The iconic Empress Hotel. Photo © designpics/123rf.
ost people first see the city of Victoria from the Inner Harbour as they arrive by boat, the way people have done for almost 150 years. Ferries, fishing boats, and seaplanes bob in the harbor, with a backdrop of manicured lawns and flower gardens, quiet residential suburbs, and striking urban architecture. Despite the pressures that go with city life, easygoing Victorians still find time for a stroll along the waterfront, a round of golf, or a night out at a fine-dining restaurant. Discovering Victoria’s roots has been a longtime favorite with visitors, but some locals find the “more English than England” reputation tiring. Yes, there’s a tacky side to some traditions, but high tea, double-decker bus tours, and exploring formal gardens remain some of the true joys in Victoria.
Once you’ve visited must-sees like the Royal British Columbia Museum and Butchart Gardens, you can devote your time to outdoor pursuits such as whale-watching, a bike ride through Oak Bay, or something as simple as enjoying afternoon tea in an old-fashioned tearoom.
Victoria (pop. 335,000) doesn’t have as many official sights as Vancouver, but this isn’t a bad thing. Once you’ve visited must-sees like the Royal British Columbia Museum and Butchart Gardens, you can devote your time to outdoor pursuits such as whale-watching, a bike ride through Oak Bay, or something as simple as enjoying afternoon tea in an old-fashioned tearoom. You will be confronted with oodles of ways to trim bulging wallets in Victoria. Some commercial attractions are worth every cent, whereas others are routine at best, though the latter may be crowd pleasers with children, which makes them worth considering if you have little ones in tow.
Planning Your Time
Many visitors to Victoria spend a few nights in the city as part of a longer vacation that includes the rest of Vancouver Island. At an absolute minimum, plan on spending two full days in the capital, preferably overnighting at a character-filled bed-and-breakfast. Regardless of how long you’ll be in the city, much of your time will be spent in and around the Inner Harbour, a busy waterway surrounded by the city’s top sights, including the gracious Fairmont Empress and the impressive Robert Bateman Centre. At the top of the must-see list is the Royal BC Museum, which will impress even the biggest museophobes.
Beyond the harbor, devote at least a half day to wandering through historical Craigdarroch Castle, taking in the ocean and mountain panorama along the scenic route to Oak Bay, and enjoying the classic English tradition of afternoon tea at Point Ellice House. Victoria’s most visited attraction is Butchart Gardens, an absolutely stunning collection of plants that deserves at least half a day of your time. Away from downtown are the natural highlights of old-growth forest and waterfalls at Goldstream Provincial Park.
The best way to get to know Victoria is on foot. All of the downtown attractions are within a short walk of one another, and the more remote sights are easily reached by road or public transit. In summer, various tours are offered, giving you the choice of seeing Victoria by horse-drawn carriage, bus, boat, bicycle, limo—you name it. But if you still feel the need to have a car readily available, you’ll be pleased to know that parking is plentiful just a few blocks from the Inner Harbour.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.