Things to Do in British Columbia
Vancouver’s Olympic Village, coming in at over 1,000,000 square feet in size, was built for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics hosted in the city in 2010. 1,000 units accommodated nearly 3,000 athletes, coaches, and personnel during the games. Construction took place over three years, and it is now a housing and retail space with a community center. It is one of the greenest building structures in the world, granting Vancouver its reputation as a leader in sustainable living. Built mostly in steel, the many elegant towers stand as modern icons of a growing city. The Olympic Village area is growing in population and popularity as a result. The neighborhood has a variety of excellent restaurants, as well as paths for walking and seafront views of the water. A walk along the seawall can run scenically alongside Vancouver's inner coastline from Coal Harbour to Kitsilano Beach.
The grand lady of Victoria, the Fairmont Empress Hotel was built in over-the-top French chateau style by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, opening in 1908.
Victoria’s first hotel is still the grandest, and one of the most highly awarded hotels in the country. Over the last 100 years, all manner of famous people have stayed here, including Edward Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth and Shirley Temple.
Taking afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is an experience not to be missed, complete with Edwardian style service, clotted cream, scones and pots of tea. Bookings are essential.
The style is more subcontinental colonial in the Bengal Lounge restaurant, where the menu features a curry buffet.
The Emily Carr House was the childhood home of Canadian painter and author Emily Carr and had a long-lasting impression on much of her work. Today, it is an Interpretive Centre for Carr’s artwork, writing, and life.
Emily Carr’s work reads like an adventure. It carried her from remote native settlements throughout British Columbia to major cities like San Francisco, London, and Paris. But her childhood home continually appeared throughout all of her work, especially her writing. The house itself was built in 1863 and Carr called it home from her birth, in 1871, until she left to pursue artist training overseas. Her father’s death triggered ownership changes and, after years of passing through the Carr Family, the house was sold off. Although it was once scheduled for demolition, the house made its way back to the Emily Carr Foundation before being purchased by the provincial government and restored.
Even if you normally give museums a miss, you won’t want to leave Victoria without dropping into the highly acclaimed Royal British Columbia Museum. From big-screen IMAX movies to the re-created First Peoples village, this imaginative and creatively curated museum will have you thinking and engaging with the past.
The First Peoples Gallery provides insights into life before the arrival of Europeans, while the Modern History Gallery vividly re-creates colonial life. In the Natural History Gallery, seals, grizzly bears and seabirds fill dioramas re-creating the region’s ecosystems. Big-screen films are screened in the on-site IMAX cinema.
Resembling a space ship that landed atop a downtown office tower, the Vancouver Lookout gives you panoramic 360-degree views of the city and surrounding landscape. Perhaps befitting the observation tower’s space age design, American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, was also the first visitor to the Vancouver Lookout, inaugurating the tower in 1977. Though the 30-story structure now seems almost petite compared to Vancouver’s newest skyscrapers, it’s a great place to get oriented to the city with vistas to Stanley Park, the North Shore mountains, and on a clear day, all the way to the Olympic Peninsula.
You can explore the views on your own – there are informational plaques in front of every window – or ask one of the guides for a complimentary tour. You can also join one of the free 20-minute tours that run throughout the day. Your admission ticket is valid all day, so you can scope out the daylight views and return later for the sunset.
A tranquil break from bustling Chinatown, this intimate "garden of ease" exhibits the Taoist symbolism behind the placing of gnarled pine trees, winding covered pathways, and ancient limestone formations.
On your visit, learn how everything in the garden reflects balance and harmony, and the placement of each item has a considered purpose. Soft-moving water flows across solid stone, while smooth, swaying bamboo grows around immovable rocks. As you wander the peaceful paths, notice how dark pebbles are placed next to light pebbles in the paving. If you visit in summer, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is the scene of musical performances and dances. Every Friday night from mid-July through the first weekend in September, the garden hosts an eclectic repertoire that includes classical, Asian, world, Gypsy jazz, Slavic soul, and fusion music.
