Explore Victoria

Explore Victoria
Victoria is friendly, quirky little city, and just happens to be the capital of British Columbia! Its history is steeped in British culture with evidence in most of the buildings downtown, combined with this rugged, untouched landscape of granite rocks that most houses are built around, makes for a really interesting layout of a city. Victoria is also known for its gorgeous flowers and old man Garry Oak trees, but did you also know that Victoria is like a treasure map? There are little pockets of shops and cafes all around the city and the trick is to find them all! (Hint, Victoria residents love to share their cities secrets.)

Popular areas in Victoria to Visit

Only a couple of blocks long, Victoria’s Chinatown is the 3rd oldest in North America. There are several traditional (to Chinatowns!) Chinese trinket shops where you can pick up anything from a paper fans, to tea sets, to red gift envelopes, to rice paper umbrellas, and more! There are also some really spots for BBQ duck, BBQ Pork Buns, and bubble tea. The entrance way into the little town (which is located downtown) has a gate called the The Gates of Harmonious Interest, which is worth a photo!

Cook Street Village
This little area is known for its coffee shops, pubs, and pizza! It is the perfect spot to grab a coffee, meet some locals, and then walk past Beacon Hill Park down to the water. Dallas road follows the coastline, and there is a great walking path to check out. It will give you great views of the Olympic Mountains (on the US side). After your walk, head back up to the village for some of the best Napoli style pizza in the city at Prima Strata- you won’t be disappointed.

James Bay
James Bay is haven for those who love the older Victorian style houses. Embark on a walking tour to see them- past the Parliament Buildings, past the Gatsby House, and around to Fisherman’s Wharf, stop in to see the floating houses, and then circle back to James Bay village. There are several restaurants and little shops tucked into this little area.

University of Victoria
The University has several older historic buildings, plus some new ones that are in keeping with honouring the First Nations lands. The First Peoples House is LEED gold certified, and includes a green roof, storm retention pond and natural local landscaping. It is a beautiful structure, where they host events, talks, and ceremonies. There is also a program offered by the University to teach Canoe construction and totem pole design. There are a couple parks worth checking out: The Finnerty Gardens, Mt. Tolmie Park across the way.

Oak Street Village
Another pocket of shops, pubs, restaurants, this is great little spot walk around. A great old pub to check out is the Penny Farthing. Similar to the Bard and the Banker, and Irish Times (both downtown) it is the pub of the community and great place to get to know the locals in cosy tudor style atmosphere.

This area is located across the bridge on the other side of the Downtown Harbour. Known as less affluent area it is often overlooked, but it has some great spots to check out. On the waterfront area, there is Spinnakers Pub and Restaurant, which offers a great view and locally made Craft Beers. For those who like the outdoors, there is Saxe Point, Fort Rodd Park, and the Esquimalt Lagoon. Plus you can visit the first schoolhouse built by the English- Craigflower School House and Manor.

Hatley Castle at Royal Roads University
Butchart Gardens

Unique Things to See and Do in Victoria

  • Fan Tan Alley (the narrowest street in Canada)
  • High Tea at the Empress Hotel
  • Butchart Gardens
  • Whale Watching tour
  • Tea tastings at Silk Road
  • Victoria Bug Zoo
  • Walk through a Garry Oak Meadow
  • Check out all the floating homes
  • Cowichan Trading Post Store
  • Trounce Alley

Places to Visit in Victoria

  • Craigdarroch Castle
  • Royal BC Museum
  • BC Parliament Buildings
  • Maritime Museum of BC
  • Fort Rodd Hill
  • Royal Roads University (Hatley Castle)
  • Fisherman’s Wharf
  • Brentwood Bay
  • Roger’s Chocolates
  • Murchie’s Tea Room

British and First Nations!

Victoria is known for its British and First Nations heritage, of which the two cultures are vastly different and this contrast makes for some interesting traveller experiences. One of the most coveted ways for ladies to spend the afternoons in the early 1900′s was to spend with time the ladies while sipping tea and eating light nappies. Many of the teahouses in Victoria reside in old heritage buildings, so we have compiled a list of English Tea houses to visit for some afternoon culture, history, eats, and of course gossip of the town!

  • The Empress Hotel
  • The Oak Bay Beach Hotel
  • The White Heather
  • Murchie’s Tea Room
  • James Bay Tea Room
  • Butchard Gardens

Victoria’s history doesn’t start with the British, in fact many of the Lekwungen First Nation’s history is within the landscape of the surrounding areas and not recognizable to a wandering traveller. Since this is the case, we have listed a couple of locations where the Lekwungen had occupied for hundreds of years prior to the British arrival of James Douglas (from the Hudson’s Bay Company).

Beacon Hill Park- A meadow of camas, clover, and Garry Oak trees, this park appeared to be a perfect picturesque nature landscape for typical English agricultural lands. This was a misconception. The lands had been tended to and sculpted into this meadow by the Lekwungen people for hundreds of years, and in fact supported different foods such as camas bulbs. The soils are in fact very poor for English type crops. When you visit the park take notice of the wide open spaces and gnarly old Gerry Oaks.

Thunderbird Park – Located next to the Royal Museum, you can see many totem poles and a long house. In the summer time, native artists will carve and cut totem poles in the Kwakwaka’wakw big house.

Good Food Spots

Here is a really quick list of some personal favourites:

  • Seafood Lovers: Fisherman’s Wharf, Barb’s Fish and Chips (street food)
  • Pub Lovers: Irish Times, Sticky Wicket (turns into a nightspot), Swans (live music), Spinnackers
  • Vegetarians; REBAR
  • Breakfast Spots: Floyd’s Diner, John’s Place, Shine Cafe, Jam
  • Fine dining: Cafe Brio
  • Burgers: Pink Bicycle

Did you know…?

