When to Go
Victoria has the warmest, mildest climate in Canada: snow is rare and flowers bloom in February. Summers are mild, too, rarely topping 75°F. If you're here for dining, shopping, and museums, winter is a perfectly nice time for a visit: it's gray and wet, and some minor attractions are closed, but hotel deals abound. If your focus is the outdoors—biking, hiking, gardens, and whale-watching—you need to come with everyone else, between May and October. That's when the streets come to life with crafts stalls, street entertainers, blooming gardens, and the inevitable tour buses. It's fun and busy but Victoria never gets unbearably crowded.
Making the Most of Your Time
You can see most of the sights in Downtown Victoria's compact core in a day, although there's enough to see at the main museums to easily fill two days. Many key sights, including the Royal BC Museum and the Parliament Buildings, are open on some summer evenings as well. You can save time by prebooking tea at the Empress Hotel and buying tickets online for the Royal British Columbia Museum.
You should also save at least half a day or a full evening to visit Butchart Gardens. The least busy times are first thing in the morning, or on weekdays in the late afternoon and early evening; the busiest but most entertaining time is during the Saturday-evening fireworks shows. If you have a car, you can make a day of it visiting the nearby town of Sidney and some of the Saanich Peninsula wineries.
An extra day allows for some time on the water, either on a whale-watching trip—it's fairly easy to spot orca in the area during summer—or on a Harbour Ferries tour, with stops for tea at Point Ellice House, a microbrew at Spinnakers' Brewpub, or fish-and-chips at Fisherman's Wharf. You can also explore the shoreline on foot, following all, or part, of the 7-mile waterfront walkway.
With more time, you can explore some of the outlying neighborhoods; visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Craigdarroch Castle, or the delightful Abkhazi Gardens in the Oak Bay and Rockland areas; or head east to see Hatley Park and Fort Rodd Hill.
It rains often in Victoria, so if you get a fine day, set it aside for garden touring, whale-watching, kayaking, or cycling. Car-free bike paths run north to Sidney and east to Sooke.
If you're here for a while and have a car (or really enjoy cycling), the wineries of the Cowichan Valley and the beaches past Sooke warrant a full day each—although it is possible to see both the Southwest Coast and the Cowichan Valley in a one-day circle tour from Victoria. Salt Spring Island can be done as a day trip (market Saturdays are a highlight), though ferry schedules mean that the other islands usually require an overnight. Be warned, though: many people have planned day trips to the islands and ended up staying for years.
Victoria's top festivals take place in summer, when you're apt to encounter the best weather. For 10 nights in late June, international musicians perform during JazzFest International. July brings the week-long International Buskers Festival, and in early August, during Symphony Splash, the Victoria Symphony plays a free outdoor concert from a barge moored in the middle of Victoria's Inner Harbour. August and September is the time for the Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival, when you can feast from a vast menu of offbeat, original, and intriguing performances around town.
Getting Here and Around
It's easy to visit Victoria without a car. Most sights, restaurants, and hotels are in the compact walkable core, with bikes, ferries, horse-drawn carriages, double-decker buses, step-on tour buses, taxis, and pedicabs on hand to fill the gaps. For sights outside the core—Butchart Gardens, Hatley Castle, Scenic Marine Drive—tour buses are your best bet if you don't have your own vehicle.
Bike paths lace downtown and run along much of Victoria's waterfront, and long-haul car-free paths run to the ferry terminals and as far west as Sooke. Most buses and ferries carry bikes.
Victoria International Airport is 15 miles north of downtown Victoria. The flight from Vancouver to Victoria takes about 25 minutes. To make the 30-minute drive from the airport to downtown, take Highway 17 south. A taxi is about C$55. The Airporter bus service drops off passengers at most major hotels. The one-way fare is C$21. By public transit, take BC Transit Bus 83, 86, or 88 to the McTavish Exchange, where you transfer to Bus 70, which will take you to downtown Victoria. The one-way fare is C$2.50.
There is floatplane service to Victoria's Inner Harbour in downtown Victoria with West Coast Air and Harbour Air. West Coast Air also flies from Whistler to downtown Victoria, May-October. Kenmore Air has daily floatplane service from Seattle to Victoria's Inner Harbour. Helijet has helicopter service from downtown Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport to downtown Victoria.
