Victoria, city, capital of British Columbia, Canada, located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island between the Juan de Fuca and Haro straits, approximately 60 miles (100 km) south-southwest of the province’s largest city, Vancouver. Victoria is the largest urban area on the island. It has the mildest winter climate of any city in Canada, and its many parks and green spaces have inspired its description as a “garden city.” Above all, Victoria is a city whose British heritage and colonial past can be seen clearly in its architecture, gardens, museums, urban squares, place-names, and English-style pubs. Area city, 8 square miles (20 square km); metro. area, 269 square miles (696 square km). Pop. (2011) city, 80,017; metro. area, 344,580; (2016) city, 85,792; metro. area, 367,770.
History of Victoria British Columbia
Victoria’s prime location, right between the Canadian mainland and the Pacific Ocean, makes the area become perhaps one of the earliest modern developments of Canada. From its humble beginnings as a backup trade post for Fort Vancouver (at Vancouver in the USA’s Washington State) erected by James Douglas in 1843, the city’s ports have been a witness of historic events that brought influxes of people from all over the world to Canada: from the Gold Rush to opium trade between Asia and North America. The real estate boom after World War I however, is what gives the city its well-known character, with Edwardian skylines popping up in the city center that transitions to genteel civility in the suburbs. A trip to Victoria would not be complete without admiring its classic buildings and a trip to the park or the houses outside the city.
Victoria was named in honour of the ruling queen of England in 1843 and designated as the provincial capital of British Columbia in 1871.
Wildlife in Victoria British Columbia
The city is located on Vancouver Island, which plays host to a vast selection of wildlife. The island has the densest population of black bears on the planet! It also sits on the migratory paths of many whales who travel from their breeding grounds in Mexico to their summer feeding fields in the Arctic.
Vancouver Island is a black bear haven and is home to more than 7,000 black bears. Grizzlies also sometimes swim across from the mainland – making it one of the finest places to see bears in the world. We run a variety of wildlife watching tours on Vancouver Island, which are available throughout the year.
Vancouver Island is home to the most famous orca family in the world, whose behavior has been crucial to marine biology. Researchers have been tracking the family since the 1970s, allowing them to learn about the unique social structure of orcas.
Humpbacks regularly visit the waters around Victoria – creating spectacular shows as they leap out of the water and hunt fish.
More than 20,000 grey whales travel past the shores of Vancouver Island on the way to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Grey whales are one of the largest species of whales and can reach up to 15 meters in length.
Other Marine Mammals
You’ll also see sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, and a plethora of other marine life in the waters of British Columbia.
Climate in Victoria British Columbia
Victoria has a pleasant climate that is famous for some of the mildest weather in Canada. In summer the temperature averages 61°F (16°C) – making it ideal for outdoor enthusiasts who want to get out and explore the areas around the city. In winter it tends to be wet rather than cold with the lowest average temperature 41°F (5°C). This is considered to be warm for Canada, allowing visitors to be out and about all year around.
Where to Stay in Victoria British Columbia
Budget: Ocean Island Inn – A perfect spot for a budget trip to Victoria. This hostel is right in the heart of Victoria and won’t break the bank.
Mid-range: Helm’s Inn – Situated right on the corner of Beacon Hill Park and just minutes away from the inner harbour, this is an amazing location. The rooms are fantastic and select rooms also come with a kitchenette so you can cook your own meals.
Luxury: Fairmont Empress – There is only one choice for a luxury stay in Victoria and that’s the Fairmont Empress located right in the inner harbour. There are stunning views of the harbour, the location is as central as possible and the hotel rooms are on another level.
Where to eat in Victoria British Columbia
There’s no shortage of places to chow down in Victoria.
Victoria’s temperate climate and seaside setting makes it one of the best places to find delicious fresh food in Canada. From Asian street food in Canada’s oldest Chinatown to fresh seafood at Victoria Harbor, you name it and you can find it in Victoria. Below is a selection of some of our favorite Victoria’s restaurants.
John’s Place – A popular local restaurant that was featured on the Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here.” It serves classics like homemade apple pie, Belgian waffles, and eggs Benedict.
Victoria Pie Co. – Situated in Victoria Market, this wonderful family-run restaurant serves homemade pies for all tastes, including vegetarian and gluten-free pies.
BAO – A charming family-run Chinese restaurant in Victoria’s historic Chinatown. It serves classic Asian street food with a modern twist.
Steamship Grill and Bar – A charming restaurant with a harbor view, that serves an excellent range of seafood, along with meat options.
