Victoria is a unique city riddled with beauty, history and excitement beyond what you would expect. The city proudly holds many titles and is a top destination in British Columbia – a must-see when visiting Vancouver Island. Before getting to all the things to see and do in the big city, here’s a quick run-down on Vancouver Island’s largest urban destination.
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and has been since 1866 despite Vancouver’s larger size. However, that isn’t all Victoria is the capital of. It is also the Cycling Capital of Canada, the Brunch Capital of Canada and the Beer Capital of British Columbia. Without a title, Victoria also boasts having the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America, and the narrowest street in North America, which comes in the form of Fantan Alley in Chinatown! It also has the second oldest Chinatown in North America besides San Francisco. Victoria is nicknamed the City of Gardens because, thanks to its temperate climate year-round, the city is filled with lush gardens and blossoms no matter the season. Although it does also possess the world-famous Butchart Gardens, there are numerous other stunning oases to visit in the city. Even the downtown is bursting with blossoms in the summer, as thousands of hanging baskets are strung up along the street lights.
Victoria’s downtown is riddled with history from the era of the “Hanging Judge” to the Fur-trade, Gold Rush and World Wars. There are plenty of unique tours that involve its haunted history and explore the incredible, unexpected buildings you can find in the city. From Victorian-era Castles, scenic ocean and harbour walkways, to extensive museums and art galleries, Victoria has it all. Of course, there are also the British Columbia Legislative Assembly buildings thanks to the city’s title of British Columbia’s capital.
Besides the culture and history that beats through the veins of the city, Victoria is also home to incredible adventures and outdoors. Whale watching, salmon fishing, kayaking and hiking are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to enjoying Mother Nature. It is a well-rounded city that offers something for everyone, even those that just want to shop.
Now that you know a bit more about the city itself, check out the top things to do in Victoria BC.
Victoria sees the most traffic of whale watching boats than any other Vancouver Island destination. Some of this has to do with the sheer number of visitors the popular city sees, but also because they have a large population of resident Orcas, a highly desired sighting on the coast. There are a number of companies to choose from and most offer a sighting guarantee.
Victoria is a destination on Vancouver Island where you can fish all year round! All five types of Pacific salmon are available – pink, sockeye, chum, coho and the prized chinook – as well as other fishable creatures like the tasty lingcod. There are numerous charters within the city, as well as around Sidney, Sooke and Port Renfrew that provide anglers with fun, successful trips. There’s something about salmon fishing in Victoria that brings out that true, west coast vibe. Plus, edible souvenirs are always a bonus.
Historical Buildings: Parliament Buildings, Fairmont Empress, Craigdarroch Castle
For such a young city, Victoria has a ton of history and much of it can be discovered within the bricks of its most impressive buildings. The three most famous buildings in the Victoria cityscape are the British Columbia Legislative Buildings, the Fairmont Empress and the Craigdarroch Castle. The Legislative Buildings exist thanks to Victoria’s status as the capital of British Columbia. Free tours run multiple times a day in the summer, and the interior of the buildings is impressive. You can even watch parliament in session! The Fairmont Empress was built by the same architect as the Parliament Buildings, Sir Francis Rattenbury, and is elegant beyond words. It’s most famous for the high tea that takes place daily. Finally, the Craigdarroch Castle is a beautiful, Victorian-style building that was once owned by an incredibly rich entrepreneur. You can explore the made-up rooms and learn more about the family that lived there for a small entrance fee.
Perhaps the largest contributor to Victoria’s nickname, the City of Gardens, the Butchart Gardens are famous around the world. They began in the 1900s as a limestone quarry and are now one of the top things to do in Victoria B.C. and are a top attraction in Canada. There are fifty-five acres of beautiful blossoms to explore and the gardens are well-loved for their firework shows in the summer, and incredible winter lights over the holiday season. The various sections of the Butchart Gardens are broken into the Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden and the Mediterranean Garden. There are plenty of facilities within as well, including a stage for live music and a carrousel, making it fun for the whole family. You can even bring your dog if it stays on its leash!
