A guide to the ultimate summer road trip on Canada’s most beautiful island.
Follow my guide to see the best of what this island has to offer. The ideal time for this trip would be at least one week- but once you are on the island you probably will never want to leave.
Vancouver → Victoria
(about 3 hours)
To start this adventure take the Ferry from Tsawwassen terminal in Vancouver to Victoria. Victoria is one of my favourite cities in this massive country. It is the capital of British Columbia, but you wouldn’t know it with it’s chilled out vibe.
It is worth spending at least couple of days here- if not more- because it’s definitely not a place to rush. With heritage buildings, trendy restaurants and cute boutiques you will fall in love with the charm of this city. Some of my favourite buildings that are worth visiting are the Parliament buildings and the Fairmont Empress. In Victoria you can even visit some castles. Who knew Canada had castles?! The Hatley Castle and Craigdarroch Castle are both very beautiful and open to the public.
Another surprise about Victoria is it’s food. Victoria is a city that is quickly becoming famous for it’s finger-licking eats. If you are hungry here are the top places to grab a bite:
Breakfast- Canadian’s love their breakfast! Whether you wake up early or sleep in late, try Flyods Diner– where they serve breakfast all day. It’s a local favourite.
Lunch-Head to the wharf and eat in the sun at the very popular Red Fish Blue Fish. This restaurant is a “seafood eatery by the seaside” that is in the Lonely Planet and on the Food Network Canada.
Dinner– Make sure to do some more exploring so that you build up an appetite and can try one of Victoria’s many popular burger joints for dinner. My travel buddy Cam, who went to University in Victoria, enjoys eating at Pink Bicycle. Because this is Victoria- and filled with hippies- even burger joints will be vegetarian friendly.
Victoria is known for it’s nature, too. The Butchard Gardens is one of Victoria’s most famous and beautiful attractions. The gardens are adjusted seasonally so that they look beautiful all year round- even in the winter. Other outdoor activities in this city include kayaking, biking and hiking.
See, I told you, you would want a few days.
Victoria → Duncan
(about 1 hour)
Stop in Duncan to stretch your legs and enjoy looking at the array of totem poles in this city created by native artisans. Duncan is known as the city of totem poles- which I’m sure won’t take you long to find out.
If that isn’t Canadian enough for you, Duncan also has the world’s largest hockey stick. It is on display outside of Cowichan Community Centre and you would have to be blind to miss it.
Duncan → Nanaimo
(about 45 minutes)
In case you still haven’t tried on of one of Canada’s most delicious desserts- the Nanaimo bar- you will certainly have the chance to here. Grab a Nanaimo bar and take a walk down by the harbour front to enjoy this small city.
If you aren’t afraid of a little cold water you can even go snorkelling or scuba diving in Nanaimo. It’s not the Great Barrier reef but you will have the unique experience of swimming with wild sea lions.
Parksville → Tofino
(about 2.5 hours)
I know I just said that Victoria was one of my favourite places in Canada- but so is Tofino! In case you haven’t noticed- I absolutely love Vancouver island. Tofino is a small town that is even more chill and laid back than Victoria and it is great for outdoor enthusiasts.
Besides Canada having the longest coastline in the world, it’s not exactly known as a surf destination. However, we do have one surf destination- and Tofino is it! You can surf here all year round. It’s a little chilly, even in the summer, so a wetsuit is necessary.
Besides the surfing, my favourite thing that I ever did in Tofino was go whale watching. We went on a small boat that fit about 12 people- which was nice instead of a big boat packed with tourists. We were very lucky and actually saw a pod of Killer (Orca) whales. It was a remarkable feeling to see such large and powerful animals up close in their natural environment. One whales got so close to the boat that I felt like I could almost reach out and touch it!
It turns out that Killer Whales are actually the rarest whales to see here. Most often spotted are Gray Whales and occasionally Humpback Whales. You can also go on bear watching tours too- which is also done from a boat. Other animals that you have the chance of seeing on these tours include otters, seals, eagles, deer and even wolves.
If you prefer two feet on land, you can explore the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. The Park shows off the beautiful nature that Canada is so famous for and has a variety of different hiking trails to meet everyone’s needs.
Of course, no matter where I go something always goes wrong and I ended up having to cut my trip short in Tofino after a freak accident- read the full story here.
Tofino→ Nanaimo/ Tofino→ Victoria
(about 3 hours) (about 4.5 hours)
After Tofino, you can either head back to Nanaimo or Victoria to take the ferry to the mainland. After eating your fair share of Nanaimo bars, seeing the world’s largest hockey stick and spotting bears you will have had a truly Canadian experience.
Note: Ferry fees are very expensive for cars so it may even be worth renting a car on the island once you arrive instead of taking one across. You can check the ferry schedule and reserve a spot here.