The Getaway
The 30 Best Things to Do on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island isn't just any spot on the map—it's a vibrant tapestry of nature and culture, home to 53 First Nations, each with their own rich history and traditions. This place is huge, bigger than some countries, and it's packed with over 10,000 years of stories, from ancient cultures to untouched natural wonders. It's the kind of place where you can lose yourself in the wilderness or find a piece of history around every corner. Whether you're in the mood for an epic adventure, a peaceful exploration, or just looking to discover something new about yourself, this island has something for everyone.

Here, you can trek through forests that seem to whisper ancient tales, hang out in cool towns brimming with history, or get your heart racing with outdoor activities that bring you face-to-face with the wild. Vancouver Island is all about exploring—whether it's the land, its people, or even discovering new sides of yourself. With every mountain climbed, river crossed, and beach walked, you're stepping into a story that's been unfolding for thousands of years. So, why wait? The island invites you to uncover its mysteries, promising adventures, and memories that'll stick with you forever. Let's hit the road and see what makes this place truly magical.

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01 Visit Victoria's inner harbour

Victoria Harbour and British Columbia Parliament Buildings at sunset Marc Bruxelle / Shutterstock.com

The Inner Harbor is at the heart of picturesque downtown Victoria. You'll find several hotels along the waterfront promenade here, including the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel. The Parliament Buildings date back to the end of the 19th century, and you can take a boat tour to learn more about the historical sites, architecture, and wildlife near British Columbia's capital. After a bout of sightseeing, take a breather at a tea salon, taqueria, or European deli. Dozens of eateries cater to cosmopolitan palates, and if you want to go somewhere upscale with views, Boom + Batten is top-notch.

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02 Explore Butchart Gardens

Tourists at Butchart Gardens Sunken Garden

The privately-owned Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay is a National Historic Site—the gardens have existed for over a century and attract more than a million visitors annually. This gorgeous green oasis tended by 50 full-time gardeners has year-round appeal. Every Saturday in summer, a fireworks display turns an ordinary weekend into a special event. In spring and summer, the gardens are full of blooms, and it feels like you've entered a slice of paradise. In winter, the garden exchanges flowers for festive lights and ice skating. Enjoy the carousel, make a high tea reservation, and explore the five different sub-sections of the garden, including the Japanese Gardens. When it rains, staff hand out umbrellas.

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03 Experience the Wild Pacific Trail

View point in the Wild Pacific Trail, Ucluelet BC, Canada.

The Wild Pacific Trail weaving through the West Coast rainforest in Ucluelet isn't a demanding undertaking, and that's part of its appeal. The whole family can admire breathtaking ocean views on the Lighthouse Loop with its many benches. Every summer, free Interpretive Walks suitable for all ages give visitors a greater natural and historical context of the region. January is Storm Watching Season when 32-foot waves crash into the rocks.

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04 Go whale watching

Pod of Orca Killer whales swimming in blue Ocean, Victoria, Canada

The thrilling whale watching season begins in April, ramps up in May, and simmers down in October. You can expect to see killer whales, humpbacks, minkes, and grey whales. Prince of Whales, an eco-adventure service provider using sustainable practices, has hundreds of five-star reviews and operates out of Victoria, Telegraph Cove, and Vancouver. Different options include Zodiac tours and catamaran cruises, and tours tend to last three or four hours. You'll find many reliable service providers on Vancouver Island—just be sure to look for trustworthy reviews.

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05 Hike the West Coast Trail

West Coast Trail (WCT) views on Vancouver Island British Columbia

Where the Wild Pacific trail is like swimming in the kiddie pool, the West Coast trail, long-tread by First Nations, is on another level. It's an epic world-renowned hike in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve that requires about a week in the backcountry. Only fit and experienced hikers with knowledge of overnight backpacking are advised to do the trail. Having said that, Parks Canada does issue permits to 6-year-olds. A trail of this kind demands logistical planning, adequate supplies, and grit. Challenges include delayed help in the event of accidents.

