This post was updated in July 2019.
Vancouver Island is the perfect destination for outdoor and nature lovers. There are so many things to do on Vancouver Island: you can go hiking in the beautiful forests and mountains, there are rugged beaches, lovely little villages and amazing wildlife (both on land as well as in the water).
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia and the biggest city on Vancouver Island, is also definitely worth a visit.
Vancouver Island is located just of Canada’s Pacific Coast and easily reached from Vancouver. The Island is about 500 km long and 100 km wide and a perfect ‘miniature version’ of Canada. You’ll be spoiled for choice as there is so much to see and do on Vancouver Island!
This post contains affiliate links.
Please read my disclosure policy for more information.
The best things to do on Vancouver Island: a complete guide
We spent two weeks on Vancouver island but still only managed to see the lower half of the island. There are so many must do activities on Vancouver Island!
In this Vancouver Island guide you’ll find:
- Vancouver Island must-sees and highlights
- What is the best time to visit Vancouver Island?
- How to get to Vancouver Island?
- How to get around on Vancouver Island?
- A (printable) map with all the places mentioned in the post.
What to do on Vancouver Island
40 things to do on Vancouver Island
1. Take a free tour in the British Columbia Parliament Buildings
While the British Columbia Parliament is home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, this beautiful building is accessibly to the public! You can visit the British Columbia Parliament independently or join one of the free guided tours. There are several tours a day which last between 30-45 minutes.
Read more about the free tours here.
2. Admire the Fairmont Empress (or have a high tea)
The Fairmont Empress opened her doors at the start of the 20th century and is a true city icon. If you like a high-tea (and even if you don’t;-), be sure to have a ‘Tea at the Empress‘ which has been a tremendously popular Victoria activity since 1908!
3. Explore Victoria Old Town
The historic center of Victoria
Victoria has a lovely historic center that can easily be navigated on foot. Pick up a map at the Visitor Center and spend the day wandering from one beautiful old building to the next. In my Victoria itinerary, you can read about more fun things to do in this beautiful capital.
Whale watching tour
One of the most popular activities in Victoria is going on a whale watching tour. Victoria is one of the top spots to see killer whales (orca) but you’re also likely to encounter humpback and gray whales.
Butchard Gardens (20 km from Victoria)
Another activity that should feature on any Victoria trip is a visit to the famous Butchard Gardens. These beautiful gardens are a National Historic Site of Canada and the result of the vision, passion, and dedication of Jenny Butchart.
The easiest way to visit the Butchard Gardens (if you don’t have your own transport) is via this popular bus tour. Included in the tour are transportation in a comfortable touring car, a professional guide and entrance to the gardens.
4. Stroll around Fisherman’s Wharf
Another hotspot in Victoria is quirky Fisherman’s Wharf, a floating village with colorful houses and cute little shops. Don’t be surprised to see some other inhabitants of the wharf floating in the bay (yup, that’s a seal!).
5. Go for a walk in Beacon Hill Park
Victoria is a green city and surrounded by ocean. From Beacon Hill Park you have a great view over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On a clear day you can easily see the U.S.A. on the other side of the strait.
6. Refill your energy at Crust Bakery
All that walking around Victoria makes you hungry and a great spot to replenish your energy is Crust Bakery. I particularly liked their soft and fragrant focaccia!
7. Eat the best tacos on Vancouver Island at Tacofino
I love Mexican food and was very happy to stumble upon Tacofino. The staff kindly recommended their favorites to help us decide. But no worries, whichever taco or burrito you choose, they are all delicious…
8. Go for a walk (or a swim) at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park
Canada has countless Provincial and National Parks and one of those is Sooke Potholes Provincial Park. The name says it all, you can see potholes in this park.
But not those annoying potholes on ill-maintained roads… No, huge potholes created by massive boulders being carried downstream by the thundering river when the glaciers melted a long time ago. Nowadays the river is much calmer and you can even go for a swim in designated areas!
