Best Things to Do in Vancouver Island, BC: Top 12 Attractions to Visit

by Emil Backup
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Are you planning to visit Vancouver Island, BC this year? Here are some of the most fun and unique things to do in Vancouver Island. These scenic sights, activities, and attractions are sure to make for a memorable vacation experience.

Welcome to Vancouver Island. A hidden gem tucked away in the far reaches of British Columbia, where the Pacific Ocean kisses rugged coastlines and adventure beckons at every turn. If you’re yearning for a destination that offers a harmonious blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and a dash of the unexpected, there are countless things to do in Vancouver Island. This island paradise is not just Canada’s “province within a province.” It’s a world within a world, waiting to be explored.

Imagine waking up to the sound of crashing waves in Tofino, then sipping tea in the historical elegance of Victoria. Picture yourself mountain biking through the trails of Cumberland, or perhaps skiing down the slopes of Mount Washington. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a nature lover, or a cultural enthusiast, Vancouver Island has something for everyone.

But wait, there’s more! From the awe-inspiring Malahat Skywalk to the delicious journey along the Nanaimo Bar Trail, this island is brimming with unique experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. So, get ready to discover the top 12 things to do in Vancouver Island that will make your Canada escapade truly unforgettable. Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Vancouver Island.

The best things to do in Vancouver Island right now.
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Best Places to Visit in Vancouver

Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do in Vancouver Island? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this idyllic vacation spot just a short distance from Vancouver. So keep reading to discover all these unique Vancouver Island places to visit.

Are you looking to explore lush hiking trails and embark on thrilling whale-watching adventures? Or would you prefer immersing yourself in charming local communities, savoring fresh seafood and cultural experiences along the way? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees in Vancouver Island can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Vancouver Island that you should know about.

1. Tofino

Tofino is the ultimate destination for surf enthusiasts and novices alike. Situated on the western edge of Vancouver Island, this small town is a surfer’s paradise, offering a variety of beaches with waves that cater to all skill levels. Cox Bay is renowned for hosting numerous surfing competitions, while Mackenzie Beach, listed among the best things to do in Vancouver Island, provides a more sheltered environment, perfect for beginners.

The town itself exudes a laid-back vibe, with local shops selling surf gear and cozy cafes where you can sip on a warm latte after a day in the cold Pacific waters. And let’s not forget the stunning backdrop of temperate rainforests that surround this coastal haven. It’s not just about catching waves; it’s about immersing yourself in a distinctive coastal culture.

What to do in Vancouver Island if you’re a water baby? Make sure Tofino is on your itinerary. Whether you bring your own board or rent one from local shops like Tofino Surf Co., surfing in Tofino is for anyone looking to ride the Pacific swells.

A hidden gem on Vancouver Island thanks to its charming atmosphere, rich artistic heritage, and picturesque surroundings.
A hidden gem on Vancouver Island thanks to its charming atmosphere, rich artistic heritage, and picturesque surroundings.

2. Malahat Skywalk

Elevate your Vancouver Island experience—literally—at the Malahat Skywalk. This architectural marvel is one of the coolest activities in Vancouver Island, offering a bird’s-eye view of the island’s lush forests, the sparkling sea, and even the distant Mount Baker. Located just a 30-minute drive northwest of Victoria, the Skywalk is a multi-tiered spiral tower with a lookout that will leave you breathless.

But the real kicker? A giant trampoline at the top! Yes, you read that right. After soaking in the panoramic views, you can bounce to your heart’s content, feeling the rush of adrenaline as you touch the sky. And for the grand finale, a winding slide will take you back to the ground in mere seconds.

The Malahat Skywalk isn’t just an observation deck; it’s an adventure waiting to happen. If you’re wondering where to visit in Vancouver Island for a blend of thrill and natural beauty, this is your answer. The Skywalk also offers a special shuttle service from Victoria, making it easily accessible for day-trippers.

Experience the Breath-taking Views from Malahat Skywalk.
Experience the Breathtaking Views from Malahat Skywalk. | Credit: Malahat Skywalk

3. Alert Bay

Alert Bay, located on Cormorant Island just off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, is a must-see for anyone interested in Indigenous culture. The island is home to the ‘Namgis First Nation and offers a deep dive into the rich traditions and history of the Indigenous peoples of the region. From totem poles that tell ancestral stories to the U’mista Cultural Centre, which houses an impressive collection of potlatch masks and artifacts, Alert Bay is a living museum.

