Victoria, BC

Victoria, BC Itineraries

Victoria for First-Timers

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Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is often described as being more English than England. The city was named, after all, for Queen Victoria and its colonial heritage is one of British Columbia’s top tourist draws. As is the world-renowned Butchart Gardens.

Although the city is heavy on historical sights – including museums, old houses, hotels, and maritime attractions – it doesn’t languish in the past. Victoria has managed to juxtapose the city’s historical elements with a modernity that includes top-draw restaurants, offbeat and chic neighborhoods including SoHo and Oak Bay and funky waterside developments such as Fisherman’s Wharf


At its heart lies the Inner Harbour where you are virtually enveloped by Francis Rattenbury, the Victorian architect who was responsible for the imposing and ornate Legislative Buildings and The Fairmont Empress Hotel. These two buildings steal the show by epitomizing the architecture of the era. The surrounding streets are sprinkled with grand old houses, including some like Craigdarroch Castle that were built by Victoria’s gentry, the coal and land barons.

From the Inner Harbour, you can see most of the city on foot, step from downtown onto a boat that will whisk you to Vancouver or Washington State (Victoria is closer to the United States than the Canadian mainland), or hop onto a float plane to Seattle, Vancouver, and elsewhere on the island.

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When To Go

For a small city, Victoria packs a walloping punch.

Not only is it charmingly beautiful, it manages to serve up an enviable menu of tangible history, natural scenery, sophisticated shopping and dining experiences, and exhilarating soft adventure. Amazingly, all within steps of one another.

Victoria’s downtown core is so compact you can actually see most of the city’s major attractions in a day. Give yourself a second day, and you’ll be able to do most of the city’s key attractions, too. Though sometimes, just strolling around the city’s picturesque neighborhoods will be enough.

Many of Victoria’s iconic sights are clustered around the Inner Harbour. Here’s where you’ll find the Royal BC Museum, the Robert Bateman Centre, the ornamental, domed Legislative Buildings and the stately Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Various city tours and water-based activities also leave from various points in and around the Inner Harbour — everything from whale watching adventures, kayaking excursions, sea plane flights, and horse-drawn carriage rides around Beacon Hill Park, to day trips to Butchart Gardens and beyond.

How Much Time To Spend

Whether you visit Victoria for a day or a week, the city is one of those where the deeper you dig, the more you will discover:
Its colorful history; its memorable characters of yesteryear; its dynamic relationship with the surrounding landscapes.

Here are some suggestions to help plan the length of your stay.

History buff or not, the Royal BC Museum needs a minimum of 2-3 hours, depending on if you include an IMAX show; book your tickets for specific times to help build your itinerary. Butchart Gardens also requires at least half a day – longer if you include lunch, tea or a Saturday night fireworks show.

If you want to explore the city’s environs, then plan to stay at least three days. Cycling enthusiasts will want to ride the Galloping Goose Trail. Families with young children, having explored the Bug Zoo and/or Petting Zoo, may want to head to the tidal pools at Botanical Beach.  Hikers should head to the Juan de Fuca Trail or Goldstream Park.

And if you want to make Victoria a part of a Vancouver Island discovery tour, check out our week-long itinerary through the Comox Valley, up to Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park, and further north to Port Hardy.

High and Low Season

Victoria is a year round city though predictably, July–September are busiest. If you plan to travel in the summer, book accommodation well in advance, be prepared to pay a premium (especially anywhere near the  water) and know that the line-ups at popular attractions like Butchart Gardens and the Royal BC Museum may test your patience.

Travel in April-June, or October and your chances for less crowds, value deals, and fair weather are good. That said, Victoria’s maritime climate will likely mean rain. Always carry an umbrella.

Even in winter, the temperature rarely drops below 5ºC/42ºF, and although the city won’t pulsate with its quintessential vibe, Victoria is still a delight to explore. Some of its smaller attractions, however, close for the winter months.

Weather and Climate

This part of the world never gets very hot or cold.