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06 Discover Tofino's surfing beaches

Silhouette of unidentified spectators watching surfer at sunset Tofino BC

Tofino lies in a UNESCO-protected natural sanctuary and provides surfers with more than 20 miles of above-average waves. Whatever your skill level, there's a beach for you. Long Beach is great for beginners, especially at Wickaninnish. Chesterman Beach is another popular beach, and the Rip Curl Pro often takes place at Cox Bay Beach. Pacific Surf School provides thorough lessons and rents out the necessary gear. You'll need winter wetsuits for cold water surfing.

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07 Visit the Royal BC Museum

Beautiful totem pole in Thunderbird totem poles park with cherry bloom poemnist / Shutterstock.com

Founded in 1886, around the same time as Butchart Gardens, the Royal BC Museum located at Victoria's Inner Harbor showcases a permanent First Nations collection and educational exhibits about natural and human history. See the T-Rex skeleton, the woolly mammoth, and the iconic totem poles. An IMAX theatre screens fascinating documentaries. If you skip the film, you'll need under two hours to view all the displays. Look out for themed traveling exhibitions.

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08 Explore Cathedral Grove

Beautiful View of a pathway Trail in the Rain Forest

You'll find Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. It's a truly majestic and humbling place where ancient trees that have witnessed centuries of history still stand tall. Amble along the neat boardwalk as the red cedars and Douglas firs tower above you, and appreciate the importance of conservation efforts that recognize the value of old-growth forests. One of the Douglas firs has an almost 30-foot circumference. See if you can spot the fallen trees felled by a 1997 storm.

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09 Enjoy local culinary delights

Seafood boil in Victoria, BC Photo by WikiSleep App on Unsplash

Five of Yelp's Top 100 restaurants in Canada call Vancouver Island home. Fishhook, Red Fish Blue Fish, and Jam Cafe are all in Victoria, Shirley Delicious is in Shirley, and Asteras Greek Taverna is in Nanaimo. The Shirley restaurant beat the other Vancouver Island to claim the 36th spot—it's a little cafe that's big on flavor and a cozy ambiance. Seafood is a big part of the island's food culture, as is a focus on fresh, high-quality ingredients.

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10 Drive on the Pacific Marine Circle Route

Beach company. Sunny Sombrio Sunrise. Photo by Sam Warren on Unsplash

If you love a good road trip, the Pacific Marine Circle Route in Southern Vancouver Island beckons. It's 179 miles long and chock full of scenic viewpoints like the Malahat Summit. The route hits up towns like Port Renfrew, Duncan, and Sooke. Prepare for sections with no cell service.

Watch the surfers in Jordan River, marvel at the little Douglas fir growing on a log in the middle of Fairy Lake, and go tubing near Lake Cowichan. Other attractions include the Island Motorsports Circuit and the Kinsol Trestle.

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11 Paddle the Broken Group Islands

Woman on Sea Kayak paddling in the Pacific Ocean

Sea kayaking in the Broken Group Islands, part of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, is invigorating. You can enjoy a day out on the water or go all out on a multi-day trip with camping at seven designated campsites. If you're sufficiently prepared, you can DIY the trip or leave the logistics to the locals on a guided tour. Either way, you'll feel at one with nature. You'll have opportunities to paddle beside marine wildlife and past ancient middens. It's a peaceful, life-affirming experience and one that you'll be reminiscing about for years. Stay at Broken Islands Lodge in Barkley Sound and rent a canoe or kayak from them. Or reach out to Hello Nature or a similar provider for a tour.

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12 Visit the Nanaimo Harbourfront

Harbor of Nanaimo Port Authority meunierd / Shutterstock.com

Nanaimo's seawall is a recreation space where folks come out to skate, cycle, or walk. The path passes the marina and shops and weaves through Maffeo Sutton Park—the best bits are close to downtown. The harbor hosts cultural events throughout the year, including the Nanaimo Marine Festival and the famous annual World Championship Bathtub Race in July. There's also a dragon boat festival to look forward to. P.S. Check out Harewood Creek Falls, a hidden waterfall not far from Colliery Dam Park.

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13 Explore the Cowichan Valley wine region

Grapes in Cowichan Valley, British Columbia, Canada

Cowichan Valley has a growing reputation for wine production. Visit this grape-growing region to see the gorgeous vineyards and go on tasting tours. There are over a dozen wineries in the area, from the award-winning Blue Grouse Estate and Unsworth Vineyards to Cobble Hill Winery, with its aromatic and deeply purple lavender fields. Many of the establishments are family-owned and have more than bubbly on offer, including heritage buildings and vibey restaurants.

