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A local’s guide to the 29 best things to do in Victoria, BC

We’re true Victorians now.

After living here for more than five years – and since first writing this post – we’ve discovered so many more fun things to do in Victoria, BC.

We absolutely love Victoria – and you will too when you visit!

We’re going to share all about what to do in Victoria, BC, in a minute.

But before we do, indulge us for a moment as we briefly wax poetic (or not so poetic) about why Victoria is one of the most beautiful places in Canada – and why it’s such a great city to visit when you travel to British Columbia.

Things to do in Victoria BC
The colorful houseboats at Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf always put a smile on our faces

Contents: Victoria, BC, travel guide

Why Victoria is the best city in Canada to visit

Getting to Victoria, BC

29 Best things to do in Victoria, BC

1) Smell the roses at Butchart Gardens

2) Go SUP

3) Ride a pickle boat

4) Kayak Tod Inlet

5) Visit the Royal BC Museum

6) Gawk at the Parliament Buildings

7) Bicycle the Galloping Goose Trail

8) Eat at great restaurants

9) Spot deer

10) Walk the Inner Harbor

11) Hike up Mount Douglas

12) Reflect at Ross Bay Cemetery

13) Chill on a beach

14) Tour Craigdarroch Castle

15) Duck into a café

16) Check out the “wee” libraries

17) Sip afternoon tea at the Empress

18) Watch whales!

19) Shop Lower Johnson Street

20) Visit the Victoria Art Gallery

21) Bicycle the Lochside Trail

22) Stroll Chinatown

23) Get lost in Beacon Hill Park

24) Admire the totems in Thunderbird Park

25) Explore Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse

26) Meander around Swan Lake and Christmas Hill

27) Tour Hatley Castle

28) Get spooked on a ghost walk

29) Attend a festival

Where to stay in Victoria

Getting around in Victoria

Best city to visit in Canada

Red tulips bloom in front of Victoria's Parliament Buildings.
Victoria’s Parliament Buildings in spring

Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. Incorporated in 1862, it’s one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest.

With all its gardens, Victoria is bloomin’ pretty. (It’s known as the garden city of Canada.)

And all the scenic walks in Victoria along its miles of oceanfront are downright lovely.

Bicycles parked by Willows Beach, Victoria, Vancouver Island
A walk by Willows Beach – a pretty urban scene!

The weather is also kind to humans. Victoria boasts the best weather in Canada.

True, there are lots of fun things to do in Canada in winter. (Hello snowshoeing!)

And there are some cool places to visit in Ottawa in winter (oh, bad pun).

But to be honest, we could personally do without cold weather.

In Victoria, it’s mild in winter and it rarely snows (though we do get some thoroughly rainy and windy days).

Man carries yellow kayak in Oak Bay, Victoria, BC
This is winter in Victoria, BC – not too shabby, eh?

The summer months are sunny, not-too-hot and dry (unlike, say, Toronto, which melts in the humidity).

It’s interesting too that even though Victoria is just under two hours away from Vancouver (by ferry), its weather is distinctly different from Vancouver’s – Victoria gets far less rain.

Purple Flower With Bee
All sorts of flowers thrive in Victoria’s sunny and dry weather

The restaurant and theater scene is great here too.

For such a smallish city (population 400,000), Victoria punches high above its weight here.

Belfry Theatre, Victoria, Vancouver Island
Concerts, playhouses, opera, symphony and the Victoria Ballet; we have it all! (Credit: Belfry Theatre)

And it’s so easy to get around the city – you’re usually only a 10- to 15-minute drive away from anywhere.

Traffic jams? Not like you get in big cities.

Indeed, once known as a city for the “newly wed or nearly dead,” Victoria is going through a modern-day Renaissance.

In its article on “36 Hours in Victoria, British Columbia,” the New York Times calls the city “one of the world’s top small urban destinations.”

Vogue magazine says that Victoria has been overlooked as a hipster-haven cousin to Seattle and Portland. (See its feature on “Why Victoria, British Columbia, should be your next weekend getaway.”)

It’s kinda fun to think we’re living in a newly “hip” city – one of the best in the world!

So, when you travel to Canada, be sure to include Victoria in your itinerary.

How to get to Victoria, BC

First, you’ll want to know how to get here…

By ferry:

Many visitors come via ferry from Vancouver (on the BC mainland) or from Seattle in the U.S.

If you’re coming from Vancouver, you take BC Ferries.

We’ve written a whole post on taking the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, so have a look at that for information on vehicle reservations, how much time you should allow, bus-and-ferry options for foot passengers and more.

If you’re coming from Seattle, you can take the high-speed Victoria Clipper passenger ferry. The scenic cruise is a little under 3 hours and goes right from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria.

By plane:

You can also fly into the Victoria International Airport (YYJ).

It’s located about a 30- to 40-minute drive from downtown Victoria (depending on traffic). From there, you can take a taxi or the public bus to downtown.

By float plane:

If visiting from Vancouver, you can fly to Victoria by seaplane on Harbour Air (which has the largest all-seaplane fleet in North America). The incredibly scenic flight takes 35 minutes.

The beauty of this transfer is that you fly from downtown Vancouver (Coal Harbour) and glide into the Victoria Inner Harbour (downtown Victoria). It’s a much quicker transfer from Vancouver to Victoria than a regular flight or the ferry.

This is a great option if you’re visiting Vancouver first, then want to visit Victoria for 2 or 3 nights without renting a car.

29 Awesome things to do in Victoria, BC

Okay, let’s jump now to some of those 29 best things to do in Victoria, Canada!

