A weekender’s guide to Victoria, British Columbia

A weekend in Victoria, British Columbia

Canada had topped my travel wishlist for years, so as we boarded our last flight the excitement started to grow. Down below I could see pine-covered islands dotted in shimmering water – we had made it to Vancouver Island. And I couldn’t think of a better place to start my adventures than Victoria, the island’s biggest city and capital of British Columbia. It is known for being one of Canada’s most English cities, so I was expecting to feel at home, but I found it mixed up different European influences –  Gothic style at the Parliament building, French Renaissance at the Empress Hotel and Ancient Greece at the ferry building.

Today it’s a relaxed, vibrant city on the edge of an island packed with spectacular natural scenery. Victoria has a bit of everything – accessible wildlife, fascinating history and culture, great food and drink. Add in a temperate climate, with sunny spring days all through my visit, and a compact and walkable city centre and you’ve got a perfect city break destination. You’d have no trouble filling a week with things to do in the area, but if like me you’re on a tight schedule, then here’s how to spend a weekend in Victoria.

Seaplane

Seaplane coming in to land in the harbour

Friday evening

The inner harbour is the heart of this waterfront city, and you couldn’t get much closer to it without getting your feet wet than by staying at the Hotel Grand Pacific. You’re right next to the Parliament Building and within a few minutes’ walk of most of Victoria’s main attractions. The 10-storey building is appropriately grand for its name, with helpful staff and spacious rooms with balconies that look out towards the Olympic Mountains in one direction and the harbour the other. Rooms start from C$150 (including tax) a night.

Fisherman's Wharf in Victoria, British Columbia

Colourful floating houses in Fisherman’s Wharf

The water down at the harbour is alive with boats – with everything from huge cruise ships and luxury yachts to water taxis and dinghies. Victorians seem to spend as much time on the water as they do on land. Start your trip off with a taste of city life on land and sea with a walk along the waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf. The path runs past the ferry terminal and through flower-filled gardens in Laurel Point Park. On one side of you are boats gliding past and seaplanes above coming in to land and on the other are smart waterside apartments and hotels. About 15 minutes walk away is Fisherman’s Wharf, with rows of colourful floating homes mixed in with food stalls, fishing boats and the occasional friendly seal.

Victoria Harbour Ferries

The cute little harbour ferries

From Fisherman’s Wharf, take the watery route back to the inner harbour on board one of the Victoria Harbour Ferries. These bright green and white ferries might look a bit like toy boats but will whisk you back to the harbour in 10 minutes, complete with commentary from the captain (single fare C$5 adults or C$3 children). Back in the inner harbour, the water’s edge is lined with stalls selling crafts and food, buskers and street performers. Follow the pathway in the opposite direction this time, past the seaplane terminal and lines of yachts, before heading to Canoe Brewpub for dinner. This microbrewery and restaurant in a 100-year-old electric power-plant building has a big waterside patio perfect for sunny spring evenings. They brew their own lagers and ales, served alongside tasty food like burgers, steaks and local seafood.

Canoe Brewpub, Victoria

Canoe Brewpub in the spring sunshine

Saturday morning

Grab a coffee in the harbour to start the day, but save your appetite for The Pedaler‘s ‘Eat, Drink, Pedal’ cycle tour (11am–3pm, C$109 per person). The company run a range of themed bike tours around Victoria to introduce visitors to their favourite local haunts away from the tourist spots. Eat, Drink, Pedal is all about the city’s culinary gems. But before you get to eat, the tour starts with an introduction to the city. The cycle route takes in Beacon Hill Park – 200 acres of gardens, ponds and trails along with a petting zoo and waterpark. It was made a protected area in 1858 by Sir James Douglas, governor of Vancouver Island, and is a favourite spot for Victorians to escape city life. It’s also home to a 39-metre-high totem pole which was once the world’s tallest (it’s been demoted to number four now but is still pretty impressive!).

Beacon Hill Park, Victoria BC

Reflections in the ponds at Beacon Hill Park

After the exercise, it’s time to eat. Each tour varies slightly, so they were able to adapt their foodie stops to make them gluten-free for me. Stops normally include Zambri’s, with Italian food so authentic it’s been certified by the Italian Chamber of Commerce. They’ve won awards for having Victoria’s best pizza – and the prosciutto salad the chef whipped up for me was delicious. Then there’s Cold Comfort, whose ice creams use organic, local produce to produce quirky flavours like cardamon and tamarind or raspberry and rose. A new flavour is developed each week with over 340 different combinations so far. They also produce amazing dairy-free ice cream using coconut milk that’s so rich and creamy it’s hard to tell the difference. Then finally there’s Bon Macaron Patisserie, whose French owners make traditional Parisian-style sweet macarons as well as experimenting with unusual savoury flavours like blue cheese and pear.

