Family-Friendly Fun on Vancouver Island
Throughout Vancouver Island, tidepools dot rocky coastlines and lush vineyards roll into wild forests. Gorgeous parks with finely manicured gardens stud urban centers. Historic landmarks offer tangible telescopes into the region’s past. Museums celebrate the area’s diverse cultures and habitats.
Spanning roughly 12,000 square miles, you won’t find a character-filled, rollercoaster-laden kids’ fantasy world. Your family will find so much more. This remote British Columbia gem offers the chance to walk through tree canopies, sip tea like a royal, and play tag among the apple trees of an active cider distillery.
Plan Your Vancouver Island Getaway
23 of the Best Things to do with Kids on Vancouver Island
1. Malahat Skywalk
Stand at the top of a forest. Wander through a tree canopy. Fly down a nearly 70-foot slide. Take a serious gut check when you step onto nothing but a net strung 275 feet (84 meters) above the ground. The Malahat Skywalk’s wheelchair and stroller-friendly forest adventure will take your breath away. Just be sure to bring your camera to capture the panoramic views and your kids’ smiles.
2. The Butchart Gardens
Rated among the Top 10 Magnificent Gardens by National Geographic, The Butchart Gardens span 55 acres. A former limestone quarry, it now features five uniquely themed gardens, a plethora of walking trails, and a riot of year-round floral displays. During the summer months, the Concert Lawn Stage hosts a variety of performances. And, a nearby carousel showcases a menagerie of 30 hand-carved wooden animals and chariots.
Insider Tip: Looking for transportation to The Gardens? Grey Line offers hop-on hop-off sightseeing tours that take you through downtown Victoria, to The Gardens, and back.
3. Merridale Estate Cidery
Libation tasting is unmistakably a very adult activity. After all, the legal drinking age in British Columbia is 19 (and 21 in the United States). But that doesn’t mean wineries and vineyards are strictly for adults — especially when there’s a farm-to-table restaurant and acres of grassy apple trees to explore.
While parents sample international award-winning flights of cider, kids can dive into a homemade apple pie and personal brick oven pizzas. Worried about the sugar rush? Running through the orchard, searching for trout in the quarry pond, and watching the honey bees buzz from flower to flower are all highly encouraged.
4. Prince & Princess Tea at the Fairmont Empress
While Americans haven’t quite steeped feet first into the tea craze, the delicate romance of soaking dried herbs has been well infused into Victoria’s culture. The tradition of an afternoon respite is a luxurious reminder of Canada’s British roots — a pastime that’s laden with sweet and savory delights.
For many, high tea in the capital is a bit like playing prince and princess for the day — especially the ornate Lobby Lounge at the historic Fairmont Empress. Served on china and accompanied by a pianist, Tea at the Empress is a celebratory affair. While adults certainly outweigh the littles during this mid-day respite, tiny travelers are more than welcome. The Empress even offers a special Prince and Princess Tea for those ages five to twelve.
5. Pickle Boat Rides
Like the gondolas in Venice, Victoria’s Pickle Boats offer a slow — and eccentric — view of Downtown Victoria. Carrying up to 12 passengers, these small Harbour Ferries share the international waterways of Victoria’s Inner Harbour with seaplanes, the Victoria Clipper, the 341.6-foot-long Coho, paddleboards, kayaks, and more. They offer a hop-on, hop-off service to 14 different docks — allowing you to turn a long land-based trek into a quick watery ride, complete with a beautiful view!
Insider Tip: The skilled captains regularly put on a show, known as the Water Ballet. Check the seasonal ballet schedule for showtimes and dates at victoriaharbourferry.com.
6. Nanaimo Bar Trail
While rumors abound as to the true origin of the Nanaimo bar (when and by whom it was first made), the first written record of this beloved treat appeared in the 1952 Women’s Auxiliary of the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook. It was simply labeled “chocolate square.” One year later, it received the official title “Nanaimo Bar” (pronounced nuh-NYE-mo).
Today, the triple-layered delight — yellow custard sandwiched between chocolate ganache and a coconut-graham cracker crust — has earned this coastal town on the eastern side of Vancouver Island quite the reputation.
