Things To Do In Victoria
Victoria is the capital city of the Province of British Columbia. Located on Vancouver Island, it is only accessible by boat or plane. Most folks take one of the numerous ferries from the mainland to this beautiful and historic place. Vancouver Island is simply teeming with glorious scenery, famous gardens, wildlife, fantastic parks, and great food. It has embraced all cultures, while still maintaining much of the pioneer and British heritage that was the foundation of this part of the great nation of Canada. There just aren’t that many places in the world where you can have a Continental Breakfast at your Hotel, eat Fish and Chips under a First Nations Totem Pole on for lunch, participate in a formal Empress Tea at teatime and then, if you have any room or energy left, have a great dinner and dance your night away at a local night spot. Vancouver Island has been designated one the top ten Islands in the world, and for good reason. Victoria is the principal city of Vancouver Island. It has something for everyone.
When to Visit:
Even though Vancouver Island is located in a part of the world that is subject to the whims of the Arctic and the Pacific Ocean, the climate and weather on the Island, and Victoria, tends to be moderate. In fact, all of this part of British Columbia is referred to as the Sunshine Coast. There is less rain than other parts of the Province, and more days of just plain nice weather. Summers (June, July, August) are warm and dry, with and winters are cool and wet, though almost never cold. It rarely snows in Victoria. December would be the wettest month in Victoria.
Because of the mild climate, spring comes early to Vancouver Island. Flowers and blossoms start popping out in January – months earlier than they would on the Mainland or in nearby rainy Washington State. Summers see much less rain than the rest of BC. So, the bottom line is that there just is not a bad time to visit Victoria. If you are worried about rain, and the small possibility of snow, then you might not visit Victoria in November and December.
Here’s a List of Things to do in Victoria, B.C:
Victoria, the “City of Gardens”, is situated on the Southern tips of Vancouver Island, with the Strait of Juan de Fuca on one side. The rest of Victoria is arranged around Victoria Harbour. The Inner Harbor is the oldest part of town, and where local and International ferries, cruise ships and any manner of smaller vessels come and go with in a never-ending marine parade. The main industries here are government and tourism, so the Victoria is favorably disposed to receiving guests. If you are standing at the Inner Harbor, then you will be looking at the beautiful Empress Hotel. You can’t miss it. Before you set out on a walking tour of the area, take a few minutes to enjoy the Inner Harbor.
Something is always going on down there. If a ferry boat or cruise ship is not arriving or leaving, there is always some sort of marine activity to distract you. As you wander along the waterfront, you may see a street musician, or some sort of impromptu concert. Local artists and First-Nations vendors often sell their crafts along the Harbour. And, if you are tired of walking, you can take the Victoria Harbour Ferry to the Upper Harbour, Victoria Harbour, and any of the other H2O Taxi stops. Yes – Victoria has a water taxi. It’s super cool, and just a fun way to get around. There are Water Taxi stops all around the Harbour. Why not take one to go the Fisherman’s Warf for some truly British Fish ‘n’ Chip?
Royal British Columbia Museum
Still within walking distance, and right there on the Inner Harbour, the Royal British Columbia Museum is a great place to spend the better part of the day. And it will take you that long to get through this great Museum. You can visit exhibits that start at the Ice Age and travel through all the major time periods of the area. You can see how woolly mammoths lived, see how important the fur trade was to BC, and learn about the lives of British Columbian’s.
You can wander through the Natural History collection, learn about BC History, climb aboard Captain Vancouver’s ship (boy, was it small!) or spend your time in the Human History collection. New exhibits are always “visiting” the Museum. And there are always kid-friendly workshops and hands-on exhibits to keep families with little ones happy. The Museum also maintains the St Ann’s Schoolhouse, the Thunderbird Park and several other sites that are close by- all within walking distance. You can also see fantastic surround sound movies on the massive screen at the IMAX Theater at the Museum.
Still within walking distinct of the Inner Harbour, the Parliament Buildings are the home of the B.C. Government. These impressive buildings are open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 5:00 and, during the summer months, they are open every day. Visitors can participate in guided tours, or they wander about on a self-guided tour. You will spend about half an hour on the guided tour, but it is well worth the time.
