British Columbia

North America > Canada > British Columbia

British Columbia (BC) is a western province of Canada, between the Pacific Ocean, and the Rocky Mountains. British Columbia is about four times the size of Great Britain with 4.6 million inhabitants.

Several north-south mountain ranges cross through the province, such as the Rockies, the Selkirks, the Purcells and the Coastal Range.

BC has great scenery along the coast and inland, and is a rewarding destination for outdoor life, especially downhill snowsports and wilderness backpacking.

It is a land of contrasts with the metropolis of Vancouver, a progressive global hotspot, against a rich backdrop of the heritage of the First Nations of British Columbia.


The regions, main cities and other destinations of British Columbia — switch to interactive map
The regions, main cities and other destinations of British Columbia
  Vancouver Island (Northern, Central, Southern, Southern Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands)
Home of British Columbia's capital, Victoria, and all sorts of marine adventures.
  Lower Mainland (Vancouver, Eastern suburbs, Southern Suburbs, North Shore, Sea to Sky, Sunshine Coast, Fraser Valley)
The world-class city of Vancouver and world-class skiing in Whistler.
  Thompson-Okanagan (North Thompson and Robson Valley, Okanagan, Thompson-Nicola, Shuswap, Similkameen)
Sun and fun, wineries and beaches in the Okanagan, summertime boating in the Shuswap and rivers, waterfalls and mountains in the Thompson River valley.
  Kootenays (West Kootenays, East Kootenays, Columbia-Rockies)
Lakes, deep valleys, hot springs and world famous cat skiing.
  Cariboo-Central Coast
Retrace history and explore the ranchlands and remote parks.
  Northern British Columbia (Haida Gwaii, North Coast-Nechako, Peace Country and Northern Rockies)
Large region with untouched mountains, forests and wilderness in the east. Famous for fishing in the west and limitless vistas and the Alaska Highway in the north.


Vancouver skyline

Listed below are just nine of the province's most notable urban destinations. Links to others will be found in the various regional articles.

  • 1 Vancouver – a city of steel and glass condominiums and outstanding natural beauty, frequently ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world.
  • 2 Victoria – the provincial capital, on the south tip of Vancouver Island.
  • 3 Kamloops – the tournament Capital of Canada.
  • 4 Kelowna – the largest city in the British Columbia interior.
  • 5 Nelson – the "Queen City" of the Kootenays, renowned for its tourism, culture and outdoor activities.
  • 6 Penticton – a popular summer destination on Okanagan Lake.
  • 7 Prince George – the largest city in Northern British Columbia and the centre of the BC Forest Industry.
  • 8 Prince Rupert – Canada's rainiest city, is the hub of the North Coast.
  • 9 Whistler – a summer and winter outdoor destination and the site of many events in the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Other destinations[edit]

Alpine scenery in Mt Robson Provincial Park

With its abundance of mountains, coastline and wilderness, British Columbia has many destinations outside of its cities and towns. Listed below are nine of the province's most notable other destinations.

  • 1 Glacier National Park — high peaks in the Columbua Mountains, large, active glaciers, and one of Canada's largest cave systems
Gwaii Haanas National Park
  • 2 Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve — historic villages of the Haida First Nation, deep fjords, rugged mountains, salmon spawning streams, sub-alpine tundra
  • 3 Kootenay National Park — includes parts of the Kootenay and Park mountain ranges, the Kootenay River and the Vermilion River
  • 4 Manning Provincial Park — a wide range of summer and winter recreational opportunities such as hiking, horseback riding, kayaking & canoeing
  • 5 Mount Robson Provincial Park — includes Mount Robson, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies
  • 6 Pacific Rim National Park Reserve — rugged coasts, lush temperate rainforests, and the famous West Coast Trail
  • 7 Salt Spring Island — the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands, replete with artist studios, hiking, kayaking, climbing, yoga
  • 8 Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park — part of the Kluane-Wrangell-St. Elias-Glacier Bay-Tatshenshini-Alsek UNESCO World Heritage Site in the northwestern corner of British Columbia
  • 9 Yoho National Park — in the Canadian Rocky Mountains along the western slope of the Continental Divide of the Americas in southeastern British Columbia


Wawadit'la, a Kwakwaka'wakw "big house", in Victoria

BC was the sixth province to join the Confederation of Canada, in 1871. This was done at least partly on the basis of a promise by the Federal Government to build a railway linking BC to the rest of Canada. Significant geographical barriers and political feuding delayed the completion of this railway until 1885 when the last spike was driven home at a place called Craigellachie in the Eagle Pass area in the interior of BC.

