Here is a handy city guide to the top 10 things to see and do in Victoria, BC. The Victorian-era charm and striking British influence make this easy to explore Pacific coast city a delight.
It is best to spend at least two nights in Victoria to see some of the numerous sights. Victoria is often used a the gateway to exploring the rest of Vancouver Island.
Top 10 things to do in Victoria
There are so many wonderful things to do in Victoria, BC, it was hard to choose our top 10. This Victoria city guide will help you see as much as possible in a limited period of time.
Take a scenic drive
This scenic drive (map below) hugs the coastline, providing sweeping ocean and mountain views. On a clear day you can see across the Strait of Juan De Fuca, south to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
The drive takes about one hour without traffic or stops. This route gives you easy access to most major attractions. Start the journey at Victoria’s Inner Harbour located in front of the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, pass the B.C. Legislative Buildings then stop at Fisherman’s Wharf to have fish and chips, see a playful harbour seal or two, and see a variety of colourful floating homes. Continue the tour through the historic area of James Bay. Here is a list of heritage homes in the area.
Follow Dallas Road to the Trans-Canada Highway Mile Zero Monument, an important marker of the start of the 7,821 kilometre highway running from the Pacific coast to Atlantic coast of Canada, ending in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Beacon Hill Park is a wonderful urban forest of more than 200 acres offering many recreational opportunities, as well as a rose garden and a Garry Oak meadow. Download a map of Beacon Hill Park. As you drive along the seaside area of the park, watch for sailboarders, paragliders and kite fliers taking advantage of the coastal winds.
Continue to hug the coast using Dallas Road and then follow Hollywood Crescent onto Crescent Road where there are more beaches and viewpoints. Choose the optional route to head north off Dallas Road or off Crescent Road to visit the beautiful Abkhazi Gardens. As you proceed toward the Victoria Golf Club, you will pass many impressive mansions.
Take in the views from Oak Bay Marina located off Beach Drive, just past the Oak Bay Beach Hotel on the eastern shores of Victoria. Watch for the directional sign to head toward Oak Bay Village. A suggested light lunch or afternoon tea stop in the village is the White Heather Tea Room located at 1885 Oak Bay Avenue.
After your drive through the Oak Bay area, stop at the impressive Victorian-era Craigdarroch Castle for a tour or just to walk around its grounds. At this point you can follow the driving tour as presented or take a detour to the historic Christ Church Cathedral to see the 4,000-pipe Hellmuth Wolff organ in the Gothic-style Anglican church. Before you go, check the hours of operation.
The scenic driving tour will take you into Victoria’s historic Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and will end back at Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
We love this unique popular Victoria attraction. Miniature World is located in the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It offers over 85 intricate displays. Let your imagination run wild as you wander through exhibits of historic and fictional scenes. Buy tickets in advance or at the door.
Visit the Fairmont Empress Hotel
The iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, overlooks Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Originally a Canadian Pacific Railway hotel, it was completed in 1908. The hotel was designed by famous architect Francis Rattenbury after he created Victoria’s impressive legislative buildings.
Over the years the hotel has been a stop for many of the British Royal family while on tour. Other kings, queens and dignitaries have stayed here, as well a host of well-known celebrities and movie stars.
The famous Afternoon Tea has been served since the doors of the Empress first opened and now more than 400 guests per day experience this long held tradition during the summer months.
The stunning stained glass roof of the Palm Court was uncovered during the $45 million dollar restoration in 1989. The roof had collapsed and it was found hidden under wood. The tiffany-style glass ceiling was magnificently restored by Richmond’s Kits Glass.
(We loved this incredible work of art so much that when we replaced the front doors of our house we ordered stained glass panels from Kits Glass.) The hotel recently completed a $60 million dollar renovation in 2017. If you are a registered guest and would like to know more about the hotel’s history, historic tours are available on request.
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America, with San Francisco being the oldest. In 1858, the first Chinese arrived because of the discovery of gold in British Columbia. More people arrived from China to help with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad until its completion in 1885. Slowly the Chinese population declined, as its people moved to other areas or back to China. Fan Tan alley has been transformed into an interesting collection of artist studios and shops for displaying artisan wares.
Discover the Royal BC Museum
You could spend a full day, if not more, discovering the Royal BC Museum. There is so much to explore, but if your time is limited, make sure you visit The Natural History Gallery and the First Peoples Gallery.
The Natural History Gallery has a fantastic display related to the coastal rainforest and the west coast shoreline. It provides a wonderful opportunity of discovery with a lifelike experience of walking through the wilderness of Vancouver Island.