1) Smell the roses at Butchart Gardens

Roses thrive in Victoria's sunny and dry summer weather.
The Butchart Gardens are home to beautiful blooming roses

For most travelers, visiting the world-famous Butchart Gardens is No. 1 on the list of top things to do in Victoria, BC.

These beautiful gardens were started in 1904 by Jennie Butchart, who was married to a wealthy quarry owner.

Now, more than a century later, they’re home to spectacular flowering bushes and plantings, including a sunken garden, a Japanese garden, a magnificent Italian garden (where pink and purple tulips bloom in spring) and a prize-winning rose garden.

One of the most beautiful gardens in the world, Butchart Gardens receives one million visitors a year.
One of the most beautiful gardens in the world, Butchart Gardens receives one million visitors a year (Credit: Butchart Gardens)

The gardens are located about a 35-minute drive north from downtown Victoria (on Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula).

If you don’t have your own wheels, this popular 4-hour tour from Victoria includes round-trip coach transportation from the city plus your entrance fee.

When you get to the gardens, you’re able to explore on your own. (Different departure times in the morning and afternoon are available.)

It’s blooming in Victoria! Discover the most popular Victoria gardens (including Butchart Gardens)

2) Go SUP

SUP boarding in Victoria, BC, is becoming more popular
SUP boarding in Victoria is becoming more popular (Credit: South Island SUP)

Make like a local!

Paddle boarding is one of those super fun, non-touristy things to do in Victoria, BC.

Man on SUP board in Oak Bay, Victoria, as orcas swim by
Imagine seeing orcas (killer whales) as you SUP right in Victoria! (Credit: Christian Geissler)

Brian, the owner of South Island SUP, will deliver paddle boards to you at the beach from his mobile SUP shop (i.e., his van).

Just call him to book a day and time.

Brian can give you a lesson too – and go out with you if you’d like.

Good places for SUP in Victoria, BC, are Willows Beach, Thetis Lake and Gonzales Bay.

3) Take a ride in a pickle boat

A ride on one of these “pickle boats” is always fun! (Credit: Victoria Harbour Ferry)

Victoria has a collection of pickle-shaped boats (carrying a maximum of 12 passengers) that traverse the inner waterways.

Dubbed “happy boats,” they’re run by Victoria Harbor Ferry.

Hop on one for a mini sightseeing cruise.

When we have out-of-town visitors, we like to take them on the one-hour narrated tour of the historic four-mile Gorge Waterway.

As you pass historic homes, working shipyards and kayakers on the water, your “captain” explains the history of the area.

The first time we did this tour, our cheerful silver-haired captain entertained us with tales of diving from the bridges into the Gorge as a child and hitching rides on log booms to get home.

You can also go on a pub crawl pickle boat tour and get pickled :-).

Explore the Gorge: Go on a fun pickle boat ride with Victoria Harbour Ferry

4) Kayak Tod Inlet

What to do in Victoria, BC? Go kayaking in Tod Inlet!
Look who’s hitching a ride on this kayak! (Credit: Pacifica Paddle Sports)

Rent a kayak (or SUP board) at Brentwood Bay and go for a calm safe paddle to Tod Inlet.

As you paddle out from Brentwood Bay, you’ll pass Butchart Gardens on your left (#1 above).

Along the shoreline, orange and purple sea stars (starfish) cling to the rocks underwater, and blue herons are a common sight.

A blue heron in Todd Inlet, BC
Look out for ducks, starfish and blue herons in Todd Inlet

Depending on the time of the year, you often see lots of jelly fish in the water in Tod Inlet too.

And who knows, a seal may decide to hitch a ride on your kayak!

Kayak rentals at Brentwood Bay

Both Pacifica Paddle Sports and the Brentwood Bay Marina rent out single and double kayaks (as well as SUP boards).

5) Visit the Royal BC Museum

The Royal BC Museum lit up at night
The museum lit up at night (Credit: Royal BC Museum)

Step back in time as you walk through reconstructions of a turn-of-the-century town, with a sawmill, mine and fish-packing plant.

Board a replica of the stern of Captain Vancouver’s ship HMS Discovery.

Built in 1789, it’s the ship on which Captain Vancouver first arrived in British Columbia.

See inside a replica of Captain Vancouver's ship
A popular exhibit is the replica of HMS Discovery (Credit: Royal BC Museum)

See extensive displays of First Nations artifacts, a traditional “big house” and ancient totems. And watch a film in the giant IMAX Victoria theater.

These are just some of the exhibits and activities you can enjoy at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

Established in 1886, the museum – which showcases BC’s 9,000 years of human history – has some 7 million objects in its collection.

Royal BC Museum, Victoria

Hours:

This Victoria, BC, museum is open daily (except Christmas and New Years Day) from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.

On Friday and Saturday nights in summer, the museum is open late until 10:00 pm.

Renovation:

The museum will be undergoing a major redevelopment in the coming years, so many of the exhibits will be under wraps and closed to the public during this time.

For details:

See the museum website.

6) Gawk at the British Columbia Parliament Buildings

Things to do in Victoria, BC: See the Legislative Building lit up at night
Victoria’s legislative building was built in 1893 by British architect, Francis Rattenbury

Overlooking Victoria’s picture-perfect Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings are quite magnificent, to say the least. They’re one of the most popular attractions in Victoria, BC, to photograph.

Designed by architect Francis Rattenbury, the exterior combines a Baroque façade with a mix of Romanesque details.

A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the sprawling front lawn (people like to hang out on the vast green space on a sunny day).

Crowning the central dome is a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver.