For the Gulf Islands, Harbour Air Seaplanes has regular service from downtown Vancouver to Salt Spring and Pender islands. Seair Seaplanes fly from Vancouver Airport to the Southern Gulf Islands. Saltspring Air flies from downtown Vancouver and Vancouver International Airport to the Southern Gulf Islands and to Maple Bay, near Duncan, in the Cowichan Valley. Kenmore Air has summer floatplane service from Seattle to the Gulf Islands. There is no scheduled floatplane service between Victoria and the Gulf Islands.
Contacts and Local Airlines
Airporter (250/386–2525 or 877/386–2525. www.victoriaairporter.com.)
Harbour Air Seaplanes (604/274–1277 or 800/665–0212. www.harbour-air.com.)
Helijet (604/273–4688 or 800/665–4354. www.helijet.com.)
Kenmore Air (425/486–1257 or 866/435–9524. www.kenmoreair.com.)
Seair Seaplanes (604/273–8900 or 800/447–3247. www.seairseaplanes.com.)
Saltspring Air (250/537–9880 or 877/537–9880. www.saltspringair.com.)
West Coast Air (604/274–1277 or 800/665–0212. www.westcoastair.com.)
Boat and Ferry Travel
From the B.C. Mainland
BC Ferries has daily service between Tsawwassen, about an hour south of Vancouver, and Swartz Bay, at the end of Highway 17 (the Patricia Bay Highway), about 30 minutes north of Victoria. Sailing time is about 1½ hours. Fares are C$14.85 per adult passenger and C$49.25 per vehicle each way. Vehicle reservations on Vancouver–Victoria and Nanaimo routes are optional and cost an additional C$15 to C$17.50. Foot passengers and cyclists don't need reservations.
To reach the Tsawwassen ferry terminal from downtown Vancouver, take the Canada Line south to Bridgeport Station and change to Bus 620. In Swartz Bay, BC Transit buses 70 (express) and 72 (local) meet the ferries. However, if you're traveling without a car, it's easier to just take a Pacific Coach Lines bus between downtown Vancouver and downtown Victoria; the bus travels on the ferry.
BC Ferries also sail from Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver, to Nanaimo, about two hours north of Victoria—convenient if you're traveling by car from Whistler or Vancouver's north shore to Vancouver Island.
An excellent option is combining four hours of whale-watching with travel between Vancouver and Victoria, offered by the Prince of Whales. The 74-passenger boat leaves the Westin Bayshore Hotel in downtown Vancouver daily at 9 am (June-early Sept., one-way C$190), arriving in Victoria at 1 pm; there are also departures from Victoria's Inner Harbour at 1:45 pm (one-way C$145).
The Victoria Harbour Ferry serves the Inner Harbour; stops include the Fairmont Empress, Chinatown, Point Ellice House, the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort, and Fisherman's Wharf. Fares start at C$5; multiple-trip and two-day passes are available. Boats make the rounds every 15 to 20 minutes, daily, March–October. The 45-minute harbor tours cost $22, and gorge cruises cost $26. At 10:45 am on summer Sundays, the little ferries perform a water ballet set to classical music in the Inner Harbour.
Pacific Coach Lines has daily service between Vancouver and Victoria; the bus travels on the ferry. BC Transit serves Victoria and around, including the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, Victoria International Airport, the Butchart Gardens, Sidney, and Sooke. One-way fare is C$2.50 (exact change); an all-day pass is C$7.75.
Mid-June-August, Gray Line's Butchart Gardens Express shuttle runs every 45 to 90 minutes from the bus depot behind the Fairmont Empress. Round-trip fare is C$48, including admission to the gardens.
CVS Cruise Victoria operates the summertime Peninsula Attractions Connector, a shuttle service that takes passengers between the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, Butchart Gardens, Victoria Butterfly Gardens, Shaw Ocean Discovery, Sea Cider Farm and Cider Works, and Brentwood Bay Lodge; prices start at C$29.95. It runs a separate shuttle to Butchart Gardens, with departures from the Fairmont Empress and from several other downtown hotels; the C$50 round-trip fare includes entrance to the gardens.
BC Transit (250/382–6161. www.bctransit.com.)
CVS Cruise Victoria (250/386–8652 or 877/578–5552. www.cvscruisevictoria.com.)
Gray Line (800/472–9546. www.grayline.com/Victoria.)
Pacific Coach Lines (604/662–7575 or 800/661–1725. www.pacificcoach.com.)
In Victoria, call Bluebird, Victoria Taxi, or Yellow Cab. Salt Spring and Pender also have cab companies.
Bluebird Cabs (250/382–2222. www.taxicab.com.)
Pender Island Cab Company (250/629–2222. www.penderislandcab.com.)
