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In Victoria, BC, you'll find a diverse range of things to enjoy.  There's something to appeal to all of us, no matter what our interests may be.

Nature and natural beauty abounds nearby, and in the city you'll find plenty of culture and history, plus opportunities for shopping and relaxing.

 
 
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What to See and Do in Victoria, BC

There's lots to enjoy in beautiful Victoria
 

The beautiful Butchart Gardens, located just out of the city, are one of the 'must see' attractions during your time in Victoria, BC.

Part three of a three part series on Victoria, BC; part one gives you introductory information and details of how to get to Victoria, and part two gives suggestions about where to stay and eat.

 

 

Whale watching?  Shopping?  Strolling through beautiful gardens?  Or any one of many other activities - the chances are that you'll find plenty to enjoy during your time in Victoria.

The information here will get you started in your planning, and of course, there's lots more available in the linked resources mentioned in the article too.  Get ready for a lovely break in fascinating Victoria.


What to See and Do in Victoria

There is plenty to see and do in the region, and one of the valid activities to do is 'nothing at all' - just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful area.

The following list represents activities that we have on our own personal 'must do' list, and which other people have generally found to be high quality experiences, too.  Use this as a suggested starting point for planning your own time.

Shopping

Most of Victoria's main tourist type shopping can be found in the center of the city (as opposed to the regular malls in the suburbs).  There's an excellent large mall (The Bay) and many specialty stores of differing types on both sides of Government Street.  However, you're more likely to find more distinctive and one-of-a-kind items if you go off the main street and search out the smaller stores in places such as Trounce Alley, Bastion Square and Market Square.

There is a concentration of antique shops along Fort Street, and Canada's oldest Chinatown district at one end of Government Street.

One of our favorite shops is Munro's Books.  This is in a very grand building and we particularly like their bargain book tables and seem to invariably leave with several bags full of interesting and very inexpensive books.

Sightseeing

One of the nice things about Victoria is that its downtown area is compact and reasonably level, making it easy t stroll around by yourself and see much of what there is in the heart of the city.

A stroll around the waterfront is always pleasant, and if you choose to do this, consider walking further around the harbor, past the Hotel Grand Pacific and then along the path that runs along the side of the harbor and on to the Fisherman's Wharf area, where you'll see idiosyncratic house boats and some food stalls offering a range of seafood type takeaway foods, smoked salmon, and ice cream.

Several companies offer guided sightseeing tours around Victoria and the nearby region, ranging from one or two hour city tours to longer half and full day tours going out of Victoria.  A couple of such touring companies are CVS Sightseeing and Big Bus.

Horse and carriage rides depart from Menzies St - the side road between the Parliament Building and the Hotel Grand Pacific.  There are a range of tour options from as short as 15 minutes up to almost two hours in duration, and cost a fairly pricey $40 per quarter hour of touring.  At least the rate is per carriage rather than per person!

Rides operate until about 9pm in the winter months and 11pm in the summer months.

There are also Pedicabs available as a very different way of traveling around.  These offer a range of guided tours and will collect you from and return you back to your hotel.

A harbor tour from the vantage point of one of the quaint little harbor ferries is interesting.  They operate two tours - one up to the Gorge Park, and the other going out towards the sea to the West Bay Marine Village.  The Gorge tour takes just under an hour and the West Bay tour takes 45 minutes.

Museums

Victoria has several different museums that are worth a visit, with the major one being the Royal British Columbia Museum.  This museum has three major sections - one on the native people of the region (now referred to as the First Nations), one on natural history, and one on 'modern' history - ie, the 200 or so years since the region was settled.

They also have temporary special exhibitions, with the current featured exhibition being on the Titanic, and an Imax theatre.  The museum is open daily except for 25 Dec and 1 Jan.

Another notable museum is the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.  With exhibits over three levels, it provides a wide range of information and miscellany about the maritime influences that shaped BC and Victoria.

The Maritime Museum is open daily except for 25 Dec.

If you're interested in naval matters, you might also enjoy the Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, a fort built in the 1890s to defend the naval base at Esquimault.  This site is open daily except for 25 Dec.

And if you're in Esquimault and interested in naval matters you should probably consider also visiting the Naval and Military Museum on the naval base.  This is open Monday - Friday and closed weekends and holidays.

The Art Gallery of Great Victoria houses some 17,000 works of art, making it the largest in British Columbia, and supplements its own collection by traveling exhibitions.  It is open daily except for 11 Nov and 25 Dec.