Nourish – An Instagrammer’s dream, which is set in a beautiful turn of the century house in James Bay. They serve healthy food in a unique setting.
10 Acres Bistro – A farm to table restaurant that offers a range of different culinary options – a favorite of Victoria’s foodies.
Spinnakers: This is definitely the coolest place we ate at during our visit to Victoria. Not only is it a fancy pub but it’s also a brewery. From Kale Caeser to Shrimp Flatbread and Wild Pacific Halibut Fettacunni, Spinnakers is a great place for any meal of the day. But what makes it more special, aside from the views and ambience, is that they also brew their own beer. There are lots of options so we ended up having their beer and chocolate pairing flight, which included four house beer tasters and four handcrafted house-made TCHO Chocolate Truffles by Chocolatier Crystal Duck. We can’t wait to go back!
How to Get to Victoria British Columbia
Victoria is located on Vancouver Island – around 62 miles (100 km) away from the city of Vancouver on the mainland. The journey by car is possible by using the ferries from Vancouver, taking you across the Salish Sea and along Canada’s scenic Pacific coastline.
Alternatively, you could take the 90-minute BC Ferry, which runs between Victoria’s Swartz Bay terminal and the Tsawwassen terminal (around 45 minutes south of Vancouver). Ferries generally run at least once every two hours and can carry both passengers and vehicles. Visit BCferries.com for times and more information.
Victoria is serviced by Victoria International Airport (YYJ), which offers flights by both international and local carriers. Notable airlines include – Harbour Air, Helijet International, Air Canada, Westjet, and Pacific Coast Airlines. Visit their websites for flight schedules and more information.
Interesting Facts about Victoria
- Victoria has an ideal climate for plants, earning it the nickname “the City of Gardens.”
- The BC’s capital has counted flowers every year since the 1970s – in 2018 there were an impressive 3.4 billion in the city.
- The city has the oldest Chinatown in Canada – thanks to the many Chinese immigrants who emigrated to the city during the Gold Rush.
- Victoria was rated as one of the friendliest cities in the world during a recent poll. It’s also considered to be the most Romantic City in Canada.
- There are more than 2,800 farms on Vancouver Island – ensuring that there is loads of great local food available.
- National Geographic rates Vancouver Island as one of the best diving locations on earth. The Jacques Cousteau Society rates its waters as second best globally, with the Red Sea ranking first.
- Victoria hosts three Killer Whale families, with a total of 76 orcas living in its waters.
Things to do in Victoria British Columbia
Smell the Roses at the Butchart Gardens
Visited by more than one million people each year, the Butchart Gardens has become an icon of Victoria, as well as a National Historic Site of Canada. This breathtaking 55-acre garden is home to 900 bedding plant varieties, 26 greenhouses, and 50 full-time gardeners! Whether you’re travelling solo, with your family, or on a romantic date with your partner, the Butchart Gardens is a must-do when visiting Victoria. It’s just a stunning place to walk around. However, they also have a Saturday firework show, boat tours, evening entertainment, and a lovely gift shop. Roses, tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and Japanese maples are just some of the magnificent flora you might see in this world-famous garden.
Visit the Royal BC Museum
Founded in 1886, the Royal British Columbia Museum is a great place to learn about BC’s natural and human history. There are three permanent galleries inside, including Natural History, Becoming BC, and the First Peoples Gallery. The natural history collection alone has more than 750,000 records of specimens that are almost exclusively from the province. The Royal BC Museum is also home to touring exhibitions, such as the Titanic, Egyptian artifacts, and the Vikings. You can also watch educational films and commercial films at the IMAX Victoria theatre. It’s also conveniently located within walking distance from the Empress Hotel and the inner harbour.
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
Not far from Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the lovely floating neighbourhood of Fishermans Wharf. This hidden treasure is a great place to eat food, shop at unique stores, and go on eco-tours. This place was busy with people eating fresh seafood when we visited, but our favourite part was touring the floating homes and just imagining what it would be like to live in a house that moves with the water. I believe we even saw some guesthouses if you want a really cool experience in Victoria.
Go for a Stroll at Beacon Hill Park
If you’re looking for a beautiful park to stroll around for the afternoon, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one better than Beacon Hill Park, which is conveniently located in downtown Victoria. Simply walk up Belleville Street past the Museum of Natural History and the Imax Theatre to Douglas Street, take a right, and then climb a short hill until you reach the top. Beautiful inner-city nature awaits you. However, do note that the park is a whopping 200 acres in size, so plan your visit accordingly.
