Things to do in Victoria, British Columbia
Our most recent trip took us to Victoria, the picturesque capital city of British Columbia. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s west coast, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest and is also the city where we met almost ten years ago during our university days.
So, it’s no surprise we have a soft spot for the “City of Gardens”. In fact, it’s one of our favourite cities and we’ve often talked about relocating there one day.
We’re always amazed when we meet tourists that visit the Pacific Northwest but decide to skip Victoria. It’s only 100 kilometers (62 miles) from both Vancouver BC and Seattle WA, making it the perfect weekend getaway for both tourists and residents that are staying on the mainland.
That said, don’t make the common mistake of thinking that you can visit Victoria in one day (unless you plan to fly into the Inner Harbour on a sea plane). We recommend you spend at least two days, preferably three days if your itinerary allows it.
With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of 7 things you should do on your next trip to Victoria.
7 things to do on your next trip to Victoria
1. Spot a Killer Whale on a Whale Watching Tour
Vancouver Island is one of the best places to spot killer whales in British Columbia, especially in the summer months from May to October during the salmon migration.
Whales, sea birds and other marine animals are attracted to the area to feed, resulting in a 95% success rate on whale watching tours. We hit the jackpot on our tour with Prince of Whales and spotted over 25 killer whales!
Our whale watching tour with Prince of Whales departed from the inner harbour in downtown Victoria (pictured above). Prince of Whales has a few boats to choose from. We went on the large 2-story Ocean Magic cruiser because we liked the idea of being able to walk around and take pictures from the upper deck.
We couldn’t have scripted a better whale watching experience. The water was calm, the sun was shining and we got to witness a super pod!
2. Take a Horse Carriage Ride through Historical Victoria
A different way to discover the historical city by horse drawn carriage. The relaxing, romantic and informative tours allow visitors to see the city’s attractions in style, while traveling through old residential neighbourhoods, scenic waterfront roads and the second oldest Chinatown in the North.
If you’re in the mood to turn up the romance, most operators allow you to crack open a bottle of champagne or wine while you tour the city by night.
The horse drawn carriages will pick you up from your hotel or restaurant. You can also organize your trip directly from the horse carriage operators, located beside the BC Parliament Buildings. Tours range from 30 minutes to an 1.5 hours.
3. Sample Hand-crafted Ales at Spinnakers Brewpub
Most people are familiar with pairing wine selections to specific dishes, but have you considered pairing your food with beer? If you follow our blog then you know that we love to combine beer and travel with our series on drinking beer around the world.
You can imagine the smiles on our faces when we learned that Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub offers hand-crafted beer pairings with its Chefs Table menu (and wine pairings if beer is not your preference).
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub is committed to farm fresh local ingredients year round, like using fresh local raspberries for its summer Raspberry Ale. It offers classic styles of ales, lagers and seasonal specialty beers and is the perfect choice for beer enthusiasts that enjoy fine dining in a casual environment.
The Chefs Table is a 5-course meal that includes a starter, appetizer, two main courses and dessert, along with 3oz beer pairings for each course. The menu at the night of our visit included:
- A petite Outlandish Oyster, paired with the India Pale Ale
- Baked Comox Brie with roasted Roma tomatoes and flat bread crackers, paired with the Raspberry Ale
- Vancouver Island ratatouille with Crayfish (pictured below), paired with the Discovery Ale
- Pan seared Fraser Valley pork tenderloin, paired with the Lion’s Head Cascadia Dark Ale
- House made chocolate truffles, paired with an Irish Stout
4. Take the Victoria Harbour Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf
A fun way to get around the Inner Harbour is to take the Victoria Harbour Ferry. The little green and white ferry’s leave from various points around the harbour, making it a relaxing mini-cruise while you see discover the city.
Marvel at the iconic blue steel Johnson Street Bridge while sea planes take off and land in the bustling harbour. Just look for the “Ferry Stop” signs at major waterfront locations around the harbour.
You can stop off at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and grab a refreshing pint of craft beer or visit the Fisherman’s Wharf and sample the world famous fish and chips at Barb’s.
Tickets for the Victoria Harbour Ferry can be purchased as a Harbour Tour ($22), Gorge Cruise ($26) or one-way fares starting from $5.00 per person.
5. Ride a bike from James Bay to Oak Bay via Beacon Hill Park
Visitors to Victoria will find that most of its landmarks and attractions are within walking distance to the BC Parliament Buildings and Inner Harbour.
To see what’s beyond the downtown core, rent a bike and cruise down Dallas Road to Ogden Point (the pier where the cruise ships dock), Beacon Hill Park, Clover Point Park and Oak Bay Marina.
We rented bikes from Cycle BC and started in the residential area of James Bay. It’s a quiet area with some of the most beautiful heritage homes on Vancouver Island and its claimed to be the oldest neighbourhood on the West coast of North America that’s north of San Francisco.
After a brief stop at the Fisherman’s Wharf, our cycling trip continued down Dallas Road along the Juan de Fuca Straight, passing through Beacon Hill Park (the largest park in downtown Victoria) and finishing in front of the Empress Hotel.
You can also rent scooters and motorcycles from Cycle BC and visit the popular Butchard Gardens or the historic Craigdarroch Castle. Click here to view the Victoria Riding Routes
6. Play Beach Volleyball on the roof of a restaurant
Have you ever played beach volleyball on the rooftop of a restaurant in the city? We’re guessing you haven’t because the Rooftop Surf Club is home to the world’s only rooftop beach volleyball courts.
We’ll never forget our university days drinking with classmates while playing beach volleyball on the Strathcona rooftop bar. If you’ve got the time and desire, we highly recommend you give it a go!
The Strathcona Hotel has been a downtown landmark with roots dating back to the beginning of the 1900’s. With 7 rooms, 5 levels, 5 diverse restaurants and 1,200+ seats, it’s the perfect place to unwind after a day of sightseeing or crank it up and hit the town.
We make it a point to visit at least one of the restaurants every time we visit Victoria.
7. Visit the Royal BC Museum and IMAX
Located between the Empress Hotel and the BC Parliament Buildings, the Royal BC Museum specializes in British Columbia’s human and natural history. Plan to spend at least 3 hours at the museum, especially if you want to catch an IMAX film.
The elaborate galleries offer dramatically different environments, making it a great museum for all ages and preferences. There is a First Peoples Gallery, Modern History Gallery, Natural History Gallery and different traveling exhibitions.
Our favourites are the life size woolly mammoth (pictured below) and the incredible collection of native totem poles (pictured here).
Although we’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to things to do in Victoria, hopefully this list gives you a good starting point. Our intent is to provide you with a full itinerary for a weekend getaway to one of our favourite North American cities.
Have you visited the city of Victoria?
Share your tips for things to do in Victoria in the comments section.