British Columbia is the third largest province in Canada, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains. From rocky coastlines to sandy beaches, lush forests to serene lakes, and even inland deserts, British Columbia boasts diverse landscapes. With a population of just 5.4 million, it's an adventurer's paradise - a place where you can escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the untamed beauty of nature.
But hold on, before you pack your bags and set off on your own BC adventure, there are a few things I wish I knew before I travelled there. That's why in this article, I am going to share all you need to know before travelling to British Columbia plus some valuable tips and insider knowledge that will help you plan your trip. We also made a series of travel vlogs on our YouTube Channel about our experiences in different parts of BC, including Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, and must-visit places near Vancouver.
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Do you need a visa for British Columbia?
Great news for all you fellow adventurers! If you're a US citizen planning to explore British Columbia, you're in for a treat! No need to worry about a tourist visa, as you can stay up to 180 days without one.
There's more! If you're from the UK, Europe, Australia, Singapore or Japan, you're in luck too! You won't need a tourist visa either. Instead, you should obtain an Electronic Travel Authorization, known as eTA, which is valid for a fantastic five years.
Canada recently added more countries to the visa-free travel list, so make sure to check the official website for all the latest updates.
How to get to British Columbia?
The most common and convenient way to get to british columbia is by air. Vancouver International Airport is the main gateway to British Columbia, and there are dozens of smaller airports throughout the province. There are direct flights from London and major cities in North America and Europe to Vancouver.
When is the best time to visit British Columbia?
When it comes to travelling to British Columbia, you might be surprised that it's not always icy and cold, as you might imagine Canada to be. In fact, British Columbia can get pretty hot during the summer, and some parts, like Vancouver and Vancouver Island, boast the mildest weather in the country, even during winter.
The beauty of BC is that you can visit all year round, depending on what you want to do and see. If you're a winter adventure lover and dream of hitting the slopes, then visiting during winter is a no-brainer. Whistler is your go-to destination with its fantastic ski resorts.
On the other hand, if you're more into hiking and immersing yourself in nature's wonders, then the ideal time to explore British Columbia is from late April to early October. Trust me, the landscapes are simply breathtaking during this time!
Keep in mind, though, that the peak season in British Columbia is between mid-July to mid-August when the whole region comes alive with vibrant activities, this is the time when you can comfortably swim in the crystal-clear lakes or even in the refreshing ocean waters.
How many days do you need to see British Columbia?
British Columbia is a massive playground, stretching over an area bigger than France and Germany combined, or nearly four times the size of Great Britain! This means you can not possibly see everything in a short trip.
Here's the deal: to make the most of your BC adventure, plan ahead and figure out what you want to do. If you're keen on exploring the vibrant city of Vancouver and its surroundings, you can totally do it justice in a week.
But if you want to visit the top places in British Columbia including visiting Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, you need at least 14 days. Also, if you want to travel between Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies, you need at least 10 days.
if you're blessed with more time on your hands, don't hesitate to explore British Columbia in greater depth and at a slower pace. The longer you stay, the more hidden gems you'll discover!
How to get around British Columbia?
If you are planning to stay in Vancouver only, you don’t need a car, you can basically walk around, cycle or use public transport, but that is not the case if you planning to see more of British Columbia. To go around the province, renting a car is an absolute must. And if you really want to take your BC adventure to the next level, consider renting a motorhome for the ultimate freedom and flexibility.
Now, here's the pro tip: A trip to British Columbia demands a bit of advance planning, especially when it comes to securing your wheels. Trust me, we learned this the hard way! Campervans and caravans are in high demand, and everyone books them well in advance. So don't wait until the last minute, be smart and book your ride ahead of time to ensure a smooth journey. To compare the prices you can check Rentalcars or DiscoverCars.
British Columbia is home to many small and big islands and to visit them, you can also take a ferry, which is another common form of transport in the area.
British Columbia uses the metric system
Here's a quick note, British Columbia, just like the rest of Canada, uses the metric system! That's right – distance is measured in kilometres, fuel is pumped in litres, and weather forecasts are all about Celsius. it's a common assumption that Canada follows the same measurements as the US, but that is not the case. And don’t forget that many countries use the metric system.
Is British Columbia expensive?
The short answer to this question is “yes”. In general, Canada is an expensive country to travel to and British Columbia is one of the most expensive provinces in the country. However, it's important to remember that the cost varies depending on various factors, such as where you are flying from, types of accommodation, what you want to see and how you want to spend time.
To give you an idea, a comfortable one-week holiday for two people may require an average budget of over $5000. That said, there are ways to save some money, like renting a motorhome, which combines transportation and accommodation.
Is British Columbia safe?
Canada is generally very safe and British Columbia is not an exception. With strict gun laws and low crime rates, you can feel safe during your visit. The province is not prone to natural disasters, so the risk of encountering such events is minimal.
