Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Kitsilano beach, English Bay, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Kitsilano beach in English Bay, one of the best of a dozen beaches in and around Vancouver. Photo by Rwerner.

Visiting Vancouver

OK so beaches are not the first thing that leap into your mind when you think of Vancouver but if you’re there in the summertime they’re lovely to stroll by even if you can’t handle the water temperature. Alternatively head to Kitsilano for the longest swimming pool in Canada, a salt-water pool visible on the left in the photo which should be warmer than the bay. Kitsilano also hosts a playground and a handful of beach volleyball courts.
Several beaches are located on the shore of Vancouver’s English Bay while others curve along the Pacific coastline but in addition to being lapped by chilly waters, sand in the region is generally a dull shade of brown and facilities generally limited to a dozen logs dropped off the back of a truck.


Downtown Vancouver at night, an aerial shot, British Columbia, Canada

Downtown Vancouver, a surprisingly overbuilt and unappealing collection of high-rise buildings considering the eco-friendly, arty-farty, new-age-stoner, totally-chilled ambience that the local people exude (well, the Anglo-Saxon types, the Chinese are less relaxed). Photo by MagnusL3D.

Vancouver is one of the best cities in Canada for arts, culture and waterside lifestyles, a peaceful relaxed place in a dramatic location at the junction of the Rocky Mountains, the Fraser River and the Pacific Ocean, spoilt only by the mostly dull architecture and frequent rain.

Winters are invariably wet in the city but nearby mountain snowfall is excellent and summers are warm with plenty of sports facilities, recreational areas and beaches available along the 16, 000 miles of British Columbia’s coastline. BC is English-speaking, a big plus for visiting Americans and Brits.

One of Canada’s best cities for arts, culture and outdoor lifestyles, Vancouver is a relaxed place in a dramatic location and constantly ranked as one of the best places to live in the world, especially if you are not allergic to rain.

In winter there is pretty good downhill and cross-country skiing around the peaks of Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain and Mount Seymour, just over half an hour away while the world-class activities resort of Whistler- Blackcomb is an easy 115km/2 hours drive north.

Halfway between Whistler and Vancouver the town of Squamish is a brilliant destination for mountain climbing and mountain biking on rainforest trails.

Vancouver's number one tourist night destination, Gastown, in winter, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver’s number one tourist night destination, Gastown, in winter, i. e. it’s typically pouring with rain while Grouse Mountain looming just 30 minutes away is as white as a sheet. Photo by Zzzenia.

Vancouver has a lively and creative ambience with plenty of sensational eating and drinking establishments, particularly in ex-Victorian Gastown and ex-industrial Granville Island. Granville is the place for an art attack, stroll around quaint shops, colourful market stalls, watch some street entertainment and eat fine street food.

Vancouver Seasons

Vancouver and nearby Vancouver Island (which includes British Columbia’s capital, Victoria) is one of Canada’s warmest and wettest urban zones in wintertime but coolest and driest in summertime.

Best season is July-September for summer activities, especially hiking and biking with much less rain and more sunshine than other months. Average high temperatures in Vancouver are about 22C (72F) and night lows of 13C (55F) at this time.

Winter season is best February-April for less rain but still great access to snowy landscapes and increasing sunshine. Average highs at this time range from 8C (46F) to 13C (55F) and lows from 2C (36F) to 6C (43F).


Vancouver's English Bay, British Columbia, Canada

English Bay. Photo by Kenny Louie.

English Bay Beach, near Vancouver’s West End district is the place to go sunbathing, swimming and for romantic sunset strolls, though there are plenty more beaches for those wishing for more isolation and less clothing.

The Vancouver Seawall extends from English Bay to Stanley Park in the northeast and makes a great destination for walkers, runners, cyclists, and roller-bladers while there are at least a couple of hundred other lush green spaces in the city for less strenuous activities such as tai chi.

Vancouver, Stanley Park totem poles, Canada

Stanley Park totem poles, Vancouver. Photo by E-Salvatore.

The massive and must-stroll Stanley Park, a Vancouver icon with great views, rose garden, magnificent totem poles offers varied exercise facilities such as walking, biking and roller-blading along the 5 mile (8km) shoreline.

