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Take the Family › Vancouver and British Columbia

Vancouver and British Columbia Family Holidays and Breaks

Aquabus Ferries, Granville Island, VancouverAquabus Ferries, Granville Island, Vancouver
Hot springsHot springsAsymetric/Jason Van Bruggen
RanchRanchAsymetric/Jason Van Bruggen
Botanical Gardens, VancouverBotanical Gardens, Vancouver
Picking blueberriesPicking blueberries
Flying Time 10hrs
Timezone GMT -7
Currency Canadian Dollar

Today

Overview

Take the family to ski, hike or sail, or to try your hand at salmon-fishing. Located to the far, far west of Canada, British Columbia is a delightful land of untainted wilderness, with mountains, forest, coastal fjords, giant ranches, plains and immense lakes, and more flora and fauna than the rest of Canada put together. Perfect for family holidays, even if not round the corner.

It’s more or less all about the coast here: the interior is difficult to get to, and it’s hard to find somewhere to stay when you finally make it. Base yourself in beautiful Vancouver – most of the population does. Indeed, this city – host (with Whistler) to the 2010 Winter Games – frequently ranks among the world’s best cities to live in, and it’s a top spot for chilled-out family holidays with lots of outdoors activities and great eateries.

Things to do with kids in Vancouver and British Columbia

Spend time getting to know Vancouver, dramatically sandwiched between ocean and mountains and boasting one of the world’s best standards of living. It’s often said of Vancouver that it’s one of the rare places where you could ski, windsurf and play golf on the same day. Its landmark Capilano Suspension Bridge is a pulse-quickening walkway over a canyon into a temperate rainforest park, where you can experience more walkways and bridges between giant tree trunks at Treetop Adventure, watch aboriginal crafts displays at the First Nations’ Cultural Center, see original totem poles, hunt for bugs and go exploring with an eco-guide.

The quintessential Vancouver family experience is Stanley Park, a world-famous park that despite its central location retains many giant trees from its days as a forest. There are also more totem poles, swimming beaches (Second Beach is best for families, with an outdoor pool with slides), a lagoon with ducks, raccoons and skunks, a mini-train, a kids’ farm and a seawall popular for Rollerblading, cycling and so on. It’s in this park that you’ll find Vancouver Aquarium, where you can encounter northern fur seals, Pacific dolphins, beluga whales, sea turtles, sea otters and more.

Pop over to lovely Vancouver Island and explore British Columbia’s picture-perfect capital, Victoria, or its other historic towns, for a slice of nostalgia. Charming Victoria is at the island’s southernmost tip: wander around its little streets, admiring the red double-decker buses and eating fish and chips – it’s just verging on a pastiche of a Cockney/Queen Victoria /Sherlock Holmes theme-park. Then head out to the beaches, walking trails and cedar forests, and go whale-watching or kayaking (you might be lucky, or unlucky, enough to share the sea with some orcas). 

Visit Alert Bay on tiny Cormorant Island off the north-east coast of Vancouver Island, for a more authentic experience of the legacy of the First Nations – this is a centre for aboriginal culture, with lots of art and artefacts, including the world’s tallest totem pole. This is another good spot for whale-watching, eco-tours, kayaking, hiking and cycling.

If you're a fitness buff, the Grouse Grind is a famous steep uphill hike (nearly 3km) offering spectacular views. It's not for young children, but there there are other options for enjoying the views from Grouse Mountain on the north shore, including the Grouse Mountain Skyride (an 'aerial tram') and helicopter tours. The mountain is a good place to come in winter or summer for everything from sleigh-riding, snow-shoeing and ice-skating to watching birds-of-prey demonstrations, riding ziplines, or taking guided eco walks or visiting the wildlife refuge.

Ski in Whistler, widely regarded as one of the top resorts for family skiing holidays in the world. The 'sea to sky highway' between Vancouver and Whistler is a spectacular drive.

Explore Yoho National Park in the Rockies within British Columbia – the Canadian wilderness at its best and most manageable. If you have older kids who relish a challenge, bring them hiking, climbing, mountain-biking or kayaking here; budding geologists will also be in heaven.

Take a transcontinental train ride between Vancouver and Toronto – the Canadian takes you across scenic lakelands, forests, prairies and the Rockies, and has a dome car from which you can get panoramic views. The trip lasts four days and three nights, with the ability to break your journey at various scheduled and unscheduled stops – passengers can even request stops in the middle of nowhere should the call of the wilderness be that strong.

British Columbia also contains part of the Inside Passage, a network of routes for ocean-going vessels between the mainland and coastal islands, and from the Canadian section you can take ferries or cruisers to Alaska in the United States.

Eat

Whistler and Vancouver have every kind of café and restaurant, with pasta, pizza, hot dogs, apple pie and other child-friendly fare readily available. Portions are normally huge, so be careful not to over-order.

Local produce worth looking out for includes maple syrup (great for breakfast with pancakes), wild blueberries, salmon, salt-cured fish and wild game. Alternatively, Vancouver is a great place for Asian food of all kinds but especially sushi and dim sum (the city has a vibrant Chinatown - in fact, the world's second-largest). Beware that the dim sum is very authentic - you'd best not tell the kids what they're eating...

Also in Vancouver, visit tiny Granville Island between downtown and the residential areas – it has a fab food market with each stall/shop offering something totally unique, plus the Kids Market, with two floors of shops, services and activities for families in an old factory, including a play area and a waterpark. The best way to get there is by the tiny Aquabus around the bay.

Sunday brunch is an institution in Vancouver – to the extent that you have to queue just about everywhere. Good spots are Sophie's Cosmic Café and the child-friendly chains Milestones and Earl's, but there are heaps to choose from. Neighbourhood places are generally better than those downtown – Kitsilano is the coolest.

An odd quirks of British Columbia law is that in order to drink alcohol, you must at least have 'the intention to eat' – most places will not expect you to eat but have to ask the question, and you have to answer 'yes' or you won't get served!

When to go to Vancouver and British Columbia

The Canadian ski season typically lasts from December to April, but bear in mind that many other attractions close for the winter, which can be bitterly cold.

As in Europe, July and August tend to be the warmest months, with an average temperature of around 17°C in Vancouver. At the end of July Vancouver hosts an international fireworks competition, the Celebration of Light at English Bay, accompanied by live music from the Vancouver Symphony (to avoid the hoards find a spot at Kitsilano Beach or better still hire a boat).

Cost

The exchange rate makes Canada a more expensive proposition than in recent years, but accommodation and food have historically been cheaper there than in the UK and remain relatively good value.

Reckon on upward of £300 for flights, and – given the fact that, with the distance and jet lag, you would want to spend at least 10 to 14 days there – budget in excess of £1,000pp.

By Rhonda Carrier

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