Victoria Parliament Buildings

Hours:

The Parliament Buildings are open to the public from Monday to Friday between 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. Join a free, regularly scheduled guided tour to make the most of your visit.

For details:

See Visiting the Legislature on the Legislative Assembly’s website.

7) Bicycle the Galloping Goose Trail

Bicycling the Galloping Goose Trail is a great way to get some exercise outdoors in Victoria.
Bicycling the Galloping Goose Trail is a great way to get some exercise outdoors

Once a railway line, the Galloping Goose Trail is now a fabulous 35-mile (55-km) trail for hikers, bicyclists (and horses on one section), stretching from Victoria to Sooke.

There are parking lots and washrooms at different points along the way, so you can load your bicycle on your car and start at a particular point.

The trail is flat most of the way, with the occasional short uphill.

Best section of the Galloping goose Trail:

Our favorite section is the 11-mile (18-km stretch) between Matheson Lake and the Todd Trestle Bridge at Sooke Potholes Provincial Park.

Park at the Rocky Point Road parking lot (the 30 Km marker) to offload your bikes.

You’ll pedal along an easy, wide, well-maintained trail through the forest, getting glimpses of Matheson Lake.

Coming to Roche Cove, the trail winds along seaside coves and headlands – drink in the spectacular ocean views.

Then cross Sooke Road. Ride first to Charters Trestle, then Todd Trestle – two towering iron-and-wooden trestle bridges crossing the rushing Sooke River waaaay down below.

View of the water from Roche Cove

To get back to your car, turn around at the 48 Km marker and retrace your ride.

(You’ll be surprised at how different the scenery looks on the return.)

Get the Galloping Goose Trail map

Download a PDF of the official Galloping Goose Trail map.

8) Eat your way through Victoria

10 Acres Commons is one of the best restaurants in Victoria, BC
Farm-to-table dining in Victoria (Credit: 10 Acres Commons)

There’s an urban myth still floating around that Victoria has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America.

Probably not true.

But we can tell you that there are many great Victoria, BC, restaurants.

If you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely enjoy Victoria’s sophisticated restaurant scene.

We like Spinnakers Brewpub for fish and chips
We like Spinnakers Brewpub for fish and chips – and the views from their pub patio (Credit: Spinnakers)

Some of the best restaurants in Victoria, BC

These are some of our fave eating spots in our city:

Pagliacci’s:

Tuck into unbelievably good home-made Italian food at a great price at Pagliacci’s

Little Jumbo Restaurant & Bar:

A cool little haunt, Little Jumbo Restaurant & Bar serves up cool cocktails and great tapas (oysters, masala lamb ribs, etc.).

Café Brio:

A lovely fine-dining restaurant, Café Brio is our go-to place for fresh fish, pasta and meat dishes, all prepared in-house and served in half- and full-sizes. It has a great wine list too.

Spinnakers:

A popular craft brewery and gastropub, Spinnakers offers views of the Inner Harbor as it serves up good burgers, fish-and-chips and of course, wonderful beer.

Il Terrazzo Ristorante:

Il Terrazzo is an upscale Italian spot with a nice garden courtyard. It’s a fine dining resto with lots of buzz.

10 Acres Bistro:

10 Acres Bistro is a popular spot offering farm-to-plate food, a creative twist on organic farm greens and smaller sharing dishes like quinoa fritters. We also like sitting on the covered outdoor patio at its sister restaurant, 10 Acres Commons.

Fiamo Pizza & Wine Bar:

Fun resto with stylish décor, Fiamo features simple but delicious food like mussels, pizza and pasta creatively done.

E:Ne Raw Food Sake Bar:

Not-your-usual Japanese resto, E:Ne (part of the Nubo group in Victoria) offers wonderful Japanese tapas like cauliflower tempura and flaming oysters. (If you can’t decide, order the Omakase box of 9 dishes).

You can find more great Victoria restaurants here.

Take-out and delivery? When you’re craving Italian, Thai or Indian food at home or in your hotel, these are the best take-out Victoria, BC, restaurants

9) Spot deer in the city

How many deer in Victoria can you spot on your visit?
How many deer in Victoria can you spot on your visit?

We have deer in the city. Lots of deer.

They really shouldn’t be living in the city, but they do.

They love our back yard, and pretty well every day we see at least one (often a mom with her fawns) nibbling the bushes or resting on the lawn.

Two spotted fawns in Victoria, BC
Two spotted fawns find a good place to rest at the bottom of our garden

When driving in the city, you’ll often see signs to slow down for the deer.

A good place to spot them is at the Ross Bay Cemetery (#12 below).

10) Walk the Victoria Inner Harbor

Things to do in Victoria, BC
A sea plane gets ready to take off in Victoria’s Inner Harbour

One of the best free things to do in Victoria, BC, is to walk the Victoria Inner Harbour (spelled the Canadian way) – one of the prettiest harbors in the world.

Central Inner Harbour:

Roses bloom outside Victoria's Empress Hotel
Roses bloom outside Victoria’s Empress Hotel (Credit: Fairmont Empress)

Perhaps start your walk at the iconic Fairmont Empress hotel. It overlooks the middle of the harbor in the heart of downtown Victoria.

Turn left as you’re facing the water, and you’ll pass the Royal BC Museum (#5) and BC’s provincial Parliament building (#6).

Continue winding your way along the waterfront until you come to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Check out the colorful houseboats floating in the water.

Perhaps buy fresh fish-and-chips to eat outside in the sun. Keep an eye out for harbour seals!

