British Columbia: The Best Places to Visit in BC, Canada
Aside from traveling, studying abroad, and living in Mexico for three years, I have lived most of my life in British Columbia, Canada. I have spent my life breathing in the mountain air, whizzing down the slopes on my trusty skis, and soaking up all the sun the west coast has to offer. Growing up in British Columbia, and now living in Vancouver, has truly spoiled me with tons of great memories. In my opinion, BC is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. There is so much that this province has to offer, so here are the top places to visit in BC, Canada.
This post contains affiliate links. Should you decide to purchase something from one of my affiliates I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check out my Disclaimer for more info.
How to Get To British Columbia
With so many places to visit in BC, you may find yourself using multiple methods of transportation. Listed below are the best ways to get around the province.
Visitors can also book a train trip from other Canadian provinces or from Seattle to Vancouver to enter the province.
Alternatively, you can also enter BC by car. If you come through via Alaska or Washington state you will need to cross the US Canadian border so don’t forget your passport! If you come through via Alberta or Yukon, you will not have to go through any official border crossing.
To enter BC from Seattle there is also the option to take a ferry. You can search for ferries to British Columbia here.
There are many flights that enter the province. The biggest international airport in BC is located in Vancouver but there are international airports in many other cities including Kelowna and Victoria as well. You can search for cheap flights by clicking here.
How to Get Around British Columbia
Public Transit & Busing Between Cities
Vancouver and Victoria both have really good transportation systems in place. Other cities in British Columbia have bus systems but since most other cities are quite a bit smaller, the buses don’t always come as often as they do in Vancouver and Victoria.
BC Park Bus
To get to BC’s provincial parks from Vancouver you can take the BC Park Bus. This is a great option for getting to and from hiking trails and camping spots if you don’t have a car.
Pop A Ride Carpooling App
In BC you can also get around the province via the carpooling app, Pop A Ride. Basically, you can search for people who are already driving to a certain city and then pay a small fee to ride with them. You’re essentially just chipping in for gas so it’s often much cheaper than bussing between cities.
Uber, Lyft, and Taxi
Within cities, you can also get around via Uber, Lyft, or taxi. I’ve found that Lyft usually tends to be the cheapest.
With most rental companies, you will need to be over 25 years old to rent a car in BC. You can search for rental cars here.
To get to and from the coast of BC to Vancouver Island and other islands in the province you will be using BC Ferries.
Ferries to and from big cities like Vancouver and Victoria are quite large, have multiple levels of parking so you can drive on, and have restaurants, outdoor decks, washrooms, indoor and outdoor seating areas, and even play areas for children on board.
Ferries to smaller islands are often smaller and have one level for parking, some outdoor seating areas, and washrooms.
Both large and small ferries often have a designated pet area as well.
You usually do not have to prebook a ferry ticket unless you’re sure you can make it for that specific sailing. I usually just show up early for the sailing I want to make, get in line and pay on arrival. In my opinion, it’s no big deal if I miss a ferry or have to wait in line for the next one, especially if I didn’t pre-book a spot.
10 Interesting Facts about British Columbia
- There are 203 different Indigenous groups plus 30 different Indigenous languages and over 60 dialects spoken in the province. You can download the Indigenous BC Trip Planner app here.
- The world’s largest totem pole is located in Alert Bay, BC.
- BC’s motto is ‘splendor sine occasu’ which means ‘splendor without diminishment’ in Latin.
- The province’s tagline, ‘Beautiful BC’ or ‘Beautiful British Columbia’ began showing up on government documents in 1964 and can still be seen on all BC license plates.
- The province has 9 official symbols including the Pacific Dogwood as BC’s official flower, jade as the province’s official gemstone, and the Spirit Bear as BC’s official mammal.
- BC was a British Colony until 1871 when it became a part of Canada.
- Vancouver is the largest city in the province but it is not the capital.
- Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia.
- Victoria, British Columbia is home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada.
- There are over 400 provincial parks in British Columbia.
Places to Visit in BC: Cities & Towns
I actually grew up in Kelowna and can say it’s easily one of the best places to visit in BC. Referred to as ‘Kelownafornia’ by locals, Kelowna is an ideal summer vacation spot, and winter skiing hub too. It’s also conveniently located in the Okanagan Valley, which is famous for its lakeside beaches and wineries. It also has a beautiful downtown area although it is much smaller than that of Victoria and Vancouver.