That Empress hotel (opened in 1909) has an entire room, The Bengal Lounge, honouring Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. The room is decorated in a Colonial Indian style.

Empress Hotel

Did you ALSO know…?

That if you wanted to commission a real totem pole to be built for you, it would cost anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000.

Thunderbird Park

Getting around Victoria

By Car
This is probably the easiest way to get around, especially since there are many areas worth visiting that are outside Victoria proper, but are hard to reach by bus (or it just takes a really long time with plenty of walking). One perk about Victoria is that the city has kept the parking rates to a minimum. Parking is free after 6pm, on Sundays, and national holidays. That includes the city’s car park as well street parking. If you are driving downtown on the weekend, parking can be tricky to find. And since this city is also university town Victoria Police hold a lot road blocks, checking for drunk drivers so beware.

By Bus
Victoria has DOUBLE DECKER buses! Most of them are newer, and not the old British ones which makes sitting on the top level more comfortable, and gives you a great vantage way to see the city from a higher level. The transit system is pretty good in Victoria, at least for all the major routes. The buses can be slow in the summer because there are less people attending the university- there are 20,000 students that fluctuate in and out. When the university students are in school, the buses run more frequently. An individual fare is $2.50 which can add up if you taking more than a couple of trips. We recommend a day pass which is available for $5.00 with unlimited access making transit much more reasonable. You can pay cash on the bus too, but the drivers do not provide change. The drivers are helpful with directions too.

Getting to Victoria

If you are travelling from Vancouver there are three ways to get to Victoria: by car and ferry, by bus and ferry, or by plane.

By car and ferry – This a fairly easy way to get to Victoria and provides quite a bit flexibility to check out other island spots, such as Brentwood Bay, Tofino, or even just to spent the afternoon driving between lunch spots, such as SeaCidery. To get there, first download Google maps (GPS); Head out on Hwy 99, through the Massey tunnel, exit to Ladner/BC Ferry and keep right at the terminal for the car fares. Once boarded on the ferry, you can enjoy the upper decks and look for Orca whales. When unloading, you’ll head out onto highway which will take you all the way to downtown Victoria. It’s about a 30minute drive.

By bus and ferry – Again download Google maps for (GPS) if you are taking a Pacific Coach bus from the Terminal Main Station in Vancouver, you don’t need to worry about anything. They will take you all the way to downtown Victoria (including the ferry). It’s a 3 hour venture, but you could do this as day trip too. One way fare is $40.00. Or you can take public transit in which you’d catch the Canada Line to Bridgeport Station, get off the line and walk over to the bus platform, catch the 620 bus which will drop you off at the Ferry Terminal doors. Ride the ferry and then unload at Swartz Bay Terminal, and then catch either bus #70 (express 58min) or #72 (1hr 16min) for direct transit to downtown Victoria.

**Note: The ferry only accepts Cash and Credit Cards. NO BANK CARDS, and that includes food on the boat**

By plane: you have two options: 1) Regular flight from Vancouver International Airport or elsewhere, and 2) Float Plane. A regular flight is possible; however the airport is out of town by about a 20 minute drive. This would be a more cumbersome way to travel with all the security checks and getting your luggage plus travel time to the airports. By float plane, however, it is a really easy adventure. You can catch a flight from downtown Vancouver (Coal Harbour) with luggage, and they will drop you off in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria. It’s a great flight and a really interesting view, plus it is a regular domestic commuter flight so it is not as expensive as most cities having “tourist” flights. Although that’s possible too. There are luggage restrictions, and yes it’s true- they may ask your weight! That’s only if the plane is really full though. Flights can be delayed and cancelled if the weather isn’t good so don’t depend on their schedule- be flexible! Flights can range from $65 to $150 one way.

Float Plane Companies: Harbour Air, SeaAir, and Saltspring Air all fly from Vancouver to Victoria, from either downtown Vancouver or from the South Terminal at the International Airport.

Best time of year to travel to Victoria

Anytime is a good time to visit. The city is known for being the flower city, which means spring is an excellent time of year for the avid gardener. Also the city is fairly small, so it is noticeable when the tourists arrive, especially downtown, but in a good way. There are more activities happening in the summer with people sitting out along the harbour, or hanging out down at the pier eating fish & chips it feels more energetic. If you’re from a big city, it never feels crowded here, and the longest wait for a restaurant table might be an hour or so if it’s packed!

Weather in Victoria

The weather is Victoria is mild and temperate for the majority of the year, with rainy winters and warm summers. In the summertime, expect temperatures between 20 °C and max 30 °C. It rarely gets above 30 °C, but if it does Victoria has some great secluded beach spots. Summer months are June to September. Spring starts early in Victoria, around mid March until May. Springtime in Victoria is beautiful with lots of flowering plants everywhere, and shops downtown start putting out hanging flower baskets too. In the winter months, November to February, the temperatures range on average from a low of 3 °C to a high of 11 °C. It can snow on Vancouver Island, and Victoria will get a fair bit on some years, but not every year. Check the forecast for that, and take note that Malahat highway receives much more snow and rain in winter months due to elevation.

One distinction for Victoria is that the peninsula is sheltered by the Olympic Mountains and extends farther south than say Vancouver, which means Victoria experiences a lot less rain and receives a considerable amount of sunshine comparatively.

Ready to plan your visit to Victoria? Check out these popular guides and trips.

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