From gas stations and grocery stores to cafes and high-end restaurants, these treats (and variations of them) can be found throughout the small city. So many renditions of the Nanaimo bar have been created that an official Nanaimo Bar Trail was established in 2010 — highlighting dozens of inventive twists and classic renditions.
7. Kinsol Trestle
One of the largest trestles in the world, the magnificent Kinsol Trestle spans an impressive 163.5 feet across the deep ravine cut by the Koksilah River. It stands at 144 feet high (44 meters) and sports a seven-degree curve.
Built for the Canadian National Railway, the trestle fell into disrepair after the line stopped operating in 1979. Luckily, it was restored in 2011 thanks to a community fundraising campaign. Today, it is part of the Trans Canada Trail, a 17,398-mile (28,000-kilometer) pedestrian pathway that stretches from coast to coast to coast in Canada.
But don’t worry. You don’t have to trek all over Canada just to experience this engineering feat. The Kinsol Trestle can be easily accessed from the Kinsol Trestle Parking Lot, located less than a one-mile walk along a flat and well-maintained path.
8. Victoria Butterfly Gardens
There’s something magical about butterflies. The colors. The delicate flapping wings. The way they flit and float from flower and rock to tree and moss. And the Victoria Butterfly Gardens is home to roughly 70 species of different tropical butterflies.
But that’s not all. In addition to the butterflies, the lush landscape offers surprises at every turn. Poison dart frogs. Tortoises. Large iguanas. Flamingos. A host of tropical birds. There are even carnivorous plants!
Don’t be too quick to dismiss cold water surfing. For those who love heart-pounding adventure, riding the waves in Tofino is a surefire win. The waves range from beginner to epic. The beaches are sandy. The views are vast.
And while wetsuits are a must, there are few things better than catching your first wave surrounded by massive mountain ranges and old-growth forests. Except perhaps cheering for your kids when they catch theirs.
10. Watch the Running of the Goats
Victoria doesn’t need a groundhog to declare the first day of spring. They have goats. The pounding of hooves at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm marks the return of kids to the petting zoo. The lively stampede signals that spring has come.
Insider Tip: The farm is but a snippet of the sprawling 200-acre downtown park. Beacon Hill Park is also home to the Garry Okay Ecosystem — one of Canada’s most endangered (and stunning) ecosystems. It hosts two playgrounds, two splash pads, a plethora of picnic tables, a brilliant rose garden, lawn bowling, and the Cameron Bandshell (an outdoor performance venue).
11. Whale Watching
The southern tip of Vancouver Island juts into the Salish Sea, a beloved swimming grounds of both resident and transient orcas during the spring and summer. The seasonal migration also includes humpback whales, Pacific grey whales, and minke whales. Year-round, these relatively temperate waters are home to dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, otters, harbor seals, and more!
Several different whale watching tours are offered on Vancouver Island, many of which depart from Victoria’s Inner Harbour. For a more reserved viewing experience look for a boat with an enclosed cabin where kids can escape the wind and water. But for those who want an up-close adventure, zodiac tours offer an exciting surface ride that takes you directly through the waves and gives you a better chance to see wildlife up close.
12. Little Qualicum Cheeseworks
Happy cows. Happy milk. It’s not just a saying advertisers use. Happy cows do, indeed, produce more milk! And at Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, you can see a working dairy farm firsthand.
Home to cows, calves, sheep, goats, and a variety of other friendly animals, self-guided tours are free. This amazing behind-the-scenes takes you from farm to manufacturing with a peek at everything from milking robots to the cheese plant!
Samples are available for sale at the farmgate store. Grab some cheese and an outdoor picnic table for a lovely end to your farm adventure.
13. Miniature World
Few things make a little kid feel big than being bigger than their surroundings. And that’s exactly what you’ll find at Victoria’s Minature World. The 85 different dioramas and displays offer a variety of themes ranging from real-world events and historical moments to fantastical recreations. Plus, many of the exhibits feature push-button actions that allow visitors to turn on lights, activate train sets, and more!
14. Victoria Bug Zoo
For all things creepy and crawly, head to the Victoria Bug Zoo. While the two-room mini zoo has a small footprint, it’s home to roughly 50 fascinating species of native and exotic bugs. The residents range from giant walking sticks and beautiful praying mantes to glow-in-the-dark scorpions and hairy tarantulas. It even houses Canada’s largest ant colony!