Cold Comfort ice cream in Victoria

Delicious dairy-free ice cream sandwiches at Cold Comfort

Saturday afternoon

After getting a taster of Victoria’s history on the cycle tour, head back to the inner harbour to find out more. You can take a tour of British Columbia’s parliament (free, but you need to sign up outside) to learn more about the ornate building, the province’s history and how Canada’s political system works. Or head next door to the Royal BC Museum – open until 5pm on Saturdays or 10pm from mid-May to September (entry C$23 for adults, C$17 for children/students/seniors). It’s a fascinating place that splits the story of British Columbia into three strands. There’s the natural history of the landscape and wildlife, the First Nations’ history of Canada’s indigenous peoples, and the modern history of the province. There are also temporary exhibitions – the current one is all about BC’s gold-mining history – and an IMAX cinema.

Totem poles

Totem poles on display in the Royal BC museum

After filling up with culture, it’s time to eat again – head across the harbour for dinner at North 48. They serve ‘modern diner’ food, putting a contemporary twist on comfort food classics like fried chicken and waffles or corn dogs. Don’t miss the s’mores for dessert, which come with a burner so you can toast your marshmallows to sandwich with chocolate and crackers. Try the Tiki-style cocktails too, though beware of Zombies – made with three types of rum they have a bit of a kick! Then if you wander back along the inner harbour after dark, you can see the Legislative Building sparkling with the light of over 3300 bulbs.

    British Columbia Parliament

British Columbia’s Legislative Building

Sunday morning

Have a leisurely breakfast at Willie’s Bakery & Cafe, where you’ll find all the North American classics like pancakes and waffles, with a special Canadian twist from maple-smoked bacon. Then head to the harbour for a whale-watching trip with Prince of Whales. Vancouver Island is one of the best places to spot these magnificent creatures, especially from May to October when the salmon are migrating. Orcas, humpback and minke whales all live in the coastal waters as well as seals, sea lions and porpoises. Three-hour tours depart at 9am and 12.15pm (C$115 for adults and C$95 for under 18s). You can choose between a zodiac or larger boat, with a naturalist on board. And if you’re not lucky enough to see any whales, the company let you take another tour for free – even if you don’t go back to Victoria until years later.

Whale watching tours

Prince of Whales’ whale watching boats

Finish off your weekend with afternoon tea at a Victoria institution – the Fairmont Empress. The hotel was built in 1908 for Canadian Pacific’s steamship passengers and became the city’s most famous building. Shockingly it was almost torn down in the 1960s, but was saved and restored to its former glory. Afternoon tea (C$63 per person, with vegan and gluten free options) comes with dainty sandwiches and cakes as well as their own Empress Tea, blending flavours from Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China. Or if you prefer you can try an Empress 1908 cocktail, made with tea-infused vodka, lemon and egg white.

Fairmont Empress

The historic Fairmont Empress hotel

Have you ever visited Victoria? Inspired to find out more? Discover what Canada has to offer at www.keepexploring.ca

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A weekend in Victoria, British Columbia – On the Luce travel blog

I visited Victoria as a guest of Destination Canada as part of a Travelator Media campaign. You can read more about Victoria from my fellow travellers:

Comments

    • says

      Thanks Jude, the ice cream is well worth a return trip! Love your shots of the Legislative Building at night – I was fading fast with jetlag and didn’t make it up late enough for it to be completely dark.

  1. says

    Such a gorgeous city! I love the floating houses, I remember wandering around some and being in an absolute day dream about them, I was thinking it was in Vancouver but maybe in was Victoria after seeing this post!
    I’ve not spent a great deal of time in the city, looks like I’ve missed quite a lot!

    • says

      The floating houses were great, love the bright colours. Definitely looks like a return trip is in order – there’s loads I’ve still like to see too!

  2. says

    One of the main reasons for me to return to Canada is to visit Vancouver and Victoria <3 I lived 1 year in Canada, but didnt get to know this side of the country.
    Beautiful pictures, it really show the difference between this part of the country and the rest! I love it 😀

    • says

      It’s such a diverse – and huge – country, I could have easily carried on travelling for a few more months! Will have to get back and see the east coast next time.

      • says

        Yes it is! There is so much to visit in Canada. I hope to come back someday, visit my homestay family and explore the country a bit more 😀
        I am happy that you expectations of the country were met!

    • says

      Thanks Kat – yes although we packed a lot in it would be lovely to go back and see some more – good excuse for a return visit!

    • says

      Wait til you see the bears! It’s an amazing country – so diverse, though it is huge too so you’d need a while to see it all.

  3. Patricia Boland says

    Nice place to visit, went twice while living in Canada. Very British, English in nature, a replica of an English city from earlier times.

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