One of the unique things to do in Vancouver Island is to take part in a traditional cedar weaving workshop or witness a ceremonial dance performance. The island also hosts several annual events, such as the Alert Bay Seafest and the 360 Eco Tour, which offer a blend of cultural and environmental education.

If you love the great outdoors, Alert Bay also offers kayaking routes through the surrounding archipelago, where you might spot orcas and humpback whales. It’s not just a cultural hub; it’s a gateway to the natural wonders of the region.

Compiling a list of Vancouver Island places to visit? Alert Bay should be at the top. It’s a destination that offers both cultural enrichment and natural beauty, making it one of the best places to go in Vancouver Island.

Awe-inspiring totem poles stand tall in Alert Bay, showcasing the ancient art and culture.
Awe-inspiring totem poles stand tall in Alert Bay, showcasing the ancient art and culture.

4. Victoria

Ah, the elegance of Victoria—it’s like stepping into a different era. One of the most refined Vancouver Island things to do is to indulge in the British tradition of afternoon tea. The Fairmont Empress Hotel, an iconic landmark, offers an experience that’s nothing short of royal. Picture yourself in a grand room adorned with chandeliers, sipping on exotic teas and nibbling on finger sandwiches, scones, and pastries.

The experience isn’t confined to the Empress. Other spots like The Butchart Gardens offer their own uncommon twist on this classic ritual. Imagine enjoying your tea amidst blooming flowers and lush greenery. It’s a multisensory delight that combines taste, sight, and smell.

What sets Victoria’s afternoon tea apart is the attention to detail—from the fine china to the live harp music, every element is designed to transport you to a world of sophistication. If you’re wondering what to do in Vancouver Island that offers both luxury and tradition, afternoon tea in Victoria is your answer.

Where to go in Vancouver Island for a touch of British elegance? Make sure Victoria is on your list. It’s not just a meal; it’s an experience that will make your trip unforgettable.

Step into a world of refined luxury and timeless beauty at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Step into a world of refined luxury and timeless beauty at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

5. North Coast Trail

For avid hikers, the North Coast Trail is a Vancouver Island attraction you won’t want to miss. This challenging 43.1-kilometer trail takes you through some of the island’s most breathtaking landscapes. From dense, moss-covered forests to rugged coastlines, the trail offers a diverse range of scenery that will leave even the most seasoned hikers in awe.

The trail starts at Shushartie Bay and ends at Nissen Bight, taking you through a series of backcountry campsites where you can rest and soak in the natural beauty. Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to know that the area is home to a variety of animals, including black bears, cougars, and wolves. Always remember to take necessary precautions and keep a safe distance.

One of the best places in Vancouver Island for hiking, the North Coast Trail is not for the faint-hearted. It requires proper planning, including tide tables, as some sections are impassable during high tide. The effort is well worth it. The trail offers an unparalleled opportunity to connect with nature and test your hiking skills. It’s definitely one of the top things to do on Vancouver Island for all types of travelers.

Embark on an epic adventure along the North Coast Trail, where rugged cliffs meet untamed wilderness. Among the best things to do in Vancouver Island.
Embark on an epic adventure along the North Coast Trail, where rugged cliffs meet untamed wilderness. Among the best things to do in Vancouver Island.

6. Nanaimo Bar Trail

Nanaimo isn’t just a city on Vancouver Island; it’s a sweet revelation for dessert lovers. The Nanaimo Bar Trail is a culinary journey that takes you through various cafes, bakeries, and even a pub, each offering their rare take on the classic Canadian treat—the Nanaimo bar. From traditional recipes to adventurous variations like Nanaimo bar martinis, this trail is a feast for your taste buds.

The trail is self-guided, allowing you to explore at your own pace. You’ll find spots that serve Nanaimo bar cheesecakes, ice creams, and even lattes. It’s a sugar lover’s dream come true. And if you prefer a savory twist, some places offer Nanaimo bar-inspired dishes like shepherd’s pie.

