Victoria, British Columbia is one of the most underrated cities in Canada. It’s got a vibrant waterfront, bustling downtown and foodie scene, and some excellent activities for outdoor lovers like myself. So there are plenty of fun things to do in Victoria whether you’re into history, nature or getting fancy.
In this post, you’ll find a comprehensive list of the best things to do in Victoria, some background information on the city and practical travel information like getting around and where to stay.
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Victoria is the provincial capital of British Columbia and is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. Established in 1843, it was named for Queen Victoria and has several well-preserved historical buildings.
Victoria is also home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada / second oldest Chinatown in North America. And charmingly, Victoria is known as ‘The Garden City’ with an almost overwhelming number of flowers everywhere.
Victoria is situated on the traditional territory of Lekwungen, a Coast Salish first nations people. At present, the nearest First Nation is Songhees Nation. Throughout Victoria, there are seven carvings that mark places of cultural significance for Lekwungen people, and you can find them all on this page of the Songhees Nation website.
How to Get to Victoria
Getting to Victoria is pretty straight forward, but it does require a little planning ahead of time. Unless you’re already on Vancouver Island or flying directly into Victoria, you’ll need to take the ferry.
How to get from Vancouver to Victoria
You can fly from Vancouver to Victoria. This is the fastest option but also the most expensive. You can use Harbour Air Sea Planes. Check prices and schedules here.
Instead, the best way to get from Vancouver to Victoria is to take the ferry. The ferry is operated by BC Ferries. Check prices and schedules here.
The ferry leaves from Tsawwassen Harbour (which is south of Vancouver) and goes to Swartz Harbour (which is north of Victoria). The ferry takes about 1.5 hours.
To get to Tsawwassen, you can either drive your own vehicle, take a bus or take a cab / Uber. The same is true going from Swartz to Victoria. Bus routes change occasionally, so I recommend planning the route on Google Maps and following its recommended route.
Getting Around Victoria
You definitely don’t need a car in Victoria, and I’d recommend going without one. Almost all of the activities are within walking distance within downtown. You can also rent a bike or take public transit for the further away destinations. I absolutely loved navigating the city by bike and transit (even when it did rain a little).
How long should you spend in Victoria
You could see all of the highlights in Victoria within 48 hours, and I think this is the perfect amount of time to spend. On this trip, we were initially meant to stay 24 hours but felt there was still more to see and extended our trip by a day.
By the end of the 48 hours, however, we felt we’d visited all the destinations we were interested in seeing and were ready to leave. So if you have the time, I recommend allowing for a full two days.
Map of things to do in Victoria
Things to do in Victoria, BC
1. Explore Inner Harbour
The Inner Harbour is incredibly beautiful. Both the British Columbia Parliament Building and the Fairmont Empress sit across from the harbour. The Visitor’s Centre is here as well. The walk along the harbour is lush with flowers (as you can see from the many pictures I took). There are boats moored to the docks and the occasional pickle boat arriving or departing.
The Inner Harbour is close to a lot of the top restaurants and shops in Victoria and is a great place to stroll around before dinner (and as the sun sets).
2. Visit Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens is an absolutely stunning garden just north of Victoria. We hopped on a bus outside of the parliament building in downtown Victoria and travelled a little less than an hour. We were dropped off right at the Butchart Gardens entrance.
For me, the highlight of the gardens was the Sunken Garden. You descend down a flight of stone steps and then weave through a series of beautifully colourful arrangements. What makes it so special though is that there are stone walls and short cliffs on all sides. That, plus the canopy of trees above makes the whole area feel very cozy.
Yohann, on the other hand, loved the Japanese Garden. Bamboo shoots sprung out of the ground on either side; there was a pond with stepping stones to cross.
You can either drive to the gardens or take the bus from downtown. The bus takes about an hour and will cost $2.50 each way.
Admission to the gardens (at the time of writing) is $36 for each adult.
Tour Option: There is gardens + boat tour that takes you from Victoria to the Butchart Gardens, and then on a sunset ferry back to Vancouver. This would be a great way to end your trip in Victoria.
Note: I am not sponsored / affiliated with Butchart Gardens. Both my boyfriend and I paid for our tickets ourselves.
3. Go Whale Watching
Victoria is an excellent place to go whale watching, and it’s probably one of the best places in Canada (tied with the St Lawrence Seaway and the east coast of Newfoundland perhaps).
We went with a tour company called Eagle Wing Tours. They were the highest-rated tour group on Google and had the largest coverage area. We had three guides on board who were all naturalists / marine biologists. I’ve never had a wildlife tour provide so much education on the species we were seeing.
>>You can book the tour here.
