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View of Nelson BC from Pulpit Rock

10 Best Things to Do in Nelson, BC

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For a small city of 10,000 perched on the side of mountain, Nelson, British Columbia delivers an amazing range of activities. Nelson started as a camp providing services to miners involved in the silver rush. The city grew quickly and by the early 1900’s was home to several hotels, many beautiful public buildings, churches and homes – many of which can be seen on a historical walking tour today. 

The following are 10 things you’ll want to do in Nelson BC. They include everything from outdoor adventures through to the arts, galleries, culture and dining.

Updated February 2022. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small percentage of the sale at no extra cost to you. Thank you very much for your support.

Nelson, BC is a colourful town built onto the side of a hill
Nelson, BC is a colourful town built onto the side of a hill

Things to do in Nelson, BC you can knock off in just 24 hours

Get your caffeine fix 

Head for Oso Negro Café, a fixture on the Nelson scene since 1993. Hopefully you’ll get a sunny day so you can sit outside with your coffee and homemade baked good, surrounded by flowers and listening to the water gurgle out of fountains. Timing is everything as it is popular. Be prepared for lineups.

Don't miss a morning stop for coffee at the Oso Negro Cafe
Don’t miss a morning stop for coffee at the Oso Negro Cafe

Hike to Pulpit Rock in Nelson

While it’s still cool, head for the Pulpit Rock trailhead on the north side of the lake. Do the steep 1.8 kilometre hike and you’ll really feel like you’ve earned the best view in town.

Once at Pulpit Rock you also get a sense of how the town of Nelson is laid out. And you get a great view of Kootenay Lake. For those wanting even more of a workout continue steeply up the Flagpole Trail and do a 2 kilometre loop.

Still want more? Take the 3.3 kilometre one way CBC Tower Trail and then carefully retrace your steps all the way down. Expect the Pulpit Rock hike to take 60 – 90 minutes depending on how long you linger on top.

The hike is on a well-defined trail in the presence of many huge trees
The hike is on a well-defined trail in the presence of many huge trees
Superb views of Nelson from Pulpit Rock
Superb views of Nelson from Pulpit Rock

Go out for lunch 

Head to Baker Street for lunch and choose of the many independent cafes or restaurants – preferably with an outdoor patio. Cantina del Centro, a Mexican restaurant was highly recommended to us but we decided on another caffeine hit, this time at Empire Coffee beside the Adventure Hotel. Both coffee and baked goods were first rate.

Do the Heritage Walking Tour of Nelson

Plan to spend the next few hours doing the Heritage Walking Tour. There are over 350 heritage buildings in Nelson – an incredible number for a town of its size. The map put out by the Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History (visit the museum if you have time) describes 33 buildings with the bulk of them located on Baker Street between Kootenay and Hall Streets.

Most of the buildings hail from the early 1900’s. You’ll see architecture running the gamut from Edwardian Classical with Richardsonian Romanesque features (McCullough Building) to Beaux Art Classical Revival in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal buildings.

Mission Revival is in evidence in the Wood Valance Building and Queen Anne Commercial in the Houston block. Check out Bellamy’s Grocery to see Boomtown Wooden False Front architecture. Combined they add a tremendous amount of colour and character to the city.

The Courthouse - built in 1908
The Nelson Courthouse – built in 1908
The Hume Hotel
The Hume Hotel

Support the locals – aka shop

Shoppers will enjoy wandering through the diverse selection of boutiques found on Baker Street. Housewares, book, sport and clothing stores – most with an artistic bent will all vie for your shopping dollar.

Baker Street is home to loads of diverse boutiques
Baker Street is home to loads of diverse boutiques

Wander the Uphill Neighbourhood

After the heritage tour we decided to tackle the Uphill neighbourhood running behind Nelson’s downtown core to see what we’d find. The overriding impression was one of awe.

It’s incredibly steep. And in summer lots of colourful houses with flower gardens filled to the brim will stop you in your tracks. Looking at the streets made me wonder how anyone can get around in the winter after a snowstorm. I concluded that you skied or tobogganed into town!!

