Things to Do in British Columbia
North America’s major ski resort focuses on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, attracting up to two million winter and summertime visitors a year.
Linked by the groundbreaking Peak 2 Peak Gondola, the two mountains peer over the pretty alpine town of Whistler Village.
The official skiing venue for the 2010 Olympic winter games, the Whistler and Blackcomb resorts merged in 1997 and together have a total of 38 ski lifts and more than 200 ski runs.
In summer the ski runs transform into mountain-bike trails for nail-biting thrills, and the alpine meadows are crossed by hikers and nature lovers.
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley is a popular Canadian holiday destination, famous for its warm dry summers, lakeside beaches, vineyards and mountains. Nicknamed the “Napa Valley of the North,” millions of juicy grapes ripen among the rolling hills around Okanagan Lake, and summertime temperatures are generally hotter than they are in Napa itself. Okanagan’s wine scene is dominated by sweet whites, and the local ice dessert wine is a must-try; it is made using grapes that have frozen on the vine during Canada’s chilly winter nights.
Orchards bursting with juicy peaches, apricots and cherries are also in abundance in Okanagan Valley, as well as plenty of outdoor activities. Popular among watersport aficionados, golfers, mountain bikers and hikers, the valley hosts more than 300,000 people, with the liveliest and largest city being Kelowna. Other popular cities to stay in around the lake are Vernon and Penticton.
As you walk gingerly out on to the world's longest (140m/460ft) and highest (70m/230ft) suspension bridge, swaying gently over the roiling waters of tree-lined Capilano Canyon, remember that the thick steel cables you are gripping are safely embedded in huge concrete blocks on either side. That should steady your feet - unless the teenagers are stamping across to scare the oldsters...
The region's most popular attraction - hence the summertime crowds and relentless tour buses - the grounds here also include rainforest walks, totem poles, and a swinging network of smaller bridges strung between the trees, called Treetops Adventure. This series of open-ended suspension bridges link eight towering Douglass fir trees. At heights of up to 25m/80ft above the forest floor, the bridges have viewing platforms where Capilano’s naturalist hold court on the area’s ecological attributes.
The magnificent Stanley Park certainly enjoys one of the world’s most breathtaking settings: the park is surrounded on three sides by the ocean and loomed over by the snow-capped North Shore mountains. The park’s perimeter seawall stroll is one of the best ways to spend your time. Stanley Park is big enough to have quiet parts whenever you’re seeking seclusion, while wildlife lovers can always spot raccoons on the ground or eagles high in the trees.
Within its 1,000 acres/400 hectares you’ll find forests of cedar, hemlock and fir, mingled with meadows, lakes, and cricket pitches. There are also a couple of excellent beaches – ideal spots to perch on a driftwood log with a picnic and catch a kaleidoscopic sunset over the water.
But the park isn’t just for dewy-eyed nature lovers; other highlights include the collection of totem poles by the shore, Second Beach Swimming Pool, and Vancouver Aquarium.
Brimming with arts and crafts studios, bars and restaurants with eye-popping views, Granville Island is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Though it’s really a peninsula, jutting out into False Creek, the island draws those who come to wander the pedestrian-friendly alleyways while enjoying the sounds of the buskers and the sights along the waterfront.
One of the highlights is the Granville Island Public Market, where you can trawl the deli-style food stalls and artisan stands. Art lovers can wander through the three galleries of up-and-coming artists at the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design. For the under-10 set, the Kids Market bristles with kid-friendly stores, mostly of the toy variety. For a little respite, entice the kids away from the shops and head to the huge Granville Island Water Park.
A highly evocative neighborhood of excellent character bars and a smattering of good restaurants, Gastown is Vancouver’s best old-town area. The Victorian era resonates in the cobblestone streets, antique lamps, and old buildings, adding to the neighborhood’s distinctive ambiance.
Gastown is the place to pay your respects to Vancouver’s founding father, "Gassy" Jack Deighton – a bronze statue of him salutes Maple Tree Square. On Water Street stands the famous Steam Clock, a charming little artifact, built to resemble London’s Big Ben. The neighborhood has also become a hotbed for local designer-owned shops, drawing a new crowd of regulars to the area. It’s also place to look for a new art gallery or a piece of beautiful, hand-carved First Nations art in one of the galleries along Water and Hastings streets. Microbreweries and brewpubs have sprung up across the city in recent years, and many of the best beer havens are in Gastown. Steamworks is the most accessible.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
The Lions Gate Bridge spans Burrard Inlet, connecting North and West Vancouver with the City Centre, via Stanley Park. Originally opened in 1938, the bridge isn’t just a major transportation hub for Vancouver, but it’s also a National Historic Site of Canada.
Even the impressive stats—the bridge is about a mile (1.5 km) long, its two suspension towers are 365 feet (111 meters) tall and the bridge deck sits 200 feet (61 m) above the water—barely do the bridge justice. From Ambleside Park, in West Vancouver, the view of Lions Gate Bridge against a backdrop of downtown Vancouver truly shows its immense scale. It’s even more spectacular at night, as the entire bridge is covered in decorative LED lighting.
Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown. When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.
The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property.
