Family Holiday and attractions in Victoria
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, is a cosmopolitan city with the atmosphere of a small town. Also known as “garden city”, Victoria is full of gardens and parks. It has the best weather in all of Canada and is so charming that 3.5 tourists visit it every year. The city combines British history and traditions with the culture of the natives who lived there in the early days. This can be seen in the Victorian-style buildings standing next to parks decorated with totem poles. There is no other city in the world where you can go whale-watching during the day and come back home in time to drink English tea in one of the many tea houses in town.
Victoria is the oldest city in western Canada.
Its first residents were Native Americans of various
tribes. The city started off as a Hudson’s Bay Company
trading post in 1843. It was later named Fort Victoria
in honour of the Queen of Britain. The city grew quickly
during the gold rush in 1858. In 1866 when the island
was politically united with the mainland, Victoria
remained the capital of the new united colony and became
the provincial capital when British Columbia joined the
Canadian Confederation in 1871. Victoria was the biggest
city in British Columbia until the end of the 19th
Century when the trans-Atlantic railway turned Vancouver
into the largest city in the province.
Victoria is located at the southeast end of Vancouver Island (Not to be confused with the city of Vancouver, which on not on the island but rather on the continent!), which is the largest of BC’s 6500 islands. The island is located between the west coast of British Columbia and the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington in the US. The island is actually closer to the US than to Canada. Vancouver Island is as big as the entire state of Holland. Its western end is almost uninhabited, compared to the eastern part of the city, which is protected from the open sea and is in turn inhabited and prosperous. 350,000 people live in Victoria and its suburbs, and it has the fastest-growing population in Canada. Many pensioners have been settling down in this city in recent years. This may be thanks to the peaceful atmosphere of the city and the high quality of life there.
These days, one of the city’s largest sources of income is tourism. In recent years, income from tourism has exceeded a billion dollars per year! Even though Victoria is on an island, it can be easily reached; but once you are in the city, you feel thousands of miles away from the mainland.
The best way to travel in the city is by foot, as the city centre and its main attractions are in a rather small area. The main tourist area of the city is the beautiful Inner Harbour, which is surrounded by important historical buildings such as Parliament building and Empress Hotel. During the day, the harbour is full of activity and people: seaplanes, ferries, yachts, and kayaks alongside street artists; at night, the entire harbour glows thanks to the 3333 light lighting parliament building. The ancient city, Chinatown, the fishermen’s pier, Beacon Park and many beautiful neighbourhoods are a mere walk away from Inner Harbour. Other great ways to travel in this city are: by bike, by double-decker bus, or by horse-drawn carriage. The city has few buildings which are over 7 storeys tall, allowing the view of the ocean and the mountains to been seen from many places in the city.
Recommended Hotels in Victoria
4 star Hotel & Suites. Free Wi-Fi , a flat-screen TV and mini refrigerator . Select rooms offer full kitchen facilities. Restaurant and on-site spa services. A balcony or patio is offered in each room.
Overlooking Victoria's inner harbour and the historic
Parliament buildings. The Bay Centre is 4 minutes’ walk
Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa
4 star Hotel. All rooms contain SmartDesk work area. Guests can enjoy an award-winning Spa, complimentary health club, state-of-the-art fitness facilities, on-site tennis and racquet ball courts and an indoor pool.
Located directly on the waterfront, overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor, within walking distance of the downtown area and is only a few minutes from the city's Parliament Buildings and the Royal BC Museum.
A 5 star B&B, set in a 1923 Italian Renaissance-style mansion located only 5 minutes' drive from the Inner Harbour. The suites feature Persian rugs over hardwood floors. Exotic themed rooms include a private bathroom with bathrobe. Rooms offer free WiFi. In-room spa treatments can be scheduled upon request. Breakfast at the Villa Marco Polo is made from locally grown and produced ingredients.
Features a garden and a terrace with a view of Sooke Hills.
A desk, garden view and a dining table are offered in the accommodations. Guests can enjoy a daily gourmet breakfast. A barbecue, outdoor furniture and patio and shared lounge area. Free WiFi, Free parking.
Features a kitchenette and private entrance and patio.
Suite amenities include a desk, a cable TV and a DVD player.