Not too many flat lots around in Nelson's Uphill neighbourhood
Not too many flat lots around in Nelson’s Uphill neighbourhood
Be prepared for a workout when you explore the Uphill neighbourhood
Be prepared for a workout when you explore the Uphill neighbourhood

Check out the waterfront – by kayak or SUP

It’s a very pleasant walk from downtown Nelson to the waterfront. If the weather had cooperated we would have rented kayaks and seen the city in another light. There is also the option to rent paddleboards at the Prestige Marina.

The Nelson waterfront on a cloudy day
The Nelson waterfront on a cloudy day

Go for a bike ride – perhaps on an e-bike

Mountain biking in Nelson is the stuff of legend. People come from all over to bike the trails, not only in town but nearby. Visit Gerick Cycle and Ski in downtown Nelson. They’ve been around for a long time and have all sorts of local advice to offer on where to best use your time based on how you like to ride.

They can also rent you a bike – whether it’s a regular mountain bike or an e-bike. John and I tried e-bikes here for the first time and I have to say we had a blast.

They also help to dispatch with the hills that Nelson is justly famous for. We rode a section of the Trans-Canada Trail on rail-grade as far as Cottonwood Lake. Allow a couple of hours to do that.

E-bike or mountain bike to Cottonwood Lake above Nelson
E-bike or mountain bike to Cottonwood Lake above Nelson

Visit Kokanee Creek Provincial Park – one of the top things to do in Nelson, BC

Another one of the top things to do in Nelson is to visit Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. It’s only a 20 minute drive from the downtown. Don’t forget your bathing suit as it’s home to over a kilometre of beautiful sandy beach. Swimming is excellent as is the paddleboarding. Rent one on the beach.

Between August 15 and September 30 the park is also where you can see Kokanee salmon spawning. An elevated boardwalk allows an up-close view of the salmon in the spawning channel.

Visit the BC Parks website before you visit as special regulations are in place to minimize bear – human interaction during the salmon run.

Things to do in Nelson BC include paddleboarding on Kootenay Lake
Things to do in Nelson BC include paddleboarding on Kootenay Lake – leaving from Kokanee Creek Provincial Park

Things to do in Nelson BC – Dine very well!

The All Seasons Cafe called Nelson’s hippest back alley bistro is a treat to visit. Our table on a back patio made me feel like I’d been transported to Europe but my meal – a swoon-worthy piece of fresh halibut with Thai red curry carrot puree took me to BC’s west coast.

Both my husband and I were in awe at the calibre and sophistication of the restaurants in Nelson. For a small town the locals are very lucky to have such quality – and variety.

 All Seasons Cafe on a little side street has excellent food and a lovely patio
All Seasons Cafe on a little side street has excellent food and a lovely patio
The halibut at All Seasons Cafe is memorable
The halibut at All Seasons Cafe is memorable

Where to stay in Nelson, BC

Nelson offers lots of great choices when it comes to accommodation. 

At the Adventure Hotel you’ll find modern rooms in a variety of configurations at a very good price. Another top choice is the historic Hume Hotel, built in 1898. Both locations are within a block or two of fabulous restaurants and the wonderful Baker Street. 

If it’s a hostel you’re after, you’ll find friendly faces at The Dancing Bear Inn Hostel. But if it’s the water you want to be on check out the Prestige Lakeside Resort.

Our room at The Adventure Hotel in Nelson
Our room at The Adventure Hotel

Location map of things to do in Nelson BC

                       

Nelson offers both adventure loving and cultural travelers plenty of reasons to visit. When are you going?

If you’re looking to explore more of the area – consider picking up a copy of the West Kootenay BC Adventure Maps. Your GPS might not be as accurate as you want it to be when you’re on a logging road in the middle of nowhere!

Further reading on the Kootenays 

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Best things to do in nelson, BC - a town famous for food, culture and the outdoors

Thank you to Kootenay Rockies Tourism for hosting my stay. All thoughts and opinions as always are my own.

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