VICTORIA, BC – The City of Newly Weds and Nearly Deads
Victoria, the capitol of the Canadian province of British Columbia, is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada’s Pacific coast. Named after Queen Victoria, this gem is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. Its ancient Victorian history, rugged shorelines, sandy beaches and ideal location close to Vancouver and Seattle has made it a thriving summer vacation destination. It is also popular with retirees due to its year-round temperate climate and slow, relaxed pace. Due to the academic prowess of institutions such as the University of Victoria, Camosun College, Royal Roads University, the Victoria College of Art and the Canadian College of Performing Arts, Victoria also attracts students from all over the world.
A quick history lesson
Prior to the arrival of European navigators in the late 1700s, the Victoria area was home to several communities of Coast Salish peoples, including the Songhees. The Spanish and British took up the exploration of the northwest coast, beginning with the visits of Juan Pérez in 1774, and of James Cook in 1778.
In 1841 James Douglas, considered the father of Victoria, was charged with the duty of setting up a trading post on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Erected in 1843 as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post, the settlement was renamed Fort Victoria in honor of Queen Victoria. Douglas also founded Fort Victoria as a more northerly fallback to Fort Vancouver which was under threat by Americans (history buffs: Google “Oregon Treaty of 1846”). After displacing the native Songhees further North, the crown colony was formally established in 1849. A series of treaties from 1850 to 1854 saw exchanges of land for goods between the colony and the Songhees. These agreements contributed to a town being laid out on the site and made the capitol of the colony.
When news of the discovery of gold on the British Columbia mainland reached San Francisco in 1858, Victoria became the port, supply base, and outfitting center for miners on their way to the Fraser Canyon gold fields. This initial burst saw the population of Victoria balloon from 500 to 30,000 in just a couple of months. Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862. In 1865, the North Pacific home of the Royal Navy was established in Esquimalt which serves as Canada’s Pacific Coast Naval Base today. In 1866 when the island was politically united with the mainland, Victoria was designated the capitol of the new united colony instead of New Westminster and became the provincial capitol when British Columbia joined the Canadian Confederation in 1871.
In the latter half of the 19th century, the Port of Victoria became one of North America’s largest importers of opium. Opium was legal and unregulated until 1865 when the legislature issued licenses and levied duties on its import and sale. The opium trade was banned in 1908.
In 1886, with the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway terminus on Burrard Inlet, Victoria’s position as the commercial center of British Columbia was lost to Vancouver. The city subsequently began cultivating an image of genteel civility, within its natural setting, aided by events such as the opening of the popular Butchart Gardens in 1904, and the construction of the Empress Hotel by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1908. Robert Dunsmuir, a leading industrialist whose interests included coal mines and a railway on Vancouver Island, constructed Craigdarroch Castle in the Rockland area of Victoria. His son James Dunsmuir became Premier and subsequently Lieutenant Governor of the province and built his own grand residence at Hatley Park. Both estates now serve as interesting tourist attractions that provide a window into Victoria’s past. A real estate and development boom which ended just before World War I has left Victoria with a large stock of Edwardian public, commercial and residential buildings that have greatly contributed to the city’s character.
Today, Victoria is largely a tourism driven City. However, it is also home to a growing tech sector generating over $ 4 billion in annual revenue as well as a thriving fishing industry. With a growing regional population, pleasant climate and scenic setting, Victoria has retained a vital, but comfortable quality of life inspired by a relaxed island mindset. The Greater Victoria Region is steeped in rich heritage and history, graced by a beautiful natural landscape and is bound to meet any traveler’s wildest expectations.
What to see and do
Alright, alright; let’s get to the real reason you’re reading this! What’s the big deal about Victoria? Here’s a rundown of my Victoria experience, including some links to full-length articles.
Bastion Square: Bastion Square is located in the heart of downtown Victoria where the old Fort Victoria originally stood. The square looks out on the Inner Harbor and boasts some of the finest restaurants, pubs, and cafes in Victoria. In the summer, its seasonal artisan market, outdoor patios and live street performers make it an ideal spot to grab a bite to eat, stroll through or people watch.
British Columbia Parliament Buildings: The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are home to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. The Neo-baroque buildings face north on Belleville Street facing the Inner Harbor and sit diagonally across from The Empress Hotel. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the front lawn as well as the British Columbia Legislature Cenotaph commemorating the province’s World War I, World War II, Korean War and Afghanistan War dead. Atop the central dome is a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver. Free guided tours of the facility are offered year-round.
Buchart Gardens: The Butchart Gardens is a group of floral display gardens in Brentwood Bay, located near Victoria. The gardens host over a million visitors each year and have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.
Chinatown: The Chinatown in Victoria is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America. Victoria’s Chinatown had its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century and remains an active place and continues to be popular with residents and visitors, many of whom are Chinese-Canadians. Chinatown is just minutes away from other sites of interests such as the Empress Hotel and Market Square.
