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Stroll through Victoria BC, Canada and you might feel as though you have been transported to another world. As a Canadian visiting Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, is like a dream. Much of the country has already had freezing temperatures and large snowfalls but here flowers are blooming, the grass is luscious green and the ocean sparkles. And this is the offseason.
Things To Do In Victoria BC, Canada
1. Inner Harbour
What kind of traveller are you? I have asked this question before.
I feel that Victoria requires a certain amount of dilly-dallying and mere observation time.
Grab a coffee from a nearby funky coffee shop and find a bench to sit. Or meander.
Sit at the inner harbour and just watch. Seaplanes. A ferry, the Coho, that arrives from Port Angeles in the USA. Sailboats. Kayaks.The Clipper that transports passengers only from downtown Seattle. Rowers. The open skies. Swooping gulls. Dragon boat teams. Meet Captain James Cook who discovered this lively harbour in 1778.
2. The Fairmont Empress Hotel
Facing the inner harbour, The Empress Hotel, fairytale-like in appearance, is an obligatory site to see. One of the world’s iconic hotels, the Empress Hotel is well known for serving High Tea in the Lobby Lounge. This has been a daily tradition since 1908 when the hotel, in Victoria BC, opened.
The Empress is also a lovely spot to end a day of sightseeing with a drink (did someone say champagne and cassis?) and snack in the Gold Lounge overlooking the harbour. Better still, dine at the Empress Restaurant.
Don’t forget to find the statue of Emily Carr, a famous Canadian artist, waiting for you between the Empress Hotel and the Royal BC Museum.
3. Fisherman’s Wharf
Leave the inner harbour and walk about 15 minutes to Fisherman’s Wharf. Bobbing in the sea colourful houseboats will capture your imagination. Hmm… Shall I trade my nomadic ways and live by the sea in a houseboat? Maybe.
In this capital city, walk along the worn planks that make up the “streets” in Fisherman’s Wharf. Take note of how these Victorians live and don’t forget to respect their privacy.
Fisherman’s Wharf has oodles of food kiosks. Take the opportunity to grab some fish and chips and eat by the sea.
From Fisherman’s Wharf, you can also rent kayaks and catch a whale watching tour: www.eaglewingtours.ca
Seriously. You could spend the entire day right here.
If you happen to be driving around Victoria, there is paid parking at Fisherman’s Wharf.
4. Butchart Gardens
Victoria BC’s famous gardens which have been in bloom for over one hundred years claim to be a 5 season garden destination. If you are a gardener, love flowers, shades of natural colours and tranquillity, this National Historic site of Canada is one you should visit. There is a sunken garden along with a Japanese and Italian garden and a rose garden.
Visiting in late autumn the highlights were coloured leaves, gnarled branches, rusty hues of hydrangeas, weeping willows and reflections in the ponds. Marvel at the gigantic BC trees and the fact there are no crowds.
Plan a visit for the Christmas lights or for summer fireworks every Saturday in July and August.
Tucked away in Butchart Gardens is Todd Inlet. In the summer there are 45-minute boat tours exploring the local waters around Butchart Gardens.
Butchart Gardens has a gift shop, skating rink (seasonal, of course), restaurant and coffee shop. Dogs are welcome
If you came by car, consider having lunch in Brentwood Bay at Café Zanzibar.
Getting to Butchart Gardens
By Car: from downtown Victoria BC, it is a 35-minute drive to Butchart Gardens
By Public Transit: Taking public transit from Victoria to Butchart Gardens is very doable and inexpensive. Check out the transit routes for Victoria here.
From a Cruise Ship: There are shuttles that take you from the cruise ship docks straight to Butchart Gardens.
With a Tour: See further along in the post for tours from Victoria and Vancouver.
5. FanTan Alley
Don’t miss the narrowest street in Canada! Fan Tan Alley was once full of gambling and opium dens but today it is lined with locally-owned shops that offer an array of products. Looking for vintage records, yoga clothes or handcrafted jewellery? Hit up Fan Tan Alley.
Pop-out one end of the alley and you will find yourself in Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
6. Shop A Little
Victoria is full of trendy shops and cafés. Take a stroll down Johnson Street which is lit up in the evening and Pandora Avenue.
Read More | Lovin’ the food in Victoria? Vancouver also has a trendy, hip food scene. If you’re heading that way be sure to check out these restaurants.
7. Songhees Walkway
With the Empress Hotel at your back, head to the right towards the Johnson Street Bridge also known as the Blue Bridge. Although it is no longer blue, spotlights light it up in the evening so that it can live up to its name. The Johnson Street Bridge lifts skyward several times a day for marine traffic.
Sit in the Adirondack chairs, wait for the bridge to lift and watch the barges. Soak up the view of the inner harbour and Parliament buildings.