Downtown Inner Harbour
Victoria’s Inner Harbour is a hotspot, where people from all over the world mingle to walk its city center location. With the Fairmont Empress on one side and the Parliament Buildings and Royal BC Museum on the other, along with plenty of incredible boats and other sea traffic in front, the harbour is a bustling and interesting place to be. Along the walkway are buskers and street artists of different kinds, as well as some vendors with tasty treats. It’s a great place to relax after shopping, to bring along your ice cream, or to just sit and take in the scene. From the harbour, you can catch scenic flights, water taxis to other areas of Victoria, or take some iconic photos of some of Victoria’s most popular sights. Due to its location, you’re likely to cross over, or pass by the harbour a number of times during your stay. From there, you can also wander to Fisherman’s Wharf, a colourful collection of eccentric float homes and unique shops. It’s a great place to grab a bite to eat in the sun, and feed the local seals that do tricks for a piece of fish!
Dallas Road Drive and Ogden Point
Dallas Road loops alongside the ocean from downtown, all the way to Oak Bay. Not only does it provide sweeping views of the ocean being hugged by a towering mountain range, it takes you up alongside beach cliffs and past incredible personal gardens and homes. Dallas Road offers plenty of pit stops to enjoy viewpoints, walks along the pathway, or a journey to the beach. You’ll often spot people out for runs, walking their dogs or flying kites along the way, and in the winter, there are plenty of fantastic spots to pull off and watch the waves crash into the shore. At one end of Dallas Road is also the Ogden Point Breakwater and Lighthouse, a popular stroll amongst visitors and locals alike. Although the breakwater now has a fence along its edges, it used to be open to the waves, creating a thrilling experience of walking it in the storms, braving the powerful spray of breaking waves. It’s still an enjoyable walk out to the lighthouse and back, and the breakwater is covered in beautiful First Nations art.
Horse Drawn Carriage Rides
To really be taken back into time and experience the historical side of Victoria, a horse-drawn carriage ride is the way to go. Sit back and listen to the clip-clop of horses’ hooves as an experienced driver tells you tales about the areas you explore from the comforts of your own, private carriage. It also makes for a romantic evening as you soak up the beautiful lights of the Parliament Buildings and snuggle in close. Exploring Victoria with a horse-drawn carriage tour is unique and is an old tradition for the city.
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park is an incredible area of greenery alongside Dallas Road. It contains seventy-five acres of lush trees, beautiful ponds, woodland and shoreline trails, plus a petting zoo, waterpark and playgrounds for the little ones. It’s a great place to get lost and forget that you’re in the largest city on Vancouver Island. There’s even a large, reclining sculpture resting in a flowerbed that has long been overgrown with beautiful, emerald moss. Beacon Hill Park is a great place to visit in the spring when the daffodils blossom, and to feed the ducks in the ponds. Sometimes, you may even come across a heron taking a break amongst the lily pads.
Royal BC Museum and IMAX Theatre
The Royal BC Museum is an excellent way to spend the day, especially if it’s a rainy one. Not only does it have its own IMAX Theatre, which offers an extensive selection of Nat-Geo and documentary films, but it has three permanent galleries and usually a fantastic extra exhibition. The wooly mammoth is a fan favourite, and the local First Nations section is a great way to get in touch with Victoria and Vancouver Island’s history and roots. Within the Natural History Gallery is a gateway to the wilderness of British Columbia, as well as the changes the province has experienced. The Royal BC Museum collection consists of nearly seven million artifacts and many of the displays are interactive, enrapturing everyone from small children to adults that have visited tons of museums in their lives.
Not only is the Fisgard Lighthouse incredibly scenic form where it sits on its own outcropping surrounded by mountains and oceans, but it is a National Historic Sight of Canada. It was the first lighthouse that existed on the west coast of Canada, having been constructed in 1860 at the edge of the Esquimalt Harbour. The lighthouse is currently a museum with exhibits of life as a lighthouse keeper and epic tales of the battles won and lost by ships braving the wild west coast storms. There is a day use area for picnics and the lighthouse is a great way to enjoy a sunny afternoon and be regaled by the nautical side of Victoria’s important history.
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