The First Peoples Gallery has an impressive exhibit of various styles of totem poles and carving techniques used by First Nations northwest coastal villages from the 19th century. There is also a fine collection of baskets, boxes, masks and other regalia.
The Royal BC Museum is located across the street from The Fairmont Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings, near Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Tour Butchart Gardens
It is hard to believe that the world famous Butchart Gardens was formerly a limestone quarry. The transformation started in 1912 and has continued to evolve for more than 100 years. There are 55 acres of gardens. In the summer on Saturday evenings, there is an impressive fireworks show. The gardens are a designated National Historic Site of Canada and are located just outside Victoria in Brentwood Bay. Find out more about the gardens, hours of operation and ticket prices here.
Criagdarroch Castle is a fine example of Victorian architecture. The mansion, built between 1887 and 1890, is a registered National Historic Site. It was constructed for Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir, who was the richest man in Western Canada at the time. His wealth was created by his interests in Vancouver Island coal mining. The castle features four floors of Victorian-era furnishings, stunning stained glass and intricate woodwork. It is situated on a hill overlooking the city of Victoria. Robert Dunsmuir died in 1889 before the the house was completed. His wife Joan and three of his daughters began living there in 1890. Mrs. Dunsmuir lived there until she died in 1908. There are more than 39 rooms to explore in the 20,000 square foot structure, along with more than 32 original stained and leaded glass windows. Find out more about the castle.
Best Places to Experience Afternoon Tea in Victoria
1. The Fairmont Empress Hotel offers the most famous afternoon tea spot in Victoria. The elegant surroundings make it a moment to remember. Reservations are a must.
2. The White Heather Tea Room, located at 1885 Oak Bay Avenue in Oak Bay Village, offers a variety of afternoon tea selections in a quaint, casual setting.
3. The Teahouse at Abkazi Gardens, located at 1964 Fairfield Road is surrounded by a beautiful garden.
4. The Oaks Restaurant serves a reasonably priced afternoon tea in the oldest building in Oak Bay Village. The restaurant is located at 206-2250 Oak Bay Avenue.
5. The Butchart Gardens serves high tea in the dining room located in the former home of the Butchart family. Admission to the gardens is an additional fee. The gardens are located just outside Victoria in Brentwood Bay.
Explore Fisherman’s Wharf and Inner Harbour
Fisherman’s Wharf is a hidden gem. The best way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf is to take an inexpensive Inner Harbour water ferry. This scenic adventure provides great harbour viewing opportunities. The Victoria Inner Harbour is busy with kayakers, float planes, marine and fishing boats coming back and forth. The route also provides an opportunity to see the numerous colourful, quaint floating homes moored at the wharf. Be sure to watch for harbour seals, otters, raccoon, eagles, sea gulls, cormorants, herons and geese. Please don’t feed the wildlife. This is a great place to stop for fish and chips, buy fresh seafood or fish and browse in a few interesting shops. You can also drive or walk to Fisherman’s Wharf from Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The Harbour Ferries do not accept cash and payment must be made by credit or debit card. The ferry can take you to 14 different locations, getting close to many popular attractions in Victoria. Longer harbour tours are available. Find out more about Victoria Harbour Ferries and tours.
Whale Watching in Victoria
The best time to see migrating Grey whales coming to and from Mexico is from February through the summer months. Orca whales, also known as Killer whales, can be found from May to October. The large Humpback whale can be spotted from April to November. Here is a Humpback whale spotting map from the Marine Education and Research Society. The Minke whales, although in fewer numbers and smaller than the other types of whales, can be seen from May to October. Watch for other wildlife local to the area like Harbour, elephant, Stellar and California seals, Harbour and Dall’s porpoises, sea birds, bald eagles and cormorants. There are several tour operators offering whale watching and wildlife adventures by zodiac for the more adventurous or in larger marine vessels; Prince of Whales, Orca Spirit Adventures, Eagle Wing Tours, Spring Tide Whale Watching and Eco Tours. Check for discounted rates on the Tourism Victoria website. Whale watching tours can also be taken from Vancouver.
Heritage Homes of Victoria
Take a walking tour of heritage homes in various neighbourhoods of Victoria. For more information view the Victoria Heritage Foundation website. Discover the interesting architectural styles found here: Classical Revival, Neoclassical Style, Homestead Style, Georgian Revival, Romantic, Arts & Crafts, British Arts and Crafts, Tudor Revival, Edwardian, Queen Anne, Folk or Vernacular and many more. See the historic area of James Bay, located close to Victoria’s Parliament Buildings and easily accessed on the scenic driving route listed above. Here is a list of heritage homes for James Bay.
