British Columbia is the star of Canada being an outdoor haven with lush forests, snowcapped mountains, and stunning coastal cities. If you’re planning a trip to Canada, BC should be at the top of your list! Bursting with natural beauty from the Pacific Ocean to the famous Rocky Mountains, this Canadian province really does have it all.
As is typical in Canada, BC has a large land mass with a relatively small population leaving tons of area for nature and wildlife to flourish – and flourish it does! Lakes, mountains, rivers, oceans, and forests combine to make the province an outdoor playground that is an absolute must see for any adventurous traveler. Exploring the best cities in BC is a great way to really get a feel for all Canada has to offer. Too many tourists restrict their exploration to simply Vancouver or Toronto when really Canada has so much more to offer.
British Columbia is a large province so when planning your trip, you may wonder where are the best places to visit. To help you plan your trip, we’ve listed all the best cities in BC and have given you a rundown of what to expect from each place.
Best cities in BC
We can’t make a list of the best cities in BC without including the biggest city in the province. Vancouver is one of a kind bustling city set on a picturesque mountain backdrop where urban metropolis meets an outdoor adventure paradise. Whether you are looking to do some great shopping, indulge in some tasty eats, get lost in the forest, or scuba dive in the ocean, Vancouver has it all.
The city’s lush green rainforest does come at a price though. Affectionately referred to as Raincouver by locals, Vancouver receives approximately 169 days of rain a year. It’s best to plan for rain and pack accordingly when visiting.
There are so many things to do in Vancouver, you will have no problem spending at least a week in the city. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, you can get lost in the city’s tall mountains and lush forests. The Seawall at Stanley Park, a 405 hectare waterfront park located right downtown, is one of the best areas to explore in Vancouver. That’s the size of 506 football fields!
Historic neighborhoods such as Gastown and Chinatown offer a great look into Vancouver’s culture and history. Popular Vancouver attractions like Granville Island house an eclectic arts scene with beautiful ocean views and the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat. This is a great place for a cold beer in one of over 70 craft breweries in Vancouver. If you’re traveling with kids, a trip to Science World is a must!
Getting around downtown Vancouver is easy. Relatively flat and almost completely surrounded by the ocean, walking around Vancouver is not only easy but offers up some incredibly rewarding views. There is also a Skytrain that connects Vancouver to many of the surrounding suburbs. The Skytrain is a very popular way to get from Vancouver International Airport (YVR) to downtown Vancouver.
Situated off the coast of Vancouver on Vancouver Island, Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia. The city is known for its historic charm, thriving arts scene, stunning oceanfront location, and funky eclectic vibes. Located on the southern end of the island, Victoria is known for its ideal climate boasting some of the most moderate weather conditions in the country.
There are so many fun things to do in Victoria, you will have no problem filling up a weekend in the city. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is one of the most iconic Victoria landmarks on the island with its impressive ivy covered building being where the British Royal Family stays when they visit.
Home to BC’s beautiful Parliament Buildings and the stunning Butchart Gardens all built around Victoria’s stunning harbor, you will have plenty to explore. If you’d rather have a more nature inspired experience, this is a great place to get lost in the many forest trails or take to the ocean for some excellent scuba diving and whale watching.
If you plan to do a road trip to other popular Vancouver Island destinations, I recommend allowing at least a week to explore the island. While there is public transportation on the island, I highly recommend having a private vehicle and doing a road trip.
More than 31,000 km² (12,400 m²), like the rest of BC, most of the island’s landmass is covered in forested, beach and mountainous landscapes. Other top Vancouver Island destinations include Nanaimo (home of the delicious Canadian dessert: Nanaimo bar), Sooke, and the laid back surfer town of Tofino.
Kelowna, our favourite city in the province, is BC’s slice of sunny paradise. Sometimes called Kelownafornia, this city is known for its long hot summers and short mild winters. A must visit for wine lovers and golf pros alike, Kelowna exudes a laid back lifestyle full of sunshine, beer, and good vibes.
Kelowna is situated in the middle of the Okanagan Valley in BC’s interior and is built around the stunning Okanagan Lake. The city is known as an outdoor paradise and is a prime spot for hiking, biking, and watersports. Kelowna is split into two areas: Kelowna and West Kelowna, which are separated by the huge Okanagan Lake.
The city of Kelowna is built for tourism attracting about 2 million annual visitors. It is packed full of fun things to do no matter what season you visit. In the summertime, the city comes to life with patios opening all around the city between May and October to welcome visitors to enjoy a nice glass of vino with stunning lake views. Downtown Kelowna is a hotspot for upscale restaurants, stunning beaches, boutique style shopping, and lots of events.
Kelowna is a city that likes to drink, with more than 40 wineries in the city, visiting some of the best wineries in Kelowna and taking one of the many Kelowna wine tours is a must do when visiting. As is typical with BC, Kelowna also has a budding craft brewery scene. Winter receives far less tourism with the nearby ski hill Big White being the main draw to the area.