Being on the Pacific, there has always been a strong Asian influence. Many Chinese men arrived in the early part of the 19th century to work in the gold rush of that era and later many more worked on the construction of the railway through the mountains.

The indigenous people of BC have been called Indians or Native Canadians, but now the generally accepted term is First Nations.

Prior to arrival of Europeans BC was a very prosperous area. This was largely due to the abundance of salmon. This was demonstrated by the advanced culture that existed in BC. More than thirty languages belonging to seven different language families were spoken in BC. The arrival of Europeans began as a positive relationship. However, the Europeans brought smallpox and other diseases, which decimated the First Nations population.

Many First Nations people were encouraged or even forcibly required to send their children to residential schools during the early to mid 20th century. These schools were government sponsored. The primary intent of the schools was to assimilate the First Nation population. Children were taught that their culture was backward and evil and were not allowed to speak their native languages. This systemic problem is finally being addressed and discussed openly.

Many of the First Nation communities have been trying to revive their culture and are now often the center of much of the ecotourism industry.

With a few exceptions, the First Nations of BC (unlike the rest of Canada) have never signed treaties or ceded their territory to Canada. Therefore, the official ownership of much of the province is contested as the First Nations claim much of the province as their territory. The courts have generally acknowledged that there is a basis for the claims based on historical use of the land and have urged the governments to negotiate a settlement to these claims. Settling these land claims has been a complex issue that is still ongoing. The first modern treaty signed was by the Nis'ga in Northern BC. In 2007, the Tsawassen and Maa-Nulth First Nations signed treaties with the Province and the federal government.


Although Canada is officially a bilingual French/English country, you would be hard pressed to find many French-speaking people in BC. Services are available in English and French at offices of the federal government. Provincial and municipal governments operate in English only. Some businesses, especially in Vancouver and Victoria offer services in a number of languages (primarily Asian ones). Banks sometimes indicate by a sign in the window which languages are offered. Due to the large number of Chinese immigrants, Mandarin, Cantonese and to lesser extent, other Chinese dialects are spoken by many Chinese residents of Vancouver. Some municipal services in Chinese-dominated neighbourhoods may be available in Chinese. Due to significant immigration from Punjab state of India, some Vancouver area businesses offer services in Punjabi.

With the migration of people from all over Canada into British Columbia, most citizens here speak with a general Canadian accent while in rural areas, people may speak with a slight twang. At one time Chinook Jargon, a bridge language for trading between English, French and First Nations peoples in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was common and almost became the official language of BC. Now there are very few speakers of the language, but many terms from the language are common slang terms in rural parts of BC.

Newcomer, implying "tenderfoot" (more common in Northern BC and the Yukon).
The ocean. Often abbreviated as in "out on the chuck"
High Muckamuck
The chief, or boss, or "high pooh-bah"
king or chief or boss, can also mean a large Chinook salmon
Bad or worthless, also "ordinary"
Strong, powerful, or impressive, also just means "big and thick".
"strong water", used for rapids, especially saltwater rapids

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

Vancouver International Airport (YVR IATA) is the province's major international airport, which is served by most major international airlines. Victoria, Abbotsford, and Kelowna also have international airports that have service to some locations within Canada, and may offer some flights to the United States of America, Mexico, or the Caribbean, though mostly on a seasonal basis in winter months. Some flights from Alberta travel to Comox, Cranbrook, Kamloops, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Prince George.

By car[edit]

There are a number of land border crossings from the United States into BC from Washington (state) near BC's west coast. See the Lower Mainland (BC) and Northwest Cascades (WA) articles for details in those areas. In addition, some car ferries cross from the United States into BC, see "By boat" below. There are also land border crossings into BC from Idaho, Montana and Alaska. Below are some notable highways to enter BC.