Colorful houseboats moored at Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria's Inner Harbour
Several colorful houseboats are permanently moored at Fisherman’s Wharf in the Inner Harbor

At this point, you may want to turn around and retrace your steps, continuing beyond the Fairmont Empress along Wharf Street until you reach the stylish new Johnson Street Bridge.

Or you could take one of the Victoria Harbor Ferries (mentioned in #3) over to Vic West.

Victoria Harbour Ferries map

Download a PDF of the Victoria Harbor Ferries map.

Songhees Walkway:

Songhees Walkway in Victoria, BC
A section of the Songhees Walkway (Credit: Jondolar Schnurr)

Now that you’re in Vic West, you can walk the flat, paved Songhees Westsong Walkway that winds along the Esquimalt/Vic West waterfront.

It starts near the Johnson Street Bridge (by the Delta Victoria Ocean Point Hotel) and ends at the marina and houseboat village by Captain Jacobson Park.

The Songhees walk is one of our favorite waterfront paths on a sunny day in fall, winter and spring – when we want full-on sunshine and warmth.

11) Hike up Mount Douglas

Two young hikers at the top of Mount Douglas, Victoria
Two young hikers at the top of Mt. Doug

Want to delight in a little “forest bathing”?

Then get yourself to Mount Douglas Park.

On the outskirts of the city, perhaps a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria, this lush forested park offers 13 miles (20 km) of trails winding through towering Douglas Fir and cedar trees.

Many of the trails are named after early settlers and farms in the area, and they’re rated (color-coded) according to difficulty – Green (easy), Blue (moderate) and Black (difficult).

Hiking in Mount Douglas Park (Credit: District of Saanich)

The key attraction is the spectacular 360-degree view of Victoria and the water that you get from the top of Mount Doug.

You can actually reach the top of the 738-ft (224-m) mountain (er, hill?) by car on Churchill Road.

But… How cool is this? The road is closed to car traffic every day until 12 noon to encourage people to hike up the paved road.

We sometimes walk up and down the road twice for some cardio exercise. (It takes us about 90 minutes, with stops at the top to take in the view.)

It’s even more scenic to hike up one of the forested trails, like the Irvine Trail. Hiking up this trail and walking back down the road takes a little over an hour.

Some fresh air, some exercise and a great reward at the top – that’s Mount Doug!

Don’t get lost!

We actually got lost one time in the park. But you don’t have to.

Download this free GPS-enabled map of the park and its trails, available through the District of Saanich (the particular area in which Mount Doug park is located).

12) Reflect at Ross Bay Cemetery

Ross Bay Cemetery is beautiful for a quiet stroll along its tree-lined paths.

With angel statues and grand tombstones, it almost feels like a walk through a sculpture garden.

Famous Canadians and Americans buried here include Sir James Douglas (BC’s first governor), world-renowned artist Emily Carr and Nellie Cashman (a nurse and gold prospector who saved 77 trapped gold miners and was later featured on a U.S. postage stamp).

13) Chill on a beach

Peek-a-boo view of a beach along Dallas Road, Victoria, Canada
Peek-a-boo view of a beach along Dallas Road

When it’s hot outside, you may want to cool off at one of Victoria’s beaches.

Willows Beach is perhaps the best known, with half a mile of sandy beach and logs to rest against. There’s a tea room too, run by the Kiwanis Club, which is open in spring and summer.

But the water is cold (like frigid!) so you won’t be doing too much swimming unless it’s a hot day.

If you want to actually swim (in water that’s not freezing), check out Thetis Lake.

It’s lovely just to sit on a log on one of the beaches along Dallas Road and gaze at the views

Recommended reading: Discover the best swimming holes and beaches in Victoria!

14) Tour Craigdarroch Castle

Craigdarroch Castle was built for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his family.
Craigdarroch Castle was built for coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his family

Calling all history buffs! This famous sandstone castle is a place you must see in Victoria, BC!

Now a National Historic Site, Craigdarroch Castle was built between 1887 and 1890 for BC coal baron Robert Dunsmuir.

He unfortunately didn’t get to spend any time in his “castle” as he died in 1889, leaving his whole estate to his wife Joan. (They had ten children.)

Inside, you can gawk at 39 lavishly furnished rooms – over 20,000 square feet (almost 1,900 square meters) – with beautiful stained-glass windows, tile floors, ornately carved woodwork and pink granite columns.

It’s also fun to learn about the juicy family drama after Robert’s death – including a lawsuit by Joan against one of her sons, James, who was the premier of BC at the time.

Craigdarroch Castle, Victoria

The castle is located in the Rockland neighborhood, a short drive (7 minutes) from the city center. Or you can walk there from downtown – a pleasant 20- to 25-minute walk.

Craigdarroch Castle hours:

The castle is open daily (except December 25, 26 and January 1) from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm.

In summer (from June 15 to September 6), it’s open longer from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm.

For more information:

See the castle website.

15) Duck into a café

Cup of cappuccino
Cappuccino? Victoria has a happening coffee scene!

Victoria is catnip for coffee lovers.

The coffee scene here rivals that in Vancouver and Seattle.

Of course, you can find some great Starbucks cafés. But we also have many independent home-grown coffee shops, with baristas who are masters of latte art.

Best coffee shops in Victoria, BC

The following 3 are among our personal faves:

Discovery Coffee:

Discovery Coffee is hailed by many as the best coffee shop in Victoria. There are several locations (e.g., in Oak Bay, James Bay and on Blanshard Street.) 

Café Fantastico:

Café Fantastico is a great roastery with three café locations in Victoria. (In summer, George often bicycles to the Parkside location for a good brew and to read the paper.)

