Are you looking for the best things to do on Vancouver Island?
We’ve got you covered whether you love beaches, water activities, city sites, or walking trails. Use the following list to hit the highlights. Of course, you always have the option of choosing just one activity and immersing yourself by visiting several locations that offer similar experiences.
The list is divided into regions with the top things to do in each. While it’s possible to visit every region on Vancouver Island during one visit, it’s not advised. There is just too much to see and do in each one! However, I’m not here to tell you how to enjoy your holiday, so do as you wish. My only advice is to get out there and explore!
As the most popular time to visit the island is during the summer months, many of the experiences and activities mentioned below are to be visited during that time. That doesn’t mean they aren’t available at other times of the year; however, hours of operation and what’s available to you may vary.
Before reading this post, ensure you know how to get to Vancouver Island first.
What’s so special about Vancouver Island?
You may be wondering what all the recent hubbub is about this area. Why should you visit?
According to Lonely Planet, Vancouver Island is the prime Canadian location for nature lovers. And CNN recently toted it as one of the top 25 most beautiful places in the world. I 100% agree with both!
Our island has an overabundance of wilderness that offers an endless list of hiking and camping opportunities. The wild, untamed beaches, where you can still find a secluded spot to stretch out or explore, provide a welcomed summer retreat. And the lovely well-maintained towns, cities, and villages throughout, along with the friendly locals, all help make Vancouver Island a top destination.
Map of Things to Do on Vancouver Island
If you are a visual person, check out this interactive map showcasing all the locations mentioned in this article.
Top Things to do in Greater Victoria
Victoria is a popular location on Vancouver Island to visit year-round, and rightly so. As it’s the capital of BC, Victoria has all the world-class amenities one would want and need, but with a twist of old-world charm. Here are a few not to miss summer activities while in Victoria.
See, Do, Eat, Stay
- The Parliament Buildings are a historic site not to miss out on. Whether you walk the grounds and snap a few pics or immerse yourself in a free guided tour, your time here will be enjoyable.
- And speaking of historic landmarks, the Empress Hotel is a worthy Instagram location. Steeped in lavish luxury, this iconic hotel is worth visiting (even if you can’t afford to stay!).
- For a more affordable place to rest your head but equally lavish, check out the Inn at Laurel Point.
- Do you like to explore castles? Victoria has a few of them and they are open to tours. The grounds are also a lovely spot to spend some time.
- Fisherman’s Wharf is always a fun place to visit. Snap a pic of the brightly coloured houseboats and then devour some delicious food at Barb’s Fish and Chips.
- Whale watching is a popular activity in Victoria, and this company leaves right from Fisherman’s Wharf.
- If you are a foodie and like to try a sampling of many great things, then check out this incredible tour offered by Taste of Victoria. Bonus: This tour also walks you through China Town!
- No trip to Victoria is complete without visiting the famous Butchart Gardens.
- Want to get out of the city and into nature? Then head to Goldstream Provincial Park.
- If you are looking for a great camping location near Victoria, check out Pedder Bay RV Resort and Marina.
Top Things to Do in Sooke & Port Renfrew
If a rugged coast suits your fancy, head to either Sooke or Port Renfrew, located on southwest Vancouver Island. These small seaside towns offer plenty to do, especially if you like getting out into nature. The drive from Sooke to Port Renfrew is incredibly epic, and below are a few of the highlights to see and do along the way.
- Explore the Sooke Potholes. A series of deep, polished rock pools carved naturally into the bedrock of the Sooke River offer some of the best freshwater swimming in the region. And undoubtedly the town’s most famous attraction.
- The Prestige Oceanfront Resort offers an excellent and affordable place to stay and waterfront dining too!
- For some of the best freshly made baked goods and sandwiches, head to Shirley Delicious Cafe. Open for brunch and lunch and all your coffee and treat needs.
- While out that way, make sure to stop at Sheringham Point Lighthouse for that enviable snapshot.
- French Beach is a beautiful spot on the scenic Strait of Juan de Fuca near Jordan River. And an ideal location to stretch your legs. It’s also a popular vehicle-accessible camping site, said to be among some of the best on Vancouver Island.
- Hit all of Juan de Fuca Park’s gems, including China Beach, Mystic Beach, Sandcut Beach, Sombrio Beach (where you can find a hidden waterfall), and the world-famous Botanical Beach.
