Best Things To Do in Victoria & Vancouver Island
Devote a day to Victoria's picturesque Inner Harbour. Here you'll find popular sites like the Parliament Buildings and the Royal British Columbia Museum, as well as cafes and restaurants boasting wonderful views of the water. After you've exhausted central Victoria, get a feel for British Columbia's natural side: Spend some time at the renowned Butchart Gardens, hike through Goldstream Provincial Park or enjoy a ferry ride to nearby Sooke (and keep your eyes peeled for whales). Just make sure you save an afternoon for the Cowichan Valley, where dozens of small vineyards offer tours and tastings.
Updated October 10, 2018
- #1View all PhotosfreeInner Harbour#1 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
The Inner Harbour is Victoria's primary tourist neighborhood. The harbor itself – home to various fishing boats and colorful floating homes – is framed by wide pedestrian streets, often frequented by street vendors and buskers. Numerous cafes and restaurants line the sidewalks and provide the perfect locale to savor an afternoon cup of tea while keeping your eyes peeled for whales playing in the open water. The Inner Harbour also hosts some of Victoria's most popular attractions, including the Royal British Columbia Museum and the Parliament Buildings. If you're embarking on a boat or ferry tour, this is where you'll likely start your journey.
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These world-renowned gardens have impressed Victoria visitors since 1904. Resting on 55 acres about 15 miles north of the Inner Harbour, Butchart Gardens were carefully constructed by Jennie Butchart on her husband's former limestone quarry. Today, more than 1 million people stop by each year to meander along the property's flower-lined paths, which contain more than 900 varities. Visit on a summer evening to see the gardens illuminated by colored lights and to enjoy some musical entertainment. If you're planning a summer visit and want to avoid the crowds, heed the advice of garden staff and stop by before 10:30 a.m. or after 3:30 p.m.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are hard to miss. These neo-baroque structures with their impressive blue dome face off against Victoria's famed Fairmont Empress Hotel and make an excellent backdrop for an Inner Harbour stroll, especially at night when the facade is dressed in lights. But if you want a closer look at the building (which dates back to 1898), the parliamentary process and the history of the province, many travelers recommend a tour, raving about the well-informed guides. Although you can take a self-guided tour, you should consider tagging along on a free guided tour, according to recent visitors.
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The Royal British Columbia Museum offers visitors a comprehensive introduction to the region's history and culture. Exhibits include tribal artifacts from the First Nations, natural history displays and even replicas of Colonial-era settlements. The museum also boasts an IMAX theater and rotating special exhibits.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDHiking, Parks and Gardens, FreeTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Located about 11 miles northwest of the Inner Harbour, Goldstream Provincial Park houses a stunning array of flora and abundant natural beauty across its nearly 1,000 acres. But the real reason to visit this public wildlife area is rather fishy: Spend some time by the Goldstream River from late fall to early winter, and you're bound to catch a glimpse of the annual salmon migration. Between October and December, chum, coho and chinook salmon can be seen leaping upstream to their ancestral spawning beds. The park's trails follow the river closely, allowing you to get a good look at the watery highway.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandRecreation, SkiingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDRecreation, SkiingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Sitting on the eastern edge of Vancouver Island's Strathcona Provincial Park, the Mount Washington Alpine Resort is one of the region's most prominent ski areas. And it's easy to see why: The resort boasts 81 alpine runs and 1,657 feet of vertical drop. Couple that with an average 38 feet of annual snowfall and you've got a powder hound's paradise. Recent travelers who visited during ski season said the resort is small, but well-groomed and family-friendly, calling it a "gem."
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Challenging the Parliament Buildings from across the Inner Harbour is the elegant Fairmont Empress hotel. Built in the early 20th century, the Empress is one of the region's oldest hotels. But while the interior decoration is worth a photo or two, the main reason to visit this colossal hotel (if you aren’t staying there) is for the tea. The Empress has been participating in this time-honored Victorian tradition since opening its doors, and according to travel experts and recent visitors, teatime continues to be a decadent affair here. (Fun fact: The tea served at the Empress is the hotel's own specially crafted brand.)
- #8View all Photos#8 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandSightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Though you may be able to spot whales from the ferry, you'll have the best chance of seeing them during an organized whale-watching tour. Plus, you'll benefit from knowledgeable guides who have access to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, which sits on the southernmost part of Vancouver Island (and Canada) on the Pacific coast.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandWineries/Breweries, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDWineries/Breweries, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
British Columbia is peppered with vineyards. To snag a taste of BC vino (and maybe even a few bottles to bring home), spend a day or two in the Cowichan Valley – second only to the Okanagan as the province's highest producing wine region. Occupying the heart of Vancouver Island – roughly 35 miles northwest of Victoria – the Cowichan Valley is home to a variety of different wineries and tasting rooms. The best way to get a feel for this part of the island is to stop at several vineyards for a tasting. Or, to participate in the region's annual wine festival, plan to visit in late August.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHistoric Homes/Mansions, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
To sample the Victorian high life, head about a mile east of the Inner Harbour to Craigdarroch Castle, a National Historic Site. This impressive home was built in the late 1800s for coal tycoon Robert Dunsmuir. Although it's more of a mansion than a castle, it houses 39 rooms, each of which is decked out in furnishings from the turn of the 20th century. Another highlight are the more than 30 gorgeous stained glass windows, the majority of which illustrate floral themes.
- #11View all PhotosfreeSooke#11 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
This little community on the southern tip of Vancouver Island makes for a quaint and quiet alternative to Victoria. Sooke's sheltered harbor is filled with fishing boats rather than tourists, and its numerous parks provide a scenic backdrop for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Recent visitors enjoyed the East Sooke Regional Park, citing its beauty and peaceful setting. You'll also find an assortment of water activities here – including fishing, sailing and whale watching – thanks to the town's location on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
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While you wouldn't normally relate Canada with the jungle, the tropical wetlands thrive in the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. As its name suggests, this indoor facility is home to thousands of butterflies spread across its 12,000 square feet. But they aren't the only critters: The gardens also host a variety of birds and fish, including flamingos and koi fish. You'll find all of these creatures mingling amid the flora, creating a vibrant, colorful atmosphere. What's more, the gardens also house an insectarium with insects and invertebrates from around the globe.
- #13View all Photos#13 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
If you're traveling to Victoria with kids in tow (or even without), many recent visitors recommended a stop at the Victoria Bug Zoo. Located a block or so north of the Inner Harbour, this fairly small facility is home to a large number of creepy crawlies. Here, you'll come face to face with gigantic walking sticks, furry tarantulas and even glow-in-the-dark scorpions.
- #14View all Photos#14 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND...Read More »
Miniature World continues to delight the young and the young at heart with its numerous tiny worlds. Sitting just a short walk from the Inner Harbour, this interactive museum houses dozens of miniature displays and dioramas. Follow the model Canadian railway as it travels across the country or spend some time at the big top in the "Circus World" display. If you are a literary buff, you'll appreciate a glimpse of the world of Dickens, while time travel aficionados should check out the "Space 2201 A.D." display.
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