5 Day Vancouver Island Itinerary for Nature, Food and Culture

5 Day Vancouver Island Itinerary for Nature, Food and Culture

Vancouver Island is stunning with its majestic mountains, lush forests and wild Pacific Ocean beaches. Other than natural sights, Vancouver Island also has a burgeoning Pacific-Northwest food scene and an amazing artisan culture. It's no wonder it was named the #2 top island in North America by the 2020 Conde Nast Readers' Choice Awards.

Your 5 Days in Vancouver Island will include a mix of relaxation and adventure, and will touch on the best of the island's culinary scene, west-coast culture and nature.

Our 5 day Vancouver Island Itinerary also includes our top hotel and B&B picks that add a unique experience to each area.

Outline: 5 Days on Vancouver Island

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Best time of year to visit Vancouver Island

Flowers in bloom on Vancouver Island
Stretching our legs on our Vancouver Island road trip

The best time of year to visit Vancouver Island is from March - May & October. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. November - February has the most rainy days and monthly precipitation. Although storm watching can be fun in Tofino, Sutton Pass (HWY 4) can get snowy, slippery and wet. Note that winter tires are required to drive HWY 4 from October 1 - March 31.
  2. November - February has the least amount of daylight hours.
  3. June - September is the tourist heavy season where you will see the highest prices for hotels.
  4. Another thing to consider is forest fires. Some years the smoky haze can be so bad that it blocks out the blue skies and scenic nature around you, even in Tofino! This could happen sometime between July-September.

How to get to Vancouver Island

Beautiful Vancouver Island

The best way to get to Vancouver Island is by ferry or float plane.

From Vancouver:

Option 1 (ferry): Drive about 45 minutes from Vancouver to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and take the ferry to Swartz Bay. The ferry ride is 95 minutes. From Swartz Bay it's a 30 minute drive to downtown Victoria.

Option 2 (seaplane): Take a 30-35 minute float plane from Vancouver Harbour or YVR South to Victoria with Harbour Air. The float plane journey is beautiful and feels like you're on a sightseeing tour! From Victoria, rent a car for your Vancouver Island road trip.

From Seattle:

Option 1 (ferry): Drive 2.5 hours from Seattle to Port Angeles and take the Black Ball Ferry line to Victoria. The ferry ride is 90 minutes.

Option 2 (seaplane): Take a 45 minute float plane from Seattle to Victoria with Kenmore Air. From Victoria, rent a car for your road trip.

🚗 Compare car rental rates across different companies.

5 Day Vancouver Island Itinerary

Days 1-2: Victoria

China Town in Victoria

Explore Victoria's culinary scene and the second oldest China Town in North America

The charming capital of BC is a great place to kick off your Vancouver Island itinerary. The small city has a chilled-out vibe and tons of quirky boutique stores, restaurants and bars to discover within historic Victorian buildings.

Recommended tour: A Taste of Victoria Food Tours, which takes you on a 2-hour walking tour to see the top foodie spots. The tour includes tastings along the route.

Fun things to do in Victoria

Here are some of our favourite things to do in Victoria:

๐Ÿต Go for afternoon tea at The Fairmont Empress, a gorgeous chateau-style hotel built in 1908 that was frequented by Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family over the years.

๐Ÿ˜๏ธ Explore Fernwood, a hip neighbourhood where locals hang out. Grab a house-roasted coffee at Little June and shop at CREAM Life + Style, a quirky boutique with an amazing curated selection of vintage and artisanal products.

๐Ÿงง Walk through Canada's oldest Chinatown. Once you enter the ornate paifang (traditional Chinese archway) on Fisgard Street you will see historic buildings and red hanging lanterns. Take the side alleyways to find hidden gems and shops tucked away.

๐Ÿ’ฝ Discover new music at The Turntable. This hole-in-the-wall record store has an amazing selection of music and rare vinyl. We picked up a few psychedelic rock records.

โ™จ๏ธ Rent a hot tub boat and cruise along Victoria Harbour. It's a fun activity to do rain or shine! Each boat fits up to 6 people and your rental includes a waterproof bluetooth speaker. Reserve online.

๐Ÿง–โ€โ™€๏ธ Detox in a sauna aboard a WWII-era barge. HAVN Saunas has three saunas, two cold plunge pools and two hot tubs overlooking the harbour and float plane terminal. Reserve in advance.

