Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, sits on the southern end of Vancouver Island and is known as one of the most picturesque cities in Canada and North America. From historic castles to gardens to museums, we uncover the top 12 things you should add to your Vancouver Island itinerary.
Located approximately 17km (10mi) from downtown Victoria, Goldstream Provincial Park is a great example of Vancouver Island’s spectacular natural ecosystems. Alongside the towering Douglas firs, the park features the evergreen arbutus tree, found exclusively on Vancouver Island, and protects endangered species of flora and fauna. One of the park’s main attractions is its world-class salmon-spawning stream, where you can witness thousands of salmon return between October and December every year. Goldstream also has one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles in Canada, with most sightings between December and February.
One of the most visited areas of Victoria’s waterfront is Fisherman’s Wharf. Full of small food kiosks and interesting shops, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon enjoying lunch while watching boats enter and depart the harbour. Buy seafood fresh off the boat and watch as the wharf’s resident seals appear from beneath the dock. If you want to feed them, food can be bought from a small fish store located nearby. Eco-tour adventures with the likes of Eagle Wing Whale Watching and Kelp Reef Kayaking are also offered here.
Specializing in wildlife paintings, the Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature is a nature-focused art gallery near Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Robert Bateman himself, one of Canada’s most revered artistic talents, displays the main bulk of his collection here, ranging from paintings and drawings to sculpture and etchings. As well as its permanent exhibits, the gallery also has a commendable education outreach program, which is responsible for delivering literary, fine arts and environmental learning opportunities to the wider community. Tours are offered on Tuesdays and Saturdays at 2pm, and on Thursdays during the summer.
One of the most visited tourist sites in Victoria, Butchart Gardens are located close to the city in Brentwood Bay. For almost 100 years, the gardens have focused on landscaped floral displays, although recent years have seen their expansion to include several other features including a Pavilion and Ross Fountain. Interestingly, they remain owned by the same family that was responsible for their original opening, meaning that their unique charm and character have been successfully preserved for the enjoyment of multiple generations. The gardens receive over a million visitors each year and have been designated a National Historic Site.
Located steps from Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the childhood home of Canadian artist Emily Carr, who, among many things, was known for her eccentricities, including her pet monkey that she dressed up and took for walks. One of Canada’s National Historic Sites, the house, built in 1864, is now a museum dedicated to her life and works, which were largely inspired by the Indigenous people and landscapes of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Inside, the rooms of the house have been restored, where you’ll find many of Emily’s possessions, including pottery and sculpture.
Recognized as one of the world’s most iconic hotels, Victoria’s Fairmont Empress first opened its doors in January 1908 and overlooks the city’s scenic Inner Harbour. Book a stay, or enjoy its many facilities, including the Willow Stream Spa, home to a Finnish-style sauna, steam inhalation room and mineral pool, and Q at the Empress Restaurant for the best in Pacific Northwest cuisine. Tea at the Empress is probably the hotel’s most popular experience. Freshly prepared scones and pastries are served to more than 80,000 guests annually alongside teas ethically sourced from the world’s best producers.
Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins