Best Places to Visit on Vancouver Island

Prepare your Vancouver Island itinerary with serene backdrops and the perfect adventure!

By Gerome Kang | May 8, 2024
Vancouver Island is a wild, yet serene paradise that serves as the perfect getaway to escape your routine for a little while. Just a 90-minute scenic ferry ride away from the coast of Vancouver, the island offers enchanting landscapes, from the rugged coastlines of Tofino and the ancient rainforests of Campbell River to the vibrant cityscapes of Victoria.

Let’s dive into the best places to visit on Vancouver Island, exploring the rich culture, laid-back communities, and adventures around every corner.

Start with Victoria, the Capital of British Columbia

Rated as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Victoria blends history and modernity in a very special way. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the city is directly accessible by ferry from Vancouver, and the ride is already a delightful adventure on its own. Navigate the Salish Sea and cruise through the Gulf Islands, soaking in the beauty of the surrounding waters and, if you’re lucky, spotting majestic orcas breaching water in the distance!

Once in Victoria, you will find that this charming capital city is very easy to navigate, and it promises a few days of endless discovery. There are a number of iconic landmarks, cozy shops, and a stunning waterfront within walking distance, as well as a world of revitalizing activities to choose from. Some of our suggestions include:

  • Explore the peaceful Beacon Hill Park or the unique Fisherman’s Wharf.
  • Visit the Legislative Buildings and stroll along the centric Government Street.
  • Travel to the city’s fascinating past with a visit to the Royal BC Museum, or indulge in the timeless tradition of Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
  • Immerse yourself in Victoria’s rich heritage by wandering through historic Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley.
  • Relax in the floating HAVN Spa or try a cider-tasting experience.
  • Savor the delicious fresh seafood at a local restaurant by the waterfront, and shop for fresh produce and artisanal crafts at the market.
  • Don’t forget to go to the world-renowned Butchart Gardens, where vibrant blooms and lush greenery create a paradise for the senses.

A visit to Vancouver Island is not complete without a stop in Victoria. The capital of BC has something for everyone!©EmpressFairmontHotel-AfternoonHighTea-Victoria.jpeg

Continue to Tofino & Pacific Rim National Park: Nature’s Playground

From Victoria, travel across Vancouver Island to the wild West Coast. The road will take you along the East Coast to beyond Nanaimo, and from there to the interior of the island. The first leg of the journey will reward you with amazing views along the Malahat Highway, where you can choose to stop at the Malahat SkyWalk or the town of Duncan. The first is a captivating outdoor experience offering 360-degree vistas of islands, fjords, forests and mountains in two countries from a spiral tower lookout – the first of its kind in BC. Duncan, known as the “City of Totems”, has the world’s largest collection of outdoor Indigenous totem poles, with over 40 hand-carved totems around the city.

Turning onto Highway 4 for a couple of hours will finally bring you to the renowned laid-back beach town of Tofino, near the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. We recommend spending a few days in this natural paradise, exploring pristine beaches, ancient rainforests, and cultural treasures, as well as trying your hand at authentically Canadian outdoor activities. 

Here are some of our favourite things to do if you’re venturing into the untamed wilderness of Tofino:

  • Take a water taxi or kayak to Meares Island, where you will wander through old-growth trees in the lush rainforest, and discover the cultural significance of the Big Tree Trail for the First Nations of the land.
  • Join a surfing lesson to learn how to ride the waves in one of the surf mecca’s of the world!
  • Take a walk and relax on one of the many beautiful sandy beaches like the famous Long Beach.
  • Book a wildlife-watching tour to spot black bears, bald eagles, and whales!
  • Go to Hot Springs Cove to immerse yourself in a nature bath.

Lastly, you cannot miss Tofino’s neighboring town, Ucluelet. Colloquially known as ‘Ukee’, it is a quaint fishing town where nature takes center stage. The Wild Pacific Trail begins near the Ucluelet Inlet, and takes you to the working Amphitrite Point Lighthouse along the rugged coastlines of the Pacific Ocean for a view you will never forget. The West Coast of Vancouver Island is without a doubt one of the top destinations to visit in your lifetime!©MalahatSkyWalk-Tower.jpg©DCT-LouiseMallard-WildPacificTrail-PacificRim.jpg©Lisanne_Smeele_Tofino_August13th-48-scaled-e1657564456395.jpg©DCT-Kayaking-CampbellRiver.jpeg

Set a Course for the Untamed Beauty of Northern Vancouver Island

Back in the East Coast of the island, you will find the singular town of Coombs and its local farmer’s market – with goats living on the roof! From there, take a small detour to stop at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, where you can take a walk around the old-growth Douglas Fir rainforest. Arriving in Parksville, we recommend a visit to Morningstar Farm, a local food hub featuring self-guided tours, a farmgate store, the seasonal “calfé”, and a petting farm. Then, traverse the Coastal Highway towards the North of Vancouver Island, soaking in the coastal communities and breathtaking landscapes that define this region.

You will arrive in Campbell River, a place worth taking the time to unwind and savor the tranquility of its surroundings, perhaps with a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, or a moment of reflection at sunset. Nestled amidst towering mountains and pristine waters, the rugged landscapes of Northern Vancouver Island are home to abundant wildlife, and set the perfect environment for an array of adventures in the wild! Some of them include:

  • Kayaking along secluded coves.
  • Embarking on a thrilling whale watching excursion,
  • Venturing into the Bute or Toba Valley on a Grizzly Bear Expedition for a chance to witness these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.
  • Exploring Elk Falls Provincial Park and its network of scenic trails and suspension bridges with views of cascading waterfalls and ancient forests.
  • Fishing in pristine rivers, or simply basking in the serenity of nature.

If you are looking for a more remote escapade, follow Highway 19 further up from Campbell River to reach Port Hardy and the North tip of Vancouver Island. You can also reach Port Hardy aboard the famous Inside Passage cruise (internal tour), on the route from Prince Rupert in Northern BC. If you’re ready to return to the Mainland, make your way to Nanaimo, and don’t miss the opportunity to try the renowned Nanaimo Bars!©CampbellRiverWhaleWatchingAdventureTours.jpg©CampbellRiverWhaleWatchingAdventureTours-GrizzlyBear.jpg

Wilderness and Wildlife: Your Vancouver Island Adventure Awaits!

From the historic charm of Victoria to the untamed wilderness of Tofino and Campbell River, Vancouver Island offers incredible experiences waiting to be discovered. Whether you prefer to wander through blooming gardens and beautiful cities, try new adventures along rugged coastlines, or immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature, this island paradise offers something for every traveler.

For a journey of exploration and wonder, Discover Canada Tours has curated a premium itinerary for an intimate tour that explores the best of Vancouver Island, including the must-see destinations and the most authentic activities. Join us and uncover the best-kept secrets that define this captivating destination.

Any experience on Vancouver Island will give you a sense of tranquility to bring back home along with many memories to cherish forever, a priceless gift that makes the adventure worth it! Book our brand-new Vancouver Island Premium Tour for an unforgettable summer vacation.