Fairfield Branch:

A neighborhood café in Fairfield, the Fairfield Branch has a pleasant outdoor seating area. (It’s very low-key.)

16) Check out the “wee” libraries

These cute wee libraries are scattered throughout Victoria.
Cute wee libraries like this are scattered throughout Victoria

One of the cutest things to see in Victoria, BC are the little free libraries.

You find these wee home-made book exchanges containing from 5 to 20 books in front of various homes and businesses.

People craft their own tiny library boxes, so each is different – and they’re always fun to look at and browse.

17) Enjoy afternoon tea at the Empress

Afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel
Afternoon tea at the Victoria Empress Hotel is a meal in itself! (Credit: Fairmont Empress Hotel)

You might have guessed by now that Victoria, named after Queen Victoria, has retained a “little bit of old England.” Lonely Planet says it’s North America’s “most English city.”

One of those lovely British traditions still going strong after more than a century is the Empress Hotel high tea.

Afternoon tea in the lobby lounge of the Fairmont Empress Hotel – one of the most luxurious hotels in Victoria – is an elegant affair.

We remember when ladies would wear hats and flowery dresses to tea at the Empress!

Since the Empress underwent a $60 million restoration, the lounge is more smart-modern now, but still sophisticated in royal purple colors.

You can choose from 21 international loose-leaf teas.

The food menu features delicious treats made fresh daily from locally-sourced ingredients. Smoked salmon with chive crème fraiche on blinis. Warm ham-and-cheese tartlets. Red velvet citrus cheesecake. Almond Florentines. And more… Are you drooling yet?

And, yes, you get warm raisin scones with house-made clotted cream and strawberry vanilla preserve too!

While you sip and nibble, listen to live classical music played on a baby grand piano. Pinkies up!

Empress Hotel tea

Make reservations:

In summer, the hotel serves high tea to more than 400 guests a day (more than most hotels in London, England). It’s hugely popular, so be sure to book ahead. Reserve through the Empress here.

Hours:

In spring and summer, seatings of afternoon tea are available from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm daily. In low season, high tea is available on Saturdays and Sundays only.

Dress code:

There’s a dress code in effect. No athletic wear, flip-flops or clothes with explicit or offensive graphics or wording. And, sorry guys, no ball caps either. (But for ladies, fancy tea hats and fascinators are permitted.)

Cost:

The Empress tea is a bit splurgey at $89 CAD ($69 USD) p.p. or $122 CAD ($95 USD) if you add a glass of champagne, but totally worth it!

18) Spy whales!

Adventurous things to do in Victoria? Go whale watching!
Adventurous things to do in Victoria? Go whale watching

Yes, Victoria has whales, and you can go whale watching in Victoria, BC, on a boat tour.

The types of whales found in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and waters surrounding Victoria include orcas (killer whales), humpback whales, gray whales and minke whales.

If you’re lucky, you may see a whale breach (jump out of the water) right up close.

Then again, you may just see a whale tail in the distance.

The peak whale watching season is from May to October, when there’s a 95% chance you’ll spot whales in Victoria.

You’re also likely to get close-up views of seals, porpoises, eagles, sea lions and other local marine life on your Victoria whale watching tour.

Sea lions love hanging around the waters off Victoria, Vancouver Island.
Sea lions love hanging around the waters off Victoria

Whale sighting guarantee

Now you know, of course, that whales are wild creatures. So on the day you decide to go, they may not want to play nice and show up for you.

The good news is that many companies offer a “whale sighting guarantee” – if you don’t see a whale, they’ll invite you on another tour for free.

Orcas are commonly sighted on Victoria whale watching tours.
Orcas are commonly sighted on Victoria whale watching tours (Credit: Orca Spirit Adventures)

Most tours leave from Victoria’s Inner Harbour. And most are staffed by a marine biologist.

You can choose from different types of whale watching vessels.

Here’s a highly-rated tour in a high-speed Zodiac (3 hours) with Orca Spirit Adventures. There’s a maximum of 12 passengers, and your Zodiac driver is a certified marine naturalist.

Guaranteed: The ride is almost as much fun as spotting whales! You wear a warm full-flotation cruiser suit. You look like the “Michelin Man” (or Gal), but you’re toasty and comfortable zipping around outside in the open air!

Or maybe you’d prefer going out on a covered coastal cruiser?

Five Star Whale Watching offers a top-notch 3-hour whale watching tour on a high-speed vessel with indoor and outdoor viewing. The inside cabin is heated, and complimentary coffee and hot chocolate are offered.

Committed to responsible whale viewing, Five Star is a founding member of the Pacific Whale Watching Association.

19) Shop Lower Johnson Street

Colorful Johnson Street is one of the best places to shop in Victoria, BC
Colorful Johnson Street is one of the best places to shop in Victoria, BC

You could shop on Government Street. You’ll find great shops there.

But get off the tourist trail slightly and wander along lower Johnson Street (nicknamed “LoJo”), between Government Street and Store Streets.

Here, you find colorful, early 19th-century buildings from the gold-rush era lining both sides of LoJo. They house a variety of eclectic shops and boutiques selling everything from locally designed fashions to jewelry to home décor.

Some stand-outs?

John Fluevog Shoes is the place to go for unique artistic shoes and boots. Outrageously high platforms with thick heels are a signature design.

One of our favorite stores in Victoria, this place is eye candy for shoe-aholics!

Colorful shoes at John Fluevog Shoes in Victoria, BC
Love shoes? Then you’ll love this shoe store on Lower Johnson Street!

Pop into Lululemon for stylish, yoga-inspired athletic wear.