Oceanside Victoria has a maritime climate, characterized by beautiful summers and falls. They are separated by cool, damp winters with strong storms blowing in off the Pacific, and springs of variable, though relatively mild weather. Snow may come at higher altitudes and to the island’s interior but on the coast, if it falls, it rarely settles.

Be aware, though, that a maritime climate also means rain which will, more than likely fall during your visit. But rains tend to be a (sometimes steady) drizzle, rarely a downpour. This is because Victoria is set on the easternmost spit of land on Vancouver Island. A high range of coastal mountains to the east guards the city from the rains. This rain shadow effect means that a bit less rain falls here each year than on its neighbor, Vancouver, across the strait.

For Victoria-area weather reports, call 250-363-6717 and listen to the menu options for the city you want; Victoria is extension #3502.  For marine conditions, call 250-363-6717.

Events and Holidays

Victoria’s top festivals happen in summer, many of them transforming the Inner Harbour into event central. The big events are JazzFest and Symphony Splash and the Fringe Festival, but there’s a lot going on at other times of year too:


New Years Day – January 1 (Statutory Holiday)
Family Day (2nd Monday/February; Statutory Holiday)
Good Friday (Statutory Holiday)

Greater Victoria Performing Arts Festival – over 5,000 local area performers take to the stage at various venue
Uno Fest – North America’s longest running festival of one-person shows
Highland Games & Celtic Festival – 10 days of celebration, including a Tartan parade downtown
Victoria Day (3rd Monday/May; Statutory Holiday)

Buskers Festival
an international gathering of hundreds of street performers including musicians, magicians, escapists and dancers
Festival of Food & Wine – four days of extraordinary flavors; come hungry
. Late June sees more than 350 international jazz musicians perform at indoor and outdoor venues throughout the downtown core for 10 days.
Canada Day – July 1 (Statutory Holiday)
Pride Week – celebrations of the LGBT community
Vaisakhi Festival – a cultural immersion of Indian food, dance and and song to celebrate the New Year, the birth of Khalsa and the completion of the wheat harvest.

Symphony Splash In early-August the Victoria Symphony stages free concerts from a barge moored in the middle of the harbor.
International Chalk Art Festival – Canada’s largest street painting festival
Dragon Boat Festival – 90 teams, often in themed garb, transform the Inner Harbour into competitive waters
Rifflandia Festival – more than 100 musical performances on 10 downtown venues
Fringe Festival – Modeled after Edinburgh’s summer festival, you can expect to see a mix of avant-garde comedy, music, dance and performance art.
BC Day (1st Monday/August; Statutory Holiday)
Labour Day (Statutory Holiday)

Canadian Thanksgiving (2nd Monday/October; Statutory Holiday)
Remembrance Day – November 11 (Statutory Holiday)
Christmas Day – December 25 (Statutory Holiday)

Time Zone

Victoria is on Pacific Time, the same as Los Angeles and Seattle. Daylight saving time (one hour ahead) is observed from mid-March to early-November.

What To Pack and Wear

Generally speaking, Victoria has loosened up since the colonial days. Years of sweatshirted, short-shorted US tourists have helped soften locals, and you’ll rarely be hassled about your attire except in the finest hotel restaurants. If a restaurant is very expensive, it probably operates some sort of official or unofficial dress code. Call if in doubt. Otherwise don’t sweat it. Smart casual is generally the order of the day for casual as well as fine dining.

Although West Coast casual works in most places around town, it definitely doesn’t work in the tearoom at The Fairmont Empress Hotel. Don’t even think about wearing tennies, jeans, shorts, or other typically touristic garb.  They’ll escort you – politely, of course – back to the door.

The old saw, dress in layers, was never truer than on the West Coast. Temperatures are rarely extreme so provided you have a light sweater to head off summer breezes, and a warmer one in winter, all should be good. Remember quality walking shoes.

A quality rain-proof wind jacket will never go amiss; and if you do forget your umbrella, they are readily purchased for a handful of dollars at nearly every corner store. Most hotels offer these on a complimentary basis.