The tour lasted 3.5 hours and during that time we saw a few pods of Killer Whales (orcas) and a pair of Minke whales.
By far the highlight was seeing a group of orcas hunt a porpoise, and in doing so, punt the porpoise out of the air. Somehow I, the clumsy photographer, managed to click the shutter at the right moment and capture this crazy occurrence.
Apparently, Minke whales are quite rare to see, especially so close to the boat, so that was also a nice treat.
We also visited an island where puffins nest and saw three puffins floating in the water. Then we went to another island to check out some harbour seals. Overall it was a successful trip and I highly recommend this company!
Note: I am not sponsored / affiliated with Eagle Wings. Both my boyfriend and I paid for our tickets ourselves.
5. Explore the coast by bike
After this bike ride in Victoria, I am convinced biking is the best way to explore a new city, especially a coastal city. You can explore more of a city than you can on foot, but you still get to make spontaneous stops and take everything in, unlike when in a car.
There aren’t designated bike lanes, but there isn’t that much traffic either. So even the timid biker (myself) will feel comfortable getting around.
Renting Bikes: Our hotel had free bike rentals (though there are places where you can rent bikes too). Ensure you get a bike lock so you can store your bike safely while making stops.
Many of the following destinations were visited by bike.
6. Visit China Town
Victoria is home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and the second oldest in North America. There are a lot of great shops to pop into here, as well as some Chinese restaurants and markets to get a bite to eat.
7. Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a community of houseboats, shops and food stands right on the water. I haven’t seen another place like this in Canada, so it’s definitely worth a visit. The best fish place we went to was here (The Fish Stop, see below). The whale watching tour also launched from here.
8. Check Out the Unity Wall Mural
After the Fisherman’s Wharf, if you continue tracing the coast you’ll eventually come to Unity Wall Mural. It was painted by First Nations artists to celebrate and honour the history and traditions of the Salish Nations, the original inhabitants of what is now the Greater Victoria Area.
You can read more about the mural and the incredible artists here.
9. Bike to Holland Point Park
If you continue biking from the Unity Wall Mural, you’ll come to Holland Point Park. Here we were able to lock the bikes and walk down to a pebble beach. Driftwood and kelp were scattered amongst the stones; wildflowers grew along the cliff face. It’s a really pretty spot and a natural place to turn the bikes around and peddle back downtown.
10. Go Shopping on Government
Before dinner, do a little window shopping on Government Street. The street (and those adjacent to it) has some cute and quirky shops, plus some well known outdoor brands.
Here are a few stores I really liked (I’ve also included them on the map above):
A cute shop with a stop is Migration. It sources pieces from the most local designers in Victoria of any store here. It is a great place to find pretty, moderately priced jewelry, interesting t-shirts and some quirky home trinkets. I found a fun shirt with a deer on it (perfect after I spilled coffee on my original shirt).
Upcycle – A Clothing Collective
One shop I definitely recommend checking out is Upcycle, an eco-conscious mid-tier consignment shop. They have some high end brands, like the occasional Hugo Boss sweater, but mostly it’s beautiful eclectic clothing from known and unknown brands. I did manage to score four lululemon items that totalled less than $125.
Ecologyst is an outdoor lifestyle clothing brand. All of its clothing is sustainably sourced and made in Canada, with the majority being made right in Victoria. The clothing is pricey (understandable since it’s made in Canada), but is very high quality and can be purchased with a clear conscience.
In addition to those listed above (which I personally did on this exact trip), here are some additional activities in Victoria that you could do if you had more than two days in the city.
11. Learn at the Royal British Columbia Museum
Victoria is home to the excellent Royal British Columbia Museum, which can make for an excellent activity if the weather turns a little too rainy. There are several permanent exhibitions, as well as others that are seasonal. While I was there the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit was on.
12. Kayak to Tod Inlet
If you’d like to be closer to the water, instead of whale watching you can go kayaking. A popular choice is to start at Brentwood Bay and kayak to Tod Inlet, which offers the chance to see blue herons, sea stars and seals.
13. Hike Mount Douglas
Mount Douglas is a popular hike outside Victoria. It’s a total of 4 km (round trip) and requires 1.5 hours to complete. The elevation gain is 205 m. From the top, you get great views of the city and can even see out to the ocean.
We were supposed to hike up Mount Douglas with some friends upon arriving in Victoria, but we missed our intended ferry and couldn’t make the hike. Our friends said they really enjoyed it and that is was suitable for all levels of hikers.
14. Walk along Willows Beach
Willows Beach is perhaps the most popular beach around Victoria (although it’s less popular for swimming). The beach is sandy with driftwood logs scattered about. Swimmers beware – the water is super cold!
