Situated at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria enjoys the protection of the Olympic Peninsula mountains and the influence of the warm North Pacific current, resulting in the mildest climate in Canada. Renowned as one of the warmest destinations in Canada in winter, Victoria attracts both Canadian and international tourists with its year-round attractions.
As the capital of British Columbia, Victoria exudes a small-town charm within its compact size. The absence of a land connection to mainland Canada imparts a slightly remote ambiance. With a population of less than 100,000, the city offers quick and easy navigation, allowing much of the sightseeing to be undertaken on foot.
Noteworthy attractions include lush parks and gardens adorned with foliage and flowers throughout the seasons. The picturesque Inner Harbor serves as the focal point of the charming city center, retaining its Victorian heritage buildings and ambiance. The tradition of afternoon tea persists at the Empress Hotel, where people gather for this classic experience.
Victoria stands as a prominent highlight of Vancouver Island, easily accessible by ferries for a day trip from Vancouver. Regular flights connecting through Vancouver also make Victoria an ideal getaway destination from various parts of North America. It serves as an excellent starting point for exploring other regions of the island.
For recommendations on places to explore, refer to our list of the best things to do in Victoria Island.
1. Walk along the Inner Harbour
Victoria’s captivating Inner Harbour stands out as the primary attraction and an excellent starting point for tourists. Many of the city’s prominent landmarks are situated either along the harbor or within convenient walking distance. You can leisurely wander along the waterfront, pass by iconic landmarks like the Empress Hotel and Parliament buildings, enjoy street buskers’ performances on sunny days, or drop by a restaurant for a meal.
For those seeking things to do in Victoria, this area offers a plethora of options. Boat tours depart from the docks, while horse-drawn carriages traverse the streets above. The Inner Harbour hosts frequent festivals and events, ensuring a vibrant atmosphere with constant activity.
For travelers without a personal vehicle or those opting to temporarily park their cars, staying around the harbor is the optimal choice. While the Fairmont Empress is a prominent selection due to its prime location, the Delta Hotels Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort provides another excellent option in a slightly less bustling area.
Moreover, the Inner Harbour serves as the arrival and departure point for float planes offering service to Vancouver and Washington state.
2. Parliament Buildings
Standing prominently on the south side of the Inner Harbour, the Parliament Buildings serve as the commanding seat of the provincial government of British Columbia. Conceived by Yorkshire architect Francis M. Rattenbury and constructed in 1897, these stately stone structures are adorned with meticulously maintained gardens, exuding a captivating charm—particularly in the evening when adorned with strings of lights.
Adorning the lofty dome is a gilded statue honoring Captain George Vancouver (1757-98), renowned for the inaugural circumnavigation of Vancouver Island. The façade features sculptures of notable figures from the province, including a grand statue of Queen Victoria overlooking the Inner Harbour from the terrace.
A visit to the Parliament Buildings offers insight into the rich history of British Columbia, details on architectural design, and an educational exploration of the parliamentary system. Notable attractions include the striking Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee stained-glass windows. The Memorial Rotunda, with its intricately adorned walls and dome, is another captivating highlight.
Should parliamentary proceedings be in session, the public is cordially invited to observe from the visitors’ gallery.
For those in need of sustenance during their visit, a refined yet understated breakfast or lunch at the Parliamentary Dining Room is highly recommended.
3. The Butchart Gardens
Situated just a short drive from downtown Victoria, the garden stands as one of the top tourist attractions in the area, warranting the investment of time for a visit. It’s a destination that offers a different experience with each passing season, making it worthwhile for multiple visits throughout the year. Even in the winter, the gardens captivate with features like an outdoor skating rink and a spectacular Christmas light display.
Established in 1904 by Jennie Butchart, the wife of a prosperous quarry owner, the garden took root in an abandoned limestone quarry. Flourishing, aided by the mild climate, the gardens have evolved into a 20-hectare horticultural masterpiece unrivaled in Canada.
Among the highlights are the enchanting Italian garden, rose garden, Japanese garden, and sunken garden. The open spaces amidst pools, fountains, and a myriad of exotic plants serve as venues for artistic and musical performances.
To access The Butchart Gardens, follow Highway 17A north for 22 kilometers to Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula.