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14 Hike in Strathcona Provincial Park

Twilight on Buttle Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Provincial Park is BC's oldest provincial park and was founded in 1911. Its diverse landscapes delight the eye and offer pure alpine escapism. The best time to go hiking is between June and September, but the weather can be unpredictable, so always check the forecast before you head out. Della Falls is a 7-hour, 10-mile hike and features one of the ten highest waterfalls in the world. The Bedwell and Cream Lake hike has varying terrain and can be done overnight—you can camp at Bedwell Lake. For shorter trails, the Karst Creek walk takes just 45 minutes.

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15 Experience indigenous culture

Beautifully carved & colorfully painted First Nations totem pole found in Duncan aka "The City of Totems", located on Vancouver Island in the Cowichan Valley. Chase Clausen / Shutterstock.com

First Nations peoples occupied Vancouver Island for thousands of years before European colonization. Recognizing and honoring Indigenous culture is integral to any island experience. The Coast Salish, Nuu-chah-nulth, and Kwakwakaw'akw are some of the groups that have walked these parts for generations. The following are just some of the Indigenous-operated services that can enrich your trip.

The Nuyumbalees Cultural Centre highlights potlatch regalia and the period when the ceremony became illegal. West Coast Expedition's sea kayaking guides may as well have paddling in their genes, and Sea Wolf Adventures organizes wildlife viewing with Aboriginal insights. In Courtenay, the I-Hos gallery features traditional and contemporary artwork and crafts produced by First Nation artists.

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16 Go caving at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park

If you're not claustrophobic and are okay with dark spaces, this is such an awesome activity to do while on Vancouver Island. Horne Lake Caves accommodates different ages and skill levels on tours led by expert guides. The shortest and easiest option is the Riverbend Cave Explorer, which lasts just under two hours and caters to visitors aged five and older. The Max Depth Adventure lasts 5.5 hours and is only suitable for those who are 13 or older because it involves crawling and rappelling.

 

17 Explore the Malahat Skywalk

The Malahat Skywalk 600 m (1,968 ft) elevated, wooden walkway rising 20 m (65 ft) through a forest, with a 20 m (65 ft) spiral slide. Mr.Nikon / Shutterstock.com

The Malahat Skywalk has futuristic vibes and guarantees panoramic views, at least when the skies are clear. Wind your way up the spiral structure, walk on the see-through net at the top, and slide down in a jiffy if you like. The walkway is accessible, so strollers and wheelchairs can go up and down without issue. The forest walk's educational elements are enjoyable, as are the driftwood animals dotted about.

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18 Relax at Parksville and Qualicum Beach

Logs on the peaceful qualicum beach, vancouver island, british columbia, canada

Parksville's been called the jewel of Vancouver Island. This coastal gem brings idyllic seaside days to mind. Think beachcombing for sand dollars, warm high tide waters, and boardwalk cycles. Carry aqua shoes because not all the beaches are sandy. Community events include an annual sandcastle competition. In spring, many of the beaches are closed to dogs to protect Brant geese during their annual migration.

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19 Visit the Comox Valley

Beautiful Comox lake on a winter's morning

Beautiful Comox Lake is fab for outdoor adventures like fishing, kayaking, swimming, and hiking. During summer, floating down the Puntledge River is a must-do activity, and if you're in more of a tropical mood, seek the aquamarine waters and white sands of Tribune Bay. For instant thrills, you'd do well to visit Saratoga Speedway. And if you have a sweet tooth, don't forget to buy truffles, caramels, and other treats from Hot Chocolates in Courtenay.

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20 Explore Goldstream Provincial Park

Niagara waterfall and creek in rain forest, goldstream provincial park, victoria, bc, canada

Goldstream Provincial Park highlights include watching the annual salmon run, complete with swooping bald eagles during the fall, and hiking with giant trees, waterfalls, and peaks to keep you company. Pack a picnic, and stop by the excellent nature center with hands-on displays. The campsite here is clean and accepts reservations three months before your preferred dates. Check out the Goldstream Trestle if you can.