You may know the popular chain was founded in BC (in Vancouver).

We also love Zingaro Floral Perfumery.

Zingaro is a lovelyperfume and gift shop in Victoria, BC.
Pop into Zingaro for sweet scents and lovely gifts

You’ll find old-fashioned stationary, hand-crafted beeswax candles, pretty vases, scented soaps and body oils, and of course, perfume.

Zingaro is a lovely shop to pick up a gift for a special female person in your life.

And for a pretty little succulent, bouquet of flowers or pot plant to give as a hostess gift (or to keep for yourself), browse Rook & Rose.

Rook and Rose store in Victoria
We’ve received sweet gifts of potted cacti from this Victoria florist (Credit: Rook and Rose)

20) Visit the Victoria Art Gallery

Nestled in the historic Rockland neighborhood, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria houses some 20,000 works of art – the largest public collection in British Columbia.

The gallery consists of an 1889 mansion connected to a low-rise concrete building, housing seven state-of-the-art galleries.

Especially on a dreary day, the Art Gallery is a great place to visit in Victoria.
Especially on a dreary day, the Art Gallery is a great place to visit in Victoria

Be sure to see the permanent display of works by BC’s beloved artist Emily Carr, who painted BC landscapes and scenes of the lives of First Nations people.

The Asian collection – including a grand Chinese bell from the Ming Dynasty along with exquisite amber and ivory carvings – is sure to catch your eye too.

In the Asian garden, you can see the only authentic Japanese Shinto shrine in North America.

Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Hours:

The art gallery is open daily from Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays).

Hours are 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, except for Thursday (when the gallery is open late until 9:00 pm) and Sunday (when the gallery hours are 12 noon to 5:00 pm).

For more information:

See the Victoria Art Gallery website.

21) Bicycle the Lochside Trail

Bicycling the Lochside Trail is one of our favorite things to do in Victoria
Bicycling the Lochside Trail is one of our favorite things to do in Victoria

The Lochside Trail is a lovely wide 18-mile (29-km) trail running between Victoria and Sidney.

The trail meanders through idyllic scenery – past the Gorge Waterway, country lanes, green suburban backyards, rural farms and bird sanctuaries.

It’s used mostly by bicyclists (though it’s open to walkers and joggers too). Like the Galloping Goose Trail (#7), it’s pretty well flat all the way.

See the Lochside Trail map

Download a PDF map of the Lochside Trail, with points of interest and other great info.

22) Stroll through Chinatown

Lanterns glow in Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada.
Lanterns glow in Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest in Canada

Victoria’s Chinatown is Canada’s oldest Chinatown – and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco.

See the ornate Gate of Harmonious Interest, flanked by two huge stone lion sculptures. Check out the Chinese restaurants.

And duck into Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in the country.

It’s lined with more than a dozen cute shops selling matcha teas, locally made jewelry and homemade ice-cream.

23) Get lost in Beacon Hill Park

A pretty peacock in Beacon Hill Park
Pretty peacocks roam Beacon Hill Park

Our biggest and best city park is Beacon Hill Park.

Located right downtown, this beautiful park is home to duck ponds, fountains, flower beds, rose gardens, sprawling lawns, playgrounds and a Garry Oak eco-system.

Footpaths wind throughout the 200-acre park, which can also be accessed by road. You’ll see peacocks in the park too.

An especially interesting feature is the Moss Lady, found near Douglas Street. Lying on her side, she’s a 36-foot-long sculpture of a sleeping lady, created using a stainless steel frame covered with soil on which moss grows.

We also like looking up to spot the Great Blue Herons that nest in a section of the park (also by the Douglas Street side).

The nesting and breeding season for herons is spring and summer, so that’s when you can see (and hear!) them. Do be careful not to get splattered with the white bird pee!

24) Admire the totem poles in Thunderbird Park

Colorful totem pole in Thunderbird Park
Colorful totem pole in Thunderbird Park

Thunderbird Park is a small park right next to the Royal British Columbia Museum (#5). It’s home to a collection of First Nations totems and a traditional long house.

Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of the poles.

All were carved in the onsite carving studio as replicas of ancient totems on display in the museum that were starting to decay. (The originals are now in storage.)

25) Explore Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse

Built in 1860, Fisgard Lighthouse was the first lighthouse on the west coast of Canada.
Built in 1860, Fisgard Lighthouse was the first lighthouse on the west coast of Canada

To explore historic military command posts and learn about Victoria’s wartime secrets and maritime history, head to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse. This National Historic Site of Canada is about a 20-minute drive from downtown Victoria.

Built in the late 1800s, Fort Rodd is an artillery fort built to defend the base of Canada’s Pacific naval fleet. You can tour the 19th century guardhouses and bunkers

The lighthouse is about a 10-minute walk from the Fort Rodd Hill gates. Dating back to 1860, it’s still functioning (but is automated now).

The former lighthouse keeper’s home has exhibits covering the 200+ shipwrecks that have earned the surrounding area the nickname: “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

And you can climb the stairs of the lighthouse to the top, where you get fabulous views of the Pacific Ocean and Olympic Mountains.

Fort Rodd Hill, Victoria

Hours:

Fort Rodd Hill is open daily year-round (except for December 25, 26 and January 1) from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (and until 5:00 pm from May 1 to October 15).

Fisgard Lighthouse is also open daily from May 1 to October 15 (but is only open on Saturday and Sunday outside of this period).

Entrance:

The admission cost of $8 CAD per adult ($7 for seniors) allows entry to both Fort Rodd Hill and the lighthouse.

