There are so many amazing things to do on a Vancouver Island holiday. We’ve put together our favourite indoor and outdoor activities to help you make the most of your travels.
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.
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 things to do on Vancouver Island.
Once you’re done with Vancouver Island, we highly recommend continuing your trip on BC’s beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Read on to discover…
11 of the Best Things to Do on Your Vancouver Island Holiday
1. Explore Victoria British Columbia
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, go swimming at the beach, 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.
(Don’t miss: If you visit Vancouver, make full use of our guide to doing a DIY Vancouver craft beer bike tour) →
Where to stay in Victoria BC
2. Take an Outdoor Adventure on Salt Spring Island
If Victoria is too bustling for you, take BC Ferries from Swartz Bay to Salt Spring Island — which will give you a taste of truly chill Canadian island life during your Vancouver Island holiday. 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 Island to take advantage of the amazing hiking and biking opportunities.
(Don’t miss: Our guide to Things to do in Vancouver BC – Our 17 Favourite Summertime Activities) →
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!
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.
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.
(Related: For even more ideas, check out this Vancouver Island guide) →
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 holiday 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
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
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.
Things to do in Nanaimo, BC
6. Swim on Scenic Gabriola Island
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.
7. Wander Westwood Lake
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
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!
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.
(Don’t miss: What I found on Denman & Hornby during my Sunshine Coast solo bike tour) →
10. Kayak the Broken Group Islands
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.
(Don’t miss: For more on the Broken Group Islands, 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
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
Some links in this post are our personal affiliate links, which means if you book hotels or tours using one of our links, we’ll earn a little bit of money at no extra cost to you. Every little bit helps us to keep bringing you lots of great travel, adventure, and inspiration! Thanks! –J.