VICTORIA GUIDE: Top Things to do in Victoria

by - October 09, 2021

When it comes to beautiful cities, Victoria probably bags the award. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is British Columbia’s capital and one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest.  A British settlement since 1843 and named after Queen Victoria, the city is home to a multitude of gardens, a variety of historic buildings, including the beautiful parliament buildings and the world-famous Empress Hotel. The city is also home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada and vibrant First Nations communities who have called this place home long before European settlement. It is also widely known as “The Garden City” due to its almost year-round gardens.

For someone who lives in Vancouver, I did not think much of Victoria, expecting it to be another West Coast city, but was I wrong! Not only does it have the nature and temperate weather, it has an amazing downtown and urban center.  In this post, I’ll share with you some of the best things to do in Victoria while also sharing some tips on saving money, how to get around, where to stay, and much more.


If you’re a visitor looking for different ways of getting to Victoria, here’s some practical advice on how to get there. 

Plane: The first method is pretty straighforward, and that's by plane. You’ll most likely be flying into Victoria International Airport (YYJ). Although there are other smaller airports around the island, this is the one that gets used by most visitors. It’s located near the ferry terminal and is just 25 minutes from downtown and offers easy access to downtown Victoria, including by public bus or taxi. The public bus costs $5 CAD but space for baggage is limited.

Ferry:  Victoria is also a great place to visit by ferry, especially if you want to bring your car and plan on exploring more of Vancouver Island. If you’re driving to Victoria, you will need to take a ferry from the mainland to either Victoria or to Nanaimo. The crossing time is approximately 1.5 hours. The BC ferries leave from Vancouver’s Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay (Victoria). The other option is to take the ferry to Nanaimo, and then drive 2-hours to Victoria. The cost for car and driver is approximately $75 CAD for a one-way trip. Depending on timing, you want to arrive 1-2 hours earlier than the ferry departure as it can be very busy. Upon arrival, you will be in Sidney, BC, which is 32 km (20 miles) north of Victoria, taking approximately 30 minutes by car to reach downtown Victoria.  This method  is suggested for those who want to visit Vancouver. Otherwise, I would advise flying to Victoria. Another really cool feature about Victoria BC is that you can actually take a ferry right from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria, sailing through some really beautiful coastal scenery. The journey takes approximately 3 hours and starts at around $110 USD.

Bus: Unfortunately, there is no bus that takes you all the way to Victoria from Vancouver. However, you can take a bus to the ferry, and then another bus from the ferry to Victoria. Within Vancouver, you can take the Canada Line to Bridgeport Station and then bus 620 from bay 11 to Tsawwassen ferry terminal. On Vancouver Island, catch the 70 express bus or 72 bus to downtown Victoria.


Victoria is not a huge city, and thus, there is no subway train system. There is, however, a pretty good public bus network, as well as taxis to get you around. You could also rent a car, or if not going too far, Victoria is also a great place to walk and even bike. If you’re only going to be exploring downtown Victoria, walking is the best way to do it and you won't really need to use a bus or taxi except for commuting to the airport or ferry terminal. Most of the sites are within walking distance of one another. 


Victoria is one of the mildest cities in Canada, receiving very little snowfall and rarely dipping below 0°C. It does, however, get quite a bit of rain during the winter months. Summer can get busy so that is why Spring and Autumn are great times to visit. In the Spring, which is from March to May, flowers are in bloom so the gardens are great to visit. Summer is also great but also the warmest, busiest and costliest time to visit. The fall from September to November is also a great time to visit the island, though you should expect more rain. It does get a bit cold mid October, so I would try to aim for a September trip!


Victoria is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada, which creates loads of attractions, activities, and other things to do. Below is a list of some of the best things to do when visiting Victoria.


One of the most visited tourist spots on the island, the Butchard Gardens is an iconic site, as well as a National Historic Site of Canada. The gardens are around 55 acres and home to 900 bedding plant varieties, 26 greenhouses, and 50 full-time gardeners! This is top attraction and though tickets are not very cheap, they are well-worth it. The gardens are not in downtown, so you should allocate a full day to this activity since you would want another day to explore downtown and its attractions.


Another spot to visit, especially if it is a rainy day, is the Royal BC Museum. Founded in 1886, the Museum offers three permanent galleries inside, including Natural History, Becoming BC, and the First Peoples Gallery. The natural history collection alone has more than 750,000 records of specimens that are almost exclusively from the province. The Royal BC Museum is also home to touring exhibitions, such as Titanic, Egyptian artifacts, and the Vikings. Among all the museums in BC, this one is by far the grandest. It’s also conveniently located within walking distance from the Empress Hotel and the inner harbour so is definitely not out of the way.


Perhaps the most charming activity in Victoria is to simply stroll around and enjoy the inner harbour, which is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and similar to the one in Sydney, though smaller. Most of the historic streets and buildings are near the harbour, as is the Royal BC Museum, the Empress Hotel and the Parliament building. 