Come for the views at this 128-acre (52-hectare) park located at Vancouver’s geographic center – it’s the highest point in the city. You can look out over the gardens and grounds all the way to downtown and the North Shore mountains. Within the park itself, there are Quarry Gardens, former rock quarries now filled with flowers, shrubs, and other plants; an arboretum – the first to be established in Canada – with more than 1500 trees; and a Rose Garden that blossoms with many varieties of the flower. In spring and summer, you can browse the Painters’ Corner, where local artists display and sell their work. Seasons in the Park, a restaurant overlooking the gardens, serves lunch and dinner daily.
If you’re looking for more athletic pursuits, you can golf the park’s Pitch & Putt course, play tennis on one of the 17 public courts, or join the lawn bowlers at the Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club, which welcomes visitors several times a week during the spring and summer.
Although it's officially on a peninsula, the abundant water surrounding downtown Vancouver can make it feel like an island. It is, today, the center of commerce and business for British Columbia but, even historically, the downtown area has always been a significant meeting point for trade and culture.
In modern history, the area wasn't permanently settled by outsiders until 1862 when the city was chosen to be the terminus for the transcontinental railroad. As Vancouver grew, a number of neighborhoods began to develop within the city. Gastown is one of the oldest parts of the city and remains a tourist attraction. It's here where the world's first steam-powered clock still stands in working condition. Other significant neighborhoods worth visiting within the downtown core include Robson Street, Coal Harbour and Yaletown. There is also a prominent Chinatown in downtown Vancouver – the largest in Canada.
It’s hard to believe that this opulent Scottish-Gothic fairy-tale castle was built as a family home. Now open to the public, take a tour and pretend you’re in Bonny Scotland.
The four-story turreted castle was built in the late 1880s for Scottish coal millionaire Robert Dunsmuir. He died before the home with its 39 rooms was completed, but his family lived there until 1908.
A self-guided tour of this incredible property reveals its stained-glass and carved balustrades, rooms furnished with period details, and the lookout tower with fabulous views over the city.
One of the best places to orient yourself, especially if this is your first trip to Vancouver, is Canada Place. Built for Expo '86, this iconic, postcard-friendly landmark is hard to miss: its five tall Teflon sails that jut into the sky over Burrard Inlet resemble a giant sailing ship. Now a cruise-ship terminal and convention center, it's also a pier where you can stroll out over the waterfront, watch the splashing floatplanes, and catch some spectacular sea-to-mountain views.
Around the perimeter of Canada Place is a promenade, where you can gaze out at the North Shore mountains standing tall across Burrard Inlet. You can also see nearby Stanley Park and its famous Seawall Promenade. Walk to the other end of the promenade and you’ll be rewarded with great city views, including the historic low-rise tops of Gastown, where Vancouver was first settled. Inside the building is FlyOver Canada, a cool simulated flight attraction that takes you across Canada.
From 1900 to 1974, the Britannia Mine was a major copper source on the eastern shore of Howe Sound, and until the railway and highway were constructed in 1965, Britannia was an isolated community. Today, the site's museum, housed in the original mine buildings, is both a National Historic Site of Canada and a Canadian Tourism Commission Signature Experience.
Whether chugging into an early haulage tunnel aboard a mine train or panning for gold (keep what you find!), you'll discover the mine's rich history. It's Mill 3 that leaves most visitors speechless; the massive cathedral-like interior was once considered the heartbeat of the community because it’s where ore was produced before being shipped off to nearby ports.
The mine closed in 1974, and by 1978, it was sold to a real estate company that realized its potential as a tourism attraction along the rapidly developing corridor now known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway.
Exotic sights, sounds, and aromas pervade North America’s third-largest Chinatown. In this evocative area, you’ll find families bargaining over durian fruit in a flurry of Cantonese; shops redolent of sweet-and-sour fish; and street vendors selling silk, jade, and Hello Kitty footstools. The steamy-windowed wonton restaurants, butchers with splayed barbecued pigs, and ubiquitous firecracker-red awnings will make you think for a moment that you’re in Hong Kong.
Start your trek at Millennium Gate, the official entry into Chinatown. Head under the gate, and spend some time strolling the tranquil pools, intriguing limestone formations, and gnarly pine trees that fill Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. After strolling the garden, nip next door to the Chinese Cultural Centre Museum & Archives. Across the street, on Carrall Street stands the Sam Kee Building, the world’s thinnest office building.
Surrounded by the city’s Seawall and containing one of Vancouver’s most popular beaches, English Bay is at the heart of Vancouver’s water related activities. In warm weather, kayaking, fishing, and even scuba diving all take place in the waters here. English Bay Beach, also called First Beach, is the most populated beach area in the city. With palm trees and plentiful sand, English Bay Beach is the go-to spot for sunbathing and beach volleyball when the sun is shining. It is also one of the best places to go swimming.
Annually two of the city’s largest events take place here: the Celebration of Light fireworks competition in July and the Polar Bear Swim in January. Many laid back, open-air restaurants and patios dot the area around the water, and the notable sunset and sunrise skies are what draw many visitors. With views of the surrounding mountains and coastline, English Bay offers some of the best natural scenery in Vancouver.
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