The historic buildings are impressive and the history is compelling. You may occasionally be detoured by hoards of visiting school children on school outings who are also visiting the Parliament Buildings. There is a gift shop on site where you can purchase souvenirs of your visit, and the Legislative Dining Room is open to the public (hint: they have really good food there).
Emily Carr House
Emily Carr was a famous and beloved artist and writer. Her home and learning about her life is well worth a visit. The home is open from May through the end of September, Tuesday through Saturday. It is a good learning event for children, and they can have an additional adventure finding and interacting with the famous Carr house cats. Emily Carr has been called a “Canadian Icon.” Stop in and discover why.
You can take the Water Taxi or just walk on over to Fisherman’s Warf to experience another interesting part of Victoria life. This is a working harbor with food booths to keep your tummy happy while you watch commercial and fishing vessels loading and unloading.
There are many opportunities for eco-adventures at Fisherman’s Warf. So grab a Water Taxi, then get some fish ‘n’ chips and wander around and take a look at the boats, the houseboats, and learn about how a commercial harbor operates.
Before you leave the Inner Harbor area, you really should check out the area shops and the various shopping opportunities. Wander up any of the street leading from the Harbour and you will find a wonderland of quaint and unusual stores, boutiques, restaurants and tea shops. If you head up Government Street (just a block from the Inner Harbour) you will find an abundance of shopping venues, including souvenirs stores, clothes stores, and specialty shops. The Bay Centre has over 90 stores for your shopping pleasure, and the quaint historic shops in LO-JO (Lower Johnson Street) area will temp you to open your wallet. (Be warned: the LO Jo area is also full of fashion boutiques. Maybe you should leave that charge card in your pocket).
Trounce Alley, four blocks up Government Street, is a good place to find European shops featuring food, and European fashions. Bastion Square used to be the old courthouse, but now it tends to be the arts and crafts shopping area of Downtown Victoria. Keep wandering to the west and you will run into Chinatown – the oldest “Chinatown” in Canada. Here you will find great restaurants, plenty of things to buy in the many Asian shops and the “narrowest street in North America.”(Fan Tan Alley is only 3 feet wide! It works for bicycles, but not for cars). And, if you are taking a leisurely stroll up Fort Street to see the Craigdarroch Castel, this area, always known as “antique row”, is now home to fashion boutiques, lots of restaurants, and jewelry stores. It intersects with Cook Street (aka “Mosaic Village”) which has even more antique shops, plus furniture and international specialty shops. You may want to wait until after you have visited the castle before you buy anything: it’s easier to carry your purchase downhill.
You can take a bus or actually just walk to Craigdarrough Castle on Fort Street. This amazing castle was built by the self-made coal “Barron”, Robert Dunsmuir. He was Scottish, so he decided on a nice Scottish name for his little home. The castle, which is over 20, 000 square feet, has 39 rooms and, being built on the top of a hill, has fantastic views of the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
It also looks down on Victoria –as did Mr. Dunsmuir from time to time. If you are not impressed by the beautiful furnishings and artwork in the Castle, you should go just to learn about the wacky Dunsmuir family and their famous family battles that embroiled the nation of Canada and spread out across the world. You can read about the family exploits in books that can be purchased in the castle gift shop. The castle is purported to be well- haunted, so you may see a ghost while you are visiting as well. Maybe it will be Mr. Dunsmuir. He never even got to live there.
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park got its name from the two beacons on the top of Beacon Hill. Hence, the name. The beacons used to be warnings for sailors. Modern times and technology made the beacons obsolete, so the area was given to the City. This 200 acre park filled with ponds, a rock garden, and an alpine garden. All kinds of waterfowl and other birds live at the park. The Beacon Hill Children’s’ Farm at the park is a great family attraction. With hiking trails, sports fields and playgrounds, this is a nice stop for your entire family during your visit to Victoria.
