Whether you’re hitting the city for 48 hours, or planning to spend several leisurely days exploring, find out how to make the most out of your visit to Victoria.
With spectacular natural scenery, a moderate climate, rare marine wildlife, and a thriving culinary scene, it's no wonder Victoria, British Columbia is a tourist mecca.
Although it’s Vancouver Island’s largest city (and the capital of British Columbia), Victoria is still a compact and walkable town. Thanks to the mild climate, Victoria is a great spot to visit year-round, but if you’re looking to avoid crowds, plan your trip for early April or late September, when tourist season is ramping up or winding down. Whether you’re hitting the city for 48 hours, or planning to spend several leisurely days exploring, read on for more ways to make the most out of your visit to Victoria.
Stop to Smell the Roses at Butchart Gardens
The Butchart Gardens are one of the main reasons many travellers visit Victoria. This designated National Historic Site—a former limestone quarry—is a 55-acre urban retreat that features 900 bedding plant varieties, 26 greenhouses and diverse gardens such as a Sunken Garden, a Rose Garden, and Japanese, Italian, and Mediterranean Gardens. No matter what time of year you visit, there’s always something stunning to see, including summer fireworks and winter Christmas decorations. That being said, these gardens, which have been around for more than a century, are known for their spring blooms, which is when you can truly see the gardens awaken.
Go Whale Watching
One of the best things to do in Victoria during the warmer months is whale watching. There is an abundance of orcas in the waters around Victoria and Vancouver Island, as well as sea lions, seals, otters, and humpback whales. The best way to view these mammals in their natural habitat is to book a boat tour. Tours usually last between 2-3 hours and are offered by a variety of companies, some of whom offer a free repeat tour if you’re not lucky enough to spot any whales on your trip (although the island boasts a 95% success rate on whale watching tours)! Victoria whale watching tours depart from the Inner Harbour, and peak season is generally May through October.
Explore Downtown Victoria
Downtown Victoria is known for its architecture, including the iconic British Columbia Parliament Buildings, which are one of the star attractions in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Overlooking the harbour, these historical buildings are beautiful inside and out. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the ornate buildings, or opt for a free 35-minute guided tour that covers the province’s history and explains how Canada’s political system works. Other notable landmarks on the grounds are the Cenotaph (bronze War Memorial to the Unknown Soldier), Queen Victoria Statue, Douglas Obelisk, Knowledge Totem Pole, Speak Chair, Front Fountain, and the Premier’s Rose Garden.
If you have time, take a relaxing stroll along the boat-lined Inner Harbour, widely regarded as one of the country’s most beautiful, and chock-full of buskers, artists and boutiques. Make your way to Fan Tan alley, the narrowest street in the country, and discover organic treats, homemade ice cream, and matcha teas.
Treat Yourself to Dinner and Drinks at Little Jumbo
For a small city, Victoria’s restaurant scene serves up an incredibly diverse array of dining options. There’s a huge range of styles, prices and culinary traditions, but there’s definitely a focus on seafood, sourcing local produce, and showcasing creativity. Victoria features the second-oldest Chinatown in North America (only San Francisco’s is older), and the city’s Asian communities are represented by numerous incredible spots for sushi, noodles and curry, including the famed Bao, which specializes in Asian street food.
If you’re looking for a more intimate spot, try Little Jumbo. This speakeasy is tucked away in the hallway of a heritage building, and has a reputation as one of the go-to places in Victoria for handcrafted cocktails. Consistently ranked as one of Victoria’s top spots, Little Jumbo is known for its fresh-shucked Pacific Northwest oysters and creative, unusually named cocktails like the Suffering Islander (a mix scotch and gin) and the Jean Luc Picard (featuring Tito’s vodka and Earl Grey honey).
Enjoy the Finer Things at the World-Famous Fairmont Empress
When it comes to luxurious hotels in Victoria, there are several to choose from, including the Laurel Point Inn and Oak Bay Beach Hotel. However, the Fairmont Empress is, simply put, an institution. Built in 1908 for Canadian Pacific’s steamship passengers, the iconic hotel features a 250,000-crystal chandelier, an in-house gin, harbour-view rooms, and of course, the impeccable service that the Fairmont is synonymous with. The enormous 464-room hotel was even recognized by National Geographic Traveler magazine as one of the most iconic hotels in the world! Take the experience to the next level (i.e. the stratosphere!) and stay on the Fairmont Gold floor, where you’ll enjoy a private lounge, cocktails, canapés, and terrace views.
If you’re unable to secure a room during your stay, be sure to at least stop by for afternoon tea, served in the lobby each day to an average of 800 visitors!
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.