Curious about the coolest things to do in Vancouver Island? The Nanaimo Bar Trail should be on your list. It’s not just a food tour; it’s a cultural experience that lets you taste the local flavors in a whole new way. 

Delectable journey through the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Discover the origin of the iconic Nanaimo.
Delectable journey through the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. Discover the origin of the iconic Nanaimo.

7. Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle, located in Colwood, is a must-see in Vancouver Island for history aficionados and garden enthusiasts alike. Built in 1908, this Edwardian castle is surrounded by 565 acres of lush gardens and natural landscapes. The castle itself is a spectacle, but the gardens—Japanese, Italian, and the extensive Rose Garden—are the real showstoppers.

As you wander through the meticulously maintained gardens, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale. Each garden has its own distinctive theme and design, offering a variety of experiences as you move from one to the other. The Japanese Garden is a peaceful sanctuary with its koi ponds and cherry blossoms, while the Italian Garden impresses with its intricate fountains and geometric designs.

When looking for Vancouver Island places to visit that offer a blend of history, architecture, and natural beauty, Hatley Castle is a top pick. The castle also hosts special events throughout the year, including garden tours, afternoon teas, and even outdoor movie nights during the summer. This is a top thing to do in Vancouver for families with kids, hands down.

Enter a world of wonder and enchantment at Hatley Castle, a grandiose Edwardian-style mansion.
Enter a world of wonder and enchantment at Hatley Castle, a grandiose Edwardian-style mansion.

8. Hornby Island

Hornby Island is a diver’s paradise and one of the best things to do in Vancouver Island for underwater enthusiasts. Known for its clear waters and vibrant marine life, this island offers some of the finest diving locations in Canada. From colorful anemones to playful seals, the underwater world here is teeming with life.

The island is particularly famous for its “Flintstone Wall,” a vertical rock wall covered in sponges, starfish, and other marine creatures. It’s like diving into a natural art gallery. Another popular site is “Vivian Island,” where you can explore underwater caves and tunnels.

Diving at Hornby Island isn’t just about marine life; it’s also a lesson in geology. The underwater topography features fascinating rock formations, including ledges, overhangs, and even small caverns. If you’re wondering where to visit in Vancouver Island for an aquatic adventure, Hornby Island should be at the top of your list.

For those who prefer to stay dry, the island also offers beautiful beaches and hiking trails, making it a versatile destination for all types of travelers. 

Escape to the pristine beauty of Hornby Island, a hidden gem in the Salish Sea. One of the best things to do in Vancouver Island.
Escape to the pristine beauty of Hornby Island, a hidden gem in the Salish Sea. One of the best things to do in Vancouver Island.

9. Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is a haven for nature lovers and one of the unique places in Vancouver Island to truly appreciate the grandeur of old-growth forests. The grove is home to a collection of giant Douglas fir and red cedar trees—some of which are more than 800 years old!

Walking through Cathedral Grove feels like stepping into a natural cathedral, with towering trees forming a canopy that filters sunlight into a myriad of hues. The atmosphere is serene, almost spiritual, making it a perfect spot for reflection or even a quiet meditation session.

The distinctive feature of this place is its accessibility. A network of well-maintained trails allows visitors of all ages to explore the forest without the need for any special hiking gear. Interpretive signs along the way provide valuable insights into the ecosystem, enhancing your understanding of this natural wonder.

When compiling a list of Vancouver Island attractions that offer a blend of natural beauty and educational value, Cathedral Grove is a must-add, and offers a tranquil retreat.

Step into a world of giants at Cathedral Grove, a magnificent old-growth forest on Vancouver Island.
Step into a world of giants at Cathedral Grove, a magnificent old-growth forest on Vancouver Island.

10. Cowichan Valley Wineries

Welcome to Cowichan Valley, a place where the climate is as inviting as the people. Known as the “Napa of the North,” this region is a paradise for wine aficionados. With over 15 wineries and vineyards, it’s one of the best places in Vancouver Island where you can sip on award-winning wines while enjoying panoramic views of rolling hills and sparkling waters.

The wineries here offer a variety of experiences, from guided tours to wine-tasting sessions led by expert sommeliers. You’ll discover a range of wines, including Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, and the locally famous Ortega. Each winery has its own charm, whether it’s the rustic ambiance of Blue Grouse Estate Winery or the modern elegance of Averill Creek Vineyard.