The VanDusen Botanical Garden is a 55-acre botanical oasis in the center of Vancouver that showcases diverse plants from around the world. Not surprisingly, the garden is considered to be among the top public green spaces in North America. Among the rhododendron, magnolia and sino-Himalayan plants, you can also find plenty of art installations, such as beautifully carved totem poles and sculptures. Many visitors especially enjoy the cedar maze made up of 3,000 pyramidal cedars and if you get the chance, make sure to attend one of the seasonal festivals.
Inspired by the natural environment around it, the visitor center is unquestionably an attraction of its own. It has strived to meet the Living Building Challenge, which means that it isn’t only constructed in an environmentally conscious design that draws on natural forms, but also uses renewable resources and achieves net-zero energy consumption.
The Bloedel Floral Conservatory, or simply Bloedel Conservatory, is an indoor tropical garden and aviary in Queen Elizabeth Park. The space is divided into three climate zones and imitates the natural habitat and ecosystem of each. The tropical rainforest habitat showcases the deep jungle, where one hectare of forest contains more tree species than the country of Canada as a whole. The less humid climate of the subtropical rainforest habitat on the other hand is perfectly suited for fig trees, gnarly banyans and colorful orchids, and in the desert zone, succulents and cacti mesmerize the visitors with their prickly shapes. Nature and green spaces already have a relaxing effect on the body, but for those looking to lower their stress levels an extra notch, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory also offers a healing garden. Visitors are encouraged to touch the bark of the trees, smell flowers and use all their senses to feel the energizing effect intended.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, the Vancouver Art Gallery is one of the most impressive collections of both historical and contemporary works in Canada. This extensive gallery contains over 10,000 different pieces of art and has a great focus on the local and regional artists, many of whom are of aboriginal decent. Among the most famous artists on display are Vancouver locals such as Jeff Wall and Rodney Graham. Moreover, the gallery also contains a substantial collection of the works of Emily Carr – perhaps British Columbia's most famous artist.
Like Emily Carr's work, most of the Vancouver Art Gallery's collection is geared towards art that has been inspired by the indigenous life style and culture in the Canadian Pacific Northwest. That said, there is also a significant collection of international works as well, including a series of important art from 17th-century Dutch artist Jan van Ravenstyn.
Stanley Park's biggest draw, the aquarium is home to 9,000 water-loving creatures - including sharks, dolphins, Amazonian caimans, and a somewhat shy octopus. There's also a small, walk-through rainforest area full of birds, butterflies, and turtles. Check out the iridescent jellyfish tank and the two sea otters that eat the way everyone should: lying on their backs using their chests as plates.
Beluga whales whistle and blow water at onlookers in the icy-blue Arctic Canada exhibit, while in the Amazon rainforest, an hourly rainstorm falls in an atrium filled with three-toed sloths, stunning blue and green poison tree frogs, and even piranhas. For a local perspective, check out the Pacific Canada exhibit, where you can see Pacific salmon, giant Pacific Octopus, Stellar see lions, and a Pacific white-sided dolphin.
The Museum of Anthropology is located on the University of British Columbia campus and contains First Nation art and artifacts of the Pacific Northwest. It is also known for its great views, as the site overlooks mountains and the ocean. Only 20 minutes outside downtown Vancouver, time should be allotted to wander around the grounds.
Volunteers lead free tours of MOA throughout the day, which serve as a great way for visitors to learn about the museum’s collections and exhibitions. The tours last just under an hour, giving folks plenty of time to explore on their own as well.
Brandywine Falls is a spectacular 216-foot waterfall located just a short hop off the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Squamish and Whistler. The falls are also surrounded by Brandywine Falls Provincial Park, which has tripled in size in the past decade. Measuring 216 feet, the waterfall is nearly 30 percent taller than Niagara Falls, albeit with a fraction of the water volume. A half-mile (1-km) walking trail leads from the parking lot to a viewpoint, and it’s worth venturing a few minutes further down the trail, too, as a second viewpoint offers panoramic views across Daisy Lake. Both the Lava Lake and Sea-to-Sky trails offer short hiking and mountain biking opportunities within the park. The steeper Swim Lake Trail, which starts just before the railway crossing, doesn’t actually lead to a good swimming hole, as Swim Lake doesn't have a dock or beach. However, the trail is worth exploring because it provides the best opportunity to spot the rare and endangered red-legged frog.
