Nelson, BC – Is it the small, hippy, sleepy town you think it is?

Downtown Nelson, BC.

A lot of people think of Nelson as a small, hippy, sleepy town in British Columbia, Canada.

Small, some people will think so, with a population of around 10,000 people.

Hippy, perhaps, with a downtown filled with small local shops, galleries, and a few microbreweries. Sleepy, absolutely not. The cultural and arts scene in Nelson is massive.

Situated in the middle of two of Western Canada’s largest cities, Vancouver and Calgary is this hidden gem. The town sits on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, snuggled into the Selkirk Mountains.

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It is known as the “Queen City” due to over 350 beautifully restored heritage buildings in the town, more than any other city, per capita, in the province.

The Cultural and Arts Scene

Vesper Valentine
Vesper Valentine (Photo credit: Firstlight Photography)

Several galleries and museums can be found throughout Nelson. They have thrived with the works of local and international artists for decades. Author John Villani called Nelson the “Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada.” Nelson has a lively local artist co-op and is host to an artist-in-residence series.

The town has become home to one of the biggest and fasting growing burlesque scenes between Calgary and Vancouver. Thanks to the sensational Vesper Valentine, the recent Tease the Season Christmas Cabaret had a record-breaking 350 attendees.

Vesper Valentine is also producing the first annual Kootenay Burlesque Festival on June 29th & 30th, 2018. Nelson is home to the Canadian Legend of Burlesque, Judith Stein, and the Kootenay Burlesque and Performing Arts Collective.

Three times a year the town hosts the Blue Night Arts & Cultural Crawl. Numerous venues from galleries, cafés, pubs, and restaurants participate in the event.

A Food Lovers Paradise

Finley's Bar & Grill Patio
Finley’s Bar & Grill Patio

With more restaurants per person than Manhattan or San Francisco, Nelson is a food lovers paradise. The town also has four microbreweries, summer markets full of local produce, and is within a three-hour drive to British Columbia’s famous vineyards.

As it is impossible for one person to eat everywhere, I do have some local favorites.

Breakfast – Oso Negro Café
This café is wonderful. Here you can enjoy fresh seasonal food and a variety of coffee either within the restaurant or outdoors. The café is filled with work from local artists. The large outdoor area offers several private sitting areas within the perennial garden

Lunch – Finley’s Bar & Grill
Finley’s award-winning Beetroot Burger is not to be missed. It is one of, if not the best burgers I have ever had. I can’t wait to go back and have it again, along with the other homemade dishes they offer. The large bar is inviting and welcoming indoors.

The outdoor patio offers stunning views of Kootenay Lake and Elephant Mountain. Finley’s Bar & Grill is a great place to eat or have a few drinks with friends.

Dinner – All Seasons Café
Since 1995 All Seasons Café has been serving top-quality dishes. The seasonal menu is derived from local produce and has something for everyone. The location of the restaurant is a little tricky to find but worth it. Dine inside the cozy restaurant, on the glass-enclosed veranda, or outside on the beautiful patio.

Activities In And Around Nelson

View Nelson, BC.
View Nelson, BC.

Due to its exceptional location, there are several activates year-round for people to enjoy their time in Nelson, BC.

Summer Activities

During the long summer months, there are numerous outdoor activities for people to enjoy. Nelson has several parks in town for those who want to enjoy the outdoors without leaving the town. These include Gyro Park, IODE Park, and Cottonwood Falls Park.

While in Nelson, it is also great to take a self-guided walking tour and view some of the 350 restored heritage buildings. Spending a day at one of the many beaches is an everyday activity for many locals and tourists.

For those who want to be more active hiking in the mountains, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, fishing, zip-lining, and golfing are great ways to spend the day. On the lake, you can go boating, kayaking, and paddleboarding.

The annual Shambhala Music Festival, held every August, is about 45-minutes from town, at the Salmo River Ranch.

Winter Activities

Numerous activities are also available in the winter. The Whitewater Ski Resort is nearby. Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing are favorite sports in the area. The Ainsworth Hot Springs is nearby and worth a visit.

Great Places To Stay

The Prestige Lakefront Resort
The Prestige Lakefront Resort Suite

Prestige Lakefront Resort – Located two blocks from Nelson town center, the Prestige Lakefront Resort is an ideal place to stay.

Ainsworth Hot Springs – The hot springs are not in Nelson, but they are close. You can either stay at the hotel or just go and enjoy the natural hot springs for a few hours.

Wing Creek Resort – The resort is about an hour away from Nelson. It is another beautiful area to visit and an ideal place to disconnect from the digital world for a couple of days.

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  1. Ronert Jamison says:

    How about ‘dodging the transients, panhandlers and homeless’ as an activity. It’s a shockingly bad scene for such a small town.

  2. Isn’t Gyro park in Trail?

    1. Sally Pederson says:

      Hi Stacey. There may also be a Gyro park in Trail. I’m sure there is more than one in Canada.

  3. Mable Darkwoods says:

    Nice article. Those who are interested in sampling good wine are much closer than 3 hours to the nearest vineyards. Creston has wineries such as the Skimmerhorn and Bailie Grohman that have both won multiple international and North American awards for their wines. Wynwood Cellars is the newest winery in Creston and it is quickly gaining a strong reputation for producing good wine. It is one of the most beautiful drives in BC from Nelson to Creston doing the lake route and well worth the stop going the Creston Route to Nelson as well.

    1. Sally Pederson says:

      That is good to know. I will have to go to the wineries the next time I’m out in the area.

      1. There is also a great winery just south of Trail, BC (about an hour drive from Nelson) called Columbia Gardens Vineyard & Winery.

  4. Joanne Brugger says:

    5 genenerations of my family lived in Nelson, in the same house that my great grandfather built. But after I graduated from high school, I moved to a big city. I miss Nelson everyday. Your article was beautiful. I love the pictures. Thankyou for taking me to my home without leaving Winnipeg. Joanne Watkin Brugger

    1. Sally Pederson says:

      Joanne, I’m glad you liked the article. Thank you.

  5. You need to dig a little deeper for the ‘Queen of the Kootenays’ definition because what you’ve stated is incorrect or maybe a ‘new’ definition.

    1. Sally Pederson says:

      Hi Susanne, I have found several articles that has called Nelson “Queen City” and Queen of the Kootenays”. I’m sorry if you do not agree with this.

  6. Don’t come here
    There’s nothing to see
    Stay away

    1. Sally Pederson says:

      I understand Sam, that you don’t want a lot of tourists in Nelson. I’m assuming you live there.

  7. I have loved Nelson since a drive through visit some years ago. Kootenay Lake is so beautiful! Ainsworth Hot Springs is a treat. We make it a point to visit every summer and suggested Nelson to a cousin who has since moved there.

  8. Isis Star says:

    I want to come there. Invite another Legend.

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