Unique things to do in Vancouver Island when you’re not a wine enthusiast? Don’t worry, the Cowichan Valley is also renowned for its artisanal food scene. Many wineries have on-site restaurants that serve farm-to-table meals, perfectly complementing their wine selections.

The Cowichan Valley offers a sophisticated yet laid-back wine experience that’s hard to match. It’s a must-visit for anyone looking to indulge in the finer things in life while surrounded by natural beauty.

Indulge your senses and embark on a wine lover's journey in the breathtaking wine regions of Canada.
Indulge your senses and embark on a wine lover’s journey in the breathtaking wine regions of Canada.

11. Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a treasure trove of natural wonders and a must-see in Vancouver Island for wildlife enthusiasts. Stretching along the western coastline, this park is a sanctuary for a diverse range of animals, from black bears to gray whales.

One of the coolest activities in Vancouver Island is embarking on a whale-watching tour right from the park. Between March and October, you can spot humpback whales, orcas, and gray whales as they migrate along the coast. For birdwatchers, the park is a haven, home to species like the bald eagle and the great blue heron.

But it’s not just about the fauna; the flora here is equally captivating. Wander through lush rainforests, where ancient cedar and spruce trees create a canopy so thick it feels like you’re walking through a green tunnel. The park also features some of the most pristine beaches in the region, perfect for a day of relaxation or beachcombing.

If you’re wondering what to do in Vancouver Island that combines both adventure and tranquility, Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is your answer. It’s a place where you can connect with nature on a profound level, whether you’re hiking, bird-watching, or simply soaking in the views.

Immerse Yourself in Nature's Majesty at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
Immerse Yourself in Nature’s Majesty at Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

12. Chemainus

Chemainus, a small town with a big heart, is one of those cool destinations in Vancouver Island that you simply can’t overlook. Known as the “Little Town That Did,” Chemainus turned its fortunes around in the 1980s by embracing art, specifically murals. Today, the town is a vibrant outdoor gallery, boasting over 40 large-scale murals that depict its history, culture, and natural beauty.

Walking through the streets, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a living storybook. Each mural is a masterpiece, whether it’s the stunning depiction of First Nations heritage or the colorful scenes of early settlers. The murals are more than just eye candy; they’re a testament to the resilience and creativity of the community.

Vancouver Island attractions often focus on natural beauty, but Chemainus offers a delightful blend of art and history. The town also has charming boutiques, cozy cafes, and a renowned local theater, making it a perfect destination for cultural vultures.

For the best places to go in Vancouver Island, definitely add Chemainus to your list. It offers a rare experience that’s both enriching and heartwarming.

Enter a World of Magical Performances at Chemainus Theatre.
Enter a World of Magical Performances at Chemainus Theatre. | Credit: Chemainus Theatre Festival

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Vancouver

Looking for more content on the top things to do in Vancouver Island? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Vancouver Island:

What’s the best time to visit Vancouver Island?

The best time to visit Vancouver Island is during the summer months, from June to September, when you can enjoy pleasant weather and a variety of outdoor activities. Spring and fall offer milder weather and fewer crowds, making them great options for exploring the island’s natural beauty.

What is the most beautiful place on Vancouver Island?

Vancouver Island offers diverse landscapes and stunning natural beauty. Here are some of the most visited spots on Vancouver Island:

  1. Tofino: Located on the island’s west coast, Tofino is famous for its expansive sandy beaches, surfing, and storm-watching. The nearby Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a haven for nature lovers.
  2. Butchart Gardens: Located near Victoria, these world-famous gardens are a riot of color and design, especially in the spring and summer. They offer a serene and beautifully landscaped environment.
  3. Cathedral Grove: Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, this spot is home to a famous collection of ancient Douglas fir and red cedar trees – some more than 800 years old!
  4. Comox Valley: Known for its lush farmlands, beautiful vistas, and the Comox Glacier. It’s a great place for those who enjoy local food and outdoor activities.
  5. Cowichan Valley: Often referred to as the “Napa of the North”, this region is known for its wineries and farms, set against a backdrop of mountains and sea.
  6. Victoria’s Inner Harbour: The capital city of British Columbia, Victoria exudes old-world charm. The Inner Harbour, with the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel and the BC Legislature buildings, is picturesque, especially when lit up at night.
  7. Goat Island: This is a lesser-known gem, but it’s a tidal island that you can walk to during low tide. It’s near the town of Campbell River and offers a unique coastal experience.
  8. Strathcona Provincial Park: The oldest provincial park in British Columbia, it’s a haven for hikers and offers everything from mountain peaks to beautiful lakes.
  9. Nanaimo’s Harbourfront Walkway: A lovely place for a stroll with views of the harbor, islands, and mountains in the distance..

