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Things to Do in Victoria

Perched on the southeastern shores of Vancouver Island, Victoria—the capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia—has a rich colonial history dating back to the 19th century. Bus and walking tours take Garden City visitors to top attractions such as Antique Row, Beacon Hill Park, Craigdarroch Castle (a National Historic Site of Canada), Oak Bay Marina, and Mount Tolmie, while the famous Butchart Gardens delight travelers from across the world with their enchanting floral displays. Food tours showcase the region’s diverse cheeses, fine chocolates, craft beer, and divine seafood; while overhead, sightseeing seaplane flights offer bird’s-eye views over the coastal scenery. For many visitors to Victoria, though, one activity stands out among all the others: whale watching. Cruises depart from Victoria and head into the deep waters of the Salish Sea, where gray, humpback, killer, and minke whales can be seen breaching and crashing through the waves. Travelers also regularly spot other native wildlife such as marine birds, otters, porpoises, sea lions, and seals. For visitors with a little more time on their hands, three- to eight-day tours hit farther-flung destinations such as Barkley Sound; Strathcona-Westmin Provincial Park; and the snowy peaks—or summery hiking and mountain biking trails—of Whistler, where travelers can experience the best of the Canadian wilderness.
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Beacon Hill Park
35 Tours and Activities
Sheer natural beauty is just the start of the appeal of of Beacon Hill Park, which sprawls across the southern edge of Victoria, British Columbia. It’s a popular spot for locals and visitors alike, with a petting zoo, splash parks, playgrounds, sports fields, seemingly endless footpaths, and one of the tallest totem poles in the world.
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Victoria Inner Harbour
31 Tours and Activities
A trim wedge of water rimmed with top landmarks, Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the city’s bustling port. Whether you’re hopping a whale-watching cruise or enjoying a sea breeze, the Inner Harbour is an essential stop when exploring Victoria. Among its highlights are the elegant Fairmont Empress hotel and the narrow streets beyond.
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Victoria Chinatown
29 Tours and Activities
First established in the mid-19th century, Victoria Chinatown is among North America’s oldest. Now a National Historic Site, Victoria’s Chinatown is home to cafes, studios, herbalists, tea rooms, and shops, as well as the narrow Fan Tan Alley, which measures 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) wide at its narrowest point.
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British Columbia Parliament Buildings
25 Tours and Activities

Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown. When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.

The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property.

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Craigdarroch Castle
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26 Tours and Activities

It’s hard to believe that this opulent Scottish-Gothic fairy-tale castle was built as a family home. Now open to the public, take a tour and pretend you’re in Bonny Scotland.

The four-story turreted castle was built in the late 1880s for Scottish coal millionaire Robert Dunsmuir. He died before the home with its 39 rooms was completed, but his family lived there until 1908.

A self-guided tour of this incredible property reveals its stained-glass and carved balustrades, rooms furnished with period details, and the lookout tower with fabulous views over the city.

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Fisherman's Wharf
16 Tours and Activities
Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic combination of tourist shops and residential float homes. Although the fishing heyday has passed, at which time when a fishing vessel was tied to every slip at the Fisherman’s Wharf except the two “live aboard” docks, the atmosphere hasn’t changed much. Colorful characters still roam the docks, but now often rub shoulders with passing tourists rather than sea-hardened fishermen.
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Mt. Tolmie Park
12 Tours and Activities
A popular destination for residents and tourists alike, Mt. Tolmie Park is widely recognized as the best place for panoramic views of the city of Victoria. Viewpoints from the summit (approximately 120 meters above sea level) offer 360-degree vistas of the Gulf Islands, Saanich, and the city of Victoria across to the Olympic mountain range and even Mount Baker in the distance on a clear day. Mt. Tolmie is located near the University of Victoria, making it an often-visited stop along the Beach Drive coastal route.
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Government Street
12 Tours and Activities
Running through the heart of Downtown Victoria, Government Street is home to plenty of shopping and local history. Along the Victoria Harbour front, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings and the Fairmont Empress are important historical landmarks, both designed by the untrained British architect Francis Rattenbury.
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Fairmont Empress Hotel
13 Tours and Activities

The grand lady of Victoria, the Fairmont Empress Hotel was built in over-the-top French chateau style by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, opening in 1908.

