Victoria is a stunning city surrounded by pristine forests and beautiful ocean views. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, you are never far from the ocean, parks and wilderness. Parks and recreational trails cover an astounding amount of the island and Victoria's rich history is well preserved.
Victoria is both sophisticated and laid back. Modern and trendy, yet has a wonderful sense of history. Step into the Royal British Columbia Museum or Fort Rodd Hill Historic Park and you will be taken back in time to Victoria's fabulously documented history. Take a stroll down Government Street and notice the lavishly constructed buildings that look much the same as they did a century ago. The magnificent Parliament Buildings were finished in 1898 and still remain in full use today as well as being a thing of beauty.
Victoria is located at the bottom tip of Vancouver Island. The largest island on the western side of North America, Vancouver Island is 460 kilometres(290miles) long and 80 kilometres(50miles) wide. Separated from the North American mainland by Georgia Strait, getting to Victoria is often part of the fun. BC Ferries connect Vancouver Island to the mainland near Vancouver and make up the larges vehicle ferry fleet in the world.
These massive passenger and car ferries have been running for over 50 years and have crossing the straight down to a science. Dropping off nearly 500 vehicles and boarding the same in under 20 minutes, never fails to astound.
The 1 hour and 40 minute ferry ride between Vancouver and Victoria is beautiful and entirely scenic. Much of the route involves snaking these mammoth ships through unexpectedly narrow passes. Boats of all sorts dot the horizon and mostly pristine islands of beautiful BC stretch to the horizon in the north and Washington State in the US to the south.
If you are lucky along the route you will get a warning from the bridge that a whale watching tour boat can be seen ahead. Watching from the towering height of a BC ferry gives you an excellent view and you will sometimes spot several killer whales at once. Whale watching, you quickly discover in Victoria, is a thriving industry.
Located about 100 kilometres(62miles) from Vancouver, Victoria is about the same distance to Seattle. Two ferry services connect Victoria to Seattle. The very fast, passenger only Victoria Clipper, gets you across to Seattle in under 3 hours for about $100 per person. The much larger, cruise ship style Coho gets you and your car across Juan de Fuca Strait to nearby Port Angeles in 1.5 hours for $65. Both of these run year-round and depart from Victoria's Inner Harbour.
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia and has a population of 344,615. Victoria was named after Queen Victoria, the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom during the cities formation as "Fort Victoria" in 1846. Victoria was chosen as the capital of BC over the much more populace New Westminster(Vancouver), at least in part out of worry of American expansionism to Vancouver Island. In fact Fort Victoria was initially constructed in 1841 in case Fort Vancouver fell into American hands.
Owing to Victoria's Island location and the fact that the Canadian Pacific Railway terminated on the mainland, Vancouver became the commercial centre of British Columbia. In the early 1900's Victoria began forming instead, into an extravagant city of gardens we see today. Butchart Gardens opened in 1904 and the extraordinarily luxurious Empress Hotel in 1908. With his massive wealth from coal mines on the island, Robert Dunsmuir built Craigdarroch Castle and his son built Hatley Castle. Both of these amazing buildings remain today as popular attractions.
Victoria's climate is a sharp contrast to the rest of Canada. It rarely snows in the winter and in the summer the temperatures rarely get above 28c(82f). Despite much of Vancouver Island being covered in rainforest, Victoria is the least rainiest place on Canada's west coast.
People in Victoria embrace their surroundings and you quickly notice a slower, laid back feel than most other cities. Great weather, an abundance of recreational opportunities, and a welcoming atmosphere make Victoria one of Canada's most popular places to live and retire.
Victoria is wonderful to explore without a car. The city is fairly compact and the downtown emanates from the Inner Harbour in several directions via dedicated car-free trails. The city boasts an enormous 55 kilometre(34mile) multi-use trail that runs from the Inner Harbour along an old train track route. With the tracks removed, this incredible trail winds almost entirely uninterrupted through this urban centre, rarely seeing a car, deep into the wilderness 55 kilometres up the west coast of the island.
If you take the Galloping Goose Trail from the Inner Harbour and intersect with the Lochside Trail in 4 kilometres, you can then ride this amazing trail to the BC Ferry Terminal at Swartz Bay 29 kilometres away! As with the Galloping Goose Trail, the Lochside Trail follows what was once a railway line and now a beautiful paved and gravel trail through the city, then forests, then farms, then forest again. This is the reason you may see people biking to and onto the ferry from Vancouver. Once they exit the ferry at Swartz Bay, they have this magnificent trail through the wilderness to Victoria.
There are a tremendous amount of sights to see walking right from Victoria's Inner Harbour. The Inner Harbour is home to dozens of tour operators. From scenic airplane flights, horse drawn buggies, whale watching, sailboat tours, kayak rentals, bike rentals.. the list goes on and on. You could easily spend a weekend just around the Inner Harbour.
If you venture out along the Inner Harbour past the enormous Coho dock, you will come to Fisherman's Wharf. This extraordinary little place is a world of its own. Brightly coloured houses decorated as outlandish and brightly as possible line the dock.
It takes a while for it to sink in as you marvel at their unusual designs... but people live here.. on the water.. in these remarkable floating houses. Fisherman's Wharf also has several inviting eateries. Ice cream, coffee and almost any kind of local seafood you care to think of.
