With the vast majority of Canada’s most westerly province covered in mountains of varying heights, shapes and sizes, valleys with some of the richest agricultural soil in the country, and the nation’s mildest climate present throughout the Pacific coast, British Columbia is unarguably one of Canada’s can’t miss destinations.
From the powder-filled peaks of Revelstoke, to the searing hot Okanagan valley (home to Canada’s only true desert), BC has a variety of terrains and climatic experiences for its visitors, meaning that almost any traveler is certain to find a corner of this province that is to their liking.
Additionally, British Columbia offers one of the most modern cities in the world in Vancouver, where the most dedicated urbanite can find restaurants, culture, bleeding edge skyscraper architecture, and quirky boutiques that will have them squealing with glee.
On the other hand, those looking to get away to a homely mountain or coastal town will find plenty to choose from here, with places like Tofino, Ucluelet, Golden, Fernie and more offering opportunity to the traveler to help find their Shangri-la.
No matter what you’re looking for, you’re bound to find it here, plus a few things you didn’t know you were seeking.
What To Do – Culture & History
Many visitors will begin their BC (and Canadian) adventure in Vancouver. After arriving through YVR and fighting off jetlag from your long haul flight, there are many attractions that Vancouver has to offer, but culturally attuned travelers should not depart Van City without spending a morning/afternoon on Granville Island.
Though it is technically not an island, it used to be separated from the rest of the city by a former industrial complex (a concrete plant still remains), but most of this land was transformed into a public market that contains all manner of the region’s freshest foods, with vegetables, fruits, locally sourced meats, flowers, and crafts from local artisans all available for purchase.
Many independently owned food stands here will cook you up an excellent lunch, but keep your eyes open if you’re consuming it outside, as greedy seagulls will do their level best to snatch it from you! Also, a well-loved microbrewery by the name of Granville Island brewery exists here, so be sure to take the tour and sample some local suds in the process.
Heading to Victoria on the Tsawwassen ferry should be your next move, being sure to spend much of your time on deck as you slip by the incredibly scenic Gulf Islands (if you have time, spend some time hopping from isle to isle, as they contain artist communities that produce excellent work). During the time you spend within Victoria’s city limits, be sure to pony up the money to attend High Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, which is located in the Inner Harbour.
The $60 you’ll pay will get you a unique blend of tea extracted from leaves that have been sourced from the finest growing regions on Earth, a selection of delectable finger foods created by the sharp culinary minds that staff the kitchen at the Empress Fairmont, and the company of the upper crust of society, be they locals or guests.
After this, head up the Saanich peninsula by local bus to the colourful Butchart Gardens, which is a botanical wonderland that has transformed a former rock quarry over the course of 100 years. Initially started after a Japanese gardener created a garden in his nation’s style in 1908, Jeannie Butchart set out to beautify the exhausted limestone quarry that her husband’s cement business had finished working on in 1913.
The end result was the Sunken Garden, an earthen cornucopia of flamboyant floral life that has produced tons of amazing pictures over the years. Given the very mild climate of this region (relative to the rest of Canada, including the interior of BC), the garden is open year round, with some flowers to show no matter the time of year.
Heading inland, aim to recreate the movie sideways during your time in the lakeside city of Kelowna. Sitting in the sun kissed but fertile Okanagan Valley, the climate here is ideal for raising wine grapes, giving rise to countless wineries. Tours of these plantations not only include tastings, but fine dining and on certain days and times, live music.
Finally, make your way to the Kootenay region, a part of British Columbia that is short on people, but long on mountain vistas. The best place to mix culture with alpine views is in Nelson, which has attracted people that have held alternative views towards life for generations. A healthy contingent of these folks have been talented artists, many of whom run art galleries that can be found throughout downtown Nelson. The brick architecture of the structures in the core are also quite striking, creating the ideal balance to the natural scenery that exists around this cosy city.
What To Do – Natural Attractions
If getting active and outdoors is your top priority, you will be pinching yourself throughout your time in BC, just to check that you aren’t dreaming, or in heaven. Many places within this unfairly beautiful province will definitely feel like the earthly incarnation of that divine destination, and many feel that Whistler deserves that moniker.
Situated within the Coast Mountains, this resort town was brought into being to attract the Olympics, succeeding on its second try, bringing about the 2010 Games. With two whole mountains to ski/ride on that are connected by a breathtaking gondola, you will be carving the powder flat out for days at a time.
Other places worth ski bumming it up include Revelstoke (some of the best backcountry with light fluffy snow), Golden (very steep lines and challenging bowls at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort), Powder King north of Prince George (unpretentious and more deep powder than you can probably handle), and so on.
If clinging off a ledge above a yawning chasm sounds like your idea of fun, then climbing the Stawamus Chief in Squamish should top your to-do list. Resembling a massive rock more than your typical mountain, the Chief rises thousands of feet vertically into the sky mere steps from the seashore, with its limestone face luring rock climbers from far and wide with its ultra long lines. You can also hike to the top from the back side, what what’s the fun in that?
If living the chill life and riding the pipeline is how you lead your life, then surfing in Tofino or Ucluelet is a blissful experience that may tempt you to lay down stakes here and never leave. Being fully exposed to the storms of the North Pacific Ocean, the swells roll in hot and heavy even on fairer days, making it a hotspot for thermal wetsuit-clad wave warriors.
Causal visitors will love trying stand-up paddle boarding off calmer Tonquin Beach, and a boat ride to Hot Springs Cove on a nearby island combines a wild hot pool with the rugged sea coast that houses the geothermically heated groundwater, making it a must do experience for anybody visiting this area.
After getting tipsy doing the winery tours in the Okanagan, join the locals and go tubing in Penticton. Between Okanagan and Skaha Lake lies a canal linking the two, and on hot days throughout the summer (especially on weekends), this man made waterway fills with local residents drifting along having a most excellent time. By doing this, you’ll link up with them, and beat the heat in a fun-filled way … win-win!
Finally, if getting off the beaten track is a priority of yours, then exploring the northern archipelago of Haida Gwaii should be seriously considered in your travel plans. With many well-preserved remains of the ancient Haida culture, an indigenous people that lived along this coast before the Europeans arrived, traveling here to see the remnants of longhouses and totem poles is worth it on this merit alone, but the untamed coast, thick verdant rainforest, and powerful peaks will round the place out for those seeking the closest approximation of a natural nirvana.