11 of Our Favourite Things to Do on Vancouver Island British Columbia

An mindful traveller's guide to the best things to do on Vancouver Island

vancouver island

A paradise on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver Island offers amazing things to do for adventurers and mindful travellers.

In honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary (and because we miss our great country so much, especially during the summer months), we decided to share our favourite spots on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, which just might be our favourite island on Earth.

Related: Discover our guide to Things to do in Vancouver BC – Our 17 Favourite Summertime Activities

Taking the Vancouver Island ferry to Victoria or Nanaimo is a fabulous way to get to see more of British Columbia’s amazing scenery. You might even get lucky and spot a pod of killer whales during the crossing.

As honorary Vancouver Islanders (we lived there temporarily, have family there, and Jane went to university there), we have had plenty of time to discover our favourite Vancouver Island activities.

Now that you’ve entered, read on to discover…

11 of Our Favourite Things to do on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island is a nature-lover's paradise. Click to discover our insider's guide to our 11 favourite things to do on Vancouver Island. | Nature Travel | British Columbia | Canada

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1. Explore Victoria British Columbia

vancouver island victoria

Victoria is a great spot for wandering and people-watching. Photo by Brandon Godfrey.

Most trips to Vancouver Island start in Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia. It’s also the reason that many get confused about the Island’s name, calling it Victoria Island instead.

The city of Victoria still retains the British charm that was bestowed upon it by early settlers. It is a perfect place for travellers who like to wander the streets soaking up the atmosphere. Families will also want to visit the bug zoo, picnic in Beacon Hill Park, or hop on the water taxi for some of the best views of the city.

For more grown-up entertainment, Victoria has a lively craft brewery scene. There are dozens of breweries and cider houses to choose from. Make sure to take a Victoria craft brewery tour and don’t miss Driftwood Brewery’s Fat Tug IPA, which is one of Stephen’s favourites.

Related: If you’re in Vancouver, don’t miss our guide to doing a DIY Vancouver craft beer bike tour

Where to stay in Victoria

There’s a huge range of accommodation in Victoria, from the central and luxurious Abigail’s Hotel to the budget-friendly Ocean Island Backpackers hostel.

2. Take an Outdoor Adventure on Salt Spring Island

vancouver island camping

Ruckle Point is the best campground we’ve ever seen.

If Victoria is too bustling for you, take BC Ferries from Swartz Bay to Salt Spring Island for a taste of truly chill Canadian island life. Ganges, Saltspring’s biggest town, has a fine weekend market and plenty of restaurants and shops to browse on a day trip. But we recommend at least a few days on Salt Spring to take advantage of the amazing hiking and biking opportunities.

Where to stay on Salt Spring Island

Bring your camping gear and stay in Ruckle Provinicial Park which is where Stephen and I went on our very first adventure together in 1994! It’s still our favourite camping spot in the world!

If you prefer sleeping in a bed, the friendly Salt Spring Inn is right in Ganges, within walking distance of everything the town has to offer. There are also a wealth of B&Bs on the island.

Things to do in Cowichan Valley, BC

3. Wine Tasting & Cider Tasting

On a rural road near Cobble Hill, BC, you’ll find two of our favourite places to taste locally-made tipples. The first is Merridale Ciderworks, where you can taste a range of (alcoholic) apple ciders, from the sweet Merri Berri to the dry Traditional Craft (Jane’s favourite). Merridale has recently added two gins and a vodka to their roster and we can’t wait to go back for a sip or three.

vancouver island wineries

We love Unsworth for family occasions or a romantic evening out.

Unsworth Vineyards is just down the road from Merridale and is our favourite winery in the Cowichan Valley, which is a flourishing wine region. Try a wine-tasting tour of the Cowichan Valley if you love the grape.

At Unsworth, the pleasure starts with the wine and is only heightened by their view of a verdant rolling valley which you is best enjoyed while sampling from their delicious locally sourced menu. This is where locals go for family occasions and romantic evenings out!

Bonus Vancouver Island tip: If you have a sweet tooth, take time out to visit Saison Market Vineyard, Cowichan Valley’s best bakery and cafe. It has very limited opening hours, so check before you go!

4. Picnic at Cowichan Lake

things to do vancouver island

Cowichan Lake is an exceptional summer swimming spot.

This idyllic lake is 30 km long and is so off the beaten track you’ll wonder if you’re in another, more idyllic, dimension. Go for the day to take a swim, have a picnic, or hop into a kayak for an adventure on the water. If you want to stay longer, Gordon Bay Provincial Park provides an excellent place for Vancouver Island camping.