The kitchenette includes a microwave, a refrigerator and tea
and coffee-making facilities. A guest launderette is located
on-site. Free WiFi, Free parking.
This accommodation is surrounded by a garden and forest setting.
The weather in Victoria is some of the nicest in all of Canada. It is one of the least rainy cities in the country. The rainiest months are January to March, but the rain is still much lighter than in Vancouver or Washington, its neighbouring cities. Snowfall in winter is rare. The summer months are relatively dry and sunny with a nice, toasty average temperature of 22°C. Humidity is low and a nice breeze is nearly always coming from the direction of the sea. Because of this it may be cold in summer evenings, so it’s best to pack an extra layer of clothes just in case. The month of September is usually nice and sunny, and autumn only arrives at its very end. The coldest month is January, with an average temperature of 6°C.
Inner Harbour is the heart of the tourist area in Victoria. It is full of important historic buildings such as the parliament buildings, the Royal British Museum and Empress Hotel (which opened as early as 1908). The area has two promenades: One which starts at the end of Belleville Street and continues along the water to the fishermen’s dock, and one which starts at Johnson Street Bridge and goes on until West Bay Marina. All along the promenade you can see seals, sea lions, and other sea mammals. I especially recommend walking along Inner Harbour in the evening to see the many street performers and watch the beautiful sunset.
Old Town, which is right next to inner Harbour, was the lively centre of activity in Victoria from the early days of the fur trade of Hudson’s Bay Company, which was based here. Today, it is a touristy area with small streets packed with souvenir stalls full of merchandise from England, Scotland and Ireland, and beautiful buildings and historic squares – such as Bastion Square, where fort Victoria was, along with the courthouse and the gallows. The square was renovated and is today one of the tourist areas of the town. Market Square is another square that was restored and is today a lively shopping complex full of small shops, coffee houses and restaurants. The main streets of Old Town are Government Street and Douglas Street. North of Market Square is Victoria’s tiny China Town, which used to be a sketchy area full of drug dealers, sex workers and pubs, but is today a lovely, quiet place full of colourful shops and restaurants. Victoria’s China Town is the oldest China Town in all of Canada!
Rockland is a fancy neighbourhood
located east of the downtown area between Fort and
Fairfield streets. There are many beautiful old houses
and public buildings in this neighbourhood, such as
Government House, Craigdarroch Castle, and the Art
Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Other pretty neighbourhoods which you may want to visit are James Bay, Rock Bay and Oak Bay.
An architectural masterpiece, the parliament buildings are absolutely beautiful buildings built in 1898. Entry is free, and the building is open all year (except on holidays). From mid-May to the start of September the place offers guided tours which start every 20 minutes and last 40 minutes. On the tours you will learn about the history of British Columbia, the architecture of the buildings, and the parliamentary system of the state.
Empress Fairmont Hotel
One of the largest, most impressive hotels in the world. This historic hotel is located in the heart of town, in the Inner Harbour area. It was build in 1908 with the rise of tourism in Victoria and was a favourite of many old Hollywood stars, such as Roger Moore, Shirley Temple, Katharine Hepburn, Bob Hope, and many others. In the 60s the hotel was going to be demolished and replaced with a modern skyscraper, but public protests led to the idea of renovating the hotel for 4 million dollars instead. The renovations ended up lasting until 1989 and costing a whopping 45 million dollars! Today, the hotel retains its old charm and original antique furniture combined with high-class modern facilities.
Miniature World exhibits over 80 miniature models, including two of the biggest dollhouses in the world. One of them, built in 1880, is made up of over 50 fully-furnished rooms. Other great attractions are Circus World, Enchanted Valley of Castles, World of Dickens, Fantasy Land, Great Canadian Railway, and more. Special effects like lightning, sound, and animation add to the experience. Located inside Empress Hotel, open every day except for Christmas. Entry costs 8 dollars for adults, with discounts available for children and teens.
Pacific Undersea Gardens
A children’s favourite. This is in fact an underwater observatory with glass walls through which you can see fish, eels, octopuses, seals, sharks, starfish and many other sea creatures. Divers swim among the animals and feed them and play with them. The place also has a “petting pond” where you can touch and feel small sea creatures. Open every day of the year. Entry is 7.5 dollars per adult with discounts for children, teens and senior citizens. The Gardens are in Inner Harbour next to the ferry dock.