- View a few of Port Renfrew’s biggest giants…old-growth trees, that is.
- Renfrew is also a fantastic spot for whale watching.
Top Things to Do in the Cowichan Valley
From fantastic wineries to world-class attractions, the Cowichan Valley has a little something for everyone.
- The Malahat Skywalk is Vancouver Island’s latest sensation, and it’s easy to see why.
- Offering the same spectacular views as the Skywalk, but with a place to rest your head, check out Villa Eyrie Resort.
- No visit to the Cowichan Valley is complete without visiting the historic Kinsol Trestle.
- Many happy customers utilize this whale watching tour company while in the Cowichan Valley.
- And then there’s the wine…and lots of it! Join a fun wine tour to visit a few local favourite vineyards. If you’d rather go on your own, I highly recommend Merridale Ciderworks for both samplings of their delicious ciders AND a great bite to eat!
- If it’s hot outside, don your bathing suit and hop on a tube for a relaxing day on the Cowichan River.
- For a great camping experience on beautiful Cowichan Lake, head to Gordon Bay Provincial Park.
- If you love birds and big ones at that, then a stop at the Raptor Centre in Duncan is a must!
- Speaking of Duncan, the Totem Walk is a lovely way to immerse yourself in some local heritage.
- Chemainus is a beautiful little seaside town famous for its murals and a must-see.
- Transfer Beach in Ladysmith is a wonderful spot to while away the day. Utilize the spray park, playground, picnic and grassy areas, and of course, the ocean.
- If you love waterfalls, Ladysmith has a stunning one called Christie Falls.
Top Things to Do in Nanaimo
When I think of Nanaimo, unique destinations and recreational activities come to mind. Here are my top picks for this area.
- View the only remaining coal tipple on Vancouver Island at Morden Colliery Historic Park.
- Walk among unique sandstone formations worthy of any Instagram post at Jack Point.
- Search for petroglyphs at a location that has one of the most concentrated collections of rock art.
- Straddle the Abyss and view a huge earthquake fissure.
- Hike to Nanaimo’s tallest and most significant waterfall at Benson Creek Regional Park.
- Take a 10-minute boat ride to Saysutshun and explore the local heritage at Newcastle Island.
- That same little boat also stops at a floating restaurant called the Dinghy Dock Pub, offering a fun way to spend an evening.
- For a great camping experience, check out Living Forest Oceanside Campground.
- If camping isn’t your thing, then check out the Coast Bastion. It’s conveniently located in the heart of downtown and has been recently updated too.
- Nanaimo has whale watching too!
- For a unique perspective, take a seaplane tour from Nanaimo to the Sunshine Coast for a full-day adventure.
Top Things to do in Oceanside
Oceanside consists of several seaside towns, including Parksville and Qualicum Beach. With its many natural wonders and a few man-made gems, it’s a sought-after location.
- Hit the beach! With so many to choose from, the hardest part is making a final decision. However, for both excellent family camping experiences AND a stunning beach, then Rathtrevor is your spot.
- Walk the suspension bridge at Top Bridge Regional Park.
- Enjoy a stunning bird’s eye view at the top of Little Mountain
- View the beautiful Englishman River Falls
- Get your bird and animal fix at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre
- Shop at the incredibly unique Coombs Old Country Market (otherwise known as Goats on the Roof)
- Head out into the Salish Sea for a whale and wildlife adventure.
- Stay at the beautiful Crown Mansion Boutique Hotel & Villas in Qualicum Beach.
- Walk around the picturesque village of Qualicum Beach
- Enjoy oceanfront dining at The Shady Rest
- Head underground for an exhilarating tour at Horne Lake Caves
- Walk around Little Qualicum Falls for some amazing scenery
- Admire the giants of Cathedral Grove
Top Things to Do in Port Alberni
This seaside town is the gateway to the West Coast, specifically Tofino and Ucluelet. However, it is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. And with its abundance of trail systems, one of my favourite places to unwind.
- To view a unique waterfall that’s easily accessible, check out the Hole in the Wall.
- Ride on the Lady Rose to the boardwalk community of Bamfield.
- Take a snapshot of the beautiful waterfall and trestle along Kitsuksis Creek.
- Stay at the Best Western Plus Barclay Hotel.
- Walk around my absolute favourite park along the Stamp River.
- For a wonderful history lesson, explore the McLean Mill.
