Victoria exudes old-world charm as well as fragrant and colourful flowers everywhere. Founded in 1843 by James Douglas of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the city was first known as Fort Victoria. By 1848, Vancouver Island was a British colony and Victoria was its capital.
The city is renowned for its beautiful gardens, quaint houses and very British feel. Much smaller and more relaxed than Vancouver, it is a terrific walking city and an even better cycling one, so you don’t really need a car unless you want to explore the outlying areas. But as expected with cruise limitations, we commissioned a driver to crash course our tour in one day. Sightseeing was literally a breeze! I can hardly remember what we saw – but this is roughly what we covered.
1. Inner Harbour
The city is built around the scenic Inner Harbour, a busy working port where fishing boats, floatplanes, ferries, and whale-watching tours chug all day long. One could easily spend a day watching all the action from the walkway around the inlet, but it’s even better to hop aboard one of the cute little Victoria Harbour Ferries and check out the view from the water.
2. Royal BC Museum
Keep walking past the Parliament Buildings and the buskers and souvenir stalls along the water. On your left you will see the Fairmont Hotel Empress ruling from the end of the harbor, and on your right you will see the sprawling Royal BC Museum. Outside it is the retro-looking Carillon Tower, where 62 bells musically announce each hour, and just past the museum, in Thunderbird Park, is the Mungo Martin carving shed where First Nations carvers work on a myriad of projects. Step into the museum, and you will discover an ever-changing array of shows and interactive presentations such as 2014’s much-anticipated Vikings exhibit. The permanent collections, too, are well worth a visit, especially the First Peoples Gallery, an absorbing and thought-provoking showplace of First Nations art and culture. This is truly an impressive museum experience, and it’s quite easy to spend several hours here.
3. Government House
“The Government House of British Columbia is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, as well as that in Victoria of the Canadian monarch, and has casually been described as “the Ceremonial Home of all British Columbians.” It stands in the provincial capital on a 14.6 hectares (36 acres) estate at 1401 Rockland Avenue; while the equivalent building in many countries has a prominent, central place in the capital, the site of British Columbia‘s Government House is relatively unobtrusive within Victoria, giving it more the character of a private home.” (Source: Wikipedia)
4. Fisherman’s Wharf
Hop off the ferry here and wander through the gaily painted floating homes, the funky little shops, and the ecotour operators based here. Stop for fish and chips or ice cream, and check out the fresh seafood on display at the fish markets.
5. The Empress Hotel
This grand old dame of Victorian architecture, with its lovely rose gardens and elegant public rooms, is a must-visit no matter what, but it’s so much better to enjoy it from the plush, rose-and-cream Tea Lobby with a pot of Empress Blend tea and a tiered tray of little sandwiches and teensy baked goods.
6. Butchart Gardens
Next to taking tea at the Empress, exploring this four-season garden—considered one of the gardening wonders of the world—is the most iconic of Victoria’s experiences. More than 100 years ago, Jennie Butchart started planting sweet peas and roses in an old limestone quarry on the Saanich Peninsula. Today the estate boasts 22 hectares (55 acres) of gardens and has been named a National Historic Site of Canada. Nearly a million people visit each year, strolling through the magnificently perfumed rose garden or the serene Japanese garden and searching for the elusive Himalayan blue poppy.
7. Craigdarroch Castle
A little further from the city center is this 39-room turreted mansion built in the late 1800s by the wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. It is filled with lavish furnishings and is famous for its ornate stained glass and woodwork.
8. Beacon Hill Park
On the way to Beacon Hill, we passed by the manicured grounds of University of Victoria. More than the students in campus, the explosion of rabbits hopping about was quite amusing. These cute furries actually pose many domestic issues – attracting the cougars into campus for one.
The sun was setting as we arrived at Beacon Hill – A beautifully manicured garden filled with trees and flowers, sports pitches, a children’s petting zoo, band shell, horse-drawn carriages, and a 39m (130-ft.) totem pole. We were greeted by its resident roving peacock. The view of the city from the hill was panoramic. It was the perfect setting to cap off our day in Victoria.