Built by the richest man in British Columbia at the time, Robert Dunsmuir. This castle is the home he built for his wife. The castle has four storeys and 39 rooms. It is made of granite and marble and is full of expensive furniture, Persian rugs, and many expensive works of art. Today the place is a museum and it looks exactly as it did 100 years ago. Visitors receive a detailed map of the castle with information about the place, and conduct a self-guided tour through the building. I recommend visiting the place for about an hour. The building is open for visitors every day (except on Christmas and New Year’s). A variety of cultural events take place in the castle throughout the year. Entry is 10 dollars for adults, with discounts for children and students.
Emily Carr House
This is the house where Emily Carr, one of the most famous painters in Canada, grew up. You can see her paintings in Victoria’s art gallery and in museums all over Canada. Many of her paintings portray the life of the Native Americans and local scenery. Carr also wrote a book about her life. The Victorian house, which was built in 1864, is furnished in accordance with that era. In it, some of Carr’s earlier works are displayed. The house is close to the harbour and it is open to visitors every day from mid-May to mid-October. Entry costs 5.5 Canadian dollars. There is a family discount available, as well as discounts for the elderly.
The oldest residential home in Vancouver Island. The house was built in 1852 by Dr. John Helmcken, who was the doctor of Fort Victoria. The house is well preserved and is furnished and decorated with genuine items from Victoria’s early days. During the winter holidays, actors dress up and play the Helmcken family members and offer the public a peek into the life of the family. The house is in Eliot Square, and it is open every day. Admission is $5 per adult, with discounts for children and the elderly.
Govenment House was rebuilt in 1959 after the previous building burned down completely in 1903. This is the official residence of the governor of British Columbia. The house, built of blue and pink granite stones, is not open for visitors. However, you can tour the beautiful gardens surrounding it which include English gardens, rose gardens, lawns, and ponds. An excellent viewpoint overlooking the house and its gardens is from the nearby Pearke’s Peak. The house is near the Royal Museum of British Columbia.
Parks and Gardens
The most famous attraction of Victoria. The gardens were named after Jenny Butchart, who founded them about a hundred years ago in order to cover up the ugly “wound” that was left in the ground where her husband had a mine. The “sunken gardens” that she planted there opened to the public in 1904. Over the years the gardens grew and today the place has three additional gardens: the rose gardens, the Italian gardens and the Japanese gardens. The gardens are beautiful and in bloom all year long, taking on a different look every season. From mid-June to mid-September the gardens are lit every night with thousands of tiny lights, a must-see sight. From late June to late August there are fireworks every Saturday night. Around that time of the year there are shows and events in the gardens almost every night. In the winter, from the start of December, the gardens are decorated in lights again for Christmas and the New Year, and there are many celebratory events and festivals.
prices change according to season – they vary between
$11 and $21 (the higher prices are in the summer). There
are discounts available for kids and teens. In the
summer months the gardens are at their busiest, so I
recommend visiting after 3PM. That way you will get to
see the gardens during the day, enjoy one of the shows
that take place there, and see the gardens light up
after dark. On the Saturdays in which there are
fireworks displays the gardens are even busier, so
expect long lines at the park entrance. You can leave
the park and come back later in the day without having
to pay for admission again on every day except Saturdays
during the summer.
There is a high-class restaurant in the gardens called The Dining Room, which is inside the original dining room of the Butchart family. There is also a nice coffee shop and a family diner called The Blue Poppy.
The gardens are 21 kilometres north of Victoria and 20 kilometres south of the ferry dock in Swartz Bay.
Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Roughly 2000 butterflies of 35 different species and in every colour of the rainbow fly around freely inside a big greenhouse. The butterflies have been brought here from all over the world, and the greenhouse simulate a tropical rainforest environment for them which includes waterfalls and rivers. There is a good chance some of them will land on your hand or head to rest. The greenhouse is also home to several species of birds. This is a true heaven for anyone who enjoys photography and a favourite place of children of any age. The place also has a display which demonstrates the life stages of the butterfly and its way of life. Open from March to October, closed during the winter months. Admission: $8 per adult, with discounted prices for children, the elderly and families. The butterfly gardens are near Butchart Gardens.
