The cities of Vancouver  and Victoria  are two very different personalities in disparate settings, yet they are linked by location and history. Along with the resort town of Whistler  and the accessible wilderness of Vancouver Island , these cities conjure up images of dramatic mountains, busy waterways fringed by sandy beaches and rocky shorelines, brilliant flower gardens overflowing with color, and the wonders of ancient old-growth forests.
Big and brash, Vancouver lies on Canada’s west coast mainland, sandwiched between the snowcapped Coast Mountains and the sparkling Pacific Ocean. With a population of two million, this is the largest city in British Columbia , Canada’s westernmost province. Across Georgia Strait on Vancouver Island, the smaller, more refined provincial capital of Victoria also takes full advantage of its naturally appealing setting, but in a more genteel form. Victorians will be quick to tell you that the weather is nicer and the pace is slower than in Vancouver, and they are right on both accounts, but the city also projects an intriguing mixture of images, old and new.
While Vancouver and Victoria get most of the attention, the call of the wild draws locals and visitors alike away from suburban sprawl and into the surrounding wilderness. A rugged two-hour drive north of Vancouver is Whistler , best known for its world-class skiing and snowboarding but also an active town throughout summer. Vancouver Island also beckons, with an array of outdoor experiences that range from hiking the West Coast Trail  to surfing the waves of Long Beach .
Settled by Europeans just 150 years ago, the region has been home to native peoples for thousands of years. While world-class facilities such as the Museum of Anthropology  and the Royal British Columbia Museum  do an admirable job of preserving native culture, there are opportunities to experience these ancient lifestyles by tasting indigenous dishes, visiting native villages, and learning about the meaning-filled art.
Totem poles  are the most recognized form of Pacific Northwest culture, and these can be seen everywhere from local parks to remote islands. Native artwork is held in high regard around the world, with wide-ranging collections available for viewing and purchase within downtown galleries and as far removed from the city as local co-ops within native villages.
Vancouver and Victoria are overflowing with modern culture. Aside from the interesting museums, modern arts facilities in both cities play host to world-renowned performing artists throughout the year. The outdoors even permeates the arts, with memorable experiences such as Shakespeare performed in a waterfront setting during the summer as part of Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach  and a symphony orchestra performing on a floating barge for Victoria’s Symphony Splash . Looking for a little less culture? Head to one of the pumping nightclubs in Vancouver ’s entertainment district or a neighborhood pub in Victoria , or immerse yourself in the party scene at Whistler .
Visiting Vancouver  and Victoria  in a single trip — and hopefully finding time to explore Whistler  and Vancouver Island  — is a natural fit. The two cities and easily accessible surroundings combine to create a world of opportunities for a vacation that can be tailored to suit anyone’s budget and taste. You won’t want to miss the major tourist attractions, but to fully appreciate the destination, steer clear of the ordinary. Make reservations at a historical bed-and-breakfast or wilderness lodge, order local seafood, try a new activity like sea kayaking, or simply go for an early morning coastal walk to best soak up the sights, sounds, and smells of this distinctive vacation destination.