4. Royal BC Museum
The Provincial Museum and Archives of British Columbia stand out as one of Canada’s premier museums of natural and cultural history, featuring a plethora of three-dimensional displays that engage visitors with a sensory experience of sights, smells, and sounds.
Embark on a journey through a simulated rainforest, observe animals on West Coast beaches and in tidal wetlands, immerse yourself among aboriginal ceremonial poles and masks, explore a traditional big house, and delve into the challenges faced by First Nations people after European settlement. Interactive elements include a replica of the HMS Discovery, the ship that brought Captain Vancouver to these shores, and a recreated street of shops in Old Town.
In Thunderbird Park outside, visitors can encounter traditionally carved memorials and house poles. Adjacent to it, Helmcken House, a small mid-19th-century residence, stands as the oldest dwelling in British Columbia on its original site. The house belonged to J.S. Helmcken, a practicing doctor and local politician who ardently advocated for the British colony of Victoria and British Columbia to join the newly established confederation of Canada.
It’s worth noting that extensive plans were initially underway to demolish and reconstruct the museum starting in 2022; however, due to the substantial costs involved, the project was put on hold. In anticipation of the project, many displays were placed in storage. The museum is gradually restoring the disassembled exhibits, but it will take considerable time before they fully return to normal.
Positioned midway between the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the museum holds a central location.
5. Craigdarroch Castle
Victoria’s enchanting mansion, Craigdarroch Castle, stands as a masterpiece of Victorian architecture and holds the designation of a National Historic Site. Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who amassed his wealth in coal mining, commissioned the residence in the 1880s, yet unfortunately passed away before its completion, leading to family drama surrounding the home.
The castle is situated in the affluent neighborhood of Rockland, known for its elegance, and characterized by grand heritage homes lining Rockland Avenue. Among these distinguished residences is Government House, serving as the official residence of Her Majesty’s representative in British Columbia. While the house is open to the public, it is not equipped with ramps or elevators.
6. Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site
The gun batteries at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, located approximately 13 kilometers west of Victoria, were once tasked with safeguarding the sheltered waters of Esquimalt Harbour, a former British naval base. In operation from 1895 to 1956, these guns have been preserved well and are open for visits today.
For families exploring Victoria, a trip to Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site is an ideal outing. The fort provides numerous intriguing hideouts for children to discover, and opportunities to climb on historic guns, and the adjacent seashore often reveals interesting items washed ashore. A brief 10-minute walk along the beach leads to the Point and Fisgard Lighthouse, an iconic photo spot in Victoria and the first lighthouse on Canada’s west coast.
To add an adventurous twist to your family visit, consider camping overnight in one of the fully self-contained oTENTik units.
7. Beacon Hill Park
Green and meticulously maintained, Beacon Hill Park is a beloved outdoor space conveniently located near the city center. From its highest elevation, visitors can enjoy delightful views spanning the Juan de Fuca Strait to the snow-capped peaks of the Olympic Peninsula.
The park is adorned with towering trees, well-kept gardens, and serene ponds. Scenic walking trails meander through the park, leading to secluded benches and tranquil areas perfect for relaxation. Wildlife enthusiasts can encounter various animals, including deer, peacocks, ducks, and occasional otters. The paths also guide visitors to elevated points offering stunning vistas of the ocean and mountains.
Beacon Hill Park boasts recreational facilities for baseball, tennis, cricket, and lawn bowling. Additionally, two water parks provide enjoyable summer activities for children.
On the southwest perimeter of the park, Mile 0 serves as a landmark, designating the western terminus of the Trans-Canada Highway that spans the entire continent. Adjacent to it stands a statue commemorating Terry Fox, who embarked on a cross-Canada run in 1980 to raise funds for cancer research.
8. Shop or Dine at Market Square
One of the most distinctive shopping destinations in Victoria is Market Square. Concealed from street view, this market is an open-air space nestled behind meticulously restored historic buildings. Lined with patios on multiple levels, the sunny central square frequently hosts a variety of performances.
Market Square encompasses a diverse array of over 30 retailers, featuring unique boutiques, restaurants, and services. Take a stroll, explore a few establishments, and discover local art, jewelry, crafts, and exclusive items. The inviting atmosphere and relaxed setting may encourage you to linger, and indulging in a meal at one of the innovative restaurants is an excellent way to satisfy your culinary cravings.