Explore the Inner Harbour and Victoria Pier
One of the best things to do in Victoria is to simply stroll along the inner harbour, which is one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. This is where you’ll find many historic streets and buildings, as well as a variety of festivals and shows throughout the summer. It’s also home to an international ferry terminal, float planes, and many ecotourism businesses.
Take a Walking Food Tour
One of the great things about taking a walking tour is that you’ll actually learn about the place you’re visiting. You’ll learn about the street you’re walking on or the neighbourhood you’re walking through, helping to make the city truly come alive for you. However, taking a 3-hour food tour with A Taste of Victoria Food Tours will add the experience of trying a variety of delicious food from local restaurants and bakeries. This was one of our favourite ways of exploring Victoria as we got to learn some history while sampling things like Italian baked goods, perogies, homemade ice cream, balsamic vinegar and olive oils, and some delicious meatballs.
Visit the Victoria Parliament Buildings
Right next to the Inner Harbour is the impossible-to-miss British Columbia parliament buildings. Overlooking stunning Victoria Harbour, these beautiful historical buildings are as beautiful on the outside as they are on the inside. Visitors are able to do self-guided tours of the buildings or can go on a regularly scheduled 35-minute guided tour, which occurs seven days a week during the summer months. The Parliamentary Dining Room and Gift Shop are also open to the public year-round.
Go inside Craigdarroch Castle
For a Victorian experience and a real-life example of a “bonanza castle” – massive homes built for wealthy entrepreneurs during the industrial age – you’ll want to visit the Craigdarroch Castle. Built between 1887 and 1890 on a hill offering impressive views of the area, you’ll find four floors of exquisite stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork and fabulous Victorian-era furnishings.
Go Small at Miniature World
Honey, I shrunk the kids! Remember that movie? Now you can somewhat experience that at one of Victoria’s top tourist attractions – Miniature World. This little world features more than 85 miniature dioramas and displays, including the world’s smallest operational sawmill, the Great Canadian Railway, one of the world’s largest model railways, and even two of the world’s largest Doll Houses circa 1880 complete with over 50 furnished rooms! Talk about attention to detail!
Royal BC Museum
A natural history museum that hosts exhibits on both human and natural history. Its most popular attractions focus on dinosaurs, Canadian nature, Canada’s colonial history, and the history of the First Nations people. Many of its exhibits are interactive. It also hosts an IMAX cinema.
A splendid Victorian mansion that was built by a Scottish baron. It provides a fascinating insight into the privileged life that the British colonists lived. The castle fell into disrepair following the collapse of the Empire and was lovingly restored, making it an absolute must for anyone visiting Victoria.
See the Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Who doesn’t love butterflies? Well, now you can step into an indoor tropical rainforest filled with thousands of butterflies fluttering about the place. There are over 70 species of these magical creatures to see, as well as koi fish, turtles, poison dart frogs, parrots, flamingos, and many tropical flowers.
Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site
If you’re looking for a Parks Canada National Historic Site, this 19th-century coastal artillery fort is bound to satisfy. Tour through secret bunkers, military command posts and original 19th-century buildings while also having the opportunity to camp overnight in group-friendly oTENTik’s. There’s also the adjacent Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site, which is home to Canada’s west coast’s first lighthouse.
Do Day-trips to the Smaller Islands
While Vancouver Island is quite big, there are actually hundreds of smaller Gulf Islands and inlets in the Georgia Strait around Victoria, BC. These make for excellent day trips. You could rent a boat, arrange a tour, or even take the ferry to popular islands such as Gabriola, Saltspring, and/or Thetis. Once on the little islands, you can simply relax in nature, go biking or hiking, visit local artisans and eateries, or find yourself a nice beach to whisk the day away. Ferry rates are about $10 CAD ($7 USD).
British Columbia Parliament Buildings
A grandiose example of colonial architecture that was built in the late 19th century. They still function as the British Columbian Parliament today.
The Empress Hotel
Another fine example of colonial architecture. The historic Empress Hotel was built in 1908 and faces onto Victoria’s inner harbor. The Empress is still operational today and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981.
Government House (British Columbia)
Government House is considered to be the spiritual home of all British Columbians. It is also the former home of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The house is managed by a non-profit organization and still hosts important royal events in British Columbia.
Victoria’s historic harbor was responsible for much of the city’s growth in the 19th century. It still functions today, offering a host of whale watching tours.
Butchart Gardens is a must-see for any visit to Victoria. This amazing 55-acre property is located in Brentwood Bay in greater Victoria. There are 5 main botanical gardens, water features, and incredible floral displays. The Butchart Gardens have been designated as a Canadian National Historic Site, and receive over 1 million visitors each year.