Victoria’s first hotel is still the grandest, and one of the most highly awarded hotels in the country. Over the last 100 years, all manner of famous people have stayed here, including Edward Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth and Shirley Temple.

Taking afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is an experience not to be missed, complete with Edwardian style service, clotted cream, scones and pots of tea. Bookings are essential.

The style is more subcontinental colonial in the Bengal Lounge restaurant, where the menu features a curry buffet.

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More Things to Do in Victoria

Royal British Columbia Museum

Royal British Columbia Museum

7 Tours and Activities

Even if you normally give museums a miss, you won’t want to leave Victoria without dropping into the highly acclaimed Royal British Columbia Museum. From big-screen IMAX movies to the re-created First Peoples village, this imaginative and creatively curated museum will have you thinking and engaging with the past.

The First Peoples Gallery provides insights into life before the arrival of Europeans, while the Modern History Gallery vividly re-creates colonial life. In the Natural History Gallery, seals, grizzly bears and seabirds fill dioramas re-creating the region’s ecosystems. Big-screen films are screened in the on-site IMAX cinema.

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Emily Carr House

Emily Carr House

8 Tours and Activities

The Emily Carr House was the childhood home of Canadian painter and author Emily Carr and had a long-lasting impression on much of her work. Today, it is an Interpretive Centre for Carr’s artwork, writing, and life.

Emily Carr’s work reads like an adventure. It carried her from remote native settlements throughout British Columbia to major cities like San Francisco, London, and Paris. But her childhood home continually appeared throughout all of her work, especially her writing. The house itself was built in 1863 and Carr called it home from her birth, in 1871, until she left to pursue artist training overseas. Her father’s death triggered ownership changes and, after years of passing through the Carr Family, the house was sold off. Although it was once scheduled for demolition, the house made its way back to the Emily Carr Foundation before being purchased by the provincial government and restored.

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Old Town Victoria

Old Town Victoria

8 Tours and Activities

Chalk artists, buskers, horse-and-carriage rides, and walking tours: Victoria’s Old Town has enough attractions to keep the curious visitor occupied for an entire day. With many side streets and small squares to duck into, Old Town offers plenty of big shops and restaurants as well as smaller, independently owned boutiques and eye-catching street art. Old Town’s cobblestone streets wind together through alleyways where some of B.C.’s oldest and grandest architecture can be found. Curious pedestrians can begin at the Empress Hotel (Insider’s tip: For a truly spectacular experience, indulge in afternoon tea at the hotel, which offers a full English high tea.) and head down the Victoria Inner Harbour Walkway toward Government Street. When the weather’s nice, Government Street is lined with musicians and performers, in addition to the cafes, specialty shops, gift shops, and numerous pubs for the thirsty traveler.

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Fort Street

Fort Street

5 Tours and Activities
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Victoria Bug Zoo

Victoria Bug Zoo

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Abkhazi Garden

Abkhazi Garden

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Miniature World

Miniature World

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Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

44 Tours and Activities
The Butchart Gardens put on a sensational floral show year-round, in some of the most magnificent landscaped gardens on the planet. Gardeners and lovers of beauty alike will be inspired and enchanted by these gardens, first established in 1904. Covering 22 hectares (55 acres), make your way through different garden ‘rooms’, from the dramatic sunken garden to rose-covered walkways, springtime bulbs, the summertime dahlia walk, amazing fall colors and the Japanese-inspired winter garden. There are several restaurants within the gardens, so it’s easy to make a day of it at the Butchart Gardens.
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Gulf Islands

Gulf Islands

2 Tours and Activities
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Strait of Juan de Fuca

Strait of Juan de Fuca

3 Tours and Activities
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