Salt Spring Silver Shadow Taxi (250/537–3030. www.silvershadow.ca.)
Victoria Taxi (250/383–7111. www.victoriataxi.com.)
Yellow Cab (250/381–2222. www.yellowcabofvictoria.com.)
Harbour Air Seaplanes has 20-minute flightseeing tours of Victoria and beyond, starting at C$99.
The best way to see the sights of the Inner and Upper Harbour, and beyond, is by Victoria Harbour Ferry; 45- and 50-minute tours cost C$22 to C$26.
Gray Line's double-decker buses tour downtown, Chinatown, and the Inner Harbour; a Butchart Gardens Express shuttle is also available. Big Bus has narrated tours on open-top and trolley-style buses, April-October; you can get on and off at any of the 22 stops. You can buy a two-day ticket on board for C$37, but buy online and you get a third day free.
Tally-Ho Carriage Tours and Victoria Carriage Tours both operate horse-drawn tours.
Food and Wine Tours
On the second and fourth Saturdays of the month (June-September), Travel with Taste leads culinary tours of Victoria with a tea tasting, a wine tasting, and a chance to try artisanal delicacies. The company also runs day trips to the Cowichan Valley and Saanich Peninsula, and multiday trips to Sooke and Salt Spring Island. Vancouver Island Wine Tours will take you to the Cowichan Valley or the Saanich Peninsula.
The Architectural Institute of B.C. conducts walking tours of Victoria's historic neighborhoods for C$10 in July and August. Discover the Past Tours offers Ghostly Walks and Chinatown Tours. Victorian Garden Tours takes you to private and public gardens.
Architectural Institute of British Columbia. (800/683–8588 Ext. 325. www.aibc.ca.)
Big Bus Victoria (250/389–2229 or 888/434–2229. www.bigbusvictoria.ca.)
Discover the Past Tours (250/384–6698. www.discoverthepast.com.)
Gray Line (800/472–9546. www.grayline.com/victoria.)
Harbour Air Seaplanes (250/385–9131 or 800/665–0212. www.harbour-air.com.)
Tally-Ho Carriage Tours (250/514–9257 or 866/383–5067. www.tallyhotours.com.)
Travel With Taste (250/385–1527. www.travelwithtaste.com.)
Vancouver Island Wine Tours (250/661–8844. www.vancouverislandwinetours.com.)
Victoria Carriage Tours (250/383–2207 or 877/663–2207. www.victoriacarriage.com.)
Victoria Harbour Ferry (250/708–0201. www.victoriaharbourferry.com.)
Victorian Garden Tours (250/380–2797. www.victoriangardentours.com.)
Galiano Island Travel InfoCentre (250/539–2233. www.galianoisland.com.)
Salt Spring Island Visitor Information Centre (250/537–5252 or 866/216–2936. www.saltspringtourism.com.)
Sooke Region Museum and Visitor Centre (250/642–6351 or 866/888–4748. www.sookeregionmuseum.com.)
Tourism British Columbia (800/435–5622. www.hellobc.com.)
Tourism Cowichan (800/665–3955. www.cvrd.bc.ca.)
Tourism Vancouver Island (250/754–3500 or 888/655–3483. www.vancouverisland.travel.)
Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre (812 Wharf St., Victoria, BC, V8W 1T3. 250/953–2033 or 800/663–3883. www.tourismvictoria.com.)
Wild salmon, locally made cheeses, Pacific oysters, organic vegetables, local microbrews, and wines from the island's farm-gate wineries (really small wineries are allowed to sell their wines "at the farm gate") are tastes to watch for. Vegetarians and vegans are well catered to in this health-conscious town, and seafood choices go well beyond traditional fish-and-chips. You may notice an Ocean Wise symbol on a growing number of menus: this indicates that the restaurant is committed to serving only sustainably harvested fish and seafood.
Some of the city's best casual (and sometimes not-so-casual) fare is served in pubs—particularly in brewpubs; most have an all-ages restaurant as well as an adults-only bar area.
Afternoon tea is a Victoria tradition, as is good coffee—despite the Starbucks invasion, there are plenty of fun and funky local caffeine purveyors around town.
In Victoria, as in the rest of B.C., the most popular souvenirs are First Nations arts and crafts, which you can pick up at shops, galleries, street markets, and—in some cases—directly from artists' studios. Look for silver jewelry and cedar boxes carved with traditional images and, especially around Duncan, the thick hand-knit sweaters made by the Cowichan people. B.C. wines, from shops in Victoria or directly from the wineries, make good souvenirs, as most are unavailable outside the province.
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