Beacon Hill Park
With roughly 200 acres of parkland, Beacon Hill Park is the crown jewel in Victoria’s public park system. It overlooks the Juan de Fuca Strait, at the entrance to the Salish Sea, and the towering snow-capped mountains on the mainland. There are natural areas, manicured flower beds, wildlife, footpaths, woodland and shoreline trails, with many sports and play features for the whole family to enjoy. Beacon Hill Park is in downtown Victoria and within easy walking distance from most downtown hotels, motels and the spectacular inner harbor.
How to Get Around Victoria British Columbia
Victoria is not a huge city, and thus, there is no subway train system. There is, however, a pretty good public bus network, as well as taxis to get you around. You could also rent a car, or if not going too far, Victoria is also a great place to walk or bike.
Bus: Public bus will take you almost anywhere you need to go within Victoria, as well as to the airport and the ferry terminal. Check the BC Transit schedule and also NextRide, which provides real-time bus arrival. Another option is to take the Hop-On Hop-Off double-decker bus, which takes you to all the popular tourist sites, allowing you to get on and off as you please.
Taxi: Like most of Canada, taxis are not cheap but they can be convenient. Prices start around $3.50 CAD and go up by $1.89 CAD per kilometre after.
Bicycle: Victoria is a wonderful city to traverse by bike. There are a variety of options for renting a bike, including electric bikes as well. Another option is the u-bike, which you just grab and go across the city. The only thing you’ll need in advance is an account. The cost is approximately $1 for 30 minutes.
Walk: If you’re only going to be exploring downtown Victoria, walking is the best way to do it. There are even self-guided walking tours and paid tours you could partake in.
Carshare: Another way to get around is by carshare, which is currently operated by both Modo and Zipcar.
Harbour Ferry: For inner-city travel, the Harbour Ferry is a great way to get around and enjoy the beautiful coastal scenery. It runs from mid-February until the end of October (weather permitting).
Weather for Victoria Travel (Best Time to Visit)
Victoria is one of the mildest cities in Canada, receiving very little snowfall and rarely dipping below 0°C. It does, however, get quite a bit of rain during the winter months.
March-May: The spring months are actually a great time to visit Victoria, as this is when many flowers being to bloom and the weather warms up. The average temperature is about 10°C – 18°C (50-65 degrees F).
June-August: Like most of Canada, the summer months are the busiest and costliest time to visit. However, this is when the weather is at its warmest. With maximum warmth and minimum rain, this is the best time for getting outdoors and going walking, biking or hiking. It’s also a better time to go whale watching. You’ll want to consider booking accommodation weeks or even months in advance. The average temperature is around 22°C (73 degrees F).
September-November: The fall is also a great time to visit the island, though you should expect more rain. However, we explored the island in September and had beautiful weather for weeks. We also went whale watching on the last day of the season and had the best whale-watching tour of our lives. You just never know. Just pack a sweater and a rain jacket and umbrella and you’ll be fine. The average temperature is 15°C – 20°C (55-68 degrees F).
December-February: These months represent the winter and is known as the offseason in Victoria. If you don’t mind colder weather and rain, this is the best time to save money on accommodation as well as avoid crowds. There is also skiing on Vancouver Island if you’re looking to go skiing or snowboarding. The average temperature is 9°C (47 degrees F).
Tips for Saving Money in Victoria
With a little effort, you can turn Vancouver Island into an affordable travel destination. Most of the outdoor stuff is free so if you stick to that and cook your own food, you can keep your costs pretty low! Here are some of my ways to save money when you travel to Vancouver Island:
Couchsurf: Although Couchsurfing requires quite a bit of upfront work, it can be a great way to meet locals while saving mega dollars on accommodation.
Camping: Vancouver Island is home to a plethora of camping opportunities for those well-equipped. Use the DiscoverCamping.ca website to find potential campsites around the island. Expect to pay around $20 CAD or more per campsite.
Happy Hours: When looking for pubs and restaurants, find out if they have a happy hour. This is a great way to save money on food and drinks, while still enjoying the dining scene of each place.
Go Car-Free: If you’re only planning on visiting one city, such as Victoria or Nanaimo, consider leaving behind your vehicle and taking the ferry as a single person. You’ll save more than $50.
Go Biking: Vancouver Island is one of the top places in the country for mountain biking, so if you have the experience, you can save a lot of money by biking from destination to destination.
Hitchhike: Considering its popularity, there are many opportunities to try hitchhiking. Obviously, you’ll want to check with the local laws beforehand, but this can be a great way to save money. This should only be considered if you have lots of time.