Victoria, BC is the beautiful capital city of British Columbia, Canada. Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria is just 90 minutes (by ferry boat) away from Vancouver, BC--making it one of the best "side trips" for travelers to Vancouver and one of the best day trips/getaways from the city.
Victoria is a very popular destination for trips from both Vancouver, BC (in Canada) and from Seattle/Washington State (in the U.S.). It's famous for its beauty, charm, history, shopping (especially antiquing), dining, and attractions, including the world-renowned Butchart Gardens.
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Why Visit Victoria, BC?
Victoria, BC is a unique combination of old-world charm and history, modern luxuries, and outdoor adventure. It really is one of those "something for everyone" destinations.
There are historic attractions, including the Royal BC Museum, the Butchart Gardens, and the Inner Harbour / Parliament Buildings. There's shopping, dining, and the oldest Chinatown in Canada.
There's plenty of outdoor adventure, too: kayaking, whale watching, ziplining, hiking, biking, and fishing.
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Victoria Attractions: Butchart Gardens
Arguably the most famous attraction in Victoria, the Butchart Gardens cover 55 acres and include a Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, and an Italian Garden.
Once a limestone quarry mined by Robert Butchart, the site was turned into a garden by Jennie Butchart (Butchart's wife) in the early 1900s, after the limestone deposits were exhausted. (A similar history applies to Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park Quarry Gardens, which were created on the site of a former basalt rock quarry.) In 2004, the Gardens became a National Historic Site of Canada.
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Victoria Attractions: Inner Harbour & Parliament Buildings
The Inner Harbour is, symbolically at least, the center of sight-seeing in Victoria. (If you arrive via the Victoria Clipper, you arrive in the Inner Harbour). It's home to the harbor itself, the Empress Hotel Victoria (famous for its English-style Afternoon Tea), and overlooks/is overlooked by BC's Parliament Buildings.
Go during the day and you can tour the Parliament Buildings for free.
Go at night to see all of the Inner Harbour lit up, including the Parliament Buildings and the Empress Hotel.
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Victoria Attractions: Fisherman's Wharf & Chinatown
Located "just around the corner" from the Inner Harbour, Fisherman's Wharf is an adorable, picturesque wharf with lots of all-ages activities, including eco-tours, food kiosks, and fresh-off-the-boat seafood at The Fish Store. Kayak and whale watching tours (see below) leave from Fisherman's Wharf, too.
While Victoria's Chinatown isn't as large as Vancouver's (Vancouver's Chinatown is the third largest in North America), it is the oldest Chinatown in Canada. Rich with culture and bustling with activity, you can explore on your own or take a Chinatown Walking Tour.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
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Victoria Attractions: BC Royal Museum
Like UBC's Museum of Anthropology (MOA) in Vancouver, the fabulous BC Royal Museum has a large collection of BC First Nations art and artifacts (including totem poles), which are a must-see for visitors from other parts of the world.
Unlike MOA, the BC Royal Museum is also a natural history museum, housing large collections of fossils and artifacts related to animals, fish, insects, and plants.
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Victoria Attractions: Craigdarroch Castle
Built between 1887 and 1890 by wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the Craigdarroch Castle is another National Historic Site of Canada and an impressive example of late Victorian architecture. Situated on a hill overlooking the city of Victoria, this stately home includes stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork, and period Victorian furnishings.
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Whale Watching in Victoria, BC
Vancouver Island is one of the top spots for whale watching in all of North America: the waters around the island are primarily home to orcas (killer whales), but gray, humpback and minke whales are sometimes seen as well. Plus there are sea lions, seals, and porpoises, too.
Whale-watching season runs from May - November. There are whale-watching tours year-round, but May - November is high season because salmon migration attracts the orcas.
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Outdoor Adventures in Victoria, BC
Victoria--like Vancouver--has a lot of options for outdoor adventure, including hiking, biking, and kayaking.
Tourism Victoria is a great resource for outdoor recreation. They have lists of hikes, bike rentals and kayak rentals (lists include businesses that are members of Tourism Victoria):
- Bike Rentals & Bike Trails in Victoria, BC
- Kayak Rentals in Victoria, BC
- Hiking Trails in Victoria, BC
Victoria is three hours from Mt. Washington (the biggest snow sport/ski resort on Vancouver Island), so it's not ideal for alpine sports.
