Forests
BC has some of the world’s most intact old-growth forests, these giant trees have stood as sentinels over the millennia. A visit to one of the stands of trees is a humbling experience that makes you feel small and insignificant.
The old-growth stands are located around the province, but the most accessible locations are on Vancouver Island. The most popular and easiest place to see the trees is at Cathedral Grove on Highway 4 between Qualicum, near Parksville, and Port Alberni. Here, you’ll find walkways throughout the giant trees along with informational exhibits.
Another great spot to see the old growth trees is in the Pacific Rim National Park near Tofino. Excellent trails with raised boardwalks wind their way through the trees, up and down small valleys and over burbling brooks.
If you truly want to see the trees in their natural environment and have a sense of adventure, head to the logging roads north of Sooke in the small town of Port Renfrew. Up here are groves of majestic trees, some of which are threatened by logging. The main groves are Avatar Grove and Eden Grove. You’ll find short walks through the forest along some stretches of boardwalk in both areas.
You’ll need a high clearance vehicle to see the ones at Eden Grove, as the road gets very rough at one point. Most people drive to this point and walk along the road to the grove. Of all the groves in BC, this is the one most in danger of being cut down. See it before it’s gone.
9. Butchart Gardens
Set in an old quarry, Butchart Gardens offers a fabulous display of plants, trees, and flowers. Located just outside Victoria, the mild climate is perfect for changing seasonal displays. Spring through fall is outstanding, when the spring blooms come out and the fabulous display of summer color peaks.
Fall brings the changing leaves of autumn and a burst of color from a wide variety of trees and blooming plants. Extensive walkways wind their way around themed gardens and water features over the 20-hectare property.
10. Haida Gwaii
Haida Gwaii is one of Canada’s undiscovered treasures. These remote islands provide a wealth of culture and natural beauty, but are often overlooked by tourists. Formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands, Haida Gwaii is an isolated group of more than 150 islands in the Pacific Ocean at the western edge of the continental shelf. The two main islands, Graham and Moresby, are located about 50 kilometers and 150 kilometers respectively off the coast of British Columbia.
The native inhabitants, the Haida people, are thought to have lived on these islands for at least 8,000 years. They were known as proud warriors and daring navigators. With their awesome 20 meter-long war canoes, they traversed the length of the Inside Passage as far south as Puget Sound.
Today, they are more famous for the skill and artistry of their carving. Their totem poles and elaborate argillite carvings can be found in every ethnographic museum on the Canadian Pacific coast.