Locals, international tourists, and recent immigrants - try and count the number of accents you catch as you stroll along here - throng the hotels, eateries, and shops of Robson Street, Vancouver's de facto shopping promenade. Stand at the corner of Burrard and Robson and watch its colorful parade of shoppers and shops unfold.
Shoppers come to browse and buy the high-end clothing and accessory shops that line Robson Street. While most shops are of the ubiquitous chain-store variety, many boutiques showcase up-and-coming designers.
It’s also worth heading to the Stanley Park end of the strip, where you'll find a modern “mini-Asia” of subterranean internet cafés, hole-in-the-wall noodle eateries, and discreet karaoke bars populated by homesick Japanese and Korean language students. It's a great area for a cheap-and-cheerful, authentically South Asian lunch.
With two theaters (including the world’s largest OMNIMAX® dome theater) showcasing films that rotate regularly, stage shows, and more interactive exhibits than you can shake a stick at, Science World at Telus World of Science (still unofficially called “Science World” by the general public) is a fascinating place for children and adults to completely lose track of time while getting lost in the wonderful world of science.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the many interactive displays, rotating feature exhibitions, and live science demonstrations. There are plenty of these fast-paced shows, which cover a variety of science topics like chemistry, moving objects, electricity, and bubbles, while different galleries inside are dedicated to the environment, life sciences, physics, sustainability, and more. Science World’s programming changes frequently, as do the films and light shows offered in the on-site theaters, but free shows are offered regularly.
Found within the current bounds of Vancouver's Stanley Park, Prospect Point is not only the highest point in the park and a great viewpoint of the harbor, but a place of significant history. In the late 1800s, boats traveling into Burrard Inlet were forced to pass extremely close to Prospect Point, as uninhibited water from the Capilano River plowed into the harbor, carrying with it silt and rock. The mineral-heavy flow further out caused the waters to be less buoyant, but crossing so close to the cliffs of Prospect Point wasn't without its risks either. In 1888, a ship called the S.S. Beaver ran aground on the rocks. It was then that the decision was made to put a warning light on the point to help guide ships through the passage. Some 25 years later, a signal station was built on the point to relay information to ships entering the inlet and, in 1948, the current Prospect Point Lighthouse was erected.
Located in Jack Poole Plaza in front of the Vancouver Convention Center, the Olympic Cauldron was built to commemorate the city's 2010 hosting of the Winter Olympic Games. The 33-foot-tall cauldron was constructed with steel and glass and was first lit as the Olympic torch made it's final run on the relay to B.C. Place Stadium for the opening ceremony of the games. Across the plaza from the cauldron is the Vancouver Convention Center, which was host to the media during the Winter Games and a key cog to the operations of the event. It's a fitting placement to commemorate the amount of work put into the event by the city of Vancouver. Today, the cauldron, which is back-dropped by stunning view of mountains and sea, has become a tourist destination in the heart of downtown Vancouver. However, the cauldron is only lit on days of special importance such as Remembrance Day or Canada Day.
For more than three decades, BC Place Stadium has been the premier venue for British Columbia’s athletics. Originally built for the 1986 World’s Fair, it played a major role in the Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics. In preparation for the event it was updated with a retractable roof that became the largest of its kind in the world. The large fabric rooftop is supported by cables, transforming the stadium for whichever weather conditions or event is present. Guests can remain covered during inclement weather, or be open to the sky (which is particularly beautiful on clear night.)
BC Place is home to the city’s two major sports teams, as well as the BC Sports Hall of Fame. The stadium is also host to the city’s largest community events. With over 1,000 digital screens and nearly 55,000 stadium seats, it’s one of the top sports arenas in Canada.
Things to do near British Columbia
- Things to do in Whistler
- Things to do in Vancouver
- Things to do in Victoria
- Things to do in Sunshine Coast
- Things to do in Vancouver Island
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