9. Admire Sheringham Point Lighthouse
I love old lighthouses, don’t you? The Sheringham Point Lighthouse is quite possibly the most picturesque one I’ve ever seen. Though now that I think about it, Nugget Point Lighthouse in New Zealand is a serious contender for the number 1 spot too…
10. Hike the Botanical Beach Loop Trail
It’s just a short loop (less than 3 kilometers) but very worthwhile. The trail leads through the forest and over the rugged beach with rocky pools.
However, the reason this was an epic trail for us is because we say our first bear! A young, and therefore relatively small one, black bear walking around on the beach… It’s so cool to see wild animals in their natural habitat, obviously we kept an appropriate distance.
Apologies for the abysmal quality of the picture, not being able to take proper wildlife pictures is what convinced me to finally buy a great DSLR camera.
11. Check out Canada’s Gnarliest Tree in Avatar Grove
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten path place to visit, this is it! The road leading to Avatar Grove is rather bumpy, we drove very slow and walked the last kilometer to the trail-head. But it’s pretty fun to see the the Gnarliest Tree in Canada, it looks like a giant tied a knot in it!
12. Have a pick-nick at Fairy Lake
A lovely little lake surrounded by trees and mountains, the perfect place for a pick-nick. Keep an eye out for otters and other wildlife!
13. Drive the beautiful Pacific Marine Road (and stop often to take pictures)
The road between Port Renfrew and Honeymoon Bay is very quiet and very beautiful. My advice: wake up early, pack enough water, food and fuel for the road (there are no amenities along the road) and enjoy the ride!
14. Admire the massive and ancient Harisson Spruce
That’s what you call a big tree, the trunk has a diameter of 4 meters! Nobody knows exactly how old the Harrison Spruce is, but these type of trees can live up to 800 years…
15. Have lunch, dinner or a drink at Jakes at the Lake
Jakes at the Lake is the perfect pub in the perfect location… We had a tasty dinner on the patio while watching the sun set over the lake.
16. Take a short hike to the Stocking Creek Waterfall
I’ll be honest: this isn’t the most impressive waterfall you’ll find in Canada. Nevertheless, it’s a lovely walk through the forest and a good place to stretch your legs when driving from Lake Cowichan to Nanaimo (or vice versa).
17. Walk around Westwood Lake (or go for a swim)
This easy 5,5km trail goes around Westwood Lake and makes for a perfect afternoon stroll. When we visited the weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the park was filled with families celebrating summer.
18. Hike to the top of Mount Benson
Make sure you have a proper breakfast before scaling this mountain. The loop is 8 kilometers and took us 3,5 hours (return). I recommend to wear sturdy shoes, it was pretty muddy when we went up. It’s a steep climb but the view from the top more than makes up for that…
19. Check out the Abyss, but don’t fall in…
Even if the weather isn’t that great, this 1 kilometer trail (return) to the Abyss is a nice short stroll. Once you are atop the rocks you’ll see the jagged crack in the ground, aka the Abyss. It’s deep, so be careful!
20. Explore the Old City Quarter of Nanaimo
21. Stroll over Nanaimo’s Harborfront Walkway
Nanaimo has a very nice harbor front with beautiful views over Newcastle Island and Protection Island. At Nanaimo Harbor you can also catch a small ferry (only for pedestrians) to the Dinghy Dock Pub, the only floating pub in Canada!
22. Hike to the Ammonite Falls
This is an easy 5km (return) hike, walking to the Ammonite Falls and back took us a little over an hour. The falls are beautiful, but because most of the snow had already melted when we visited in June they were not as spectacular as in early Spring.
23. Chill out at the French Creek Marine Pub
Sometimes it rains in Canada and on those days the best place to be is a pub like this one. We received a warm welcome from the staff and spend the rainy afternoon sampling beer and cider.
24. Spend the morning (or the entire day) at the Qualicum Foods Cafe
When the rain continues, don’t despair! The Qualicum Foods Cafe serves hot coffee and delicious sandwiches. There is WiFi and sockets to charge your devices. What more could you wish for? Besides a blue sky that is;-).
25. Admire the thundering Englishman River Falls
The upside of rainy days is all that rain makes for thundering waterfalls and the Englishman River Falls definitely falls (no pun intended;-) into that category. It’s only a short and easy walk to these pretty falls, don’t miss them on your Vancouver Island trip!
