Nestled along Canada's west coast is Vancouver Island, a paradise of tranquil islands, pristine coastlines and emerald forests where the ever-present Pacific Ocean shapes the scenery. In addition to British Columbia's vibrant capital city, Victoria, you'll find colourful quirky communities, a wide range of attractions and outdoor adventure.
Victoria is a unique blend of old world charm and new world experiences. Established in 1843 as a fort for the Hudson Bay Company, Victoria's British ancestry is apparent everywhere, from double-decker buses and formal gardens, to tearooms and proper pubs. The city is home to many historic buildings and some of the most fascinating museums in Western Canada, including the Royal BC Museum – the perfect place to learn about the province's colourful heritage, and Craigdarroch Castle, a stunning example of Victorian architecture.
Victoria's Inner Harbour, backed by the stately Fairmont Empress Hotel, buzzes with yachts, float planes, water taxis and small cruise ships, all just steps from the historic streets. During the summer, the harbour is the focus for festivals and also serves as a departure point for whale watching tours.
Breathtaking Butchart Gardens is another Victoria attraction not to be missed. Fifty five acres of gardens delight year round, from thousands of spring bulbs; to fragrant roses and perennial borders in summer; striking russet, gold and red foliage in autumn; to dainty snowdrops and subtle beautiful shrubs in winter.
The Cowichan Valley region is ripe for discovery with excellent wine and culinary offerings thanks to the mild, almost Mediterranean, climate. There’s also a buzzing arts scene and outdoor activities aplenty.
In central Vancouver Island don’t miss Nanaimo, which has a picturesque harbour and downtown streets lined with heritage storefronts, bars, art galleries, shops and fabulous dining. Northern Vancouver Island is the place for getting lost in nature: kayaking with orcas, grizzly watching, salmon fishing at Campbell River, hiking seaside routes and exploring First Nations culture from Port Hardy.
For all things wild, make your way to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s popular for kayaking expeditions among sheltered islets where inner waters abound with marine life and rocky shores are lined with caves, trees and beaches. Stay in charming Tofino, rated as one of the world’s top surf towns with inviting restaurants, galleries, shops and easy access to the beaches and trails. Ucluelet is your go to place for whale and bear watching, fishing, surfing, hiking, biking, zip lining and ocean kayaking, while majestically located Port Alberni is also noted for hiking, fishing, mountain biking and water activities.
GMT -8 hours (British Columbia); GMT -7 hours (Alberta).
There are no flights from the UK to Vancouver Island. From Vancouver, you can take a scenic ferry which takes around 90 minutes. Alternatively float planes take 35 minutes.
This region has a varied climate that allows for diverse activities whatever the season. In general, the weather is influenced by mountains and ocean, so mild along the south coast and more extreme as you move inland and north. Spring is prime wildlife viewing time on the island, while summer is a great season for hiking and exploring, autumn can bring storms to the west coast, while winter can bring snowfall to the mountains, but remains temperate in Victoria.
Experience Victoria aboard an open top, double-decker bus, with the flexibility to explore the many popular attractions the city has to offer. The tour loop takes around 90 minutes and highlights include Craigdarroch Castle, Fisherman’s Wharf, Parliament Buildings and the Inner Harbour. Available selected dates year round.
This unique 3 hour bicycle tour explores Victoria’s island community, highlighting the mansions, gardens, seashores and distinctive neighbourhoods that make up the city’s diverse artistic background. Available selected dates Mar-Dec. Minimum age 6 years.
This three hour excursion takes you in search of orcas, humpback whales, minke whales, grey whales, porpoises, harbour seals and other marine life. A certified marine biologist and naturalist is onboard. Available on selected dates Apr-Oct on a covered boat or Zodiac from Victoria.
On this two hour tour search for fearsome and fascinating black bears that roam the island’s west coast. Watch as they emerge from the forests and forage along the shores in search of rock crabs. Available selected dates Apr-Oct from Tofino.
View grey whales, humpback whales, transient orcas and a myriad of other marine life within Clayoquot Sound. Choose to travel by covered boat or a rigid hull, inflatable Zodiac. Available selected dates May-Oct from Tofino. Also available from Ucluelet on selected dates.
Experience the thrill of travelling through the breathtaking Discovery Islands on a Zodiac on this three hour tour. Stops are made along the way for a closer view of the wildlife, including bears and whales. Available selected dates May-Oct from Painter’s Lodge, Campbell River.
Travel by boat to the north of Clayoquot Sound watching for wildlife, including bears and whales, along the way. On arrival walk along a boardwalk trail through ancient forest to the natural thermal soaking pools. Available selected dates Apr-Oct from Tofino.