Weekend Getaways: Victoria, BC
The beautiful and historic city of Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It is the capital of British Columbia and home to our buildings of Parliament, among many other attractions. Victoria, named after Queen Victoria, is one of the oldest British settlements in the Pacific Northwest, and retains many of its original buildings, dating back to 1843. Just a 1.5 hour ferry ride away from Vancouver, Victoria is the perfect place for a getaway.
We had originally planned to go for an overnight hike, however the weather turned on us, so we made a morning of decision to book a hotel and head to Victoria for a few days. Neither of us had been in a few years. Being mid-week, and shoulder season, we did not need to reserve a spot on the ferry. The ferry ride between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay (Victoria) is a beautiful one, between various Gulf Islands, and there is always the possibility of spotting whales.
There are two ferry options from Vancouver:
Tsawwassen – a 45 minute drive from Vancouver then a 1.5 hour ferry
Horseshoe Bay – a 30 minute drive from Vancouver then a 3.5 hour ferry
Once at Swartz Bay, it is a 30 minute drive into the heart of Victoria. There are also frequent buses from the ferry terminal to downtown – one is an express (#70) and one takes the long route (#72) through Sidney. However, if you are able, public transit is the way to go, as it costs $89 each way on the ferry for 2 people and a car.
Things to Do
Downtown & Harbour Area
One of the most popular activities is strolling down by the Inner Harbour; this is how we spent our first evening before we headed to dinner.
Free guided tours of the facility are offered year-round. Built in the Neo-baroque style, the Parliament buildings are quite beautiful with their green dome roofs, especially at night when it is lit up. A statue of Queen Victoria stands on the large front lawn as well a statue of a soldier to commemorate the province’s war time heros.
The Empress Hotel
Across the harbour from the Parliament buildings, the Empress Hotel, is an iconic landmark of Victoria. Sadly, the ivy growing up the sides, that gave the hotel it’s charm, has been removed during restorations. More ivy has been planted, but it will take years to regrow and cover the hotel facade as it once did. The Empress is famous for high tea service in the afternoons, offering many sittings a day. Be warned though it is pricy! ~$75 a person.
Downtown Victoria is full of historic buildings, adorable boutique shops and fun-loving pubs. A whole day could be spent just wandering around and exploring. Many shops are touristy, selling Native Art and other BC/Canada goods (think Maple everything).
Royal BC Museum
The Royal BC Museum focuses on Natural and Human history of BC. One of the highlights is a life-size Woolly Mammoth replica. It is definitely worth a visit to learn more about BC’s history.
Beacon Hill Park
Home to the tallest totem pole in the world, Beacon Hill Park is to Victoria as Stanley Park is to Vancouver. A large green space in the heart of the city. We spent most of our afternoon here on the second day. There is even a beach to spend some time by the water.
One of the most visited tourist attractions on Vancouver Island, Butchart Gardens is also designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. Expansive gardens have something to offer every season of the year. There are many dining options available on site. Only 30 minutes outside Victoria by car, or via bus 75. The way to the gardens is well sign posted.
Wine & Beer Tasting
Vancouver Island has numerous wineries to visit. Since wine tasting is one of my favourite activities, we visited one of my favourites, Church and State. And came away with 2 bottles! Another winery recommended to us was DeVine Vineyards, which is also a distillery. We also may have stopped at a brewery – Category 12 – on our way back from the winery, definitely recommend their beer!
Victoria is a major hub for those wanting to go whale watching. There are numerous companies running tours from the harbour. You can grab pamphlets on the ferry or can google different companies. There is a tourist info spot at the inner harbour near the Empress Hotel.
Explore more of Vancouver Island
If you have a car and some time, make plans to go for a drive and explore some more of Vancouver Island. Heading north and west from Victoria will take you for very scenic drive along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are numerous lakes on the island, places to hike. For beaches, check out either Tofino or Parksville areas.
Take the ferry home again!
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