26. Visit the Old Country Market (and try not to buy everything in sight)
The Old Country Market in Coombs is famous for the grazing goats on the roof of the market, but there is much more to see! There are cute shops and the market has a great selection of fresh products (like delicious smelling rosemary bread) and imported international products (like real Italian espresso for coffee-addicts like myself).
27. Have a delicious homemade ice cream at Coombs
I usually restrain myself and get 1 scoop of ice-cream, but there were just too many delicious options to choose from at the Billy Gruff Creamery! Ultimately I went for the sea salted caramel (their best-seller) and strawberry cheesecake, finger-licking good…
28. Visit Little Qualicum River Regional Park
I visited several waterfall on Vancouver Island, but the ‘Little’ Qualicum Falls were the most impressive. Cascading down several tiers these roaring falls took my breath away, nature is so powerful!
An added bonus is the photogenic abandoned railroad you’ll cross when entering the park. Too bad it’s no longer in use though, what a ride that would have been…
29. Walk among giants in Cathedral Grove
I loved this ancient forest with its massive trees, all covered in moss and lichen. There are 2 short and easy boardwalks, one on each side of the road. It’s easy to loose yourself in this mysterious green world…
30. Admire the view from the Port Alberni Fire lookout
It’s a bit of a climb (300 meters elevation, 9 km return), but the view over the Port Alberni valley is splendid! I completely understand why they built a fire lookout in this particular spot, you can see for miles and miles in all directions!
31. Stroll around the Harbour Quay in Port Alberni
Port Alberni isn’t very big but the harbor front is rather cute. The view over the Alberni Inlet (with its 40km the longest inlet on Vancouver Island) is beautiful. At the harbor front you can climb a small lookout tower, there are several nice shops and the All Mex’D Up Taco Shop.
32. See the salmon migration at the Stamp River fish ladder
I had never seen salmon (alive;-) before, let alone seen them migrate up a river! At the Stamp river falls a fish ladder has been installed, helping the salmon in their journey upstream.
The fun part: here is a big TV showing a life stream from the fish ladder. So you can actually see the salmon swimming through!
33. Check out the Petroglyphs at Sproat Lake Provincial Park
A short trail leads along the lake to K’ak’awin, one of the best preserved petroglyphs in British Columbia. What do you think it looks like? The Monster of Sprout Lake?
34. Drive the Pacific Rim Highway (slowly, because it’s gorgeous!)
The road to Ucluelet and Tofino is beautiful, leading along lakes and through green forests, bringing you slowly to the wild South coast of Vancouver Island. Take your time and stop often to take pictures!
35. Hike the Wild Pacific Trail (part I & II)
We hiked these trails in the rain, but even so, the views were hauntingly beautiful… What an amazing and rugged coastline! You can find detailed information about the hike (including a map) on this website.
Be aware bears and wolfs are often seen on the trail, so read up on what to do when you encounter one.
36. Feel the pounding of the waves at the Amphitrite Point Lighthouse
The Amphitrite Point Lighthouse may not be very pretty, but it is very strong!
Interesting fact: being the Lighthouse keeper wasn’t an easy job back in the days… The first keeper lived a mile from the lighthouse, he hiked down every night at sunset to light the lamp. The keeper would return at midnight to rewind the mechanism and again at sunrise to extinguish the lamp. So much for a good night sleep! But a good thing he did, before the lighthouse was built many ships sank in this treacherous part of the Pacific Ocean.
37. Get a hot cocoa at the Gray Whale
Another great option for a rainy day on Vancouver Island is the cozy coffee bar we found in Ucluelet. It’s called the Gray Whale and they serve steaming cups of hot chocolate and several freshly baked pies…
38. Hike the Schooner Cove Trail
The Schooner Cove Trail is a short and easy hike (4km return), but a beautiful one nonetheless. Leading to Schooner Beach via a boardwalk through the green rainforest, what’s not to like!