By bus[edit]

From Alberta

From United States of America

By boat[edit]

There are ferries from Washington into Victoria and Sidney, and from Alaska into Prince Rupert. Except the Victoria Clipper all the other ferries do take vehicles onboard:

  • 1 Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) (Alaska Ferry), 2000 Park Ave, Prince Rupert, +1 907-465-3941 (main number), +1 250-627-1744 (Prince Rupert Terminal), toll-free: +1-800-642-0066. Connects Prince Rupert to Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake, Sitka, Juneau, Haines, Skagway in the southeast panhandle of Alaska. They also have a separate sailing to and from Bellingham to southeast Alaska. Some of the sailings from Bellingham continue north towards Valdez and Kodiak from the southeast part of Alaska during the summer.
  • 2 Black Ball Ferry Line (MV Coho), 430 Belleville St, Victoria, +1 250-386-2202, toll-free: +1-800-264-6475. Is a passenger and vehicle ferry running between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Crossing time is 90 minutes. Service runs all year except for an annual refit for one week in winter time. In the winter, this ferry runs 2 sailings a day and in the summer up to 4 sailings per day each way are scheduled. Fares are US$70.00 for car and driver and US$21.00 per passenger 12 years old and older, US$10.50 for children 5-11 years old, free for children 4 years old and younger.
  • 3 Washington State Ferries, 2499 Ocean Ave, Sidney (About 1 km south of downtown Sidney). Operates ferries connecting coastal British Columbia communities. Operates seasonal service (Spring to Fall) to Sidney connecting with Friday Harbor on San Juan Island and from Anacortes. Reservations can be made online. For security and immigration processing when travelling between the two countries, a 60 minute advance arrival at the terminal is strongly suggested. Walk on passengers need to arrive 30 minutes in advance. Vehicle reservations are recommended. Passports are required to enter either country. Service to Sidney has been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic and remains suspended due to a staffing shortage. it is hoped to resume in 2023.
  • 4 Victoria Clipper, Belleville St, Victoria (Belleville St just west of Oswego St), +1 206-443-2560, toll-free: +1-800-888-2535. Direct passenger only ferry between Victoria harbour and Pier 69 at the Seattle waterfront. Some of the sailings make an additional stop in Friday Harbor, going both directions. Crossing time is 2.75 hours.

By train[edit]

Get around[edit]

By air[edit]

BC is a large province. The most convenient way to get to much of the province is by air. However, this can be quite expensive. It is often more expensive to fly to some point in BC than it is to fly to Europe. Vancouver International Airport is the regional hub for most air service within BC. Float planes can also be convenient for accessing many coastal locations.

By car[edit]

British Columbia roads has been vulnerable to natural disasters such as major flooding in November 2021 that destroyed several highways. If such events occur in future, you can check with DriveBC for up-to-date road conditions after clicking the Major Events tab.

Getting around here is not always easy. Many worthwhile destinations are outside of the cities and not accessible by public transportation options. This makes renting a car quite a popular option for getting around, although there is some bus service to be found. Bear in mind when travelling by car that headlights should be used both day and night, regardless of conditions. If driving during the winter, plan your route carefully as British Columbia experiences some hazardous weather.

If you drive or rent a vehicle, be aware that provincial law requires fuel to be prepaid before filling up. If you use a "pay-at-pump" interface, the station may place a hold on an available amount in your account which may last for a few days. It is wise to ensure you have adequate funds or credit limit room on your payment cards before visiting.

For north-south travel within BC, the main highways to take are:

  • Highway 5 (South Yellowhead Highway) traveling diagonal from southwestern BC heading northeast
  • Highway 97 traveling north-south.

For east-west travel within BC, the main highways to take are:

Winter driving[edit]

Each year, between October 1 and April 30, vehicles must have winter tires or chains on most highways, other than coastal areas of the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. In addition, between mid-fall and mid-spring, mudslides or snowfall can temporarily close highways. DriveBC provides information on current road conditions, including any closures.


By bus[edit]

Public transit[edit]

  • BC Transit operates city buses in Victoria, Nanaimo, Kamloops, Kelowna, and in other cities and towns outside of Vancouver. In the Vancouver metropolitan area TransLink operates buses, the SkyTrain rail and the West Coast Express (WCE) commuter rail.

Intercity buses[edit]

Intercity tour buses[edit]

  • Moose Travel Network, +1 604-297-0255. Runs a unique service on less travelled routes that is a combination between "just getting you there" and a tour of some very worthwhile destinations. They have a number of quite flexible packages available, many of them connecting the coast with popular destinations in the Canadian Rockies like Jasper, Banff and Calgary. There is also tours to Vancouver Island and Whistler.