How do I get around Vancouver Island?

Getting around Vancouver Island is convenient with multiple options. Renting a car provides flexibility for exploring. Buses connect major towns, while cycling is popular for urban areas. Ferries are essential for island hopping, and floatplanes offer scenic aerial views. Choose based on your preferences and itinerary.

Is Vancouver Island family-friendly?

Absolutely, Vancouver Island is family-friendly with a range of activities for all ages. Explore family-friendly beaches, parks, and wildlife encounters. Enjoy interactive museums and outdoor adventures like hiking and kayaking. The island’s welcoming atmosphere and diverse attractions make it an ideal destination for families.

Embark on an unforgettable journey to Vancouver Island, where nature's wonders await at every turn.
Embark on an unforgettable journey to Vancouver Island, where nature’s wonders await at every turn.

What are the must-try local foods in Vancouver Island?

Indulge in must-try local foods on Vancouver Island, such as freshly caught seafood, including salmon and Dungeness crab. Sample artisanal cheeses, and savor farm-to-table produce. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy West Coast oysters, enhancing your culinary exploration of the island’s flavors.

What is the most beautiful part of Vancouver Island?

The most stunning part of Vancouver Island has to be the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. With its rugged coastline, lush rainforests, and expansive beaches, it’s a paradise for nature lovers. The park offers a serene escape and showcases the island’s natural beauty at its finest.

How many days do you need to see Vancouver Island?

The number of days you’d need to see Vancouver Island depends on your interests, the pace at which you like to travel, and how much of the island you want to explore. Here’s a general breakdown:

  1. Short Visit (2-3 days):
    • Focus on one or two key areas, such as Victoria and its immediate surroundings.
    • Visit the Butchart Gardens, explore Victoria’s Inner Harbour, and perhaps take a day trip to a nearby attraction like the Cowichan Valley or Sidney.
  2. Medium Visit (4-7 days):
    • Explore Victoria and its attractions more thoroughly.
    • Take a trip to Tofino for a couple of days, enjoying the beaches and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
    • Visit Cathedral Grove and experience the ancient forests.
    • Explore the Comox Valley or Cowichan Valley, enjoying local food and perhaps some wine tasting.
  3. Extended Visit (8-14 days or more):
    • Delve deeper into the areas mentioned above.
    • Spend time in the northern parts of the island, such as Port Hardy or Cape Scott Provincial Park.
    • Explore the eastern coastline, including towns like Nanaimo, Parksville, and Qualicum Beach.
    • Engage in more specialized activities, such as hiking in Strathcona Provincial Park, taking a wildlife or whale-watching tour, or exploring the many art galleries and cultural sites scattered across the island.

Is it worth going to Vancouver Island?

Absolutely, visiting Vancouver Island is well worth it. The island offers a diverse range of experiences, from breathtaking natural landscapes like the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve to vibrant cultural hubs like Victoria. Into outdoor adventures or cultural exploration? There’s something for everyone.

Final Thoughts on Exploring Vancouver

So, there you have it—a comprehensive guide to the unique places in Vancouver Island that offer a mix of adventure, relaxation, and cultural enrichment. Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie, a history buff, or someone who just wants to take in the stunning natural beauty, Vancouver Island has something for everyone.

From the awe-inspiring murals of Chemainus to the bustling harbor of Victoria, each destination on this list offers a slice of what makes Vancouver Island so special. And let’s not forget the locals, whose warmth and hospitality make any trip here unforgettable.

Cool destinations in Vancouver Island? Check. Unforgettable experiences? Double-check. All that’s left is for you to pack your bags and set off on your own Vancouver Island adventure. Trust us, it’s a journey you won’t want to miss.

Best Things to Do in Vancouver Island for all types of travelers.
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