Where to stay in the Cowichan Valley

Try the budget-friendly Cowichan Valley Hostel, located on a farm near Duncan BC or the more upscale Beaver Lake Resort for a waterfront stay in your own private cottage.

5. Enjoy the Art of Chemainus

Tiny Chemainus is famous for its historic murals, which proudly display vignettes of Vancouver Island life on buildings all around town. Last time we stopped in Chemainus, we found a bustling outdoor market, a charming downtown, and a welcoming community where we would gladly spend more time.

There is a small range of accommodation in Chemainus and better selection in nearby Ladysmith. We like the looks of Creekside Bed & Breakfast for its welcoming vibe and the delicious breakfast.

Things to do in Nanaimo, BC

6. Swim on Scenic Gabriola Island

vancouver island swimming

Gabriola Island has some stunning swimming spots.

A 15-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, Gabriola Island is a rural gem within easy reach of the city. Bring your road bike to tour the island’s farm stands and orchards, grab you mountain bike for a more rugged fling through the interior, and then cool off with a swim at Malaspina Galleries or just catch some shade under its famous limestone formations.

Check out Gabriola’s great selection of B&Bs or try the Surf Lodge and Pub for a truly Canadian experience.

7. Wander Westwood Lake

vancouver island lakes

Westwood Lake in Nanaimo is idyllic in summer or winter.

Nanaimo has so many outdoor attractions — SCUBA diving, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking — that it’s hard to choose a favourite. But, for an idyllic dip in a warm water, Westwood Lake is top of our list! If it’s too cold to swim, you can also hike or jog the 6 km trail that circumnavigates the lake.

8. Sea Lion Spotting at Neck Point Park

Stunning ocean views are the big draw at Neck Point Park in North Nanaimo, which overlooks the Salish Sea and affords magnificent views of the southern end of BC’s Coast Mountains. If you’re lucky, you might also spot a raft of sea lions lounging and barking in the water.

Where to stay in Nanaimo BC

There’s a nice selection of homey B&Bs in Nanaimo. We love the looks of Gibraltar Rock Ocean View B&B for its amazing ocean views.

Things to do in Central Vancouver Island BC

9. Soak Up Tiny Island Life on Denman Island and Hornby Island

vancouver island denman

The views from Denman Island are some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Just south of Comox, tiny Denman and Hornby Islands just might be the most welcoming islands in Canada. Hornby has some of the best mountain biking trails in BC and a charming laid-back vibe that will make you switch off the phone and just breathe in the nature.

On Denman Island you can visit local farms, orchards, and artisans. Catch the sunset at Fillongley Provincial Park which is the most beautiful I have ever seen — no exaggeration!

vancouver island hornby

Hornby Island’s adorable town centre is a great place for souvenir shopping.

Where to stay on Denman Island and Hornby Island

If you have a tent or RV, camp at Fillongley Provincial Park or, for more solid accommodation, book a private cottage at Sea Breeze Lodge on Hornby.

Related: See what I found on Denman & Hornby during my Sunshine Coast solo bike tour

10. Kayak the Broken Group Islands

vancouver island kayaking

Kayaking in the Broken Group Islands should be on your bucket list!

For the real adventurer, a kayaking trip to the Broken Group Islands should go directly on your bucket list. This is not a spur-of-the-moment trip — it takes a lot of preparation to get outfitted for a safe and enjoyable adventure. But it’s worth every minute of prep time to explore this kayaker’s paradise of more than 100 islands on Canada’s west coast.

For more on the Broken Group, read my post about Family Kayaking in the Broken Group Islands

Where to Stay in the Broken Group Islands

If you’re camping in the Broken Group Islands, you must stay in one of the official campsites. Avoid camping on the beach unless you like waking up with the tide washing over you. To enjoy the vibe without the paddling and prep, book in at Sechart Lodge.

11. Water Sports in Tofino

vancouver island tofino

Tofino is indescribably beautiful. Photo by Albert Normandin.

If you surf, you probably know about Tofino. With 22 miles of sandy, surfable beach, Tofino offers enough variety for all levels of surfer. When you’re not surfing, go whale watching in the summer and storm watching in winter, canoe, kayak, hike, bike, or just relax in one of Tofino’s luxury spas.

For accommodation in Tofino, we love Pacific Sands Beach Resort with its beautiful beachside location and condos kitted our for family stays. Check prices for Pacific Sands or find other great Tofino hotels.

If you want to try camping in Tofino, Crystal Cove Beach Resort provides RV spaces and private cabins while south of the airport, Green Point Campground provides camping with the boundaries of the glorious Pacific Rim National Park.