- Explore the hidden and stunning Provincial Park called Fossli.
- Camp at beautiful Sproat Lake and try to find the petroglyphs while there.
- Drive the Pacific Rim Highway out to the West Coast, stopping at Kennedy Lake, Vancouver Island’s largest.
- Need some dining options? Check out Port Alberni’s top dining destinations.
West Coast – Tofino & Ucluelet
Ahh, the West Coast. With its rugged, hippy vibe, crashing waves and expansive beaches, even thinking about the area brings a sense of calm. Splurge on any of the resorts mentioned below, and you will have one of the best holidays you’ve ever had! However, don’t be surprised at how busy the little towns get, especially during the summer.
- Make the most of the Pacific Rim National Park, conveniently located between Tofino and Ucluelet, and explore all it offers.
- Surf the waves or walk for miles at Long Beach.
- Walk along the popular boardwalk path called the Rainforest Trail.
- Camp at my absolute favourite location, Crystal Cove Beach Resort.
- Rest your head in style at Long Beach Lodge Resort in Tofino.
- Soak in natural hot springs at Hot Springs Cove.
- Go sea kayaking in Ucluelet Harbour.
- Take in a whale watching and wildlife tour.
- Walk my favourite rocky trail at the Lighthouse Loop.
- Head to Ucluelet’s Aquarium to explore Canada’s first collect-and-release aquarium.
- Perch yourself on the rocky shoreline and spend a night at the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort.
The Comox Valley & Campbell River
This area of Vancouver Island has a lot to offer, especially if you are an outdoor enthusiast.
- For the mountain biking mecca of Vancouver Island, head to the Cumberland Forest.
- While in the area, make sure to stop for a beer and a bite at Cumberland Brewing Company.
- Or better yet, go on a full-day brewery and distillery tour and hit all the best spots.
- Do you have a dinosaur enthusiast in your house? Then head to the Museum & Palaeontology Centre in Courtenay.
- Kye Beach in Comox offers shallow tidal pools filled with marine life and the perfect spot to build sandcastles.
- Stay at Crown Isle Resort & Golf Community, and while there, take in a round or two.
- For delicious and award-winning wines, stop by 40 Knots Winery.
- With beautiful green meadows, pretty ponds and a stunning mountain backdrop, Paradise Meadows and Forbidden Plateau should be on everyone’s Vancouver Island bucket list.
- To experience soft shimmering sand and a mile-long stretch of beach, head to Saratoga in Black Creek.
- For the ultimate tour experience, fly over the Comox Glacier in a helicopter!
- For whales, wildlife and culture, check out this half-day tour
- Take in the thundering waterfall and high suspension bridge at Elk Falls.
- Camp or stay at Brown’s Bay Oceanfront Resort in Campbell River
- If you are really looking for a place to unwind, venture into Strathcona Provincial Park. I recommend camping at Buttle Lake.
The North Island
One should head north for some of the absolute best things to do on Vancouver Island! We try and make a trip up there once each summer and always have an amazing time.
- The northern half of Vancouver Island is rich with natural caves, and a fantastic one to explore is in Little Huson Regional Park.
- Telegraph Cove is a bustling, post-card-ready boardwalk community one should not miss out on. And whether you want to explore in a Zodiac or a from the comfort of a covered boat, whale watching is epic here!
- Alert Bay on Cormorant Island provides many cultural opportunities.
- If you want a chance to see whales without paying the hefty tour cost, Malcolm Island is where Orcas like to go to rub up against the pebbled beach.
- Coal Harbour is where you’ll find a fascinating whaling history plus the gateway to Quatsino Sound (a prime spot to see sea otters).
- Quatsino Lodge is the prime choice for incredible saltwater fishing, kayaking adventures, fantastic food, and friendly service. You can’t beat this beautiful remote location.
- Storey’s Beach in Port Hardy is a spectacular place to picnic, and the nearby boardwalk trail is beautiful.
- Stay at the recently updated Kwa’lilas Hotel for reasonable rates and a convenient location.
- And then, of course, there’s extremely remote yet utterly appealing San Josef Bay & Cape Scott.
I hope this guide gives you some great ideas to start your summer adventure.
What are your favourite things to do on Vancouver Island? Let us know in the comment section below.
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*The feature image for this article is Brady’s Beach found in Bamfield and captured by Emily Norton (Getty Images).