Craigdarroch Castle: Craigdarroch Castle is a Victorian-era Scottish Baronial mansion with a rich history. It has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada due to its landmark status in Victoria.
Fairmont Empress Hotel: Recognized as one of the most iconic hotels in the world by National Geographic Traveler, the Fairmont Empress is recently restored with a thoughtful aesthetic that pays tribute to its history while celebrating a new era of modern luxury. Overlooking the city’s sparkling Inner Harbor, Canada’s Castle on the Coast as it is sometimes known, has been serving its world-famous High Teat since 1908.
Fisherman’s Wharf: Just around the corner from Victoria’s Inner Harbor, this unique marine destination offers food kiosks, unique shops and eco-tour adventures among fishing vessels, pleasure boats with live-aboard residents, float homes, and commercial businesses.
Inner Harbor: This scenic waterfront area is home to some of Victoria’s many tourist attractions, recreational activities, restaurants and shopping. Want to stare at the waves, laugh at the seagulls, grab a ferry for a harbor tour, or buy your whale watching tickets? This is where it all happens!
Lower Johnson Street: Lower Johnson Street is a popular shopping area in downtown Victoria, starting at Wharf and Johnson Streets and continuing for one block to Government Street. This cool, eclectic area with many interesting shops, draws both locals and the many visitors to Victoria each year. This block is packed with shops as well as a few restaurants. There is an alley that hides shops within and another that contains one of Victoria’s most popular and highly recommended restaurants, Il Terrazzo. Other restaurants on the block include Willy’s Cafe and Bakery and Famoso Pizzeria. Don’t let the one block expanse fool you; hours can be spent shopping and eating in this area!
Market Square: Market Square is a town square and shopping center located by Chinatown. There are more than 35 shops, restaurants, and clubs in the square.
Royal BC Museum: Founded in 1886, the Royal British Columbia Museum consists of The Province of British Columbia’s natural and human history museum as well as the British Columbia Provincial Archives. The museum’s collections comprise approximately 7 million objects, including natural history specimens, artifacts, and archival records. The natural history collections have 750,000 records of specimens almost exclusively from BC and neighboring states, provinces, or territories. The museum also hosts touring exhibitions. Previous exhibitions have included artifacts related to the RMS Titanic, Leonardo da Vinci, Egyptian artifacts, the Vikings, the British Columbia gold rushes and Genghis Khan. The Royal BC Museum also partners with and houses the IMAX Victoria theater, which shows educational films as well as commercial entertainment. The museum is located in Victoria’s Inner Harbor, between the Empress Hotel and the Legislature Buildings.
If I had more time…..
While my 2.5 days in Victoria was relaxing, educational and fulfilling there’s more I heard and read about that I did not get a chance to fit in. Here’s some of what you may want to consider.
- Beacon Hill Park
- Cattle Point
- Clover Point Park
- Dominion Astrophysical Observatory
- Fort Rodd Hill
- Go Whale Watching
- Goldstream Provincial Park
- Gonzales Hill
- Maritime Museum of British Columbia
- Mt. Douglas
- Mt. Finlayson
- Mt. Tolmie
- Oak Bay
- Ogden Point
- Swan Lake
- Take a Food & City Tour
- Take a Walking Tour
- Victoria Bug Zoo
If you get a chance to add any part of this list to your Victoria itinerary, please leave a comment to let me know if they’re overhyped or totally worth it.
When to visit
Because of the temperate climate, anytime between May and October should work for a visit. These also tend to be the drier months in Victoria. Go towards either end of that interval and you’ll likely hit the travel trifecta (nice weather, better travel discounts and less of those pesky tourists). I myself went in September and the weather was absolutely gorgeous every single day. While it never becomes a frozen Canadian tundra, I would avoid Victoria in the Winter as it really is setup to be a quaint summer getaway.
Whether it’s for a (very) long day or a long weekend, Victoria is a perfect vacation destination offering something for everyone. I visited during the Labor Day weekend in 2019 for 2.5 days and was able to hit all the top sites. I would recommend 3-5 days as the ideal length for a trip to Victoria.
Who to go with/How to get there
Depending on where you’re coming from and your preferred method of transportation, there are several different ways to get to Victoria. Here are some of the more popular options from Vancouver and Seattle.
- Air Canada (https://www.aircanada.com/us/en/aco/home.html)
- Harbour Air Sea Planes (https://www.harbourair.com/)
- Pacific Coastal Airlines (https://www.pacificcoastal.com): Short 30-minute flights from Vancouver to Victoria.
- V2V Vacations (https://www.v2vvacations.com/): 3.5 hour ferry ride from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria available from mid-March to late October.
