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 July 29, 2020
- #1View all PhotosfreeInner Harbour#1 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandFree, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/Area, SightseeingTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
Although the majority of recent visitors recommended spending a few hours at the Inner Harbour for the view, some suggested devoting at least half a day as there is always something interesting to see and do. For an even more charming scene, return in the evening, when the Parliament Buildings are lit up.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDParks and GardensTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
Travelers describe the gardens as incredibly beautiful with awesome views and recommend that you bring a camera. They also advised setting aside several hours to make the most of the experience. If you need a break, retreat to one of the three eateries located on-site. There is also a carousel and boat tours available on-site.
- #3View all Photos#3 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandFree, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDFree, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
If you happen to be here when Parliament is in session, consider sitting in on one of the Legislative Assembly debates. You'll find a schedule of discussion topics on the Parliamentary Calendar. The Parliament Buildings are open every day during the summer from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. On weekends, visitors must join a free public tour. During the winter, the buildings are open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Complimentary guided tours run regularly throughout the day and last roughly 30 to 45 minutes. For more information, visit the British Columbia Parliament's visitor information website.
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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.
Recent visitors said this museum is a must-see when in Victoria as it offers a far-reaching look at the region's geography and indigenous people. Reviewers also praised the museum's layout, which is situated in chronological order. Some reviewers even said this was one of "the best museums" they've ever visited. Plus, if you're hungry, don't miss the museum's year-long food truck festival, which takes places in the building's back courtyard.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
Before you make a beeline for the river, consider stopping first at the Goldstream Nature House. The center offers educational programs on the annual salmon migration and other exhibits and activities. And even if you're not planning a winter trip to Vancouver Island, recent travelers said the massive cedar trees, abandoned gold mine and rumbling waterfalls make the park a must-see attraction at any time of year. Reviewers also said you should plan to wear appropriate hiking clothes and shoes so you can fully explore the park (and make your way up to the highest point in Greater Victoria – Mount Finlayson). When you need a break, stop for a picnic.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDSkiing, RecreationTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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."
Mount Washington is a year-round resort, so if you happen to miss ski season, you can take advantage of the area's many hiking and biking paths and gondola rides.
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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.)
Although most Victoria visitors pass on high tea at the Empress due to its high price tag (around CA$78 or $61 per person), some visitors say that the experience is worth the money. If you're interested in experiencing more than just its famous tea service, consider staying at the Fairmont Empress while in Victoria, which lodgers love for its Old World feel. For more information, visit the hotel's website.
- #8View all Photos#8 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandTours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDTours, SightseeingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
There are a variety of tours available – some more intimate than others – but most last three to four hours. Recent visitors raved about their experiences with Eagle Wing Tours and BC Whale Tours. Some reviewers said they lost count of the amount of whales they saw, while others were particularly impressed with the guides, who kept a respectful distance from the animals and provided a wealth of information to tour goers.
- #9View all Photos#9 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandNeighborhood/Area, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDNeighborhood/Area, Wineries/BreweriesTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
But wine isn't the only reason to visit this beautiful stretch of Vancouver Island. The Cowichan Valley is also home to golf courses, art galleries and plenty of hiking terrain. Many travel experts also recommend bringing a bike so that you can cover more ground without confining yourself to the car. Recent visitors recommended the Cowichan Valley Trail for cycling and hiking.
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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.
Even if you aren't a big history buff, many previous visitors recommend stopping by Craigdarroch Castle for a glimpse into how the wealthy once lived, not to mention stunning views of downtown Victoria. The only downside among reviewers: The house doesn't have any ramps or elevators, making it difficult for visitors with mobility issues to tour the upper three floors of the castle.
- #11View all PhotosfreeSooke#11 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
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.
And just because it's a small town doesn't mean you won't get your culture fix: Sooke hosts a variety of shops, art galleries and several notable festivals like the Sooke Fine Arts Show in July and August.
- #12View all Photos#12 in Victoria & Vancouver IslandZoos and Aquariums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDZoos and Aquariums, Parks and GardensTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
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.
Recent visitors called the Victoria Butterfly Gardens fun and family-friendly, with great staff. Reviewers also said that there is more to see than just butterflies, such as frogs, flamingoes and bugs. A few travelers remarked on the gardens' humid setting, advising future visitors to wear layers.
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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.
Recent visitors raved about the zoo's employees, who are ready to answer any questions you may have about their six- and eight-legged friends. Plus, you can even hold some of the insects – a major point of praise for reviewers.
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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.
Many recent visitors praised the models' intricate details, and said to take your time as you take it all in. Reviewers said this was an excellent way to spend a few hours on a rainy day and a lot of fun for kids.
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