15. Kayak Tour
Renowned as one of the world’s premier sea kayaking destinations, Vancouver Island is home to an impressively large selection of secluded beaches, rugged coastal rainforests, and thriving marine ecosystems. It offers a selection of both challenging and beginner-level paddle opportunities. Many of the tours that depart from the greater Victoria area are especially geared toward families, allowing a fun and interactive way to explore the region and learn about the watery ecosystem.
16. Horne Lake Caves
Those scared of the dark or small spaces or cave crickets (a member of the grasshopper family), will want to pass on the Horne Lake Caves. But if geology, slides, and spending several minutes in total darkness sounds like a thrill — then spelunking is for you.
There are 1,600 known caves on Vancouver Island, but the most popular and safest to explore are the Horne Lake Caves. This subterranean park is located 2.5 hours from Victoria. The underground natural formations have no lights, paved walkways, or handrails. Exploring the dark depths requires mobility (especially bending) and the use of a headlamp. Tours range in length and difficulty, each offering a thrilling look at how water can turn a small space into a massive cavern.
17. British Columbia Parliament Buildings
At the heart of downtown Victoria, the BC Parliament Buildings are one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks. The neo-baroque design was constructed from 1893 to 1898. They sit on a 12.5-acre site, where sprawling lawns are often used for strolling, picnics, and informal frisbee games.
The design features 33 copper domes of varying sizes and an elegant interior where the Provincial Legislative Assembly gathers and discusses the direction of the province. The buildings are open year-round Monday through Friday (with the exception of holidays). Visitors are welcome to take their own self-guided tour or join one of the regularly scheduled public tours.
18. The Raptors
Have you ever come face-to-face with a hawk? Do you know what it’s like to hold an owl on your arm? The Raptors center (aka Pacific Northwest Raptors) offers experiences that range from flying demonstrations to hands-on encounters. There are more than 120 birds that call this sanctuary home, including bald eagles, vultures, falcons, and owls.
19. Cathedral Grove Provincial Park
Home to 800-year-old giants, Cathedral Grove Provincial Park is an awe-inspiring temperate rainforest. Here, some of the province’s last remaining old-growth forest Douglas firs tower above a carpet of ferns and draping moss. Conveniently accessible from the highway, it’s a fantastic nature walk with kids — especially if you are out spelunking in the Horne Lake Caves or eating your way through the Nanaimo Bar Trail.
20. Wildplay Element Parks
Ziplines. Tightropes. Axe throwing. Bungy jumping. Naked bungy jumping! Well…maybe you’ll save the naked bungy adventure for your kid-free outing. But if you’re looking for an exciting way to get out the wiggles and make memories, Wildplay Element Parks in Nanaimo is just the place.
21. Goats on the Roof
Goats on the roof? That’s right! The Old Country Market on the Alberni Highway near the Eastern edge of Vancouver Island has a living roof where goats roam during the spring and summer.
The practice was derived from the founder’s Norway roots (Kristian Graaten opened the market in 1973). This ‘green roof’ practice provides insulation during the winter and promotes evaporation during the summer to naturally cool the interior.
Insider Tip: Save room to visit the Market Bakery, where cheese bread is the specialty and ‘Bee Stings’ (a danish filled with bavarian cream and drizzled with caramel) are world famous)
22. Royal B.C. Museum
The Royal B.C. Museum offers immersive exhibits that take you deep into Vancouver Island’s storied past. Say hello to Woolly — the museum’s life-sized woolly mammoth. Walk into a full-size replica of Discovery, Captain George Vancouver’s H.M.S. ship — where the cramped captain and senior staff’s quarters let you experience how ‘spacious’ life at sea could be. Travel beneath the sea in a Victorian-era submarine. Learn about the city’s industrial revolution, the gold rush, and the region’s First Nations culture.
23. Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
In keeping with Victoria’s old-school elegance, horse-drawn carriage rides harken back to an older, slower way of life. Departing from the curb beside the BC Parliament Buildings, these unique tours take you through parks, past Emily Carr’s childhood home, and through some of Victoria’s most grand neighborhoods.