๐Ÿ•ฐ Go antique and vintage shopping. Check out Cook Street Vintage for authentic midcentury modern pieces.

๐ŸŽต Listen to live jazz at Herman's Jazz Club, a cozy spot with a great locals vibe.

Top restaurants in Victoria

Mouthwatering Pork Katsu sandwich at Part + Parcel

Best for innovative food: Nowhere A* Restaurant - A cool eatery located in the courtyard of a mini-mall known for its seafood and plant-based dishes. It was named the #5 best new restaurant in Canada by enRoute Magazine in 2020.

Best for a romantic evening: Courtney Room - A trendy spot serving Pacific-Northwest cuisine in an elegant setting. It was also recognized as one of the best new restaurants in Canada by enRoute Magazine in 2018. We splurged on the chef's tasting menu. Each dish was amazing!

Best new restaurant: Marilena Cafe & Raw Bar - from the same group that brought the top dining establishments, Blue Water and Elisa, to Vancouver, and Araxi, to Whistler, they have recently open Marilena in Victoria. It also was just named the third best new restaurant in Canada by enRoute Magazine 2023.

Best for lunch: Part + Parcel - A hip cafe serving mouthwatering pork, chicken and vegetarian sandwiches and unique, healthy salads. The Pork Katsu sandwich (a Japanese specialty) is a must try.

Best for brunch: House of Boateng. Delicious and creative dishes with a West Africa, Caribbean and Pacific-Northwest flare. The Crab Benny and Jerkup Pork Belly are outstanding! The head chef was named Chef of the Year in 2020 by EAT Magazine. Since the restaurant is located a bit farther away in the Langford area, save this spot for your drive out on Day 3.

Best cocktail bars in Victoria

Victoria has a vibrant cocktail scene with talented mixologists. Two cocktail bars worth checking out are Citrus & Cane and Little Jumbo. Both places have passionate bartenders that serve innovative and well-crafted cocktails.

Citrus & Cane is one of our favourite cocktail bars in the world. Focussing on tiki-style drinks, the tropical-mid century decor is a sight to see in itself. It's ranked #42 on Canada's Best Bars 2023 list.

Little Jumbo is a hip speakeasy located downtown. You must try their cocktail called the Disco Pumpkin! Usually I'll order different cocktails to try them out, but I had to order two of these. The spiced foam on the top was so delicious.

Unique accommodation in Victoria

Our top picks for unique hotels and B&Bs in Victoria:

Best luxury hotel: Fairmont Empress Hotel - A striking chateau-style hotel named one of the top iconic hotels in the world by National Geographic Traveler. There is also a myth that the hotel has a haunted past. We dare you to watch The Shining in your room and then walk through the hotel after.

Best boutique hotel: Abigail's Hotel - A former historic mansion with a unique and charming heritage decor.

Best for the location: Magnolia Hotel & Spa - Close to everything downtown. Splurge on a signature corner room for a pretty view of the parliament building. A bonus is that one of Victoria's best restaurants, The Courtney Room, is on the ground floor of the hotel.

Most unique B&B: Cozy Boho-Chic Loft - A stunning loft in a heritage building with exposed brick, 12 foot ceilings and an inspiring funky decor. Great location downtown walking distance to main sights, boutiques and restaurants.

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Browse more stays in Victoria

Days 3-5: Tofino

Room service at The Wickaninnish in Tofino

Spend time in Canada's surf capital and unwind in nature at an oceanside retreat

Your next destination is Tofino! Tofino is one of the most beautiful places in Canada with its wild Pacific Ocean beaches and ancient old-growth forests. The surf town provides a unique experience with its remote location, yet all the luxuries you want at hand.

Fun stops on the way from Victoria to Tofino

Driving time from Victoria to Tofino: 4.5 hours

Cowichan Bay Road

๐Ÿณ Start your day with a delicious breakfast at House of Boateng, located outside of Victoria in Langford.

๐Ÿฆ Next, drive 35 minutes to the cute waterfront town of Cowichan Bay. Along Cowichan Bay Road you'll find charming shops like Udder Guy's Ice Cream and True Grain, a European bakery with yummy baked goods. It's a great spot to stretch your legs and walk the strip.