There is so much to do and see on Vancouver Island, this list doesn’t even scratch the surface. There’s so much more we have yet to try, like bear watching in Telegraph Cove, sailing in Desolation Sound, or bathing in natural hot springs.

What are your favourite Vancouver Island activities? Add them in the comments and we’ll give them a try next time we’re in Canada!

  Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

I have used affiliate links in this post, so if you book hotels or tours using one of our links, we’ll earn a little bit of money at no cost to you. That will help us to keep bringing you lots of great travel, adventure, and inspiration! Thanks! –J.

18 comments

  1. Comment by Punita Malhotra

    Punita Malhotra Reply August 3, 2017 at 8:58 am

    We made an itinerary for British Columbia and then cancelled at the last minute in favour of Czech Republic this year. But its definitely on for next year, and I’m saving your post for then.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 3, 2017 at 6:16 pm

      Great! I’m sure Czech Republic was fun as well – but British Columbia should definitely be on your list!

      J

  2. Comment by Anna Faustino

    Anna Faustino Reply August 2, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I was around 10 the last time I was in Vancouver! Definitely, time to visit again. Thanks for the tips on what to do!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 2, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      It absolutely is! Vancouver is amazing.

  3. Comment by Brent

    Brent Reply August 2, 2017 at 7:12 am

    The #1 trail on Vancouver Island is the Wild Pacific Trail in beautiful Ucluelet. Ukee is just on the other side The Pacific Rim National Park and Tofino. Take a peak… totally a hidden gem ~ http://www.discoverucluelet.com ☺️

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 2, 2017 at 7:24 pm

      Thank you!! I love the looks of Ucluelet but have never made it there. Great tip for a trail though – putting it on my Canada list for next time I get back there.

  4. Comment by Liliane Fawzy

    Liliane Fawzy Reply August 1, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Can’t believe I’ve been to Vancouver twice but never Vancouver Island. Have to make that the next priority!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 1, 2017 at 6:14 pm

      Well, Vancouver is awesome too. But the island is just a whole different vibe. Check it out next time you’re in the area!

  5. Comment by Laura Lynch

    Laura Lynch Reply July 30, 2017 at 6:07 am

    Yep, you’ve done it justice with these things to do. I love that area and miss exploring it. We used to live in Seattle – so close to be able to check out Victoria and the islands any time we wanted. It’s so gorgeous there in summer too.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 30, 2017 at 8:05 am

      Summer is so wonderful there. It’s a shame about the rainy winters though. I love taking the fast ferry from Victoria to Seattle… we’ve spent a lot of time there, too!

  6. Comment by Siddhartha Joshi

    Siddhartha Joshi Reply July 28, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Victoria looks great and a place where I can easily spend days…walking and soaking in the atmosphere! Plus the camping (especially at Ruckle Point as you recommend) would make it into a charming excursion in Canada…

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 28, 2017 at 11:58 pm

      I can’t recommend Ruckle Point enough… though I don’t want it to become too overcrowded so shhh, don’t tell anyone else :)

  7. Comment by Lillie

    Lillie Reply July 28, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    I’ve been planning on visiting BC since my brother just moved nearby, but I hadn’t heard of the Broken Group Islands. They sound awesome, and I’m adding them to my list!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 28, 2017 at 7:47 pm

      Have a great visit! As you can tell, I love BC so much. Let us know if you have any questions or need any tips!

      J

  8. Comment by Fiona Maclean

    Fiona Maclean Reply July 28, 2017 at 1:40 am

    I love the look of all those little islands. And Tofino is so stunning. If I ever get there, I will be sure to try Kayaking, it does look like the way to travel;)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 28, 2017 at 7:28 pm

      Kayaking is a stunning way to travel. So peaceful – a lot of work, but peaceful! It’s amazing how close you can get to wildlife in a kayak. It’s like actually being a part of nature.

      Thanks for commenting Fiona!

      J

  9. Comment by Visit Denman Island

    Visit Denman Island Reply July 25, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Great article about some of the gorgeous places that can be easily visited in our beautiful area of the world. If you or anyone else would like more information about visiting Denman Island, please visit our website http://www.visitdenmanisland.ca/ where you will find maps, tips, events and festivals, and all sorts of information about beautiful Denman Island. Enjoy your travels!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane July 25, 2017 at 10:32 pm

      Thanks for sharing this extra info. Denman Island is such a great place to visit and so wonderfully secluded. Perfect for our off-the-beaten-path readers!

      J

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