For more information:

See the Parks Canada website on Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site.

26) Meander around Swan Lake and up Christmas Hill

Floating bridge at Swan Lake, Victoria
George walking across the floating bridge at Swan Lake

The Swan Lake and Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary is one of the best places to go in Victoria, BC, for nature lovers.

There are two parts to the 116-acre nature sanctuary, located on the edge of the city.

Swan Lake consists of marshland, frequented by finches, wrens, great blue herons, nesting ducks and other birds. A walking trail winds around the lake, passing over a series of wooden and floating metal bridges.

Christmas Hill is a rocky hill, 358 feet high (109 meters), with meadows of wildflowers and stately Garry Oak trees. From the top, you get spectacular views of Victoria.

Swan Lake walk

A very pleasant walk is to follow the loop trail around Swan Lake and then climb up Christmas Hill.

From the Swan Lake parking lot, make your way to the Swan Lake Nature House, then walk clockwise on the flat gravel-and-dirt trail around the shallow lake.

Back at the nature house, find the path taking you to Nelthorpe Street. Cross McKenzie Ave. and you’ll see the trail leading up to the top of Christmas Hill.

Once at the summit, retrace your steps to the Swan Hill parking lot.

The whole roundtrip walk is a little more than 2.5 miles (4 km).

27) Tour Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle, Victoria, BC
Many popular movies and TV shows have been filmed at the Edwardian estate of Hatley Castle

Hatley Castle was built in 1908 by coal magnate, James Dunsmuir.

In 1940, the Department of Defence bought the estate and until 1995, the castle was the mess hall for cadets and officers at Royal Roads Military College.

Today, the castle and surrounding gardens (leased by Royal Roads University) is a national historic site known as Hatley Park National Historic Site. And the castle, museum, gardens and gift shop are open to the public.

Hatley Castle has been featured in several Hollywood movies and TV shows. If you’ve watched the X-Men series, Deadpool, Descendants, Poltergeist: The Legacy, The Killing or Smallville, you’ve seen it!

Visiting Hatley Castle

Hours:

The gardens are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm daily.

Entrance:

Wandering the gardens is free.

Tour hours:

Guided walking estate tours (1-hour-long) take you through the gardens, the first floor of the castle and the lower-level museum. They’re offered from April to September. The cost is $19 CAD per adult.

28) Get spooked on a ghost walk

John Adam's, founder of Ghostly Walks, dressed all in black and carrying a cane
John Adam’s, founder of Ghostly Walks (Credit: Discover the Past)

Ooooh… Enjoy spooky tales and learn about Victoria’s dark history on a one-hour guided ghost walk.

The tours are offered by Discover the Past, a family-run company headed by history enthusiast John Adams. They’ve been bringing Victoria’s stories to life for thousands of visitors since 1999.

The night-time tour starts at Victoria’s Visitor Info Center, passes the Empress Hotel and takes you through the most haunted part of Victoria – Helmcken Alley and Bastion Square (years ago, the square was the site of the city’s public hangings).

Ghostly walks

Cost:

$21 CAD per adult

To book:

See Discover the Past.

29) Attend a festival

Into art, sailing, music? We have several events and festivals in Victoria, BC, that are worth catching.

Fun events in Victoria, BC

We particularly love these Victoria, BC, events:

Symphony Splash:

Visitors gather in front of The Empress for Symphony Splash
Visitors gather in front of The Empress for Symphony Splash

Held on the first weekend of August, Victoria Symphony Splash is Victoria’s marquee summer event.

The Victoria Symphony puts on a free evening classical concert from a barge in the Inner Harbor. Crowds gather all around onshore. Fireworks finish off the spectacle.

Moss Street Paint In: 

One day a year in summer, Moss Street is closed to traffic, and over 100 artists set up shop to paint and sell their work.

There’s also plenty of food, drink and music at the Moss Street Paint In.

If it’s sunny, expect more than 30,000 art lovers to be out and about!

Music on the Lawn: 

A free series of evening rock n’ roll and blues concerts is held on the lawn at the BC Government House in summer. Bring a blanket or your own chair.

Swiftsure:

The international Swiftsure race has multiple courses
The international race has multiple courses; yachts in the longest overnight race venture out into U.S. waters before finishing back in Victoria (Credit: Swiftsure)

Head down to Clover Point on Dallas Road on the morning of the annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race. The race starts in various stages.

You’ll see hundreds of yachts stream by, their billowing sails catching the wind.

Boaters come from as far away as Hawaii and New Zealand to participate in this premier sailing race event in the Pacific Northwest.

Where to stay in Victoria, Canada

Before moving to Victoria, we used to visit the city for long weekends – we even spent a few days here on our honeymoon! We’ve bedded down in quite a few of Victoria’s lovely hotels and B&Bs.

Then before moving here, we stayed in several Airbnbs to figure out which area of the city we wanted to lived in.

For hotels and B&Bs, see our post with (updated) reviews of the best hotels in Victoria.

For more homey accommodations with a kitchen, see our post on some of the most charming Airbnbs in Victoria.

We also really like Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner). It’s similar to Airbnb, except only whole homes or apartments are offered (not shared stays or just a room).

See these Victoria listings on Vrbo – we filtered this for the best close-in neighborhoods, 4+ star ratings and “highly rated for cleanliness.”

Getting around in Victoria, BC

Walking:

Victoria is a very walkable city.

If you’re staying in downtown Victoria, you can easily explore the Inner Harbor (#10 above) and the downtown core – including the Royal BC Museum (#5), the Parliament Buildings (#6), Government Street, Johnson Street (#19) and Chinatown (#22) – on foot. In fact, walking is the best way to see and get around the downtown area.