Local people are relaxed, bike-friendly, eco-mentalists, feasting their palates on sensational multicultural cuisine, their eyes on a vibrant arts scene and their muscles biking or roller-blading around dozens of green spaces such as Stanley Park, playing on a handful of cool beaches or heading out of town for terrific summer pursuits. . . hiking, fishing, kayaking, sailing and many other activities.

Culture vultures (or rain refugees) should tear a lump off the superb Museum of Anthropology in the University of British Columbia and its wonderful cultural artifacts or for kid’s entertainment try Science World’s interactive exhibits and shows.

Kayaking is another well-rewarded activity just half an hour from downtown Vancouver, launching from the sheltered Deep Cove islands (with dozens of varied kayaks and canoes for hire) and heading for Indian Arm fjord area.

Overlooking Vancouver are three mountains, Grouse, Cypress and Seymour, offering good ski runs and awesome views just 30 minutes away from the city centre. Grouse Mountain can be reached by a short tram ride.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The Capilano Suspension Bridge crosses the Capilano River in North Vancouver. It is 140 metres (460 ft) long and 70 metres (230 ft) above the river. It’s in a private park with an admission fee. Photo by Leonard G.

A favourite family attraction near the city is the swaying Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver via Lions gate Bridge, leading to a Tree Top Adventure walkway high in the rain forest canopy, consisting of seven footbridges suspended between Douglas Fir trees forming a walkway well above the forest floor.
Alternatively, equally beautiful but less touristy and FREE Lynn Canyon Park also offers a suspension bridge along with some lovely canyon walks.

Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler

Two hours (76 miles/123 kms) from Vancouver gets tourist to must-visit Whistler via the awesome Sea to Sky Highway. This route is one of the best drives in North America, also known as Highway 99, the Squamish or Whistler Highway. It’s also known gruesomely at the Killer Highway, mainly due to the high death rate.
But relax! This is commonly attributed to drunk (DUI) night driving and the solution is obvious, don’t drive 99 at night, ever. Hard-core drivers may wish to continue on 99 through more forests and mountains as far as gold-rush Lillooet.
Some of North America’s finest winter sports happen at Whistler Mountain and it’s not bad for usual summer activities too. Whistler photos

Squamish, Sea to Sky Gondola

A 60km drive north from downtown Vancouver en route for Whistler, the eight-seater Sea to Sky pods hurtle visitors 1, 920m past a 700m-high granite dome called Stawamus Chief, up Mount Habrich for a taste of some of British Columbia’s best panoramas. At the top there’s not only a useful lodge with all the facilities you would expect but also a scary 110m wood-and-cable suspension bridge provides easy access to the some new trails such as an easy 400m loop through high forest punctuated with information on local bird life and plants, while another 1. 6km route takes you deeper into the forest to a narrow viewing platform that angles from the cliff.

The dramatically mountainous area around the town of Squamish has attracted rock climbers and back country hikers for many years but it was only in 2014 that the new ski lift style ride was installed to help less hardy travellers to enter the heart of the wilderness. Time to get high!

Celebration of Light

Late July- early August is an explosive time in Vancouver as the four day Celebration of Light hits the English Bay part of town at 10pm. This wild pyro-musical fireworks competition is watched by up to half a million people each night. Best viewing points are English Bay, Kitsilano, Vanier Park and Jericho Beach.

Best sunset spot: from English Bay beach near Denman and Davie streets.

Vancouver Distances to west Canada destinations and USA.


Laurel Point Park in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria’s Parliament building seen from Laurel Point Park, Vancouver Island, BC

More English than London (probably wetter too), the capital of British Columbia is small, genteel, very photogenic and sits discreetly on Vancouver Island.

Restored 19th century architecture is liberally scattered around, the Inner Harbour in summertime is the city’s lively social centre, though inevitably suffering from tourist overload syndrome, and afternoon tea at the elegant Empress Hotel is simply the done thing, my dear, but do book ahead, tourists get everywhere.

The weather is usually mild and the gardens are rampant; the Butchart Gardens in particular are justifiably famous and colourful while waterfront paths are tempting routes to walk off the sherry and cucumber sandwiches.

Owen Point Sea Caves

Hiking around Owen Point on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Hiking around Owen Point on Vancouver Island. Photo by Paxson Woelber.