By ferry[edit]

BC Ferries, toll-free: +1-888-223-3779. Operates ferries connecting coastal communities. You will find that BC Ferries is the only way to access many island and coastal communities. Nearly all of the routes operate vehicle ferries. Some of the smaller islands can be visited on foot or by bicycle, but in many cases additional road transportation is necessary. Although ferry service is generally reliable, taking an automobile on board is rarely cheap, and you will likely find it less expensive to take the ferry as a foot passenger and rent an automobile at your destination. If you are taking bus service across a ferry, you should confirm when buying your bus ticket that the ferry fare is included.

Inland Ferries. Operated under contract for British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, inland ferries are vehicle ferries that connect roads across rivers and lakes. Routes operate throughout the year, but some river ferries may not operate during parts of the Spring due to river conditions. Free.

By train[edit]

See By train under Get In for additional options.

  • Kaoham Shuttle. Short-haul rail-bus, is operated by the local Indian band connecting Lillooet to Shalalth and Seton Portage at the far end of Seton Lake. However, for visitors, using this service could be a challenge. See Lillooet for details.

Tourist/railfan railway operations, which allow passengers to ride on restored train from decades ago:


Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park

Vancouver, as the province's largest city, has the biggest concentration of cultural institutions, including the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Museum of Anthropology, and Science World. It has live theater, shopping, nightlife and casinos, in a spectacular setting. Vancouver's massive Stanley Park, which covers a peninsila attached to the city's downtown, is not just your average urban park! You can stroll through the park on the seawall, check out the aquarium, take a look at the totem poles, and stop at various historical points of interest.

Victoria, a smaller city that is the seat of the provincial government, trades on its English charm, is home to the Royal British Columbia Museum, and the beautiful Butchart Gardens, which offer over 50 acres (22 hectares) of gardens and floral display.

In Richmond, a southern suburb of Vancouver, is the International Buddhist Temple, the most authentic example of traditional palatial Chinese architecture in North America. It is an edifice straight out of the Chinese past, as it resembles any authentic temple that can be found along the banks of the Yangtze River, where one of the world's oldest civilizations originated. Come explore traditional Chinese art, culture, and the Buddhist philosophy inside this magnificent place. Free admission.

The history and culture of British Columbia's First Nations (Indigenous) peoples can be explored all around the province. The Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, and the U'mista Cultural Society in Alert Bay are excellent places to start.

British Columbia's spectacular scenery is the main reason many visit come to the province, whether it's for the rugged coastline, or the majestic peaks of the Coast Mountains and Rocky Mountains range, the vine and orchards of the Interior, or the canyons of its many rivers.


British Columbia has an embarrassment of riches when in comes to outdoor activities in every season.

Backpackers should head to the West Coast Trail, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail closer to Victoria, or the BC sections of the Trans Canada Trail. As hiking is a popular pastime residents, most cities and towns have ample ell-marked and well-maintained hiking trails.

Kayakers will be thrilled by Desolation Sound, Telegraph Cove, the Broken Islands, Haida Gwaii, and opportunities to kayak among orcas (killer whales).

Rock-climbing opportunities abound in the Rocky Mountains, and the Stawamus Chief in Squamish is world-famous among rock climbers.

Go skiing at Whistler-Blackcomb, North America's largest ski area, or the other excellent ski areas throughout the province in destinations near Kimberley, Fernie, Nelson, Kelowna or Rossland. If skiing's not your thing, there's winter surfing in Tofino.

Roam the open range on horseback or try world-class fly-fishing in the Cariboo-Chilcotin.

Walk the Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park in North Vancouver and hike the many forest trails in the area.

Explore British Columbia's many national, provincial and local parks. Yoho National Park in eastern BC bordering Banff National Park on the Trans-Canada Highway, and Glacier National Park, which takes in part of the Selkirk Mountain Range where the Trans Canada Highway crosses the range through Roger's Pass, are among the highlights. Vancouverutes take their parks so seriously, they hold elections for their parks board!


Due to British Columbia's diverse population, the province has a large variety of food available. BC's extensive coastline is home to some of the freshest fish in the world and the province's main specialty is salmon.