Victoria Harbour Ferry:

Little passenger water taxis operated by Victoria Harbour Ferry criss-cross the Inner Harbor.

They operate frequently and are an especially fun way to get between locations on the Inner Harbor and Gorge.

Prices vary, depending on the taxi ride (or tour), but most taxi rides in the Harbor area cost $8 CAD (about $6.25 USD) per adult.

Public buses:

The public bus system (run by BC Transit) is pretty good for getting around Victoria.

See Victoria Regional Transit System. It operates throughout Greater Victoria, serving the Victoria International Airport, all ferry terminals (including Swartz Bay) and communities like Langford, Metchosin and Sooke.

In the central Victoria area, you shouldn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for a bus. (We’ve experienced slower service on Sundays though.)

Tickets are cheap at $2.50 CAD (about $2 USD) for a single fare. Or you can buy a $5 CAD DayPASS directly from the bus driver for all-day access.

You can pay cash on the bus, but give the exact amount, as you won’t get change back.

Renting a car:

For daytrips from Victoria, if not booking a guided tour, you’ll probably want to rent a car.

Most of the major car rental agencies like Hertz have locations at the Victoria airport.

Uber? Ride sharing?

No, there’s no Uber in Victoria.

But the first ride-sharing operation was recently approved in Victoria. It’s called Lucky to Go. It’s available 12 hours a day, 7 days a weeks, and it operates from the airport.

We haven’t yet used it, so we can’t give you a personal opinion.

Now you know what to do in Victoria, BC!

Have you visited our city? What do you love most about it?

Share your suggestions for things to do in Victoria in the Comments below.

Experience more of British Columbia!

Read our posts on:

Vancouver | Check out the best Stanley Park bicycle rentals for biking around this epic downtown Vancouver park.

Telegraph Cove | From kayaking with orcas to grizzly bear viewing, Telegraph Cove offers thrilling wilderness adventures.

Salt Spring Island | Hiking through forests with fairy houses? Kayaking? These are just two of the many magical things to do in Salt Spring Island.

Tofino | Wicked winter weather means it’s time for storm watching in Tofino on Vancouver Island!

Galiano Island | There are enough enchanting activities on Galiano Island to keep you as busy as you’d like. See our guide on what to do, where to stay and how to reach this getaway island.

Planning your next trip?

See the following helpful services:

Our Travel Resources Guide | Get airline booking tips. Discover great travel, tour and car rental companies. And find crazy useful trip planning info!

Booking.com | Score a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one.

GetYourGuide | Check out the best local guided tours and book skip-the-line tickets to attractions.

World Nomads | Never travel without insurance! World Nomads offers great coverage for adventurous travelers under 70 (including for surfing, scuba diving and bungee jumping).

Our Travel Shop | Find the best travel gear. We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.

CDC | We follow CDC travel guidelines to see what medications and vaccinations are needed for trips. You can get vaccines at your pharmacy, travel medical clinic or doctor’s office.

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Photo credits: 3, 5, 6, 9, 16, 20, 25 to 28, 32, 36, 37, 39 to 41, 43, 45, 47, 55, 56, 58, 59, 62, 66, 69 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Rob & Jackie

Tuesday 24th of May 2022

My partner and I are traveling from the UK to Victoria from 6th September - 4th October and will be staying in a condo in central Victoria. We don't intend to hire a vehicle. I know that there is a lot to see within walking distance, but is there public transport we could use to get around to the places further afield that you have mentioned? If not, what would you advise?

Janice and George

Thursday 26th of May 2022

Very good question! You inspired us to write a whole new section on "Getting Around in Victoria, BC." Check it out at the end of our post. We cover public transport as well as the latest ride-sharing company in Victoria.

Marc

Friday 11th of March 2022

I had the pleasure of visiting Victoria many years ago when I was 19. I had a summer job as a guide at Fort Langley National Historic Park. It was an exchange program for students from Quebec. We worked 7 days straight and then had 4 days off. I got to see many of the Victoria places you mention. Now at 68, I plan to return with my wife while on a cross-Canada road trip next summer. I find your information very useful and of great quality.

Janice and George

Saturday 12th of March 2022

Hi Marc, The cross-Canada trip sounds like a great idea! When you get to Victoria, you're sure to find that it's "grown up" since you were last here. You'll have fun showing your wife all your old haunts :-). Tx for commenting!

Jennifer

Saturday 29th of January 2022

My grandmother is in her nineties now and she has always talked of how much she wishes she had come to Victoria. She especially wanted to see Butchart Gardens. My husband and I are making a trip in her honor and plan to send her many pictures. Thank you for such an informative post on all things Victoria! This has given me many great ideas!

Janice and George

Monday 31st of January 2022

Oh, thank you for such a lovely comment! Victoria is so photogenic, you'll have no problem taking lots of beautiful photos to share with your grandmother :-).

Hasanga Seneviratne

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

Great article; a lot of info. Can't wait for my trip to Victoria next week. Thank you for the wonderful suggestions.

Janice and George

Sunday 3rd of October 2021

Thanks! Glad you found this post helpful :-). And have a great trip to Victoria! (Hope the weather is good for you...)

Anda

Friday 19th of August 2016

From what you are describing, Victoria seems very similar to Vancouver. Beautiful nature, good food, art and architecture are the perfect mixture for a great city. I'd very much like to visit it. You surely make it sound very tempting.

Janice and George

Saturday 20th of August 2016

Victoria IS very similar to Vancouver - but a smaller Vancouver :-).