Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia and a must-see when visiting the main island. It can be accessed by air, car, or ferry and is lovely to explore for a day or a weekend getaway. It is rich in arts and culture, has a great gastro scene and access to experience some of Canada’s most amazing nature!
Victoria is beautiful to visit anytime of year, but my favorite months have to be February to early May and September to November. I find the city gets a lot of tourist traffic in the summer months which can make getting around a little chaotic. I also love to experience the Spring blooming season and the colours of autumn.
I prefer to stay either downtown or right along the harbour so I can be walking distance to attractions, shops and restaurants. You can also rent cycles and scooters or take a taxi or ride-share if you don’t feel like walking. There’s something special about the vibe around this little city, too. You get a real sense of community while you’re there.
15+ Things to Do in Victoria
With so much to do in Victoria, it can be hard to narrow it down. When I’m visiting the Island, I usually only pop in for a couple of days/overnight visit. With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite things to do while in Victoria!
The Empress Hotel
The Empress Hotel in Victoria is a jewel along the downtown harbour. This stunning stone building once a part of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s chain of hotels is now owned by Fairmont. What I love about the former CP Hotels is their role in Canadian history, which you can learn about inside the hotel. The Empress is one of the most central spots to stay in the harbour area as it is within walking distance of almost everything you’d want to see. If you plan on staying elsewhere or are just in town for the day, be sure to pop in for afternoon tea or a treatment at their incredible spa.
Whale Watching Tours
One of the most amazing things that Canada has to share is its nature and wildlife. What’s unique about the West Coast of British Columbia is that it is home to incredible sea life. If you have the time, definitely check out a whale watching tour. You’ll not only see some incredible wildlife up close, but you will learn about whales and other marine life, their ecosystems and so much more. Seeing Orcas (“killer whales”), Minke, Humpback and Grey Whales in the wild is breathtaking and like nothing else! I personally recommend Prince of Whales Whale Watching and Sea Vancouver.
Royal BC Museum
I love the Royal BC Museum. It is one of my favorite places to visit in Victoria and is fun for the entire family. This museum features an amazing gallery on natural history with a small focus on the local area as well as a human history gallery with really interesting exhibits about Canada’s history as well as the history of the Island and British Columbia. You’ll also find visiting exhibits such as the History of Egypt or the Human Body, so if you return to the museum there will always be something new to see.
Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park is one of my favorite places to spend a day or half day in Victoria. Rent a bike, pack a picnic, enjoy the greenery or views of the sea…there’s so much to see and do. Here you’ll also find a children’s petting zoo, totem poles and a heronry on the lake. Be sure to walk over to Clover Point Park as well, which is right next door and on the sea.
The Butchart Gardens are one of Victoria’s most well-known places to visit. Open year-round, these gardens have been in the making for over 100 years. This is one of the more peaceful places to stroll through in Victoria where you can take in the stunning blooms and foliage that have been cultivated from around the world. It also offers some fantastic photo opportunities. Be sure to check their schedule for seasonal events and operating hours.
BC Legislature Building
Canada’s provincial capital cities never disappoint with their Provincial Parliament or Legislature buildings. Located along the downtown harbour, the British Columbia Legislature is a great place to visit. The front gardens are a great place for a picnic or family photo and feature beautiful gardens. Take a tour inside and explore Canadian provincial politics and stunning stone architecture.
CPR Steamship Terminal Building
If you’re a lover of architecture and history then a stop at the CPR Steamship Terminal Building is a must-stop for you! Located on the inner harbour walk just steps from the Legislature building, this still-working terminal building is something to see. Here you’ll find a great patio restaurant to enjoy a bite to eat as you watch the traffic coming and going in the harbour area.
Thunderbird Park is nestled just behind the Legislature building, next to the Royal BC Museum making it easy to access from the harbour centre area. A stroll through this park to see the First Nation monuments is a must for taking in the history of the island. It’s perfectly located so that you can pass through it and enjoy the totem poles while walking from one attraction to the next.
Craigdarroch Castle is a true testament to Victorian-era architecture and is a short leisurely walk from the downtown harbour. Learn about some of the first immigrants and business owners to the area and plenty about Canadian history. One of the best times to visit is over the Christmas season as everything is decorated for the holidays! Also, don’t forget to stop at the Jinglepot Teahouse!
Hatley Park National Historic Site
Hatley Park National Historic Site is where you’ll find a stunning stone castle and sprawling green gardens all along the sea. This is a great spot for families to visit as there is plenty to see and do. There are a number of gardens to explore as well as 15km of hiking trails and other outdoor activities. Tours of the castle are available for the history and architecture lover in your group. You can also explore the seaside where you can catch views of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State, USA. This castle is where a number of Hollywood movies have been filmed, too!
Emily Carr House
Emily Carr House is a great spot to visit for art and history lovers alike. This lovely museum is in the Canadian artist’s childhood home. Her paintings capture the history and landscape of the West Coast. Check their schedule for seasonal events, current exhibitions and more.
Shop the Markets Downtown
There are a number of great little markets in Victoria as well as local boutiques to be shopped. Take a stroll through the more narrow streets of downtown in the area of Bastion Square and you’ll find some great local spots with unique items as well as familiar chain stores. For local markets, I suggest Victoria Public Market at the Hudson, Market Square and Market on Yates. You can also find a number of seasonal outdoor markets. For great Canadiana souvenirs, shop the streets closest to the harbour. A stop at Canada’s famed Hudson’s Bay is also a must!
You can’t visit a harbour city without a trip to their Fisherman’s Wharf! This little wharf area is home to some cute boutiques, great eateries and a few fun things for the kids. I love how colourful this area of the city is and how it is still home to many locals living on houseboats year round.
Victoria is home to some amazing restaurants, gastro pubs and craft cocktail bars. To get a taste of as many as possible, I highly recommend one of their food tours. This is a great way to experience the gastro-culture of the city and see a few sights along the way! Book ahead to ensure availability. I recommend A Taste of Victoria or Victoria Food Tours.
There is an incredible craft beer culture and the ‘BC Ale Trail‘ to be found in Victoria. A few of their breweries can be found downtown, but many of them are just outside the main core (but still close together and easy to get from one to the next). Each features a unique set of brews, food, theme and occasionally some locally made spirits. Some of my favorites include Vancouver Island Brewing, Phillips Brewing, Moon Under Water, Canoe Brew Pub, and Hoyne Brewing Co.