However, it's essential to be mindful of certain factors when hiking in the woods and mountains. British Columbia is known as a bear country, encounters can happen almost anywhere, even in urban areas. Additionally, there are around 4,000 cougars in BC.
While wildlife attacks on humans are rare, it's crucial to respect and keep a safe distance from these animals. When you go on a hike, consider making noise to alert wildlife of your presence, and carry bear bells and bear spray for added precaution.
Book your hike and campsite in advance
When you're heading to British Columbia, get ready for some epic hiking experiences! This province is a hiker's paradise with many scenic trails. But hold on, before you lace up those hiking boots, there's a nifty little tip I want to share with you.
Some of these trails are incredibly popular and accessible, which means they can get pretty crowded. This is why the authorities set limits on the number of hikers allowed on these trails to preserve the natural beauty and ensure everyone enjoys their adventure without feeling like sardines in a can.
For those popular hikes including Joffre Lakes and Garibaldi Lake, you have to book in advance, even if there's no fee to pay. That way, you secure your spot and avoid any disappointment when you arrive.
And guess what? Camping on the trails in BC is possible, but just like the hikes, campsites fill up fast! So, if you want to do a multi-day hike, plan ahead and book your campsite in advance.
Best Tours in British Columbia
Make sure to check my piece about the best places to visit in British Columbia, but in general, Vancouver Island, Sunshine Coast, and Vancouver should be on your list. These destinations offer an array of captivating experiences that encapsulate the essence of this beautiful province.
If you're seeking to make the most of your adventure, consider indulging in some of the best tours that British Columbia has to offer. Here are some of the best tours in BC, Canada.
Whales and Wildlife Watching
One of the best things to do in British Columbia is taking the Half-Day Whale Watching Adventure Tour. British Columbia's waters are teeming with life, offering you the chance to observe whales and diverse marine wildlife in their natural habitat. The tour takes between 3 to 4 hours. As an added bonus, at the culmination of the tour, you'll be gifted with a complimentary photo package.
Whistler Spectacular Glacier Tour by Seaplane
Glacier Tour by Seaplane is not just a flight, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which unveils the unparalleled beauty of British Columbia from a perspective like no other. During the 30-minute flight, you will see unique volcanic formations and lush alpine meadows that surround the turquoise waters of mile-high Garibaldi Lake.
Grizzly Bear Viewing & Indigenous Cultural Tour
Imagine a world where you can venture close to wild grizzly bears, sharing their habitat in a respectful and safe manner. The Grizzly Bear Viewing & Indigenous Cultural Tour is an extraordinary expedition that invites you to step into the heart of Bute Inlet's untamed wilderness. On this tour, you might spot whales on the inlet, and you will meet the indigenous people who own the Campbell River.
Best Hotels to Stay in British Columbia
When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in British Columbia, the options are truly limitless. As a cherished destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike, the demand for luxury wilderness resorts, lodges, and unique accommodations is soaring. From remote northern coastal lodges like the exquisite Sonora Resort, accessible only by air or water, to rustic backwoods getaways offering refined outdoor experiences, the choices are diverse.
The province's renowned wilderness cabins and lodges provide an immersive escape into nature's embrace, while its city hotels offer a blend of comfort and urban elegance.
Four Seasons Resort Whistler
Nestled in the renowned village of Whistler, the Four Seasons Resort stands as a beacon of 5-star luxury. Boasting a heated swimming pool and three inviting hot tubs, this opulent retreat is a mere stone's throw away from the ski slopes and golf courses. Whether you find yourself here in the snow-laden winters or the verdant summers, there is no shortage of things to do in Whistler.
Nimpo Lake Resort
Nestled amidst the serene beauty of nature, Nimpo Lake Resort offers a rustic haven on the northern shores of Nimpo Lake. Here, guests are welcomed into cosy log cabins that exude comfort and charm. Each cabin is equipped with modern amenities, including satellite TV, while outside, a barbecue and fire pit await for memorable evenings under the stars.
The resort's proximity to Lake Nimpo opens a world of exploration, with kayaks, canoes, pedal boats, paddle boards, and fishing boats at guests' disposal.
Reef Point Oceanfront Bed & Breakfast
Reef Point Oceanfront is one of the most unique places to stay on Vancouver Island. This adult-only hotel is a 3-minute drive from the peaceful village of Ucluelet. All rooms offer free Wi-Fi and ocean views.
Guests can explore Ucluelet’s trails by hiking or using the inn’s bicycles for free. The beautiful Wild Pacific Hiking Trail is just a stone's throw away from Reef Point.
Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa
Discover a world of elegance and relaxation at Kingfisher Oceanside Resort, a prestigious 4-star retreat nestled on the tranquil shores of the Salish Sea, just 8 km outside of Courtenay in British Columbia.
This resort goes beyond the ordinary, offering an array of exceptional amenities. Guests can enjoy the natural cave-themed Pacific Mist Hydropath steam room, a unique haven of tranquillity or stay active in the state-of-the-art gym. Each room comes with either a private balcony or a patio.