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21 Discover the Gulf Islands

An aerial image of Active Pass, Gulf Islands, British Columbia, Canada

The Gulf Islands can bring you the solitude you've long been craving or serve as the backdrop for a lowkey family vacation. Only 350 people live on Saturna Island, so it's got a village feel about it. Cycle stress-free, go birdwatching and whale watching at East Point, and hike with wild goats on Mount Warburton Pike. On neighboring Mayne Island, there's art and a poignant Japanese Gardens project to mull over.

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22 Ski, snowboard, or mountain bike on Mount Washington

Aerial image of Mt. Washington, alpine ski resort, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

In the center of the island, family-oriented Mount Washington Alpine Resort always has something going on. The winter months see folks arriving for skiing and apres ski fun. This frozen wonderland also offers snowboarding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. During the warmer months, when the snow melts, hiking and mountain biking become the main focus, and ziplining is popular, too.

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23 Take a cultural tour in Victoria

Fan Tan alley in Victoria's Chinatown at dusk Photo by Tj Holowaychuk on Unsplash

Cultural tours of Victoria shed light on the city's history, architecture, and other interesting tidbits. For example, you might learn about the scandalous death of the architect Francis Rattenbury. During the spooky season, Ghostly Walks recounts spine-tingling tales of reported hauntings. Inner Harbor walking tours can focus on the First Nations perspective.

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24 Go fishing in remote lakes and rivers

A man fly-fishing on the Campbell River is reeling in a pink salmon.

On the hunt for five different species of salmon? The Alberni Inlet's got you covered. Lone Tree and the Coulson Mill are two angling areas for your consideration. You can also try fly fishing for trout near the Harrison Hot Springs. Book a fishing charter to conveniently explore the best spots with a sound knowledge of local regulations, such as bait bans. Another freshwater species to look out for is Dolly Varden char.

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25 Learn about the First Nations Canoe Journey

Intertribal Canoe Journey, also known as Pulling Together or Tribal Journeys is an annual Pacific Northwest Coast event celebrating millennia of canoeing culture among Indigenous Nations. The host destination, a Native Nation, changes every year. Canoes feature art, and participants often dress in traditional regalia. They travel from various places to the host destination, making stops at tribal communities en route.

26 Visit Sidney by the Sea

Sidney by the Sea is as charming as it sounds. Take a 20-minute drive from Victoria to the Saanich Peninsula and spend time at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre aquarium, the town's numerous bookstores, and the annual Sidney Street Market. The summer market takes place on Beacon Avenue and trades in artisanal jewelry, unique toys, handmade soaps, and homemade candy, among other goodies.

27 Explore the Alberni Valley

The Alberni Valley has lots to share with out-of-towners. Harbour Quay is a vibrant waterfront with stores and cafes. The quay's Maritime Discovery Centre has a replica lighthouse and rotating summer exhibits. Beloved hikes include the path to Della Falls when it's snow-free and the Log Train Trail. Check out Alberni Pacific Railway for a steam train ride.

28 Soak in the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park

A river surrounded by rocks and trees in Sooke Potholes Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Sooke Potholes Provincial Park contains unique geological formations from the last ice age. These potholes carved by boulders 14,000 years ago provide awesome freshwater swimming pools. You can cliff jump into the crystal clear river, snorkel, and laze about—the refreshingly cold water is shallow enough for kids. You might spot river otters and bears fishing for salmon, so keep safety guidelines in mind. Time your visit well because the potholes get busy on the weekends, and it's first come, first served.

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29 Kayak in Johnstone Strait

Sea kayakers paddle through Blackney Passage on an adventure near Johnstone Strait

Johnstone Strait is a killer place to see orcas during summer; marveling at them from a kayak is even more special. Guided wilderness sea kayaking trips from Telegraph Cove vary in length, and Spirit of the West Adventures can throw glamping into the mix. As you paddle, the odds of encountering bears, cougars, and river otters are high.

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30 Visit Hatley Castle and Gardens

exterior of Hatley Castle Photo by Peter Scholten on Unsplash

Hatley Castle is a National Historic Site built in 1908. Fun fact - it served as the filming location for the school in the X-Men movies. Peacocks roam the gardens, and the forested nature trails are a pleasant diversion. James Dunsmuir, the industrialist and politician, and his family lived at Hatley Park for almost three decades before it was acquired by the Canadian armed forces.

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