- Westjet (https://www.westjet.com/en-us/index)
- Alaska Airlines (https://www.alaskaair.com/): Alaska has several non-stop flight options from Seattle to Victoria. Flights typically take less than an hour, so this is one of the quickest options.
- Black Ball Ferry Line (https://www.cohoferry.com/): Daily 90-minute ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria.
- Clipper Vacations (https://www.clippervacations.com/seattle-victoria-ferry/): This 3 hour ferry is one of the most preferred choices by vacationers visiting Victoria from Seattle. Please note that it is a passenger only ferry and does not allow any vehicles. This is how I chose to get to Victoria, and I have no complaints about the journey, service or price.
- Kenmore Air (https://www.kenmoreair.com/): Flights from Seattle’s Lake Union.
Of course, driving is also an option from both cities and surrounding areas. Plan for about 5 hours from Seattle and 3.5 from Vancouver.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodation in Victoria, there are a wide range of options to fit every budget and need. I have not stayed at many of these locations, but they come highly recommended by fellow travelers and a little thing called the internet.
Bed and Breakfasts and Hotels
- Abbeymoore Manor: https://www.abbeymoore.com/
- Beaconsfield Inn: https://beaconsfieldinn.com/
- Best Western Plus Inner Harbour: https://www.victoriabestwestern.com/en-us
- Chateau Victoria Hotel and Suites: https://www.chateauvictoria.com/ (this is where I stayed)
- The Craigmyle: https://www.thecraigmyle.com/
- Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/yyjvo-delta-hotels-victoria-ocean-pointe-resort/?scid=bb1a189a-fec3-4d19-a255-54ba596febe2
- Double Tree by Hilton Hotel and Suites Victoria: https://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/british-columbia/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-and-suites-victoria-YYJDSDT/index.html
- Fairmont Empress Hotel: https://www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/
- Inn at Laurel Point: https://www.laurelpoint.com/
- HI Victoria: https://hihostels.ca/en/destinations/british-columbia/hi-victoria
- Ocean Island Inn: https://www.oceanisland.com/
RV Parks and Campgrounds
- Goldstream Provincial Park: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/goldstream/
- Salish Seaside RV Haven: https://www.salishseasidervhaven.com/
- Weirs Beach RV Resort: https://weirsbeachrvresort.bc.ca/
- Westbay Marine Village: https://www.westbay.bc.ca/
Of course, there are many more options to choose from including AirBnBs (get up to $55 off your first trip with AirBnB by using this link to sign up!)
Where to eat and drink
As a major tourist destination for people of all backgrounds, shapes and sizes, Victoria has a variety of options to satisfy every palette. Here’s a sampling:
- Bard & Banker (https://bardandbanker.com/): In a city where Brunch is King, I’ll probably catch some flak for the Bard & Banker being on this list, but it happens to be one of the places I had breakfast at during my visit. Though much more popular with the nocturnal crowd with its live music and myriad beer options, I found the quiet breakfast at the Bard rather enjoyable.
The Blue Fox (http://www.thebluefoxcafe.com/): Definitely a staple in the Victoria brunch scene, this small colorful establishment did not disappoint! They serve breakfast all day and one should expect a 15-30 minute wait on the weekends. With an assortment of pancakes, French toast, omelets and a dozen benedict options, this place has something for everyone. If you’d rather drink your breakfast, they can fix you up with a delicious coffee or breakfast cocktail too. This was hands down my favorite breakfast/brunch spot in Victoria.
- 10 Acres Bistro (https://10acres.ca/bistro/)
- Il Terrazzo Ristorante (https://www.ilterrazzo.com/)
- Jones Barbecue: (https://jonesgotmeat.com/): Located in an obscure strip mall outside Downtown Victoria, Jones was an accidental (yet delightful) find. It was only in its 3rd year of operation when I treated my taste buds to some maple wood fired barbecue, so it probably isn’t known to a lot of people. However, I have little doubt that this South meats North (pun intended) mashup will soon become a go to destination for meat lovers near and far!
- Little Jumbo (http://littlejumbo.ca/)
- Milestones (https://www.milestonesrestaurants.com/): I grabbed a quick early dinner at Milestones before getting on a boat to head out of Victoria. Their chicken wings were some of the best I’ve had, and my friends had some margaritas that kept on coming. The location is right on the water and the service is quick. I would definitely recommend Milestones for a quick bite or a drink at any time of the day.