39. Explore cute and artsy Tofino
I am not exaggerating when I say that every Canadian we spoke to asked if we would be visiting Tofino. Apparently Tofino is pretty famous in Canada! And while I’ll admit it’s hipster galore, Tofino is a nice place to visit. It’s a cute town with bakeries, cafes, shops and galleries, perfect to be explored on foot on a sunny afternoon.
40. Hike the Tonquin Trail (and watch the sunset)
Yet another nice little hike on Vancouver Island… The Tonquin trail is an easy 3km loop through the rainforest and leads to Tonquin Beach. We visited during the day, but Tonquin Beach is also a very popular place to watch the sunset.
What is the best time to visit Vancouver Island?
While you can visit Vancouver Island the entire year, the weather is the nicest between April and October. These are also the best months for whale watching on Vancouver Island.
Visit Vancouver Island in Spring
Spring is a great time to visit Vancouver Island as the entire island turns green and there are lots of pretty blossoms and flowers. Furthermore, there are fewer tourists and accommodation prices are generally lower.
Visit Vancouver Island in Summer
Temperatures are highest in summer, the average temperature on Vancouver Island in July and August is around 17 degrees Celsius. Also, there are lots of festivals and activities on Vancouver Island during the summer months, so it’s definitely a fun time to visit.
However, it is also the busiest time on Vancouver Island as this is peak season and accommodation prices are at their highest.
Visit Vancouver Island in Autumn
Fall is a nice time to visit Vancouver Island as the leaves on the trees turn to fiery autumn colors. When visiting Vancouver Island in autumn, you can watch the fall foliage in The Butchart Gardens or visit the Great Canadian Beer Festival.
Visit Vancouver Island in Winter
While the winter months on Vancouver Island aren’t necessarily cold, they are generally quite wet. November, December and January in particular (6 rainy days on average). If you bring a proper rain coat you can still visit Vancouver Island in winter, but for outdoor enthusiasts this isn’t the best time to visit.
Where to stay on Vancouver Island
There are lots of accommodation options on Vancouver Island. You can go camping, glamping, stay at an Airbnb or at one of the many cute boutique hotels.
If you are traveling on a budget, campsites and Airbnb’s are your best bet. Expect to pay between 30-50CAD for a campsite and between 50-80CAD for a private Airbnb room.
Boutique hotels are more expensive, especially in peak season. However, there are nice options available for 150CAD per night, such as the cute By the Sea BnB in Sidney.
Accommodation discount: if you have never traveled with Airbnb before you can get €30 of your first Airbnb stay with this link! Alternatively, if you book via this link on Booking.com you will get a €15 discount on your booking.
How to get to Vancouver Island?
There are several ferries going to Vancouver Island. If you are traveling to Vancouver Island from Vancouver, you can take the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (close to Victoria) or to Duke Point (close to Nanaimo).
Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay (just north of Vancouver) to Departure Bay (also close to Nanaimo). Check the ferry schedule and price info here.
You can also fly to Victoria, there is an international airport in North Saanich (about 20km from the Victoria).
How to get around on Vancouver Island?
There is public transport on Vancouver Island, but it’s not an extensive network. You can find more information here.
However, in my opinion the best way to explore Vancouver Island is by car. You can easily rent a car or a campervan for you Vancouver Island trip. Or, if you are planning to stay in Canada for a longer period of time, you can consider buying a car instead of renting one.
In any case, having your own wheels gives you the freedom to stop wherever you want and explore the best things Vancouver Island has to offer!
Printable map with all the highlights on Vancouver Island
As promised, you can download a pdf with all the places mentioned in the post below. There is an overview map of the island and 3 detailed maps for Victoria, Nanaimo and the area between Qualicum and Port Alberni.
Vancouver Island things to do: in conclusion
I hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to ask any questions you have by leaving a comment or sending me an email.
Looking for more Canada travel advice? Check out my other Canada posts:
- Best Canadian small towns
- Best things to do in Niagara Falls with children
- Best things to do in Toronto with children
- Best things to do in Ottawa with children
- Canada on a budget
- Everything you need to know about buying a car in Canada as a tourist
- Sea to Sky highway road trip guide
- Things to do in Drumheller
- Vancouver itinerary
- Vancouver day trips
- Winnipeg itinerary