What it Costs

Victoria has so many great parks, restaurants, and other attractions that not immersing yourself in the experience is foolish. On the other hand, the illusory pleasures of a good exchange rate can turn sour when your credit card bill shows up later, with your indulgences (and Canadian taxes) spelled out in black and white.

Without question, accommodation will be your biggest expense, but the amount really depends on where you choose to stay. Anywhere near the waterfront will be at least $200 a night in high summer season, and more (upwards from $350) for a swankier place, less (but not much less) for a bland chain, family-style hotel.  Bed-and-breakfasts cost a shade less, and most pride themselves in the Victorian ethos and a ‘B’ that really stands for BREAKFAST!

Another major cost can be that of transport: getting to the island by plane or ferry – though at least once you’re there the best way of getting around is on foot or by using public buses and ferries.

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in C$.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $5 per person
$$ => Tickets $6-15 per person
$$$ => Tickets $16 per person

$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $101-200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $201 for a double

$ => $1-20 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $21-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

N/A => Not applicable

$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-30 per person

Airfare and Car Rental Prices

Fights to Victoria from within Canada usually connect via Vancouver International Airport (YVR). The Vancouver-Victoria hop averages about $250 return. Seaplanes, that fly between Vancouver and Victoria harbours cost about the same though Harbour Air, for example, often offers off-peak specials at considerably less. Toronto-Victoria will be around $400 if you book months in advance but might be around $700 last minute. This is also the kind of price you can expect from most US cities; American carriers tend to connect via Seattle.

Car Rentals
You don’t need a rental car in Victoria, but getting one is a good idea if you want to explore the parks, gardens, and beaches on the outskirts. Car rental costs about $35 to $60 per day and higher on summer weekends, but watch for deals and promotions plus about $12 to $15 a day for insurance, which you may be able to waive if you have your own coverage; something included by many credit cards if used in payment.

Gas, ferries and parking
Gas in Canada is not as expensive as in Europe, maybe, but still costly compared to the US. Canadian newspapers and television are always lamenting hikes in gas prices and when they drop a few cents from the $4/gallon average; well, there’s mayhem at the gas pumps. Clearly, any sort of extended driving tour will add significantly to your budget.

If you plan on visiting islands in your car, you’ll have to pay to transport the car on the ferry in addition to the fee for yourself and others traveling with you. Transport for a car varies, according to ferry and distance, from $30 to $60 per one-way hop from within British Columbia; more from the United States.

Metered parking in city-central can be difficult to find. When this happens, use one of the downtown’s many garages, which charge upwards of $4.00 per hour. If you park early, you may receive a discount for the whole day.


Travel insurance is one cost that’s often overlooked until the last minute, yet the medical insurance component is particularly important. Check any existing policy you have in your home country and if there’s no cover in Canada it’s best to buy insurance.

Annual policies can be good value if you plan to travel elsewhere in the same year, but be sure you have cover for any outdoor activities you may plan, particularly skiing, though activities like mountain biking may need special cover too. In general policies should not cost as much as those covering you in the USA since medical expenses in Canada are more moderate.

Exchange Rates and Currency

Canadian currency isn’t hard to figure out; it looks a lot like American money, only with different pictures (queens, loons, and so on).

The bills come in $100, $50, $20, $10, and $5 bills, and coins are  25cs, 10cs, and 5cs pieces. Canada also uses handy one- and two-dollar coins. The gold colored loonie is worth $1, and the slightly bigger twoonie (comprising a silver outer ring and a golden inner disk), is worth $2.

If your preference is for good, old-fashioned hard currency, you won’t have any trouble exchanging your money to Canadian dollars. ATMs are numerous and dispense local currency and every major bank offers some sort of currency exchange services. International Currency Exchange (tel 604-656-1704) operates exchange desks on level 3 of Vancouver International Airport from 5:30a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily.

In addition, several private exchange companies operate in downtown Victoria.

Money, ATMs, Credit Cards

Canadian currency isn’t hard to figure out; it looks a lot like American money, only with different pictures (queens, loons, and so on).