The distinctive Parliament Building or Legislative Buildings, dating back to 1897, offer free tours.  These last an hour and are offered every 20 minutes, seven days a week, in summer, and less frequently on weekdays only in winter.

Craigdarroch Castle isn't really a castle, but it is the closest thing to one you'll find on Vancouver Island, and it has an interesting history and makes for a fascinating tour.  It was originally built in 1887- 1890 for a wealthy coal mine owner and is over 20,000 sq ft in size over 4 1/2 stories, on a 1.75 acre lot (all that remains of its original 28 acre estate).  It is close to the center of the city and about a 45 minute walk; alternatively buses go close by and there are tours that take you there too.

Craigdarroch has had an interesting history and a series of owners - the man who originally commissioned it died before its completion, and is open daily.     http://www.craigdarrochcastle.com/

Whale Watching

Several pods of orca whales live close to Victoria, and can be seen much of the year, although best viewing can generally be enjoyed in the summer months.  There are also migrating grey whales that pass by primarily in March and April, but which can be seen in some areas as early as February and as late as October.

Many different companies offer whale watch tours from Victoria, with a range of boats from small zodiacs up to larger (and more comfortable) motor cruiser launches.  It is common to find the boats equipped with hydrophones so you can hear the whales talking to each other.

Some of the operators even offer a whale sighting guarantee, and will refund your money if you don't see whales during the cruise.

Tours typically last three hours and sometimes considerably longer.

Orca Spirit is distinctive for having licensed bars on board their vessels, being the only company that does so.  Another major operator is the Prince of Whales.

Gardens and Nature

Butchart Gardens is the best known of the various public garden sites on Vancouver Island, and are located about 14 miles north of Victoria.  If you don't have a car, you can choose between taking a regular city bus or one of the tour coaches to get there.

The gardens are spread out over a 55 acre site that was a former quarry.  The quarry owner's wife started to beautify the former quarry workings in 1904, and over time the concept has extended and developed to the present day.  The gardens contain a wide range of plants and greenery in general, and are spread over lovely grounds that showcase their plantings to best effect.  Careful rotation of presentations means there's something to enjoy during every season of the year.

During the summer, Butchart Gardens have firework shows every Saturday night (in 2007 the first show is on 30 June and the last on 1 September) followed by a 30 minute recital on their old Aeolian organ.  The fireworks take place at dusk - 10.15pm on 30 June, and successively earlier to 8.45pm on 1 September.

The gardens are open year-round, except for the first week in January.

Very close to Butchart Gardens are the Victoria Butterfly Gardens.  They have up to 50 different species of butterflies flying freely around you (and sometimes even on you.

This attraction not only showcases butterflies but also has tropical fish and birds and some gardens too.  The Victoria Butterfly Gardens are open from 1 March through 31 October.

Another notable public display garden is the Abkhazi Garden, operated by The Land Conservancy.  Founded in 1946 by Prince and Princess Abkhazi (a Georgian Prince and his English wife), there are a series of themed plantings, including rhododendrons.  It is located about 5 miles from downtown, and there is regular city bus service available.

The Abhkhazi Garden is open from 1 May through 30 September.

Outdoors Things

If you're wanting a bit of exercise while in Victoria - perhaps to compensate for overeating - then you have a range of activities to consider.  Perhaps hire a bicycle and pedal around the region some.  This site has lots of resources about planning a cycling itinerary, and you can also choose between organized cycle touring or simply hiring a bike and riding around as you wish on this site, too.

Maybe you'd like to hire a kayak and paddle around?  This company offers kayak rentals and kayak tours from Victoria's Inner Harbor, and this company will bring a kayak to you.

This company offers a wide range of outdoors and soft adventure activities.

Perhaps you'd prefer to hire a boat.  This site has both motor and row boats, as well as canoes and kayaks.

And if you'd find a guided walk around the area more your style, this company offers a range of guided walks, and this company specializes in tours of the Empress Hotel.

For more information

Canada offers plenty of tourism resources for intending visitors to Victoria.

The three key websites are those of Tourism Victoria itself, and then the tourism bodies for Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

Summary

Victoria is a wonderful place for a relaxing and indulgent weekend, or - if you prefer - for a high energy stay of as short or long a time as you wish.  And its location - close to Vancouver and Seattle - makes it an ideal part of a larger tour around the Puget Sound area and Pacific Northwest region.

Read more in Parts 1 and 2

Part one of this series gives you introductory information and details of how to get to Victoria, and part two gives suggestions about where to stay and eat in Victoria.


 

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Originally published 27 Apr 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

 
 
 
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