Canada's Victoria BC is quite possibly one of the loveliest cities on the planet. It effortlessly melds the modern world with regal and historic charm, against a backdrop of breathtaking natural beauty. Jennifer Morton checks in with suggestions for ten top things to do...
Sitting pretty on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is the capital of Canada’s Province of British Columbia and a harbourside city that is said to attract the newlywed, nearly dead, and well-read in equal measure.
Mild temperatures, a plethora of marine life, a strong British influence, castles, fish and chips, tea, seagulls, flower baskets and float planes are just some of the things to love about this fabulously laidback destination.
Victoria exudes a strong British vibe, so the city’s red double-decker hop on hop off tour buses look right at home here. They depart from outside the magnificent Fairmont Empress Hotel several times a day. Sit on the upper deck for great views as you traverse the Old Town, Chinatown, Beacon Hill Park, and Oak Bay.
2. Step foot in a working man’s castle
One place worth a ‘hop off’ is the impressive Craigdarroch Castle. True Scotsmen may say, ‘that’s not a castle,’ but Victorians are happy to claim this wee castle as their own. The National Historic Site was actually built by Scottish immigrant, Robert Dunsmuir, and lived in by his family. The Dunsmuirs were wealthy, thanks to the coal industry, and their home reflects just how much money they had to splash about in the late 1800s. Hatley Castle is another Dunsmuir trophy home. You may recognise it; the famed castle has featured in several Hollywood movies.
3. Have a whale of a time
Orca, minke, and humpback whales can all be spotted off the coast of Vancouver Island, so if you weren’t lucky enough to see a pod during the ferry crossing from the mainland or the USA, book yourself a Zodiac boat whale watching tour with Prince of Whales. Not only will you get to see whales and other marine wildlife, but you’ll also get an adventurous ocean cruise that takes you to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve at Vancouver Island’s most southern point.
Every seaside city worth its salt offers great fresh fish and chips, and Victoria is definitely one of those cities. From February until late October, head directly to Red Fish Blue Fish, a wharf-side eatery that attracts daily crowds. Get in the queue for a lunchtime feed of fish or a tacone (a fish taco wrapped in a cone-shape). The wait is worth it and testament to how delicious the food is.
For all-day brunch, Blue Fox Cafe on Fort Street is the go. Again, this place is a favourite so expect a wait during peak hours. Think creamy eggs Benny, thick French toast and moreish cocktails like Canada’s ever-popular Bloody Ceasar. Lastly, don’t even think about leaving Victoria without having a freshly made bagel (or six) with cream cheese, from Mount Royal Bagel Factory.
5. Discover Canada’s oldest Chinatown
Stroll along the footpaths of Canada’s oldest Chinatown for shopping, eating, and a dose of Canadian-Chinese culture. Squeeze down Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada, for a glimpse into the area’s sordid past. The skinny lane was once home to opium factories, gambling rooms, and brothels. Today, it hosts quirky shops selling hand-crafted goods and eatable treats like homemade ice cream and Italian sweets. Remember your camera and capture the grandiose Gate of Harmonious Interest at the entrance to Chinatown.
6. Take a ride in a float plane
If you’ve never taken a flight in a float plane (which takes off and lands on water), Victoria and Vancouver are the ideal places to do it. Not only will you get a quick transfer (30 minutes) between British Columbia’s two most glorious cities, but you’ll enjoy an amazing scenic flight over the San Juan Islands and Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet as part of the deal.
Beacon Hill is a 200-acre plot of green space in the downtown region of Victoria worthy of some of your time. Here you’ll get to see an abundance of wildlife, plants, flowers and ponds, and experience petting zoos, playgrounds, and countless walking trails. Even if you’re not travelling with children, be sure to make time to see the running of the baby goats at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm.
Another must-visit estate is Butchart Gardens, a pay-to-enter park that has been wowing visitors for over 100 years. Set over 55 acres of themed gardens, ponds, woodland, and manicured lawns, Butchart is a great place to stop and smell the roses. Stay for lunch at one of the on-site eateries and feel like a kid again on the indoor carousel.
Put on your best frock and British accent and immerse yourself in tradition with a spot of tea and sweets at one of the many dining and tea rooms dotted around Victoria. Of course, the Fairmont Empress Hotel is the most prestigious amongst them, which is all good if you have upwards of $100 (after tax and tip) to drop on afternoon tea.
If not, don’t worry, there are plenty of just as lovely places that won’t break your budget. Try Venus Sophia in Chinatown for their Signature Tea, which includes finger sandwiches, scones, jam, biscuits and pots of tea. For a DIY High Tea afternoon, Murchies on Government Street is where you can order as little or as much as you like, and have it all served on a silver platter (at a fraction of the cost). Jolly good, I say!
9. Meet the seals by the bay
Oak Bay is one of Victoria’s fancy-pants suburbs. It’s teeming with high-class shopping, stylish eateries, pampering day spas, a darling marina and a stunning section of coastline to boot. Take a joyride along Beach Drive for spectacular ocean views and drop into the Oak Bay Marina for a nice meal and to take a kayak tour or to see the resident seals. Unfortunately, recent legislation says you can no longer feed them.
10. Look and learn at the Royal BC Museum
Smack-bang in the heart of the Inner Harbour is the Royal BC Museum and IMAX theatre. Take a few hours to stroll through two floors chock-full of human, animal and nature displays and educational exhibits that will pique your interest at every turn. Afterward, stay for a show at the IMAX cinema — BC’s largest movie screen. Movies and documentaries vary, but one thing’s for sure: after seeing a 2D or 3D show, you’ll leave feeling wowed.
A holiday in Victoria will be centred around the Inner Harbour area so choose your accommodation wisely. The Royal Scot Hotel & Suites is an obvious and smart choice for visitors who want to be in the heart of the city. Located just one block from the famous BC Parliament Buildings, the harbour, and just minutes away from glorious Government Street, this warm and classic hotel is the perfect home away from home.
The four-storey hotel offers traditionally-styled accommodation ranging from standard rooms to studios and two-bedroom suites. Rooms feature single, queen or king-sized beds, flat-screen TVs, USB ports, filter coffee makers, complimentary tea, coffee, sugar, and biscuits, an iron, a hairdryer, bathrobes and a mini or full-size refrigerator.
A heated indoor pool, hot tub, sauna, gift shop, courtesy guest shuttle, complimentary lobby coffee, dog-friendly rooms and an on-site restaurant are just some of the facilities and drawcards of this delightful Inner Harbour Victoria hotel.
Jennifer Morton is a freelance writer and photographer. The Canadian expat has lived all over Canada, New Zealand and Australia. She also spent six months working on a cruise ship in Europe. When Jennifer is not writing about travel, you may find her lounging on the beach, fishing with her son, sipping coffee at a cafe, reading a book or zooming in on a beautiful scene. She’s also likely to be boarding a plane — or jumping out of one.