If you’re visiting British Columbia then you need to pay a visit to its capital, Victoria.
Perched on the southern end of Vancouver Island, the city is a delightful mix of Victorian architecture, public gardens and outdoor activities. Many travellers prefer to treat it as a day trip from the sprawling Vancouver (the ferry takes one and a half hours) as Victoria is largely residential and offers a great opportunity to explore the real British Columbia. Here are our top 10 recommendations if you’re looking to explore this beautiful city.
1. Butchart Gardens
We’ve written in detail about these beautiful gardens before, but you really need to see them for yourself. Clocking in at 55 acres, nearly 1 million people visit the gardens every year – both to admire the beautiful flower arrangements and relax with the nightly entertainment.
2. Inner Harbour
If you see an image in a brochure of Victoria, it will likely be the scenic Inner Harbour. This is Victoria’s primary tourist neighbourhood and along the streets, you’ll find buskers, restaurants, and some of Victoria’s top attractions (like Royal British Columbia Museum and the Parliament Buildings). And keep your eyes peeled while at the water’s edge – whales and seals are known to stop by!
3. Parliament Buildings
Built in a stunning neo-baroque style (and topped with a beautiful blue dome), the Parliament Buildings frame the Inner Harbour. If you want a closer look, you can book yourself a tour and even sit in on a Legislative Assembly debate.
4. Fairmont Express
Opposite the Parliament Buildings lies the Fairmont Express. Built in the early 20th Century, this is one of the oldest hotels in the region and is decked with Colonial Indian décor. While the photo opportunities are reason enough to visit, it is the decadent teatime that many previous visitors rave about (the hotel boasts its own specially crafted tea brand).
5. Craigdarroch Castle
If it’s a historic building you’re looking for, head a mile east of the Inner Harbour until you find Craigdarroch Castle. Built in the 1800s for coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir, its 39 rooms are now open to the public. Even if you’re not a massive history buff, many past visitors recommend a visit simply for the views of downtown Victoria.
6. Royal British Columbia Museum
For even more history, the Royal British Columbia Museum offers a comprehensive introduction to the region’s history and culture. Everything is laid out in chronological order, and exhibits include tribal artefacts from the First Nations, natural history displays and even replicas of Colonial-era settlements. There is also an IMAX theatre.
7. Butterfly Gardens
While you wouldn’t normally associate Canada with exotic butterflies, you’ll find the tropical wetlands they need to survive at the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. This indoor facility is home to around 3,000 butterflies spread across its 12,000 square feet – plus you’ll find host a variety of birds and fish, including flamingos and koi fish.
It’s not just Vancouver (and the other big cities of Canada) that are home to their own Chinatown. While Victoria’s Chinatown is definitely more quaint than Vancouver’s, it is actually the oldest one in the country! It’s definitely worth a stroll – especially if you love Chinese food.
9. Maritime Museum Of British Columbia
With the Pacific Ocean on its doorstep, it’s no surprise that Victoria has a colourful maritime past. If you’re interested in all things nautical, visit this former courthouse that hosts a collection of items from the age of sail. The main attraction in the museum is an Indian canoe named Tilikum which, at the beginning of the century, was used as a vessel in a voyage to England!
10. Whale watching
While you might be lucky enough to spot some whales while strolling the Inner Harbour, the best way to see them is to book yourself a marine safari. There are a few options available in Victoria leaving at different times of day (and we can book them for you in advance of your holiday!).