Settled by the British in 1843, Victoria is still steeped in its colonial past, with many examples of ornate historic architecture to enjoy along with almost too many floral gardens and green spaces to count.
It is the capital of the province of British Columbia, with legislative buildings that date from 1897, and home to several universities, colleges, and a lively nightlife scene. From whale watching to fishing to cycling, it's a place where you can enjoy an outdoor lifestyle and activities whether you're a beginner or expert.
Victoria is also a creative city with a thriving arts and culture scene, and plays host to outdoor events like the Rifflandia Music Festival, along with regular performances of live music, theater, and performing arts. With a famously laid-back West Coast vibe, Victoria is like a breath of fresh air.
Victoria is called the "Garden City" with good reason: flowers bloom in January and February when the rest of the country is still in a deep freeze. Beacon Hill Park covers 190 acres along the south shore and includes a petting zoo, playing fields, and more. The Butchart Gardens are among the city's most popular attractions and one of the world's premiere floral collections, first established in 1904 and located just outside of the city.
As one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, there is lots to explore when it come to Victoria's past. The British Columbia Parliament Buildings, the Congregation Emanu-El, one of Canada's oldest synagogues established in 1863, and Craigdarroch Castle, built by an industrialist in 1890 as a spectacular version of Scottish Victorian architecture, are just a few of the many historic buildings and sites.
Vancouver Island and the Victoria area was settled by the Coast Salish peoples, including the Songhees, for thousands of years before the Europeans came. There is still a large presence of indigenous people and their culture in the area, and many ways to check it out, including the Wawadit'la, a traditional "big house", with a totem pole, located at Thunderbird Park. The Royal British Columbia Museum includes a large section devoted to Aboriginal culture and history.
Victoria's location on Vancouver Island gives you many ways to experience island life, from whale watching tours that operate out of Ogden Point in the city's Inner Harbour, to fishing and boating. North of the city on the Saanich Peninsula, you'll find the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, where you can delve into the marine biology of the area.
It is said that there are more restaurants per capita in Victoria than just about anywhere else in North America. You can sample authentic dim sum and other Asian specialties in Chinatown, or savor mouthwatering seafood fresh off the boats. Many restaurants adhere to a policy of serving only sustainably harvested seafood, and there is a strong organic food scene too.
Sheltered from the blustery Northern Pacific, this harbor reaches the very heart of Victoria. To mosey along the waterside is a delight for locals and tourists alike, and notable sights along the way will surely catch your eye. From Fisherman's Wharf, walk to the chateau-style Fairmont Empress Hotel to ogle fantastical miniature sets. Nearby, the Victoria Bug Zoo offers an especially unique experience, while the Maritime Museum introduces tourists to British Columbia's water-logged history.
The Royal serves as British Columbia's memory bank, combining a vast natural history collection with the Provincial Archives. Starting with Prehistory, the Museum does an excellent job chronicling the saga of our changing world. A favorite exhibit displays a gargantuan wooly mammoth, and the museum retraces the steps of the indigenous First Nations who first discovered these lands, particularly in Thunderbird Park.
As Victoria is British Columbia's capital, the legislature of the province is housed in spectacular Parliament Buildings on Government Street. This neo-baroque masterpiece is jaw-dropping, and the interior is just as opulent, with guided tours available to presenta each room and artwork in context. The surrounding fields and gardens are also a treat, even if just wandering by.
This elegant park is full of activities for the whole family. Everyone can enjoy a peaceful stroll through the landscape, and children love to run around the playgrounds along the way. Tennis courts are always abuzz with healthy competition, and on hot days visitors can cool off in the waterpark as well. Wander the shoreline trails, find the pond-side picnic spots, take in the pristine gardens, and don't miss out on the adorable petting zoo either.
This national historic site is a world class botanical garden spread across 22 acres, and nearly one million visitors enjoy the grounds each year. From the fragrant Sunken Garden to the Star Pond to the Children's Pavilion, everyone can find something to satisfy their interests here. Most notable are the unique bronze sculptures of flora and fauna speckled throughout the grounds, sure to excite and surprise any happy wanderer.
In contrast with most Canadian destinations, the climate of Victoria is temperate and snow-free most years. Summer is the most popular time for tourism, but mild weather and a vibrant arts scene attract visitors all year round.
The Victoria International Airport (YYJ) is located about 15.5 miles from the city. There are non-stop flights to and from Toronto, San Francisco, Seattle, and other Canadian destinations. Bus fare from the airport to most points in Greater Victoria is C$5.00. A taxi from the airport to a downtown location should cost about C$55.
There is no direct rail service to Victoria. Via Rail trains arrive in Vancouver, and there is a bus service that connects with the ferries to take you to Vancouver Island and Victoria.
Ferry service, which accommodates car travel, is available from Vancouver and Seattle, Washington, with multiple routes and pick-up locations. Ferries arrive directly at the Inner Harbour, with easy access to downtown Victoria. Ferry rates start at C$17.20 for a single passenger, and C$56.45 for a car.
Pacific Coast provides bus service from Vancouver International Airport to downtown Victoria for C$55 one way, along with tours that stop at Butchart Gardens and leave time at the Inner Harbour for sightseeing. BC Ferries Connector starts at C$47.50 one way for an adult ticket. Both services operate a bus that connects to the ferry to get to Victoria.
The Empress hotel first opened its doors in 1908 and offers rooms in an opulent setting. There are many budget-priced options like the Arbutus Inn or Bedford Regency, with comfortable rooms and basic amenities, while Zed Victoria offers striking modern design at affordable rates.
Downtown - this area of Victoria is pedestrian-friendly and made for strolling, shopping, and dining. There is a busy entertainment district of theaters and bars. This is also where you'll find the Inner Harbour and the historic Old Town.
James Bay - this is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and where you'll find attractions like the Parliament Buildings, Emily Carr House, the former home of the famous painter, along with the ferry terminals and Ogden Point cruise ship and helicopter terminal.
Oak Bay - this seaside village is located just to the east of Victoria and forms part of the Greater Victoria Area. It is home to many artisan craft galleries and studios, and three golf courses.
The Victoria Regional Transit System operates a network of buses, including the city's iconic double decker buses, throughout the area. Service is reliable and basic cash fare is C$2.50 for adults, with a day pass available for C$5.00.
There are multiple taxi companies operating in Victoria. Taxi rates are C$3.30 for the meter drop, and an additional C$1.93 for each additional half a mile (approximately).
The city is pedestrian friendly, but a car rental will let you easily explore the rest of Vancouver Island. A compact car rental from Budget, Enterprise, and Practicar starts at about C$48. Parking in lots can range from C$2.00 to C$13.50, while street parking costs $1.50 to $3 per hour with a 90 minute to 24 hour time limit.
You'll find a wealth of shopping options along Government Street, including fashions from unique stores like Sitka and souvenirs from Moose Crossing Gifts, and the Bay Centre with more than 90 shops. Lower Johnson Street is the place to find local designers. There are several shopping centers in Victoria, including the Mayfair Shopping Centre in the Maywood district, and the Uptown in the Saanich area, housing both large retailers and smaller stores.
The Market and Country Grocer offer well-stocked shelves and reasonable prices. Thrifty Foods is a discount chain with multiple locations. A quart of milk costs about C$2.35, while a dozen eggs will run about C$C3.60.
For high-end French and continental cuisine using local ingredients, look to Restaurant Matisse, where a three-course dinner starts at C$48. The Blue Crab Seafood House is one of many fine seafood restaurants in Victoria, where fresh seafood entrees start at C$32. Fishhook combines seafood with both Canadian and Indian influences; fish curries are priced daily and mains start at C$7.00.