Fast Facts about Victoria
- The Mile Zero Monument is an important marker of the start of the 7,821 km. Trans-Canada Highway from the Pacific coast to Atlantic coast of Canada, ending in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
- The world famous Butchart Gardens was transformed from a limestone quarry starting in 1912.
- Victoria is the oldest city in the Pacific Northwest dating from 1852 and is named after Queen Victoria. It was established near the site of Fort Victoria.
- In 1843, Fort Victoria was named the capital of the British colony of Vancouver Island.
- In 1866, Victoria became the capital city of the combined British colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
- Cherry blossoms can be found on numerous streets from February to May during the season.
- For more than 75 years, hanging baskets have lined the streets of downtown Victoria in the summer.
- Charles Rogers became Canada’s first chocolatier. He moved to Victoria in 1885. He opened Rogers’ Chocolates on Government Street in 1903.
- Victoria was first transformed by the influx of gold seekers during the 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush. Many of the 25,000-30,000 prospectors stopped at Victoria to pick up supplies.
Where to stay in Victoria
Motorhome Park -The closest RV Park is the Salish Seaside RV Haven. It is located near Victoria’s Inner Harbour and during the summer the Harbour Ferries stop at the park.
Camping – There are many campsite locations outside of Victoria. Here is a list of some in the area.
Hotels – Our favourite spot has always been to stay at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel when we can find a great special rate. It is situated right at Victoria’s picturesque Inner Harbour and many attractions and restaurants are within walking distance. The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a luxury boutique resort located a short distance from the centre of Victoria. The hotel offers wonderful ocean views and outdoor mineral pools.
Be sure to visit the Tourism Victoria website for more options, BC Ferries Vacations for special promotions including ferry transportation and hotels packages, https://www.bcferriesvacations.com or the Black Ball Ferry packages if you are travelling from Port Angeles, Washington.
Search for some of the best Victoria hotel rates using Booking.com
Where to eat in Victoria
Garrick’s Head Pub – This historic English tavern dates from 1867. It offers great pub food with about 65 beers on tap. It is located in historic Bastion Square at 1140 Government Street.
Bard & Banker – The Bard & Banker Pub is housed in a historic 1885 Bank of British Columbia building at 1022 Government Street. The pub is noted for its whiskey and live music.
Spinnakers – Spinnakers is Canada’s first in-house brewpub and is a pioneer of the craft beer industry. It produces 26 beer on tap as well as sour beers, barrel aged beers and blends and ciders from a wide variety of apples sourced locally and from the Okanagan. It is located at 308 Catherine Street.
Pagliacci’s – A great local spot for Italian food and live music. It is very popular and busy. They do not take reservations but the lineup moves pretty fast. It is open for lunch, Happy Hour and dinner. Pagliacci’s is located at 1011 Broad Street.
Milestones – Milestones offers one of the best harbour views of Victoria. Ask for a window table to look out over the harbour, watch for harbour seals and see the Parliament Buildings lit up at dusk. The restaurant is open for brunch, lunch, happy hour and dinner.
Rogers’ Chocolates – Canada’s first chocolatier Charles Rogers moved to Victoria in 1885 and opened Rogers’ Chocolates heritage store in 1903. Come taste some of Canada’s finest chocolates at 913 Government Street, just up the street from the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Check out Tourism Victoria website for more food and drink ideas.
Getting to Victoria
Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada about 100 kms. or 60 miles from Vancouver.
Take a Ferry:
- From Vancouver, B.C., take a scenic 1 hour and 35 minute passenger and vehicle ferry through the Gulf Islands on BC Ferries from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. Reservations are advised.
- From Seattle, Washington, take a passenger ferry, the Victoria Clipper, through the beautiful San Juan Islands. The ferry takes 2 hours and 45 minutes.
- From Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, board the passenger and vehicle Black Ball Ferry.
- Prince of Whales Marine and Wildlife Adventures offers boat transportation from Seattle to Vancouver via Victoria.
Travel by air: Fly into Victoria International Airport, YYJ, or for spectacular panoramic views take a scenic helicopter flight using Helijet or a seaplane using Harbour Air into Victoria harbour from Vancouver. From Seattle, Kenmore Air offers packages, including a Sea and Sky alternative.
Come by Cruise Ship: Some cruise ships include Victoria as a port of call on their way to or from Alaska between the end of April through to the beginning of October. Here is a list of cruise lines that often include Victoria or Vancouver as a Port of Call – Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess Cruises, Oceania, Windstar, Silversea, Cunard and MSC.
Looking for the optimal way to explore Alaska and the Inside Passage? This handy best ports of call – Alaska cruise guide will get you started. https://lifesincrediblejourney.com/best-ports-of-call-alaska-cruise-guide/