Beacon Hill Park
This park serves as an escape for residents and tourists from the hustle and bustle of the city. This great big park is a dream for nature and photography lovers. The park was planned and designed in 1888 by Scottish garden architect John Blair. It includes two lakes, well cared-for lawns, flower gardens and many trails through a natural forest with ancient trees (some over 400 years old). The park has many entertainment and sports facilities, including cricket courts, mini golf courses, a bowling alley, playgrounds, a wading pool, and a small petting zoo called Children’s Farm. From May to September many free shows take place in the garden, including music, dancing and theatre, in an outdoor amphitheatre. The park is close to the Royal British Columbia Museum. Admission is free.
A small park, also near the Royal British Columbia Museum. The park holds a collection of huge totem poles, some of them coloured, some not. In the summer, a totem pole carving workshop is held here.
Royal British Columbia Museum
This museum is considered to be one of the best museums in Canada. It has a number of displays that tell the story of British Columbia through nature, geology, and the lives of the Native Americans. They use special effects (including sounds and smells) to make the visitors really feel as if they were in another time. The most major and interesting exhibits are found on the second and third floors, which include the Natural History gallery, the Open Ocean gallery, and the First People gallery. The museum also has an IMAX theatre where a variety of 3D movies are screened. In order to experience everything the museum has to offer, I recommend dedicating at least a good 3-4 hours to it. The museum is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s. Admission is $11 for adults, with discounts for children, students, families, and the elderly.
Maritime Museum of British Columbia
This museum is located in the former courthouse of British Columbia, which was built in 1889 and has one of the oldest working elevators in North America. The museum displays BC’s rich nautical history from the time of the continent’s discovery, through the fur and whale hunters, to the days of nautical battles and the fleets of war ships. The museum holds an impressive collection of model ships, uniforms, weapons and nautical equipment. Open every day of the year except Christmas. Admission is $8 per adult, with discounts for families, students and the elderly.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
This gallery lies in an impressive Victorian house east of the city centre, near Craigdarroch Castle. There are a number of exhibits in this gallery, including select Chinese and Japanese artwork. Of course, Canadian artwork is also displayed here, with a focus on local legend Emily Carr. The gallery is open every day except Christmas and the 11th of November. Admission is $6 per adult. There is a discount for students and the elderly.
Royal London Wax Museum
This museum holds over 300 wax figures, including the British Royal Family, American Presidents, Canadian Prime Ministers, notable historical figures, and a selection of Hollywood stars. Not recommended to people who have already been to Madame Tussauds. Admission is $9 per adult, with discounts for children, students and the elderly. Open every day except for Christmas.
British Columbia Aviation Museum
The Aviation Museum is located near Victoria’s airport in a large gangar full of planes, some of them originals and some models. There are also many airplane photos and engines. Here you will find a collection of planes and other flying contraptions from thre first Canadian planes, through planes from WWI and WWII, to modern planes. The museum is open every day of the year except for Christmas and New Year’s. Admission is $5 per adult, with discounts for students and the elderly. Admission is free for children under 12 years old.
Victoria and Vancouver Island in general are a great
departure point for whale-watching boats. This is a
wholly unique experience – watch these magnificent
creatures rise out of the water only a hundred metres
away from your boat. The most common whales in the south
of Vancouver Island are the orcas, also known as killer
whales. Sometimes they jump high up in the air out of
the water. The best time to see them around Victoria is
between May and November, which is their feeding time.
On the northern side of the island you can see huge
schools of grey whales, especially around Pacific Rim.
The best time to see the grey whales is between February
Many companies in the area offer whale-watching tours. All of them carefully follow the strict enviromental guidelines set in place in order to protect the whales from extinction. It’s likely you will get to see other marine animals during your whale-watching tour, such as seals, sea lions, dolphins, and salmon. The tours are 3-5 hours each (depending on the company, the number of whales around and the type of boat). The variety of different boats available for whale-watching is great – from small boats to great big yachts. Tour prices start at $70 per adult and $40 per child (age 12 and under).