Right next to the Inner Harbour is the impossible-to-miss British Columbia parliament buildings. Overlooking the stunning Harbour, these beautiful historical buildings are definitely remnants of a very European past. Though we did not have a chance to check out the inside, I believe visitors are able to do self-guided tours of the buildings or can go on a regularly scheduled 35-minute guided tour, which occurs seven days a week during the summer months. 


Right adjacent the parliament building, overlooking the harbour is the Empress hotel, owned by the Fairmont group. It happens to be one of the most historic buildings as well and as soon as you step inside, it would be like stepping back into time. This hotel was owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway, built between 1904 and 1908 and is famous for its afternoon tea, which is served in the lobby to more than 800 visitors per day. 

Besides the afternoon tea, the Empress hotel is also home to another top tourist attraction – Miniature World. This little world features many miniature dioramas and displays, including the world’s smallest operational sawmill, the Great Canadian Railway, one of the world’s largest model railways, and even two of the world’s largest Doll Houses complete with over 50 furnished rooms! The attraction is conveniently located within the Empress Hotel, though is a separate ticketed attraction, with adult tickets costing $18.


Not far from Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the lovely floating neighbourhood of Fisherman’s Wharf. This is a great place to eat food, shop at unique stores, and go on eco-tours. This place was busy with people eating fresh seafood when we visited, but our favourite part was touring the floating homes and just imagining what it would be like to live in a house that moves with the water.


If you’re looking for a beautiful park to stroll around for the afternoon, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Beacon Hill Park, which is conveniently located in downtown Victoria. Simply walk up Belleville Street past the Museum of Natural History and the Imax Theatre to Douglas Street, take a right, and then climb a short hill until you reach the top. Beautiful inner-city nature awaits you. However, do note that the park is a whopping 200 acres in size, so plan your visit accordingly.


Not only is Victoria home to some exquisite gardens, it is home to some gorgeous and grand castles, including Hatley Castle and Craigdarroch Castle.  Hatley Castle is a Classified Federal Heritage Building and since 1995, the mansion and estate have been used for the public Royal Roads University. From the 1940s to 1995, it was used for the Royal Roads Military College, a naval training facility. The gardens are definitely worth a visit!

Craigdarroch Castle is another castle that should be visited, especially since it offers more tours of its interiors. The castle was built between 1887 and 1890 on a hill offering impressive views of the area and you’ll find four floors of exquisite stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.


It’s quite amazing how many cities around the world are home to Chinatown. But Victoria’s is unique in that it’s the second oldest Chinatown in all of North America, second only to the one in San Francisco. Created by Chinese immigrants more than 150 years ago, Chinatown has become a testament to the resiliency of the culture and traditions brought overseas long ago. From the Gate of Harmonious Interest to the bold colours of lucky red and gold throughout the neighbourhood, Chinatown is simply a place you shouldn’t miss when visiting Victoria. While there, don’t miss meandering down Fan Tan Alley as well, which is one of the narrowest streets in Canada.


Victoria is full of gardens, besides the Butchard gardens, hence earning its nickname “The Garden City”. Among its gardens is the Abkhazi Garden, created in 1946 by Prince and Princess Abkhazi, with its own heritage home. It is a small garden, only one acre in size but features dramatic glaciated rocky slopes, magnificent native Garry oaks and gorgeous vistas, Japanese maples and rhododendrons. A nice addition to the trip, and is unticketed.


We didn't visit this since our kid isn't fond of critters but if your kid is at that age of marvel and wonder, this should be a must-see. All families with kids trek their way to this bug zoo, full of insects and spiders, and what not. It also is home to Canada’s largest ant colony, giant walking stick bugs, alien-eyes praying mantids, and even glow-in-the-dark scorpions. 


Another garden but this one has another thing to offer: Butterflies. And who doesn’t love butterflies? These gardens are very tropical looking and filled with thousands of butterflies fluttering about the place. Not to mention, lots of koi fish, turtles, poison dart frogs, parrots, flamingos, and many tropical flowers. Tickets are around $18, and definitely worth a quick visit if you have time.


While Vancouver Island is quite big, there are actually hundreds of smaller Gulf Islands and inlets in the Georgia Strait around Victoria, BC. These make for excellent day trips. You could rent a boat, arrange a tour, or even take the ferry to popular islands such as Gabriola, Saltspring, and/or Thetis. Once on the little islands, you can simply relax in nature, go biking or hiking, visit local artisans and eateries, or find yourself a nice beach to whisk the day away. Ferry rates are about $10 CAD ($7 USD).


While some certainly visit Victoria just for Victoria, we highly recommend taking another week or more and exploring more of Vancouver Island. It’s truly a special place and one of the most beautiful areas in the country. You’ll find gorgeous rainforest treks, mystical coastal beaches, jaw-dropping waterfalls, lovely little island towns, and the best surfing in Canada out by Tofino. There’s also whale watching and wildlife tours all over the island, the opportunity to go snorkelling with salmon around Campbell River, and some of the best multi-day hikes in North America. Where will you go?

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