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Another 22 minute drive towards Tofino, stop in at the Highway Antique Barn, a gem of a place selling tons of collectibles, vintage goodies and antique items. We always find beautiful midcentury items and pottery up the stairs on the second floor for a great price.

From the Highway Antique Barn it's a 3.25 hour drive to Tofino. On the scenic Pacific Rim Highway (HWY 4) you will travel through the city of Port Alberni and over the mountains at Sutton Pass. Once you reach the coast, it's under a 30 minute drive northwest to Tofino.

Note that winter tires are required from October 1 - March 31 for HWY 4.

Unique places to stay in Tofino

Our stay at Michel's Cabin

One of the best things to do in Tofino is cozy up in your room by the fire, play board games and enjoy the view from your window. Here are some of our top hotel and B&B picks.

Best luxury hotel: Wickaninnish Inn - The boutique hotel is part of the luxury hotel brand, Relais & Chateau, and offers amazing views of the ocean. Unwind at Ancient Cedars Spa or go for a romantic dinner at The Pointe, which offers sunset views of Chesterman Beach.

Best beachfront hotel: Pacific Sands Beach Resort - The hotel has wild ocean views and sits right on Cox Bay Beach, a spectacular crescent-shaped beach enclosed by rugged cliffs. The bay is fantastic for surfing and is also known to have some of the biggest waves during storm watching season.

Best with a hot tub overlooking Chesterman Beach: Michel's Cabin - Located just steps away from Chesterman Beach, the B&B is super rustic and was one of the first homes built on the beach. Soaking in the outdoor hot tub and watching the sunset over Chesterman is magical!

๐Ÿ›๏ธ Browse more stays in Tofino

What to do in Tofino

Beach fire on Chesterman Beach

Read our comprehensive 3 Day Tofino Itinerary, which covers the best spots to eat and unique activities and sights you don't want to miss.

Here are the highlights:

  • โ˜• Go for morning beach walks with a hot coffee
  • ๐Ÿณ Enjoy tasty brunches with ocean views
  • ๐Ÿ”ฅ Rent a private sauna on the beach
  • ๐ŸŒฎ Eat the best fish taco in the world
  • ๐Ÿ„ Dine with 270ยฐ ocean views while watching surfers ride waves into sunset
  • ๐ŸŒŒ Have a beach fire under the stars on Chesterman Beach
  • ๐Ÿฆ€ Eat the freshest seafood
  • ๐Ÿ›๏ธ Explore Tofino village, shop the boutiques and visit First Nations art galleries.

Read the full 3 Day Tofino itinerary here

The drive back home

Backcountry roads on Vancouver Island

Back to Vancouver

Option 1 (ferry): Drive 2.5 hours from Ucluelet to the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal in Nanaimo. The ferry ride takes 1 hour and 40 minutes to Horseshoe Bay. From Horseshoe Bay it's a 25-50 minute drive to downtown Vancouver depending on traffic.

Option 2 (seaplane): Drive 2.5 hours from Ucluelet to Nanaimo and drop off your car rental. Take a 20 minute float plane from Nanaimo Harbour to Vancouver Harbour with Harbour Air.

Back to Seattle

Option 1 (ferry): Drive 2 hours 40 minutes from Ucluelet to Duke Point Ferry Terminal in Nanaimo. The ferry ride takes 2 hours to Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. From Tsawwassen it's a 2.25 hour - 3 hour drive to Seattle plus border crossing.

Option 2 (seaplane): Drive 4 hours from Ucluelet to Victoria and drop off rental car. From Victoria Harbour take a 45 minute float plane to Seattle with Kenmore Air.

Enjoy your 5 days on Vancouver Island!

Start planning your trip to Vancouver Island

  • 🌃 Accommodation: Booking.com is our go-to for finding places to stay. Sort by top reviewed.
  • 🚗 Car rental: see Rentalcars.com to compare car rental prices across different companies.

Planning a west coast itinerary? Round out your trip by visiting the two free-spirited islands of Galiano and Salt Spring, located between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. Check out our travel guides here:

Don't miss our other Tofino guides:

Check out our Victoria itineraries:

Leaving from Nanaimo? Check out our Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip

When you're back on the mainland, check out our list of the 17 best getaways near Vancouver and 9 things to do in Whistler for non-skiers.

Save and pin this 5 Day Vancouver Island itinerary for later:

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out our list of 30 fun adventure ideas for your next trip.

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