Walk the Songhees Walkway past the Delta Hotel to the Esquimalt Harbour where the path ends. It is approximately a 45-minute walk.
Keep your eyes open for floating homes in the Esquimalt Harbour and a year-round campground.
Keep your energy up and stop for a snack and beverage at Spinnakers or Boom and Batten.
8. Royal BC Museum
Situated right across from the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel, is the Royal BC Museum. A visit here is both educational and interactive. And, there is an IMAX theatre here so everyone can find something to please them. The museum holds special exhibits and has permanent exhibitions. The First Peoples Gallery showcases the artistic traditions of the Northwest Coast First Nations. If you love totem poles don’t miss Totem Hall.
9. Mile Zero
Beside Beacon Hill Park is Mile Zero of the Trans Canada highway. Here starts the 8000 km stretch of road that allows one to drive from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast of Canada. Pack a lot of snacks… that’s a very long drive.
Terry Fox, a Canadian hero, was diagnosed with cancer at age 18 and pledged to run from the east coast of Canada and end his run at Mile Zero. Unfortunately, Terry did not achieve his final goal but he raised millions of dollars for cancer research. Today his spirit lives on through the annual Terry Fox run that takes place all across Canada.
10. The Beaches
There are many ways to enjoy the parks and beaches in Victoria BC. Walk by the Juan de Fuca Strait for as long as you want and then double back. Rent a bicycle and cycle along the bike lanes stopping off to enjoy the beaches that catch your fancy. Or, if you are driving, follow the scenic waterfront road, Dallas Road, and find the beach that calls to you.
Ogden Point Breakwater Wall
Walk right out to the end of the breakwater to the lighthouse. Watch the locals fishing for salmon. Look for seals, fishing boats and even whales…
Beacon Hill Park
Now here’s a park where you could spend the entire day and many people have since its opening in 1882. This 200-acre park along the Juan de Fuca Strait has trails, fountains, picnic areas and playgrounds.
The wind that blows in the Juan de Fuca Strait makes it the perfect location for windsurfing, kiteboarding and parasailing. Stop and enjoy the show or even better partake in the action!
There is a lovely grassy spot here to try your hand at flying a kite.
Lots of driftwood here for climbing, sitting and imagining.
This is a super popular sandy beach in the summer for swimming and stand up paddleboarding (SUP).
Stop by the Oak Bay Beach Hotel for a bite to eat at Snug Inn or Kate’s Café. Better still book yourself in for a spa day!
You are a 10-minute walk to Oak Bay Marina, which also has a restaurant and cafe. If you are beached out by now head along Oak Bay Avenue and find the shopping area full of more restaurants and independent shops.
If you are still game, Willows Beach is a 30-minute walk from the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. This sandy beach is a big hit in the summertime with paddle boarding, swimming, a playground, kayaking and teahouse.
Cadboro Bay Beach
End your drive at Cadboro Bay Beach, another hugely popular swimming beach.
As it was November on this visit, I did not test out the swimming at Gonzales Bay Beach, Willows Beach or Cadboro Bay Beach. But I do have the insider scoop from a local that these beaches won’t disappoint on a hot summer’s day.
Victoria BC is a marvellous city to spend a few days or longer.
More Travel Info…
Getting To Victoria BC From Vancouver BC (and vice versa):
Driving a Car:
Take the ferry from Tsawwassen BC Ferries Terminal. It’s a good idea to make a reservation as in the summer months and on long weekends the ferries are super busy. If you miss a ferry, you will have at least a 2-hour wait until the next one.
Driving to the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal from Vancouver takes about 45 minutes. Add in your waiting time for the ferry. The actual crossing is 90-minutes. Getting from the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal to Victoria takes about 30 minutes. So all in all this journey can take about 4 hours.
BC Ferries have restaurants, gift shops and coffee shops. There is plenty of seating and on a beautiful day, you can stay on the decks to enjoy the views.
As a Foot Passenger:
Make your way in Vancouver to Bridgeport Station. Use the Translink Transit site to find schedules. Once there, look for Bus #620 which goes directly to the ferry terminal (with a few stops).
Travelling as a foot passenger is simple. Keep your luggage with you and enjoy the views over the sea.
Once at Swartz Bay, catch Bus #70 (express) or #72 (not express) to take you into Victoria.
BC Ferries Connector is another way to travel between Victoria and Vancouver. There are departures from Vancouver airport as well.
Other Ways To Get To Victoria BC:
Take a seaplane from Vancouver with this full-day tour of Victoria BC.
Victoria International Airport (YYJ) serves Victoria and has plenty of routes worldwide.
Ferries from the USA:
From Seattle: the Victoria Clipper runs daily between the two cities.
From Port Angeles: Find out more about this service.
Prefer To Take A Tour?
Sometimes it is nice to have someone else figure out the details.