The Owen Point Sea Caves are a lovely hike off Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail providing the tide is low, preferably below 1. 8m. The beautiful caves carved by ocean surges take on exotic colors due to the interaction between rocks and sea minerals.

It’s important to study the tide tables beforehand to ensure you don’t get trapped by a fast rising tide. Parks Canada provides tide charts free of charge to hikers for the West Coast Trail and Owen Point Sea Caves.

Serious hikers may want to head for Tofino (see below) and visit Long Beach, a super-wide, 10 mile long stretch of wild sand backed by rainforest and frequented by eagles, seals and distant whales.

If the weather is inclement and you prefer to be indoors for a while then take in the Royal British Columbia Museum and its splendid, interesting displays and exhibits.

Whale Watching tours

Whale Watching off Vancouver Island is popular from April to October as a large group of orca (Killer Whales) hang out in the Strait of Georgia and sightings are actually guaranteed by many boat operators, but choose your boat with care.
Larger boats are more comfortable and less bouncy so better for seasick-prone passengers, but tiny Zodiac inflatables are more thrilling and offer eye-level contact with orca though regulations forbid any craft from motoring closer than 100m. Waterproof coveralls will be provided!

Other wildlife that may be encountered on boat trips are bald eagles, dolphins, porpoises, seals and grey, minke, or humpback whales.

The ferry trip to Vancouver Island passes through the pretty Gulf Islands, occasionally accompanied by dolphins.

Don’t bother with Highway 3 near the American border, it’s deadly dull. Take Highway 6 instead. Another stretch of bland land is Highway 97 from Prince George to Vancouver.


The Pacific Coast of Tofino seen from Lone Cone Summit, British Columbia, Canada

The Pacific Coast of Tofino seen from Lone Cone Summit by Joltex.

On the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island 200 miles (320 kms) from Victoria is the ex-fishing village of Tofino, beautifully situated in the midst of truly wild nature and recently popular as an eco tourism centre, with beaches, surfing (the best in Canada), whale watching (grey whales and a Whale Festival in March), hiking (great trails and plenty of wildlife) and hot springs (via boat and a walk) as primary attractions and camping as a necessity due to the shortage of regular accommodation.

Get to Tofino by bus from Victoria or car ferry from Vancouver to Nanaimo (the hub city of Vancouver Island), then drive 129 miles (208 kms).

Main Festivals in British Columbia

Mid April, World Ski and Snowboard Festival, Whistler, big snow and mad music combined!

June, Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Late July- early August, Vancouver’s four day Celebration of Light

July/August, Vancouver International Comedy Festival.

August, Victoria Fringe Festival, wacky theatre of all kinds.

End of August, Tofino Lantern Festival, Vancouver Island.

November, Whistler Winterstart Festival, carnival and events galore.

Distances from USA to Vancouver

Peace Arch US Border crossing – 30 miles (50 kms).
Seattle (USA) – 110 miles (176 kms) or about 3 hours drive depending on the border traffic.
Portland (USA) – 326 miles (525 kms) or about 6 hours drive depending on the border traffic.

Distances in Canada from Vancouver to..

– Whistler 76 miles (123 kms).
– Victoria 43 miles (69 kms).
– Banff 526 miles (847 kms).
– Calgary 606 miles (975 kms).

The Okanagan Valley

Okanagan Country is an unusually dry and sunny region of BC where world-class vineyards flourish, as do wine lovers who can spend many bucolic hours tasting the produce and enjoying the wine festivals. However, it is increasingly overcrowded and busy.
It’s 312 miles(500 kms /4. 5 hours) north-east of Vancouver to Okanagan capital city, Kelowna.

The Kootenay Rockies

The Kootenays are a lush and lovely camping and activities area offering the best of the Rocky Mountains, from snowy peaks to alpine meadows, picturesque rivers, cute little beaches and dramatic waterfalls.

With four national parks, a clutch of historic towns and dozens of lodges, ranches and campsites the Kootenays is a superb destination for activity freaks in summer or winter.

Some of the favoured summer sports are mountain biking, windsurfing, white water rafting, fishing, canoeing and of course hiking with one eye on the rampant wildlife ranging from grizzlies to moose and cougars. Get there via the Canadian Rockies International Airport.

North British Columbia’s massive wilderness area is well known for superlative hunting, fishing and kayaking in particular but they also organise many other activities.