Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, is the capital of British Columbia (BC). With plenty to keep everyone busy, including award-winning gardens and museums and the best fish and chips you’ll ever eat, it’s a great place to visit for the day, a weekend or a longer getaway. Keep reading to discover the 15 best things to do and see in the city.
Over one million people visit the world-famous Butchart Gardens annually. The National Historic Site of Canada is home to five main gardens: the Rose, Japanese, Italian, Mediterranean and Sunken Gardens. The latter was the first project that the Butcharts developed many years ago, as it was previously a quarry. The best thing about Butchart Gardens is that they look impressive in every season, even in winter when they are decorated with thousands of twinkling lights.
Many of Canada’s Fairmont properties are considered to be Canadian castles, and the luxurious Fairmont Empress in Victoria is one of them. In recent years, the famous hotel underwent a multimillion-dollar restoration, so internally, it looks more impressive than ever. Tea at the Empress is a popular experience enjoyed by more than 80,000 people annually, including by visiting royals and celebrities. Here, you can enjoy a range of sweets and savouries using fresh, locally sourced ingredients, including honey from the hotel’s beehives, and lavender from its rooftop garden.
Don’t leave Victoria without visiting one of the city’s most cherished eateries. Red Fish Blue Fish sits in an upcycled shipping container in the heart of downtown and is known for its sustainable, grab-and-go seafood. Its menu includes everything from staple cod and chips, to seafood chowder, jerk fish poutine and grilled salmon. If you’re visiting Victoria during the warmer months, take advantage of the outdoor seating spread across the area’s wooden pier, where you can soak up the sights of the Inner Harbour.
Among Victoria’s many impressive stately buildings is Hatley Castle – Canada’s largest and most diverse National Historic Site. Built in the Scottish-Baronial style, this prestigious property was built in 1908 by former British Columbia premier and coal baron, James Dunsmuir and was formerly a home and a military college before becoming a museum. Don’t leave without strolling through the beautifully manicured gardens surrounding the castle, which include the Japanese Garden, the Italian Garden and the Rose Garden. Self-guided tours run daily, with Guided Walking Estate Tours available on a pre-booked basis.
Just like its western cousin, San Francisco, Victoria is also home to a Fisherman’s Wharf – but this city’s counterpart is a little bit different. Located around the corner from the Inner Harbour, it’s home to 33 floating houses. Walk around the marina and admire the colorful properties, before visiting one of the area’s restaurants – many specializing in fresh seafood. This marine destination is also home to a range of unique shops and eco-tour adventures, where you can book whale watching and wildlife excursions. Keep your eyes peeled for the wharf’s resident seals during your visit.
As well as being a National Historic Site, Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the second-oldest in North America, after San Fransisco. The main area to visit is the 500-600 block of Fisgard Street, home to ornately decorated arch, the Gate of Harmonious Interest. There are many historic buildings on this block, as well a vibrant mix of businesses, independent cafes and Fan Tan Alley, known for being the narrowest street in Canada. For delicious dim sum and great views of the neighborhood from above, visit Don Mee’s second-floor dining room.
A hub of food, art and entertainment in BC’s capital city, the Victoria Public Market features everything from farm-fresh groceries and locally produced cheese, to handmade pies and a French bakery. Popular vendors include the likes of WaffleBeast, which makes its brioche and pita dough in-house, and The Chocolate Project, a specialty shop featuring bean-to-bar chocolate from around the world. Live music shows and other community events are also regularly held here. The market is located in the historic Hudson Building in Downtown Victoria.
A jungle adventure awaits at Victoria Butterfly Garden, where visitors can watch thousands of tropical butterflies fly through the sky. You’ll also encounter large iguanas, flamingos, tortoises and poison-dart frogs during your visit, as well as a variety of tropical fish in a stream circulated by an impressive waterfall. The Insectarium is another popular exhibit, where you can learn more about a range of rare insects and invertebrates from around the world. Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, which sells a wide selection of locally made jewellery, children’s toys, books and clothing.
Offering the best views in the city, the Malahat Skywalk is an accessible 2,133-ft (650-m) treetop walk through magnificent arbutus forest. Wander beneath treetops and over scenic natural features before reaching a spiral ramp that takes you up 131ft (40m) to a sightseeing lookout. From here, you’ll witness views of Mount Baker, the Saanich Peninsula and Finlayson Arm. An interpretive nature walk leads guests back to the Welcome Pavilion, where you’ll find a café, kids’ playground and picnic area. The Skywalk is located approximately 35 minutes north of Victoria, near the Malahat Summit.
Additional reporting by Emma Gibbins
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