Vancouver is home to diverse, cosmopolitan dining options and one can find Japanese and Chinese restaurants on practically every commercial block. Vancouver's southern suburb of Richmond has became a foodie hotspot with many travelling to one of its many east Asian malls which are home to some of the best affordable Chinese restaurants in Canada, additionally the Richmond Night Market which is held during the summer is the largest Asian night market outside of Asia and is home to many tasty snacks. Nanaimo on Vancouver Island is famous for its Nanaimo Bar, a desert made of chocolate and coconut.


The legal drinking age in BC is 19.

Beer, wine and spirits are available from the government liquor stores (BCL). They are also available from private beer and wine stores which are usually associated with pubs or bars. Most BCL stores close at 8PM while most private liquor stores are open until 11PM. You cannot buy alcohol in grocery stores.

BC is home to a number of breweries, including the Columbia Brewery in Creston which brews Kokanee, the Granville Island Brewery in Vancouver and Nelson Brewing Company in Nelson. Most breweries offer tours.

BC is also well-renowned for its wine and the Okanagan Valley is the centre of the wine industry in the province. It's a perfect area to visit during the Autumn grape harvest. Many wineries are open or tastings. Due to its temperate climate Vancouver Island is home to an abundance of wineries and most Southern Gulf Islands are home to at least one winery.


Accommodation throughout BC can always be arranged in the usual motels, hotels and B&Bs. BC Provincial Parks have had a good reputation over the years and most have very nice campgrounds. Camping in BC is an experience you shouldn't miss.

Stay safe[edit]

Outside of the metropolitan areas, much of BC is pretty remote. The more remote the area, the better prepared you need to be.

Downtown Vancouver

If you are thinking of travelling off designated ski or snowmobile trails always take an avalanche safety course. Travel with experienced guides, talk to locals, look at the Canadian Avalanche Centre's forecast. Or best of all, just play it safe and ski at one of BC's great ski resorts.

Outside the winter months always inform yourself about local concerns with carnivorous wildlife, i.e., bears and cougars. If you're in the BC woods, you can assume that there are likely bears and other wildlife in the area. You're in their territory and it's good practice to make noise and keep your eyes (and ears) open. Knowing how to avoid wildlife encounters is a good idea.

Petty property crime is a problem in the major cities, as it is in most, so don't leave items visible in a vehicle. Violent crime is relatively infrequent. Simple precautions will normally preclude a brush with crime. A problem area for tourists to avoid is the infamous East Hastings area of Vancouver.

Experiments with late bar/nightclub closing times (4AM) have also led to increased problems and violence on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver (especially on weekends).

Close to 20 women have been killed or are missing along the "Highway of Tears" (Highway 16) between Prince George and Prince Rupert since about 1970. Young women should not hitch-hike along this highway, especially if they are alone.


The use and possession of recreational marijuana was legalized in all of Canada in 2018. However, there are strict anti-smoking bylaws that apply. Avoid flaunting your use — do not walk down the street smoking, or use it in a busy park. British Columbia has strict anti-smoking regulations against any kind of indoor smoking so lighting up in a bar or nightclub will get you in trouble with staff and other patrons. Pot cafes in Vancouver often provide a smoking room where you can safely and discreetly indulge; however, unlike their Amsterdam counterparts, they will not sell you marijuana.

Although Canada has legalized marijuana, it is illegal to take it across the border to neighbouring Washington State, where it is also legal. This is considered as drug trafficking and it is a criminal offence.

Go next[edit]

To the south is the border with the United States of America with the following states bordering British Columbia from west to east.

To the east is the province of Alberta which is home to a beautiful mix of prairie, boreal forest and mountains and an economy that fluctuates with the price of oil. It is also home to the cities of Edmonton (the provincial capital) and Calgary (a self-styled cow-town). The mountain towns of Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper are popular and busy in all seasons.

To the north are is vast, sparsely-populated wilderness within two territories of Canada.

  • Yukon Territory is adjacent to most of British Columbia's northern boundary including the western end of this boundary. It can be accessed Dease Lake on Highway 37, but is more commonly accessed on the Alaska Highway (highway 97) via Fort Nelson. Either way, travel will likely lead to Whitehorse, the largest and capital city of this territory.
  • Northwest Territories is adjacent British Columbia's northern boundary near the east end of this boundary. It can be accessed from Fort Nelson on Highway 77. The most notable city to reach is Yellowknife, which is the largest city and capital of this territory.

To the northwest is Alaska, though with the exception of the isolated community of Hyder, reaching this state requires travel by ferry from Prince Rupert or by road via the Yukon.

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