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Free Things To Do in Victoria & Vancouver Island
- #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.
- #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.
- #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.
- #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.