The bills come in $100, $50, $20, $10, and $5 bills, and coins are 25cs, 10cs, and 5cs pieces. Canada also uses handy one- and two-dollar coins. The gold colored loonie is worth $1, and the slightly bigger twoonie (comprising a silver outer ring and a golden inner disk), is worth $2.

You won’t have any trouble exchanging your money to Canadian dollars. ATMs are numerous and dispense local currency and every major bank offers some sort of currency exchange services. International Currency Exchange (604-656-1704) operates exchange desks on level 3 of Vancouver International Airport from 5:30a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. In addition, several private exchange companies operate in downtown Victoria.

All major credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are numerous. American Express is slightly less favored than Visa and Mastercard.

Tipping and Costs That Add Up

The average tip for most service providers, such as waiters and cab drivers, is 15%, rising to 20% for particularly good service. A 10% to 15% tip is sufficient if you just drink at a bar.

Bellhops get C$1 or C$2 a bag, hotel housekeepers should receive at least C$1 per person per day, and valet-parking and coat-check attendants expect C$1 to C$2 for their services.

Heads Up
Check your restaurant bill carefully before laying down a tip. Some pricier establishments may include the cost of service as an automatic 15% tip in the bill, although this practice isn’t as widespread in Victoria as it is in many other tourist towns.


It’s on an island so getting to Victoria involves a little planning and time allowances for line-ups, security checks, and summer traffic. Although the airport and ferry terminals are a fair distance outside the city, clearly marked roads and public transit make getting into town relatively easy. Once downtown Victoria’s compact core is easy to navigate, especially on foot.

Many hotels and guest houses offer guests complimentary bicycles, which is one of the most fun ways to explore the neighboring ‘hoods such as Oak Bay, the Galloping Goose Trail and along Dallas Road that edges the Pacific Ocean. Most of Victoria is easy to moderate riding with few rises and for active cyclists, the southern peninsula makes for an active day’s outing.

You really only need a car if you’re going further afield to places such as Botanical Beach, Fort Rodd Hill Historic Site, or the Cowichan Valley. But if you intend to adventure on through Vancouver Island, a car is a must. Public transit just doesn’t offer the kind of independence that you need to ‘get’ all the island has to offer.

Getting There

If you’re the ‘let’s just get there’ type, then without doubt, flying is the way to go. And if you’re already in British Columbia, then hopping on a seaplane is especially fun.

Those who want to savor the journey, should take a ferry from the mainland or from Washington State: all pass through spectacular scenery that you can see no other way than from the water. Island channels so narrow that you feel you and almost touch the rocky shores, and if you’re lucky, pods of killer whales as an unofficial escort.


Victoria International Airport (CYYJ) is about a 30-minute drive or bus ride north of Victoria, 5 miles outside Sidney on the Saanich Peninsula. More than 50 flights a day connect it with Vancouver International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma Airport, and several others in Canada and the United States. Prices to Vancouver start at around $250, to Toronto about $400. With its harbour facilities, Victoria is also a hub for seaplane travel. Check out Harbour Air for destinations in British Columbia and Kenmore Air out of Seattle. For i


In Canada VIA Rail‘s national passenger rail network, offers a romantic and luxurious way to get to Vancouver from the East Coast, at which point you will need to make plans to get over to Vancouver Island via car, ferry or air. In the US Amtrak offers rail services from Seattle to Vancouver. Double check your reservation because although the train schedule looks as if there are several departures, the majority listed include train and bus travel between cities.

Ferry from Vancouver

BC Ferries operates one of the largest ferry fleets in the world with vessels scooting in and out of British Columbia’s coastal communities and islands. Vancouver’s ferry terminal is called Swartz Bay, and is located in Tsawwassen, about a 45 minute drive south of Vancouver. It is the most direct route to Victoria. A second terminal, Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, operates ferries to mid-Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. You must be in the ferry terminal at least 40 minutes prior to departure.

Ferry from Washington State

Taking a conventional car ferry or fast-moving, passenger-only catamaran from the state of Washington to Victoria is convenient and probably less expensive than you’d expect. On a clear, summer day, the ride can even be delightful – you pass pretty islands, towering mountains and perhaps even seals and whales.