Though not actually in the City of Victoria, Buchart Gardens is one of the most beautiful and most visited gardens in the world. If you are on Vancouver Island, you must see Buchart Gardens. This 55 acre garden is open year round. No matter when you visit the Gardens, you will find something wonderful. Spring brings the spring flowers: tulips, snowdrops, hyacinths, daffodils. In Summer, the roses are in full bloom. The famous rose Garden is buzzing with tourists and bees. And, there is additional evening entertainment in the summertime - even fireworks on Saturday nights. Autumn brings fall colours to the leaves and trees of the garden. In Winter, the Garden is ablaze with Christmas lights. The holiday decorations are amazing, and guests can skate on an outdoor ice rink, regardless of the weather. And, if that was not enough- you can have a nice meal at the Gardens any time, or, better yet, indulge in that most British of all dining pleasure – afternoon tea.
Buchart Gardens began its life as an ugly limestone quarry. Robert Buchart established the limestone quarry and cement plant at Tod Inlet. He and his wife Jennie built a house near the quarry, where she grew roses. When the limestone in the quarry finally ran out, Mrs. Buchart made plans to make something beautiful out of the devastation that was left behind. Now, because of her industriousness, over fifty thousand visitors a year can enjoy the paths, the flowers, the Japanese Garden, the Italian Garden, the Rose Garden, the sunken gardens…There are over one million bedding plants and 900 different varieties of plants are there for the enjoyment of the public.
You can drive to this lovely park (a beautiful road trip) or you can take one of the many tour busses from Victoria. If you are staying at a local hotel, check and see if they have any special tours or transportation to offer. Most do.
Dining (Tea at the Empress Hotel)
You can find any kind of food, day or night, in Victoria. It is a melting pot of cultures, and if you want it, you can find it. British, Northwest, French, Spanish, Greek, Asian, European, Middle East, African – whatever. It’s there. If you want Seafood, Vegetarian, it’s out there for you. And then there are the Pubs, the coffee shops, the bakeries, the cocktail lounges, the rough-and-tumble bars. There is no end to the dining pleasures that await you. One thing that is a Victoria tradition, though, is Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel.
Although it is now known as the Fairmont Empress, “Tea at the Empress” has been a tradition for over 105 years. It is served in the Harbourside Room or in the Tea Lobby, and it is a “proper British Tea” with scones (pronounced, “scawns” by the way) jams, clotted cream and the Hotel’s special Empress tea. There are, of course, numerous finger sandwiches and assorted “sweets” (little cakes and cookies –or “biscuits”) to complete the meal.
It is not mandatory that women wear hats, but is rather fun if you have one. Seatings start at noon, with the last seating at 3:45 pm. This is because, for millions of purists and British subjects all over the world, 4:00 is tea time. “Reservations are strongly recommended.”
That being said, it is also rather pricy and there are several nearby restaurants which do a very nice tea and they do not charge as much. And you usually don’t need a reservation.
There are so many events going on all year long in Victoria, it’s hard to keep track of them all. In Spring, there is the Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival, Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival, and the Swiftsure International Yacht Race. In Summer, you can attend the popular Victoria International Buskers Festival (a gathering of street performers) the Fringe Festival, the Victoria International Chalk Festival, the Feast of Field, the Festival of Food and Wine, the Symphony Splash (a floating outdoor concert) the International Jazz Festival, and the Island Blues Bash.
Also in Summer: The Dragon Boat Festival The Classic Boat Festival and the International Cycling Festival. In Fall, things calm down a little, with the Ghosts of Victoria Festival, and the Salmon Run. And finally, in Winter, there is the Festival of Trees, the Victoria Film Festival, and, of course, Chinese New Year.
Keep in mind that this is only a partial list, and does not include all the concerts, shows and all the great daytime and evening entertainment that is available in Victoria.
One final word about the BC Ferry System. The BC Ferry system is one of the largest in the world. Their vessels are clean and well maintained, with nice restaurants and great amenities. They have 30 routes between the mainland and the various Gulf Coast Islands. They stop in 50 ports along the coast and on different gulf islands. And, as long as you are going in the same direction, you only have to pay once.
So, if you start a Victoria and keep island-hopping up the coast, you only pay once, not matter how many ferries you take. Keep that in mind when you are planning you Canadian adventure.
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