The best city to visit in Canada? Okay, let’s not get too provocative here. Victoria might not be the best city to visit in Canada.
With its forested mountains and ocean; cycling and hiking trails; beaches; public markets; and green parks that make your spirits soar (like Stanley Park, the mother of all downtown city parks), Vancouver – where we’ve lived half our lives – is a serious contender for the title of “best city to visit in Canada.”
Why don’t we just say Victoria – British Columbia’s capital on Vancouver Island – is one of the best cities to visit in Canada.
Once known as a city for the “newly wed or nearly dead,” Victoria is going through a modern-day Renaissance. Saying that Victoria has been overlooked as a hipster-haven cousin to Seattle and Portland, Vogue magazine recently published an article on “Why Victoria, British Columbia, should be your next weekend getaway.”
And, if you’ve been following our blog here, you know Victoria has just become our new home.
So what do we like about Victoria?
The things that make Victoria one of the best cities to visit in Canada also make it one of the best cities to live (unlike, say, Venice, which is very romantic and also great to visit, but which may not be the most liveable city in the world – imagine having to elbow your way through all those crowds in the summertime just to pick up milk or bread!).
5 reasons why Victoria ties Vancouver for being the best city to visit in Canada
(There are probably more, but for the sake of arbitrariness, we’re limiting this to five.)
1. Bring on the sunshine!
Victoria boasts the best weather in Canada. It’s mild in winter and it rarely snows (though we’re told it gets cold, rainy and windy days). And summers are sunny, not-too-hot and dry (unlike, say, Toronto, which melts in the humidity).
It’s hard to believe that even though Victoria is just under a two-hour ferry hop away, its weather is distinctly different than Vancouver’s – Victoria gets far less rain.
2. It’s blooming pretty
There’s a reason Victoria is dubbed the “City of Gardens” – flowers bloom everywhere! People love to garden. Even the simplest of homes proudly boast colorful flower beds.
Interestingly, the gardens are a little more untamed than the more manicured gardens we’ve seen elsewhere. They’re wilder, and some overflow with plants and bushes. A few weeds? They’re allowed to grow. The lawns too are thicker and longer – not mowed as tightly. Dandelions pop up here and there. Victorians are staunch environmentalists, so this probably accounts for why their gardens look more natural.
Of course, the drier island climate has fostered a different ecosystem, creating one of the last refuges for Victoria’s beloved Garry Oaks – we have lots in our own back garden now!
3. Great restaurant scene
If you’re a foodie, you’ll definitely love Victoria. For a relatively small city (population 340,000), Victoria has quite a sophisticated restaurant scene.
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 Victoria is home to many, many great restaurants.
Some of our favorite restaurants in Victoria?
- Il Terrazzo Ristorante – upscale Italian, nice garden courtyard
- Pagliacci’s – unbelievably good home-made Italian at a great price
- Little Jumbo Restaurant & Bar – cool little haunt, with cool cocktails and well-done tapas (oysters, masala lamb ribs, etc.)
- Spinnakers – craft brewery and gastropub, good burgers and beers with views of the Inner Harbor
- 10 Acres Bistro – creative twist on organic farm greens and smaller sharing dishes like quinoa fritters; nice outdoor patio too!
- Fiamo Pizza & Wine Bar – stylish décor, simple but delicious food like mussels, pizza and pasta creatively done
- Stage Wine Bar – award-winning, walk-in neighborhood restaurant with delicious sharing plates
4. Cute little pickle boats
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.
We enjoyed the one-hour, narrated tour of the historic, four-mile Gorge Waterway. As we passed historic homes, working shipyards and kayakers on the water, 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 :-).
5. Island vibe
There’s another reason to say Victoria is the best city to visit in Canada – its island vibe. To get a feel for this, spend a little time walking, biking or jogging along the winding trails stretching along the oceanfront, through grass and bush lands and around long curving bays.
Spot the rocky or sandy, log-strewn beaches below the plant-covered cliffs, accessible by beach stairs and paths. Notice the colors of the grass – yellow and brown as well as green, a bit patchy and rough. Observe the rocky outcroppings all round, climbing up inland, and the wind-blown trees. Feel the wind tugging at your hair as you stroll along, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance across Juan de Fuca Strait.
Cruise ships stop here. Victoria’s marinas are filled with sailboats and yachts. And paddle-boarders and kayakers dot the waters of Victoria’s many coves and inlets.
But there’s also a bit of an island state of mind here – intangible but you can feel it. There’s the more casual clothing, the boats on trailers in the gravel driveways, the paddle boards and kayaks on the car roofs, the sand and mud on SUV’s just back from some outdoor adventure. But especially, there’s the relaxed attitude and natural friendliness of most everyone you encounter, a welcome contrast to the harried stresses of big city life.
So there you have it – a few reasons why we can’t be blamed for suggesting that Victoria is the best city to visit in Canada, and why we know we’re going to love living here.
Where to stay in Victoria
- Victoria hotels: We’ve previously stayed at the lovely harbor-view Magnolia Hotel and romantic Abigail’s Hotel.
- Victoria Airbnbs: On our most recent visits – just before moving here – we booked several places to stay through Airbnb (our first time using the service!). We can recommend these 3 charming Airbnbs in Victoria.
Are you tempted to visit Victoria? Do you think it’s the best city to visit in Canada?
Love this post? Read another!
We’re Janice and George Mucalov, professional award-winning travel writers, sharing tales of luxury travel with a twist of adventure.