Black Ball Transport ( 1-360-457-4491, information only; 1-250-386-2202, reservations and information), provides a cruise ship-sized ferry between Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula west of Seattle, and Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Victoria Clipper ( 1-800-888-2535) carries foot passengers only between Pier 69 on the Seattle waterfront to Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Washington State Ferries ( 1-206-464-6400) makes three-hour trips from Anacortes, Washington, to the Sidney docks about 20 miles north of Victoria. Vessels carry cars and passengers; some trips stop off at San Juan Islands.

Getting Around

Victoria is so compact that walking is usually your best bet for getting around. Taxis are a fast, and relatively inexpensive choice and if your feet really need a break, there are horse drawn carriages and Kabuki Kabs (pedal powered rides) for short hauls.  The Inner Harbour ferries are an especially fun way to travel from point A to point B.

Public Transport

The Victoria Regional Transit System (BC Transit) ( 1-250-382-6161) operates approximately 40 bus routes throughout Greater Victoria and the outer suburbs of Sooke and Sidney. Regular service on the main routes runs Monday to Friday from 6am to midnight. Call for schedules on the weekends. Consult the Victoria Rider’s Guide for schedules and routes, available at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Information Centre. The guide outlines transit routes for many of the city’s neighborhoods, landmarks, and attractions.

Popular routes include no. 2 (Oak Bay), no. 11 (Downtown, James Bay, Beacon Hill Park), no. 14 (Craigflower, University of Victoria), no. 23 (Art Gallery of Victoria), no. 61 (Sooke), no. 70 (Sidney, Swartz Bay), and no. 75 (Butchart Gardens). This route includesa pickup at the Sidney ferry terminal and is handy for those arriving from the mainland without a vehicle.

Fares are a flat $2.50 per passenger and Day Passes cost $5, available at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Information Centre, at convenience stores, and outlets displaying the FareDealer symbol.


If you must bring your car (exploring downtown is best done on foot), make sure your hotel has parking. Parking spaces around the city center are at a premium. For out-of-town activities, car-rental agencies include Avis, at 1001 Douglas St ( 1-800/879-2847 or 250/386-8468), Budget, at 757 Douglas St.( 1-800/268-8900 or 1-250-953-5300), Hertz, at 548 David St. ( 1-800/263-0600 or 1-250-952-3765), and National (Tilden), at 767 Douglas St. ( 1-800-387-4747 or 1-250-386-1213). Renting a car costs approximately $60/day but may be less with various discounts.


Yellow Cabs ( 1-800-808-6881 or 1-250-381-2222) and Blue Bird Cabs ( 1-800/655-7055 or 1-250-382-2222) are good bets. But do call ahead—very few stop for flag-downs, especially when it’s raining. Rides around the downtown area average less that $10, plus 10-15% tip.


Once you’re downtown, scooting across the harbor in one of the tiny, 12-passenger ferries operated by Victoria Harbour Ferry ( 1-250-708-0201) is great fun – and expedient – in getting from one part of the city to another. The squat, cartoon-style boats have big wraparound windows that allow everyone a terrific view.

Ferry connections to the Fairmont Empress, the Coast Harbourside Hotel, and the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort run May through October daily every 15 minutes from 9am to 9pm.  From November to April, the ferries run only on sunny weekends from 11am to 5pm.  When the weather is bad call the ferry office to check if the ferries are running. The cost per hop is $5 for trips in and around the Inner Harbour, and $10 for jaunts further afield.


Regular transit fares are a flat $2.50 per passenger and Day Passes cost $5, available at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Information Centre, at convenience stores, and outlets displaying the FareDealer symbol.


Despite its proximity to the United States – as the crow flies, the border is less than an hour away – Victoria is culturally closer to London than Seattle. The city exudes (and exploits) its British heritage to great effect. As a result, you find more than your share of fish-and-chips, afternoon high teas, umbrellas, golf courses and even expressions.