Kelowna really experiences all four seasons quite vividly. Summer temperatures can reach up upwards of 35 degrees Celsius, whereas winter temps can sometimes drop below -20 degrees Celsius. There have been a few times where I actually experienced -30 degree temperatures in the winter. But if you love skiing, it’s worth bracing the cold, since mountains like Big White and Silverstar are close by.
Vancouver is British Columbia’s largest city. There are so many different neighborhoods, urban areas, beaches, hiking trails, and more to enjoy in Vancouver. Some of my favorite places to hang out in Vancouver are Granville Island, Deep Cove, Downtown, and of course, I love hiking in the forests of Lynn Valley and the mountains of the North Shore.
British Columbia locals often refer to Vancouver as ‘Raincouver’. While the summers can get really hot, if you come in spring, fall, or winter you can expect some rainy days too. The weather on the coast is kind of unpredictable at times. It can be hot and sunny one day, and grey and rainy the next. However, don’t let that stop you from booking a trip! Vancouver has lots to offer, even when the skies are grey.
Related activity: Vancouver: City and Seal Boat Tour
Victoria is British Columbia’s capital city. Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria has a beautiful downtown area and is surrounded by beaches. From Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf to Mount Doug, Victoria has a great mix of city and nature to enjoy.
I lived in Victoria a year and a half after I graduated from university and absolutely loved it. I think part of Victoria’s charm is that for a capital city, it has a very laid-back atmosphere. Anytime you go downtown in the summer you can expect to hear live music from people busking on the street.
There’s a kind of ‘hippie’ feel to Victoria that I can’t quite explain. There are lots of thrift shops and used book stores to browse, but perhaps everyone seems really laid back because of all the dispensaries in town. Whatever the reason is, Victoria just has this relaxed vibe that I absolutely love.
Related activity: Victoria: 3-Hour Zodiac Whale-Watching Tour
I grew up going to Whistler at least once a year, if not twice. Whistler is famous for its skiing, but it’s also gorgeous in the summer too. In the spring, you can spend the morning skiing, then come down the mountain and swim in the lake. The water will be cold of course, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to enjoy a ski hill and a beach all in one day.
The Whistler village is full of shops, restaurants, and an outdoor ice skating rink. You can get photos by the Olympic rings, which were installed along with the ice rink for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In the summer you can also enjoy a short hike around Lost Lake. There’s even a little dog beach there which is great if you have a pup who likes swimming. Lost Lake also turns into a fun cross country ski and snowshoe area in the winter too.
My sister actually moved to Tofino about a year ago and it has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit in BC! Tofino is gorgeous, but it does get pretty crowded in the summer. It’s actually the surfing capital of Canada and people from all over come for its famous waves.
Tofino has lots of beaches and hiking trails to explore. The town center is lovely too, and there are lots of unique restaurants and cafes to visit. In Tofino, there is a rule that no chain restaurants or cafes can set up shop there. Every restaurant or cafe has to be one of a kind and unique to Tofino.
Islands to Visit in BC
British Columbia is home to so many islands and each one is completely unique. Here are some of my favorite ones.
Bowen Island is located in Howe Sound and is super easy to get to if you’re visiting Vancouver. It’s just a short 20-minute ferry ride away from the Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver. You can save a bit of money if you walk onto the ferry rather than drive on, but it’s much easier to explore the island if you drive. There are lots of hiking trails and beaches to enjoy on the island, as well as restaurants, shops, and cafes to check out in Snug Cove and Artisan Square.
Salt Spring Island
Salt Spring is the largest and most popular of British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and is located just a short ferry away from Vancouver Island. If you visit Salt Spring make sure to check out the shops and restaurants near Fulford Harbour. When I went, I really enjoyed visiting Salt Spring Wild Cider and Salt Spring Island Cheese Co, where they specialize in goat cheeses. There are also a lot of beautiful beaches to check out on Salt Spring too.
I grew up spending many summers at Pioneer Pacific Camp on Thetis Island. Thetis is much smaller than Salt Spring and only has a permanent population of about 350 people. That population seems to triple in the summer as campers and people with holiday homes come to visit. If you visit make sure you check out some of the beach access points around the island and go for ice cream at Telegraph Harbour Marina.
