Spending some time in Victoria? This guide will give you insights into all the things to do in Victoria BC (or British Columbia), Canada. Victoria is quaint little city located gracefully on the Victoria Inner Harbour of Vancouver Island. Named after Queen Victoria, the city is proud of its connection with England and celebrates this in various ways such as its infamous high teas, double decker buses; its cobblestone main street, English-style lamp shades, trash cans/bins. Other cultures evident within Victoria are both First Nation and Chinese cultures with displays of totem poles and Chinese architecture and street decoration throughout the Inner Harbour area.
Wondering how to spend your time in Victoria, follow my guide to “things to do in Victoria BC”, it will be sure to keep you busy.
The Empress Hotel
Walk the grounds of The Empress and admire the chateau style building. My favourite time of year is the fall when all the ivy changes to fall colours. The Empress Hotel is part of the Fairmont Hotel chain which were built to support the development of the railway to western Canada. Enjoy taking in the history of this iconic Canadian building.
While exploring the Empress Hotel, continue to stroll along the inner harbour. Gaze across the harbour to see a wealth of boats in all shapes and sizes. In summer check out the markets along the lower wharf and take a small ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf.
Royal BC museum
The Royal BC Museum is a very informative museum exploring the history of British Columbia. There is an impressive First Nations display, and you can’t miss the IMAX. Totem poles outside the museum in Thunderbird Park are worth checking out.
Head down to Fisherman’s Wharf from the Inner Harbour. Grab some fish and chips for lunch and check out the seals who wait for tourists to feed them lunch! Also admire the floating homes of the Fisherman’s Wharf in all their quirkiness.
Walk Government Street taking in the lovely heritage buildings and local stores. The Rogers Chocolates Store is worth looking at for its interesting interior and history. Rogers Chocolate is one of Canada’s premiere chocolate brands dating back to 1885 and has been in its Government Street location since 1891.
Kayak in the Inner Harbour and get up close with seals, otters and other marine life.
Beacon Hill Park
Take a walk through Beacon Hill Park admiring the beautiful gardens, stone bridges, lakes and ponds. Enjoy the petting zoo, outdoor concerts in the summer, sports fields, playgrounds and the largest totem pole in the world.
British Columbia Parliament buildings
The British Columbia Parliament buildings are located on the Inner Harbour and in sight of The Empress. Take a few tour around the grounds and into the buildings. At night, the buildings are lit up with fairy lights.
Bastion Square’s public market offers arts, crafts and entertainment which runs from May to September on Thursdays through Saturdays.
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest Chinatown in North America following San Francisco. See the famous Chinatown gate, Fan Tan Alley and the Chinese influenced architecture, street lighting and signage.
Take a drive outside Victoria to Goldstream. Goldstream is a local rainforest which features some great trails. Make sure your stop by in October/ November to see the salmon run when they have come back to their place of birth to spawn and then die.
Victoria is a great place to see those iconic orcas or killer whales. Orcas are the resident whales that live in the waters off Victoria, there are three resident families in the area which feed off fish and squid. The killer whales are the migratory whales which hunt marine mammals. April to November is the best time to guarantee seeing the orcas and killer whales, however some local companies operation year round and offer you a lifetime whale guarantee, meaning you can come back for another tour until you do see a whale.
Last, but certainly not least on the “things to do in Victoria, BC” list is Butchart Gardens. Located about 30 mins from Victoria, Butchart Gardens is a nationally recognised heritage feature of Canada. Prior to it being a garden, Butchart was primarily a limestone quarry. There is still evidence of the quarry in the rocks throughout the gardens and also one plume which has been kept as a reminder of the past (see photo below).
During the summer, the gardens hold fireworks and concerts at night. The rose garden is a highlight during the day. In December, the 12 days of Christmas and Christmas lights are are must at night. My favourite season is the spring when the colourful tulips, daffodils emerge to break the end of winter. Fall is equally beautiful, particularly in the Japanese garden where the Japanese maples will begin to change colour.
Any time of year, have high tea in the dining room where you can admire the gardens.
Explore the rest of Vancouver Island
Use Victoria as your starting point and explore the rest of Vancouver Island. Read My Guide to road tripping around Vancouver Island.
Where to stay:
Victoria is a walkable city, staying around the Inner Harbour or within walking distance to it is a must. For a unique Victorian experience, stay at the Empress Hotel. Opened in 1908, as part of the Fairmont hotel chain to support the Canadian Pacific Railway.
Where to eat and drink:
For something uniquely Victoria, stop by the Empress Hotel & Butchart Gardens. High Tea may be an English tradition, but Victoria holds on to its English roots. Both the Empress and Butchart Gardens offer High Tea in picturesque settings.
You can access Victoria by car via BC ferries. The ferry terminal leaves from Tsawwassen on the BC mainland, approximately 45 mins from Vancouver. The ferry journey itself takes 1.5hours. Take the beautiful island scenery and be on the look out for local marine life, dolphins, seals and maybe even an Orca! The ferry by car will cost approximately $45 for your car and $15 per person inside the car. Once you arrive on the other side of the ferry you will then travel another 45 mins to Victoria. Might be worth stopping at Butchart Gardens either on your way to Victoria, or on your return journey back to the ferry. You will need to arrive approximately 45 mins early in the ferry terminal line to ensure you get in the ferry you want. Cut it fine and you may miss out and have to wait another hour or two depending on the ferry sailings.
Transit/ foot passenger
The journey via public transportation will take approximately 5 hours however it is significantly cheaper for one or two travellers. Catch the sky train from downtown Vancouver to Bridgeport station. Then transfer to the 620 bus to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal ($3). The bus is timed to reach they ferry within 20-30 mins of departure. Once the ferry arrives at Swartz Bay, catch a local Victoria double decker bus into town ($2.50). With the ferry charge of $15, public transportation option will cost around $20.
If you are looking to have an easy journey to Victoria with not much fuss, this might be the option for you. Pacific Coach offers a downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria connection saving you the fuss of working out public transportation and the stress of driving. You will travel on the same ferry that crosses between the BC Mainland and Vancouver Island with a private bus that will do all the work for you. This option is more expensive however at $38 each way.
Harbour Air flies from Downtown Vancouver and the Vancouver South Terminal to Downtown Victoria. It is a considerably quicker option of getting to Victoria and Harbour Air often offers discounts on their flights.
Butchart Gardens – If you are living in the area sign up for a yearly pass and watch the flowers and vegetation change very few weeks. You only need to go twice in one year for it to pay off!
Catch a Sea Plane – Take advantage of the island views on a clear day and consider your journey home a joy flight. Sale flights often start around $90 each way.
Weather – While Canadians consider Victoria to have some of the best weather across the country, it is still a cold, damp climate and not really somewhere I’d recommend travelling to in the winter months. Save your visit for summer when the weather is perfect for travelling, warm and not too cold.