Yet Victoria also is multi-cultural, inclusive society, with an active LGBT community. Like the rest of Canada, attitudes are generally liberal and tolerant of all differences. Many communities celebrate these with specialty festivals such as Pride Week and Vaisakhi celebrations, so although Victoria is thoroughly British in its core make up, its population is as diverse as most modern cities. Victoria’s multi-ethnicity is best seen in its restaurants where a solid eat-local ethos incorporates some of the region’s best fare be it Indian, Italian, Chinese, Vietnamese, or Greek – to name only a few.


Victoria, once a small Salish (native) fishing and farming village, was established as a British city in 1843 after James Douglas, a representative of the Hudson’s Bay Company, landed in the harbor, looked around, began using epithets like “Eden”, and sent word back to London.

The Hudson’s Bay Company went on to build a fur-trading post and fort here, and Britain’s navy – realizing at once the strategic advantages of the island port over Vancouver’s harbor – also soon moored its own fleet of ships here.  It was only a matter of time before gold-prospectors and fishermen arrived, stayed, and banded together to formally charter a city.

Victoria was named capital of the province of British Columbia in 1866.


Victorians are a polite lot. Invariably, drivers will stop at crosswalks and pedestrians will wave their appreciation. Locals wait patiently in line, will usually offer to help those trying to read a map, and usually thank bus drivers for their efforts before disembarking from public transit. And it’s true. You’ll probably hear numerous apologies for possible indiscretions. English politeness is very much a part of their etiquette.


“Victoria” doesn’t carry the dining cachet of Paris, London, New Orleans or San Francisco but don’t be too quick to judge. The region’s robust ‘eat local’ movement, and an overall sophisticated palette, has created a larger choice of restaurants than you’d expect to find in a city this size. Self-sufficiency has created a very strong food ethos and competing chefs are more collaborative here than anywhere else I have traveled.

As you might expect from the city’s seaside position, with its constant supply of fresh finny, seafood is nearly always a good bet. And the riches of the Cowichan Valley delivers fresh farm produce, artisan cheese, and meats. Then there’s the micro-brew movement – Spinnakers was Canada’s first brew pub when it opened 20 years ago, as well as a growing wine and cider region. Culinary tours are a must-do if you’re a foodie.

In addition to nouvelle cuisine, there is a horde of ethnic flavors that will spoil you with variety: Indian, Italian, Mexican, Greek, and Californian.  Chinese food is especially good and less westernized than you might expect.  And there’s a flurry of activity on the health-food front — the popular Re-bar Modern Food serves up some of the best smoothies and vegetarian meals around.

Outside of fish-and-chips, the English influence still holds sway when it comes to tea, high tea (which comes with loads of calorific sweets and snacks) and pub food as in steak-and-kidney pie or “bangers and mash”.


Victoria’s churches and temples provide awe-inspiring architecture and interesting historical significance. Whether you visit these landmarks to worship, learn or to take in their splendor, you will find beauty and grace at every turn.

Christ Church Cathedral, located in downtown Victoria, is built in the Gothic style of the thirteenth century to the design of J.C.M. Keith, who won an international competition in 1896 to obtain this commission. Also in downtown Victoria, the 1863 building of Congregation Emanu-El is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Canada.


Thanks largely to the distinct British influence on the city, Victoria has a number of expressions that you may not quite understand. So here’s a short primer on what the locals mean when they say something you’ve never quite heard before.

biscuit  (cookie)
bonnet  (hood of a car)
boot      (trunk of a car)
chip      (French fry)
chippie (fish-and-fries shop)
crisp     (potato chip)
dear      (expensive)
loonie   (one-dollar Canadian coin)
lorry     (truck)
lovely   (good)
mac/macintosh  (raincoat)
MIF      (Milk In First (as in serving tea)
MIL      (Milk In Last (see above)
miffed   (annoyed)
parkade (parking lot)
petrol    (gasoline)
Tilley    (brand describing the epitome of useful travel hats)
toonie   (two-ollar Canadian coin)d
tromp    (walk with deliberation)


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