Places to Visit in BC: Parks & Camping
Aside from big cities and urban areas, British Columbia is also known for its long coastline, towering mountains, and green forests. There are plenty of parks, hiking trails, and camping grounds to enjoy all the province has to offer. For the purpose of this post, I’ve included four of the top ones in the province.
Make sure that if you want to book a summer camping trip, you book your campground well in advance. I would suggest booking for summer campgrounds in January and February to make sure you get a good spot as campgrounds fill up fast!
Yoho National Park
Situated on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, just north of Field, BC, and just a little way west of Lake Louise, Alberta, Yoho National Park draws in visitors from around the world. Popular sights to see include Lake O’Hara, Laughing Falls, Emerald Lake, Emerald Mountain, Paget Peak, and Takakkaw Falls. Hiking, camping, rock climbing, and even paragliding, and ice climbing are just some of the activities you can take part in at Yoho.
Cathedral Provincial Park
Also referred to by BC locals as ‘Cathedral Lakes’, Cathedral Provincial Park is a great place for campers, hikers, and fishers to enjoy. Cathedral Park is located to the east of the Southern Okanagan, and right by the border of the USA. Visitors can hike up Quiniscoe Mountain and Pyramid Mountain or savor the blue waters of Cathedral Lake, Ladyslipper Lake, Quiniscoe Lake, and Pyramid Lake. If camping isn’t your thing you can also book a stay at Cathedral Lakes Lodge, located right by Quiniscoe Lake.
Golden Ears Provincial Park
Golden Ears is a provincial park located right near Mission BC and just an hour’s drive away from Vancouver. Visitors to Golden Ears can choose from a variety of different hiking trails of varying difficulty levels to enjoy the park’s various mountains and lakes.
Some of the popular sights and attractions at Golden Ears include Alouette Mountain, Alouette Lake, Mount Robie Ried, Mike Lake, North Beach Trail, Stave Lake, and Pitt Lake. There are also plenty of campgrounds in the park and watersports such as kayaking, windsurfing, and waterskiing are available at Alouette Lake.
Garibaldi Provincial Park
Garibaldi Provincial Park is situated right between Squamish and Whistler and contains even more incredible mountains and lakes in the province. Popular areas in the park include Panorama Ridge, Cheakamus Lake, Wedge Mountain, Elfin Lakes, Garibaldi Mountain, and Garibaldi Lake among others. There are plenty of hiking trails as well as rock climbing areas and campgrounds in the park as well.
If you’re looking for places to visit in BC for the winter, then make sure you check out some ski hills! There are a ton of incredible ski resorts to visit in the province, but for the sake of this post, I’m just going to include my favorites. You can ski in the winter or hike in the summer at any of these mountains by purchasing a winter or summer lift ticket.
Whistler Blackcomb is probably my favorite ski hill because it often gets incredible powder. Due to its popularity, especially since the 2010 Olympics, it is, unfortunately, one of the most expensive places to ski in the province. If you visit be sure to ride the famous Peak to Peak gondola!
I grew up going to Big White quite a lot, since it is so close to Kelowna. Big White typically gets a bit more snow than nearby Silver Star, but it often has less visibility too. However, there are also more runs to choose from at Big White and the snow is incredible.
Silver Star is a great ski mountain and a little cheaper than Big White too. It’s also located pretty close to Kelowna so I grew up going there a lot too. At Silver Star there is often good visibility and lots of bluebird days to enjoy throughout the season.
Revelstoke Mountain, located in Revelstoke BC, is another ski hill known for its amazing powder days. It’s a 2 hour and 45 minute drive away from Kelowna and also just 3 hours and 25 minutes away from Banff, Alberta too. Revelstoke actually has the longest vertical descent of all mountains in North America at 1,710 meters. While famous for its peaks and powder in the winter, you can also ride Revelstoke’s Pipe Mountain Coaster down the mountain in the summer months.
Other posts you may like:
- The Best Things to Do in Victoria BC
- 10 Things to Do in Deep Cove Vancouver
- 12 Kelowna Beaches to Visit this Summer
- Canadian Slang: Words & Phrases to Help You Sound Like a Local