It's great for fishing, though: Victoria Fishing Tours & Charters.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
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Fort Street Shopping in Victoria, BC
Fort Street is Victoria's most famous shopping destination, similar in reputation to Vancouver's own Robson Street. While Fort Street may be best known as "Antique Row"--it really is packed with antique shops, which run the gamut from small trinkets to high-end furnishings--it has fashion, gift shops, and lots of dining, too.
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Dining in Victoria, BC
Victoria is rapidly becoming more and more of a foodie destination. Generally, the city is dedicated to both the farm-to-table ethos and sustainable seafood.
There are a lot of truly outstanding restaurants in Victoria; these are just a few personal recommendations (from myself, friends and family):
- Grab a meal or a pint at Darcy's Pub in the Inner Harbour; it's usually packed, but the views are worth it.
- Have cocktails and dinner at the trendy, high-end Little Jumbo, one of the best restaurants in the city.
- Head to Fort Street for Cantonese and Sichuan cuisine at J&J Noodle House. Delicious and inexpensive!
- Locals love Tacofino (also on Fort Street): inexpensive, divine, food-truck-style tacos and burritos.
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Where to Stay in Victoria, BC
- For high-end luxury, you can't beat the Empress Hotel Victoria, a Fairmont hotel that overlooks the Inner Harbour.
- About.com's Gay Travel site recommends the stylish Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa, the luxury Inn at Laurel Point, and the historic Dashwood Manor Seaside B&B.
- My parents (frequent travelers to Victoria) always stay at the boutique English Inn.
- Lonely Planet has a good array of budget Victoria hotels, with prices ranging from $60 - $100 CDN per night.
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Getting to Victoria, BC by Ferry Boat
Vancouver to Victoria via BC Ferry
If you're leaving from Vancouver, BC, the least expensive option is to take a BC Ferry from Vancouver (Tsawwassen) to Victoria (Swartz Bay). This ferry does carry cars, so you can take your car with you. If you don't have a car, you will need to check bus schedules to get to and from the ferry terminals.
Seattle to Victoria via Victoria Clipper Ferry Boat
From Seattle / Washington in the U.S., you can take the famed Victoria Clipper, a three-hour, scenic ferry boat that's passenger-only (no cars). The Victoria Clipper arrives at the Inner Harbour, so you can just step off and enjoy the sights!
From Washington State to Victoria via CoHo Ferry
If you want to take a car to/from Washington State to Victoria, you can take the CoHo ferry from Port Angeles, WA; it takes cars. Port Angeles is 2.5 hours by car from Seattle, or you can take a Washington State Ferry from Seattle to Port Angeles.
Tip #1: Make sure you have the correct travel documents if you are traveling from the U.S.
Tip #2 Rent a car on the island: Go car-less for faster travel and use a rental car in Victoria / on Vancouver Island. Many rental car agencies will send someone to pick you up at the ferry terminal and take you to your rental car; make sure you ask for / arrange this service in advance.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
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Air Travel & Float Planes to Victoria, BC
The biggest airport on Vancouver Island is the Victoria International Airport (YYJ) in Victoria, which is located about a 30-minute drive from downtown Victoria.
If you want to travel like James Bond (yes, it is that cool), you can take a float plane from Vancouver to Victoria on Harbour Air Seaplanes; it's only 20 minutes and the views are spectacular. On the U.S. side, you can take Kenmore Air from Seattle to Victoria, with equally impressive views.
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Plan for at Least Two Days in Victoria (Minimum One Overnight)
A lot of travel guides claim you can do Victoria from Vancouver as a "day trip." You can get up at the crack of dawn to be on the 7 a.m. ferry leaving Vancouver (Tsawwassen), spend the day exploring the city in a frenzy, then get on the last boat back (9 p.m. or 10 p.m., depending on the season). This is possible.
But it's not ideal. Ideally, the shortest side trip to Victoria should be at least two days with one overnight stay. This allows time for wait times at the ferry (if you are bringing a car), more leisurely sight-seeing, and less pressure to cram it all in in a short period of time.
Personally, I recommend two nights / three days, especially if you have a car and can explore other parts of Vancouver Island, too.
From Seattle, be aware that the Victoria Clipper takes three hours, so plan accordingly.