- The Roost Vineyard Bistro & Farm Bakery (https://www.roostfarmcentre.com/)
Red Fish Blue Fish (https://www.redfish-bluefish.com/): After standing in line for 50 minutes (and being warned by the cashier not to drink their water), I think I’m going to have to take the unpopular side of the Red Fish Blue Fish debate. I had some Fish N Chips (Pacific Cod) and a Jerk Fish Tacone. The tacone was actually pretty good, but I didn’t think the fish n chips were anything to write home about. Perhaps having grown up on the coast with plenty of seafood to choose from, my bar was too high, or perhaps the chilly evening breeze blowing in from the ocean diminished the experience; whatever it was, I did not think RFBF was wait the almost hour long wait. However, it still made the list, because if you happen to walk up when there wasn’t a line, I would recommend you give it a shot, if for no other reason than to be able to argue with me in the comments below.
- Bean Around the World Coffees (https://www.beanvictoria.com/): Located in the heart of Chinatown, Bean Around the World has signature blends from around the world (as the name might suggest) as well as some that they roast on site. This is a cool place to stop for a sip as you’re exploring Chinatown. They also have partnerships with volunteer projects around the world that will be supported by your cup of coffee.
- Hey Happy (https://heyhappycoffee.com/)
- Milano Victoria (http://www.milanocoffee.ca/): Claiming to be a place where Italian coffee meets Canada’s West Coast (not quite sure what that means), Milano actually serves a solid cup of coffee. I am told they often play around with blends in search of the perfect cup of coffee. Although I did not go on this adventure myself, they also have an espresso tasting bar with several different types of espresso.
- Union Pacific Coffee (http://www.unionpacificcoffee.ca/): I absolutely loved UPC’s vibe, especially its hip industrial décor and open layout. It has a patio area in the back that opens into Chinatown’s Dragon Alley. The service was quick, and the coffee was great, but what did the trick for me were the amazing pastries! I would definitely visit UPC if I’m ever in Victoria again.
- The Fairmont Empress (https://www.fairmont.com/empress-victoria/)
- Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (https://www.murchies.com/store/): With a 125 year history and several locations throughout, Murchie’s is a British Columbia institution. I got myself a London Fog and a pastry one morning at the Downtown Victoria location and rather enjoyed it (though the London Fog was a little too sweet for me). With several tea (mainly) & coffee options as well as pastries, Murchie’s is a good choice when you’re in need of a quick breakfast or an afternoon break.
- Pendray Tea House (https://www.pendrayinnandteahouse.com/)
- The Teahouse at Abkhazi Garden (https://www.abkhaziteahouse.com/)
- White Heather Tea Room (https://www.whiteheather-tearoom.com/)
- Chocolats Favoris (https://www.chocolatsfavoris.com/en)
Chocolats Favoris is a one stop shop for all kinds of chocolate candies, but the main attraction is definitely their chocolate dipped ice cream. The ice cream options are pretty pedestrian, and the chocolate coatings are a little too thick (3/8” at some points) and hard for my liking. However, there are a variety of chocolate coatings to choose from and the topping combinations are picturesque as they’re mouthwatering. It’s likely you’ll have a 15-minute wait from the door to when you’re served during pretty much anytime of the day in the summer.
- Pure Vanilla Bakery & Café (https://www.facebook.com/PureVanillaBakery/)
- BeaverTails Pastry (https://beavertails.com/)
Well, there you have it folks; a comprehensive guide to get you well on your way to planning a trip to this romantic city. With its quaint old buildings, slow pace, beautiful landscape, stunning beaches and breathtaking mountains, Victoria has something for people of all ages, and I highly recommend you add it to next summer’s vacation short list!
Here’s who helped
While I ONLY write about places that I have visited, I get more information on these places from others, both for my edification and yours. Here are the online resources I used when writing this post.
- The Wayback Machine – “History Snapshot”: https://web.archive.org/web/20150325152436/http://www.victoria.ca/EN/main/departments/parks-rec-culture/culture/art-culture/victoria-150/history-snapshot.html
- The Wayback Machine – “About Victoria”: https://web.archive.org/web/20060225041959/http://www.city.victoria.bc.ca/visitors/about_hist.shtml
- Victoria Vision – “The Act of Incorporating the City of Victoria”: http://victoriavision.blogspot.com/p/act-incorporating-city-of-victoria.html
- The Wayback Machine – “A City Goes to War”: https://web.archive.org/web/20181220162929/http://acitygoestowar.ca/
- Legislative Assembly of British Columbia: https://www.leg.bc.ca/documents-data/debate-transcripts/30th-parliament/4th-session/30p_04s_740219p#00305
- Weather Atlas – “Monthly weather forecast and Climate Victoria, Canada”: https://www.weather-atlas.com/en/canada/victoria-climate
- Harbour Air Seaplanes – “Tours”: https://www.harbourair.com/tours/?depart=victoria/
- Times Colonist – “B.C. Transit to drop transfers, will offer $5 all-day pass”: https://www.timescolonist.com/news/local/b-c-transit-to-drop-transfers-will-offer-5-all-day-pass-1.2128944
- Tourism Victoria – “History”: https://www.tourismvictoria.com/plan/local-info/about-victoria/history