The city of Kelowna is located about 390km (242 miles) northeast of Vancouver. You can expect a beautiful 4 hour drive through the BC mountains to get to this sunshine town. Downtown Kelowna is best explored on foot. If you are looking to get around the rest of Kelowna, you can do so on an electric bike or scooter, private car, or with public transit.
If you’re looking for a stunning mountain getaway, look no further than Whistler, BC. Whistler is tucked away in the BC mountain coast about 2 hours north of Vancouver. Home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler has attracted global attention as being a world class skiing and snowboarding hotspot.
Consisting of two mountains, you will have the choice of exploring both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Together, the mountains offer 8,171 acres of terrain to explore including 3 glaciers. The side by side mountains are connected by a stunning Peak 2 Peak Gondola that is open year round. Whistler Village is a thriving little mountain town that allows access to this outdoor playground.
Whistler has 2 hot tourism seasons:
- In the summer months, from June to August, Whistler Village comes to life with mountain bikers, hikers, and adventurers looking to take in the beautiful wilderness of the area.
- The alpine village is set in its full glory during the winter, with a peak in tourism between December and January, when skiers and snowboarders from around the world flock to the area. The postcard worthy village turns into a snow covered winter wonderland that is truly one of a kind.
No matter what season you visit, Whistler offers so many great things to see and do for adventurers. Much like the rest of BC, Whistler has a small craft brewery scene in a hipster style neighborhood called Function Junction. Trust me, the only thing better than a cold craft beer is sipping one after a long day on the slopes. Last time we were in Whistler we visited the light show at Vallea Lumina which we can’t stop recommending to everyone we talk to.
Winter is one of the best times to come to this snowy village when you can try your hand at skiing or snowboarding down any of the 200 marked runs on the mountains. If you’re not a skier, taking a snowmobile tour is a great way to explore the terrain.
With a good mix of top tier luxury mountain resorts and affordable motels, Whistler attracts every type of traveler. Located 120 km (75 miles) north of Vancouver through the stunning BC mountains, getting to Whistler is easy. Whistler Village itself is a very walkable area with most of the shops and restaurants having pedestrian access only. Getting around the rest of Whistler, to the slopes, surrounding lakes, and wilderness trails, is accessible on foot, with private car or public transit.
If you’re looking for a slower paced city that will introduce you to all BC’s interior has to offer, Kamloops is a great option. This sleepy town, known as the Tournament Capital of Canada, acts as a great central place to explore some of the best areas in the Thompson region. Kamloops is known for its dry semi arid climate that is surrounded by many great lakes and forests to explore.
The beautiful Thompson River separates the north and south end of the town and flows into nearby Kamloops Lake. Known as the friendliest city in Canada, Kamloops is one of the best places to visit in British Columbia where you can enjoy the welcoming small town vibes.
Kamloops offers lots to see and do being a hotspot for outdoor adventure such as fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and off roading. With a very unique landscape, Kamloops natural beauty feautres dry rolling hills and picturesque canyons. Kamloops is rich in Indigenous culture and history from the Tk’emlúps peoples.
The city has an up and coming brewery scene with a few wineries opening up around town. Downtown Kamloops is lined with restaurants and boutique style shops that can be a lot of fun to explore. Nearby Sun Peaks Mountain is a must visit for epic skiing and snowboarding in winter.
When doing some Kamloops sightseeing, I recommend exploring outside of the city limits as well. There are a lot of great areas to visit within a short drive of Kamloops. The city of Salmon Arm is a popular destination just over an hour east of Kamloops where you will find the stunning Shuswap Lake.
One of our favorite lakes in the area is Johnson Lake, a stunning crystal clear paradise just over an hour north of Kamloops. Wells Gray Provincial Park is another favorite of ours located 90 minutes north of Kamloops and home to 41 waterfalls, lakes, and amazing forest trails. This park is packed full of wildlife. We’ve visited Well Gray 5 times and every single time have seen bears.
Do you need a car to explore BC?
You don’t need one, but it sure is nice! The best places to visit in British Columbia are not necessarily in big cities. One of our best British Columbia travel tips is to have a private car to explore the best cities in BC. It’s a big province, almost 4 times the size of Great Britain. Traveling between the different cities in the country can take hours and while there are some buses you can take, BC is really best explored with a big road trip.
Thanks for stopping by!
British Columbia is Canada’s outdoor playground with almost 64% of the province (95 million hectares) being forest and more than 20,000 lakes. No matter which city you choose to explore, you are guaranteed to get beautiful natural landscapes with plenty of outdoor activities offered. From the urban streets of Vancouver to the wine soaked paradise of Kelowna, BC promises an unforgettable vacation. Now that you know the best cities in BC, all that’s left is to book your trip!
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