Everyone knows Vancouver is an awesome city. We’ve got it all here: vibrant culture, great international cuisine, gorgeous scenery, an abundance of outdoor activities to participate in, major sports teams, and lots more.
Once in a while, however, you might feel an urge to go exploring around the region.
Here are five suggestions for places to visit when you have a free weekend and the urge to travel.
The capital city of British Columbia, Victoria is a major destination for visitors from around the world.
Once you arrive in Victoria, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, you’ll be pleased to discover that most of the major attractions are accessible on foot – you don’t need to worry about renting a car or figuring out the transit system.
What is there to see in downtown Victoria? Right on the Inner Harbour you’ll find two iconic historical buildings: the Parliament Building (home of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia), and the Empress Hotel. Both are photo-worthy from the outside.
You can also do a free tour of the Parliament Building if you’d like to see the inside and learn more about the history and a bit about how the government works. Tours are available in 15 languages.
Also close to the Inner Harbour is the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum. The museum features both natural and human history displays. One of the highlights of your visit will be the First Peoples Gallery, where can learn about the history of the local indigenous people and see some gorgeous totems.
Looking for something a little more adventurous? Get on the water! Several whale-watching companies operate right from the Inner Harbour and will take you on a half-day trip in search of orcas (killer whales), humpback whales (among others) and lots of other marine life. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. It’s wise to make a booking in advance (especially in the summer months), but if you’re the last-minute type, Tourism Victoria operates a kiosk right on the water – they’ll be able to help you out.
Of course not everything you want to see on your visit is right downtown. The world-famous Butchart Gardens are a bus ride away – or you can book combination tours through your hotel or with whale watching or other attractions. Don’t miss out!
After a 90-minute trip up the scenic Sea-to-Sky highway from Vancouver, you’ll find world-famous Whistler.
Whistler is best known for having been a major venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and as a world-class resort for skiers and snowboarders from around the world.
The fact is, however, Whistler is truly a year-round destination, offering a huge variety of activities and attractions in summer, autumn, winter, and spring.
Summer, you say? Absolutely. In addition to having outstanding golf courses, whitewater rafting, and canoeing, Whistler is a mecca for downhill mountain biking. The Whistler Mountain Bike Park attracts serious riders from all over. Ever summer, the village hosts a major mountain bike festival that brings the best riders in the world to town to compete and perform.
How about autumn? Lots happening! Autumn is a great a great time to explore some of the great hiking trails you can access from the village and from the alpine alike. It’s also a great time for bear and eagle watching tours.
Speaking of nature, maybe try your hand fishing in a local river or lake, availing of the tours that are available from town. The air may be getting cooler and the leaves on the trees changing colour, but autumn is still a great time to get outdoors in Whistler.
Feel more like staying inside? Whistler hosts a major food and wine festival every November.
Winter is obviously the main event. Whistler regularly attracts over two million skiers and snowboarders a year, and they come for good reason. The resort is regularly voted the number one ski destination in North America and features 200 ski runs, 1500m of vertical, and averages over 10m of snow per year. That’s a skier’s paradise.
In addition to skiing and boarding, Whistler offers a wide variety of activities for when you’re not on the slopes: you can try snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and tons of other activities.
Looking for a party? Make no mistake, the World Ski and Snowboard Festival, held every April, is one rocking good time.
And that brings us to spring. Although you can still ski well into the spring at Whistler, there are plenty of other things to keep you entertained.
As the snow clears, it becomes easy to explore the extensive network of walking and cycling trails that crisscrosses the valley. So rent a bike and get exploring!
How about a more mechanized adventure? Both ATV and 4x4 tours that will get you into the back country are available.
And a season wouldn’t be a season without a festival: check out GO Fest, Whistler’s Great Outdoors Festival.
So there you have it: there is indeed more to Whistler than skiing and boarding. And we didn’t even mention the world-class dining, shopping, and cultural activities that are always available. Get yourself up to Whistler and enjoy!
When you mention Tofino to Vancouverites, their first thought is, “I wish I were there now”.
Tofino is a special place. Located on Vancouver Island, just outside the spectacular Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park, the town is surrounded by beaches, ocean (Clayoquot Sound), and old growth forest.
There’s a lot to enjoy in such a small town (population 1,600). Let’s start with outdoor adventures.
One of the main reasons people travel to Tofino is for whale watching. The high seasons for whale watching are March and October, when upwards of 20,000 Pacific gray whales migrate past Vancouver Island. The ocean around Tofino is teeming with life, so you might see humpback whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, otters, eagles, bears, and more on an excursion any time of the year.
Sea kayaking is a great way to explore the pristine waters of Clayoquot Sound. Guided tours are readily available, so adventure awaits. The good news is no experience is required—take a quick lesson and start exploring.
If you’re looking for a workout and that ‘good tired’ feeling afterwards, then give surfing a try. Lessons are available and the waves (at least during summer) are gentle enough for beginners to venture out without fear.
Prefer to stay on land? Nearby Pacific Rim National Park offers an abundance of easy-to-access hiking trails. Let’s not forget the beaches. The park and its surrounding area contain some of Canada’s most spectacular beaches. You should definitely include a stroll along at least one of them during your stay.
A couple of suggestions for your time in town: the Roy Henry Vickers Gallery is a great place to see (and maybe buy) some gorgeous art, and for some awesome local food with more than a hint of Tex-Mex, try SoBo; you won’t be disappointed.
Located in Washington State, 230km south of Vancouver, Seattle is one of the most vibrant cities in the United States and makes for a great weekend destination. Shopping, dining, arts, scenery, history, sports – Seattle has it all.
Make sure to visit the iconic Space Needle for incredible views of the city and beyond. Found in the Seattle City Center neighbourhood, it was built for the World’s Fair of 1962 with what was then a futuristic design. Today it has retro charm.
Another classic destination is the Pike Place Market. There you’ll find fresh local and artisanal food, gift shops, restaurants and cafés.
Yes, Seattle is famous for its coffee culture and no visit would be complete with a visit to the original Starbucks retail location. It’s located quite close to Pike Place Market.
Another beverage Seattle is famous for is beer. The craft beer scene in Washington State is challenged only by Oregon, and Seattle is at the heart of the action. Make sure to try a west coast style India Pale Ale – it’s the region’s signature brew.
Sports are a big part of Seattle’s identity. The city is home to the Seattle Mariners of Major League Baseball, the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer, and starting in 2021, a National Hockey League team.
The biggest draw by far, however, is the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks draw massive, passionate crowds to their home games – get a ticket if you can!
5. Harrison Hot Springs
What could be more relaxing than a quiet weekend at a spa?
Luckily, Harrison Hot Springs makes for a great weekend getaway from Vancouver. Located in the Fraser Valley on scenic Harrison Lake, the hot springs are accessible through a public pool, or by staying at the private Harrison Hot Springs Resort.
Plan a stay and let your worries melt away.
Like what you see? Well, this is only the beginning of places to visit around Vancouver.