Three primary entrances provide access to Market Square: Johnson, Pandora, and Store Streets. Just across Johnson Street and through a quaint cobblestone alley lies the entrance to Il Terrazzo restaurant, an enduring and popular dining establishment in Victoria.
9. Hatley Park National Historic Site
Hatley Park National Historic Site encompasses Hatley Castle, constructed in 1908 by James Dunsmuir, former Premier of British Columbia, and coal magnate. This Edwardian estate includes Japanese, Italian, and rose gardens.
The castle has gained cinematic fame and has served as a filming location in various films. Most notably, it featured prominently in the X-Men movie series as the School for Gifted Youngsters under the guidance of Professor Xavier.
While the castle now serves as the administrative office of Royal Roads University, it remains open to the public. Visitors can opt to explore the gardens at their own pace or participate in a guided tour of the castle.
10. Hiking Trails and Scenic Areas
To fully appreciate some of the scenic views in Victoria, explore the parks and embark on local hiking trails. Many of these trails are short, making them suitable for a half-day or a couple of hours.
For captivating coastal scenery, the Coastal Trail in Sooke offers a wonderful seaside experience with views of distant mountains. The Mount Work hiking trail is another excellent option, providing both a great workout and panoramic views of the Olympic Mountains and Sanich Inlet.
If you’re interested in history, explore the Trestle Bridge Hiking Trail in Goldstream Provincial Park, with a visit to Niagara Falls along the way. Alternatively, for a more leisurely experience, consider the Kinsol Trestle Bridge Trail, suitable for hikers of all abilities.
11. Maritime Museum of British Columbia
The Maritime Museum of British Columbia has relocated and is currently in a holding pattern until a new facility is constructed in the next few years. While many of the 35,000 pieces are in storage, a small 3,000-square-foot temporary display location features some interesting exhibits.
One notable exhibit is the SS Princess Sophia. Crafted with exquisite attention to detail, this scale model of the ship is captivating to observe. Another enjoyable exhibit suitable for all family members is knot tying. Test your skills at creating some of the most common maritime knots – it’s more challenging than you might expect!
12. Wander through Cook Street Village
Cook Street Village, situated just down the street from Beacon Hill Park, is one of the trendiest areas in Victoria. This vibrant neighborhood features excellent restaurants and charming shops, with the main area extending from Oliphant Avenue for three blocks to Oscar Street.
Throughout most of the year, restaurants boast lively patios where patrons can immerse themselves in the atmosphere and engage in some serious people watching. Food trucks have their designated area, complete with picnic tables under a large tree.
A delightful afternoon awaits those who opt for lunch on a patio, explore the village, and then take a 10-minute walk down Cook Street to the Dallas Road Waterfront Trail. Stretching for miles, this trail offers sublime views across the Juan de Fuca Strait to the Olympic Mountains on a clear day.
13. Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Situated in proximity to Butchart Gardens, the Victoria Butterfly Gardens offer much more than just butterflies. Within these indoor tropical gardens, you can encounter up to 75 species of exotic butterflies and moths, alongside tropical birds, fish, and reptiles. In 2017, the Butterfly Gardens expanded to include an Insectarium.
Various creatures such as ducks, flamingos, parrots, tortoises, frogs, and iguanas freely roam within the jungle environment. This captivating facility, adorned with waterfalls, trees, and flowers, provides a delightful retreat on a cool winter day and stands as the top destination in Victoria for an indoor dose of nature.
Q: What is the best time to visit Victoria for outdoor activities?
A: Spring and summer are ideal, offering pleasant weather for hiking, kayaking, and outdoor exploration.
Q: Are there any family-friendly events in Victoria throughout the year?
A: Yes, Victoria hosts family-friendly events, including parades, festivals, and special exhibits at museums.
Q: Can I explore Victoria on a budget?
A: Absolutely! Many attractions offer free or affordable admission, and there are budget-friendly dining options available.
Q: What are some unique souvenirs to buy in Victoria?
A: Look for handmade crafts, local artwork, and products from the Public Market for unique and memorable souvenirs.
Q: Are there guided tours available for exploring Victoria’s historic sites?
A: Yes, there are guided tours available for the Parliament Buildings, the Royal BC Museum, and other historic landmarks.