The Top Things to Do and See in Victoria, British Columbia

Victorias Inner Harbour is home to the Fairmont Empress, the Royal BC Museum and the BC Parliament Buildings
Victoria's Inner Harbour is home to the Fairmont Empress, the Royal BC Museum and the BC Parliament Buildings | © Mick Ritzel / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

1. Butchart Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park

Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island
© Alf Damp / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

2. Royal BC Museum

Museum

The Royal BC Museum, established in Victoria in 1886, is home to British Columbia’s natural and human history museum and the British Columbia Provincial Archives (since 2003). Queen Elizabeth II approved the museum’s royal title in 1987, when it was bestowed by Prince Philip during that year’s royal tour. It houses three permanent galleries: becoming BC, the First People’s Gallery and natural history. The Royal BC Museum is also home to the province’s largest IMAX screen, featuring laser projection technology and an immersive 12-channel sound system.

3. Fairmont Empress

Spa Hotel

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.

5. Inner Harbour

Natural Feature

Victoria’s Inner Harbour is frequently named one of the world’s most beautiful. Situated in the heart of downtown, it’s where some of the city’s main attractions lie, including the Fairmont Empress, the Royal BC Museum and the BC Parliament Buildings. Take a stroll along the water while admiring the area’s heritage architecture, watch float planes depart and land or even book a flight yourself. This picturesque area of Victoria looks just as good during the day as it does at night, and festivals and performances take place regularly during the warmer months.

6. Red Fish Blue Fish

Fish and Chip Shop, Restaurant, British, Canadian, Fusion

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.

7. Hatley Park National Historic Site

Park

Hatley Castle, Hatley Park, Colwood, Greater Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
© Michael Wheatley / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

8. Beacon Hill Park

Park

Situated a short walk from Downtown Victoria, the 200-acre (75-ha) Beacon Hill Park is home to just about everything you could wish for – walking trails, sports courts, a petting zoo and Mile Zero sign, which signifies the start of the Trans-Canada Highway. During your visit, you can also see the world’s fourth-tallest totem pole and the bridge between Goodacre and Fountain Lakes, which is dedicated to BC artist Emily Carr. The park also offers impressive views of Juan de Fuca Strait and Washington State’s Olympic Mountains.

9. Lower Johnson Street

Architectural Landmark

Heritage buildings on lower Johnson Street in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
© Peter Elvin / Alamy Stock Photo
For a spot of shopping, head to Lower Johnson Street in the city centre. Known colloquially as LoJo, the street’s colorful Victorian buildings house the city’s best independent boutiques, retailers and restaurants. Among its most popular stores are Lore General Store, which sells handmade goods from small independent companies, and vintage-meets-modern boutique, Still Life. For food, Culture Trip recommends intimate Italian favourite, Il Terrazzo – home to brick fireplaces, patio seating and a fantastic wine list. Don’t leave without wandering through Market Square, where you’ll find local boutiques offering one-of-a-kind merchandise.

10. Fisherman’s Wharf

Natural Feature, Park

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.

11. Chinatown

Architectural Landmark

Entrance to Chinatown, Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
© Troy Parlee / Alamy Stock Photo

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.

12. Craigdarroch Castle

Historical Landmark

Built in the late 1800s, Craigdarroch Castle is a National Historic Site, known as one of Canada’s most haunted places. Many claim to have encountered the ghost of Joan Dunsmuir, the wife Robert Dunsmuir, who built the castle. Visitors are invited to take a walk back through time to see how the upper class would have lived in the 1890s as they admire the property’s original furnishings, stained-glass and sophisticated woodwork. Craigdarroch Castle sits on a hill overlooking the city and has a total of 39 rooms over four floors.

13. Victoria Public Market

Market

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.

14. Victoria Butterfly Gardens

Botanical Garden

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.

15. Malahat Skywalk

Natural Feature

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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