There’s also a tea room nearby (which might be needed to warm you up if you do go in the water!).
15. Tour Craigdarroch Castle
Did you know Victoria has its own castle? While it might not compare with the castles of Europe, it’s pretty impressive for a North American castle. You can take a tour and explore the interior and exterior of the castle.
16. Visit the Victoria Art Gallery
Another great activity for a rainy day is visiting the Victoria Art Gallery. In addition to featuring global works of art, the gallery has made a significant effort to showcase art and artists local to the Pacific Rim area.
17 & 18. Bike the Lochside Trail or Galloping Goose Trail
If biking along the shoreline wasn’t enough for you, consider biking down the Lochside or Galloping Goose Trails.
Where to Eat in Victoria, BC
Victoria has so many incredible eateries that they are activities in their own right.
19. Get French at Little Jumbo
For dinner on our first night, we went to the highly-rated Little Jumbo. The restaurant has a bit of a speakeasy vibe to it – exposed brick walls, a long leather bench extending the length of the restaurant with wooden tables along with it.
The food was excellent – try the seared tuna, the halibut on risotto or the lamb. They also had great truffle fries (a personal favourite of mine), some good dessert options and a menu of eclectic cocktails.
20. Eat fresh fish at The Fish Store
You’ll find The Fish Store along the water in Fisherman’s Wharf. We went there for lunch after the whale watching tour. There have tons of options for fish-based soups, salads, tacos, and of course, your classic Fish & Chips.
As recommended by the employee working there, I got the tuna and salmon tacos and a side of salmon chowder. Oh my goodness, was it tasty. I’ve never had seared tuna in a taco before. And the salmon chowder was excellent – you could tell it was made fresh.
21. Get Fancy with Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress
On my first trip to Victoria, which would have been more than 10 years ago, my mom and I did Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress. I still have the container the tea came in (and have saved a few of the tea bags – does tea expire?).
It’s a wonderfully elegant way to spend the afternoon – tea, finger sandwiches and biscuits in a room that looks like it’s straight out of Buckingham Palace. It was sold out for the entirety of this trip, but 10 year old Mikaela strongly recommends you check it out.
If afternoon tea isn’t to your fancy, there is also Q at the Empress at the hotel which is one of the best places for brunch in Victoria.
22. Find food and art at Imagine Studio Cafe
On our bike back we passed this incredibly cute cafe. There were tons of flowers outside and plenty of patio seating – my kind of place. I purchased some cards from a local artist and bought a piece of bannock. Bannock is kind of like a scone, especially warmed up with butter and jam.
23. Get drinks at Bard & Banker
Bard & Banker is reminiscent of the kind of car you’d see in an episode of Mad Men. And they have one of the most extensive drinks menus I’ve ever seen. Some nights they host live music too.
After drinks, be sure to walk by the Parliament Building on your way home. It gets lit up at night and looks like a fairy tale.
24. Indulge treats at La Roux Pâtisserie
Just outside of Chinatown is a great French pastry shop. Although it was only 10:30 am, I couldn’t resist getting a treat. I had a hazelnut pastry with a hint of chocolate (kind of had a slight Nutella vibe to it). They also have a good selection of tea and espresso beverages.
25. Get dirty with ice cream at Perverted
If you seriously want to indulge, go to Perverted for an incredible ice cream cone. All of the cones are made with either Vanilla or Chocolate soft serve ice cream, and then topped with a variety of treats. I got the Salted Caramel, and it had caramel sauce, crushed pretzels and a chocolate wafer. So good.
Where to Stay in Victoria
Hotel Grand Pacific
We stayed at the Hotel Grand Pacific and really liked it. It’s located right across from the Inner Harbour and adjacent to the Parliament Building. It’s within walking distance to tons of shops and restaurants, the Royal BC Museum and more. They also provided free bike rentals, which made it easy to visit the XX and Chinatown.
I was not sponsored by Hotel Grand Pacific. My boyfriend and I paid for our room ourselves (using a great deal from BC Ferries – more on that below).
Luxury: The Fairmont Empress would be the more luxurious – and most expensive – hotel in Victoria. Check latest prices here.
Mid-Range: There are tons and tons of mid-range hotels in Victoria. The best bang for your buck would be to go with one of these vacation packages by BC Ferries, which include a mid-range hotel and the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria.
Budget: There are two hostels / inns suitable for backpackers in downtown Victoria for budget travellers. Check out latest prices here.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful and have discovered a few things to do in Victoria to add to your itinerary. In addition to the above, the following resources may be of use to you in planning your trip to Victoria.