Wonderful tables on the docks invite you to relax in the sun and take in the surroundings. The Inner Harbour views are sensational. And as if that wasn't enough, they have a big screen tv setup with an underwater camera which show the locals living under your feet. Big, fat, jolly seals seem to show off for the camera and can't seem to get enough attention.. or food. The good folks of Fisherman's Wharf have streamed it online, live!
Further along the waterfront past Fisherman's Wharf will bring you to the Ogden Point Breakwater. Built a century ago with over a million tons of rock and 10,000 enormous granite blocks, this walkway stretches out into the ocean for almost a kilometre.
Ending at a small lighthouse the views of Juan de Fuca Straight are sensational. Everything entering the Inner Harbour must pass by here, so the number of sailboats, fishing boats and tour boats is huge. Occasionally a massive cruise ship will dock here as this is also home to Victoria's cruise ship terminal.
Beacon Hill Park effectively begins from Ogden Point as the breakwater runs along the shore with sandy beaches filled with logs below. Beacon Hill Park is another feature of Victoria that is absolutely wonderful. This 200 acre park stretches from near the Inner Harbour to the Pacific Ocean over what would be some of the best real-estate in Canada. This enormous park was set aside in 1858 by James Douglas, governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island.
The importance of Beacon Hill Park to Victoria's identity could not be overstated. Having this huge wilderness of wonderfully preserved Garry oak, arbutus, Douglas-fir, western red-cedar, Oregon grape, camas, trillium, snowberry and fawn lily makes the park a living museum.
You rarely see fences and the parks irregular shape blends into the surrounding neighbourhoods. Ponds, flower gardens, stage-in-the-park, childrens zoo, ponds, and dozens of idyllic park benches to relax in this garden paradise.
The childrens zoo spills into the park with a resident family of partridges wandering around. These extravagantly colourful giants wander around, scarcely taking notice of people or cars passing by. Other animals reside in the ponds in the park including swans, turtles, ducks, Canada geese and blue herons. Signs mimicking street signs indicate different trails and sights to see in the park and many trails emanate towards the ocean. This is where you will catch sight of the laid back, Victoria style of people, running along the ocean, Frisbee, picnicking and kite flying are all popular along the huge, grassy fields overlooking the ocean.
Back along the Inner Harbour one fact becomes apparent. Victoria has more restaurants per capita than any city in Canada, and only second to San Francisco in North America! You may have noticed if you drove in from the ferry terminal, that much of the Sannich Peninsula is farmland and that along with the proximity of the ocean make culinary choices extraordinarily broad.. and convenient.
Along with the dazzling array of dining choices, Victoria is known for its exceptional tea, coffee and locally owned, brew pubs. Afternoon tea in Victoria has been enjoyed to perfection here for a century. If you don't know what that entails, then drop by the Empress Hotel and experience this wonderful tradition for real. The Empress Hotel boasts serving 750,000 cups of tea per year. Three tiered sandwich trays and decadent opulence from the Victorian era make the Empress something to be seen to be believed.
If you like being transported back in time continue downstairs in the Empress and take a look at the wonderful collection of old photos and memorabilia from the hotels past. Its free, and gives you an excuse to take a peek at this wonderful building even if you are not staying at the hotel or dining in the restaurant. There are also a few upscale shops in the hotel and a luxurious walkway allows you to pass through the hotel and exit on the other side.
Victoria is wonderful because of places like the Empress. The city is a huge montage of historic and natural splendour that keeps you guessing around every corner. From Waddington Alley, a beautifully restored wood paved street looking much like it did in 1908 to the curiously beautiful purple glass prisms on the Broad Street sidewalk. The glass prisms provide light to the storerooms that extend under the sidewalks. Installed a century ago and have since been mostly forgotten by the droves of people who walk over them everyday.
Victoria is a gorgeously layered patchwork of old and new and we can all be thankful for the decades forward thinking people that have made this city the beautiful place it is today. Victoria is a beautiful city to visit anytime of the year, however, the summer months are certainly the favourite months for tourists. June, July and August are the months with consistently hot, sunny days. May and September generally have nice, t-shirt weather as well, however beyond these months the weather is less predictably warm and stretches of cloudy and rainy weather are common.
When to Go to Victoria
High season in Victoria is from late June to early September. Tourist attractions and accommodations are busiest by far during this time. Victoria has had a long time to adapt to the massive summertime influx of people and even during the busiest weeks of the year you will still be able to find a good selection of vacant places to stay. May, June and September are considered the shoulder season and accommodation prices drop and vacancies rise. These months are a good time to visit as the weather is reliably good with daytime temperatures around 17c(63f). Depending on what you plan to do in Victoria will determine when a good time to visit are. If you are coming to see the downtown sights, dinners and whale watching, then Victoria is great year-round. If you are after more wilderness pursuits, like camping or long wilderness hikes, then the winter months will often be rainy and unwelcoming. It is worth noting that the cold season in Victoria is not that cold. Ranging from late November to late February and during that time the temperature usually falls between 8c(46f) and 4c(40f). One noticeable and significant drawback to visiting Victoria in the off season is the lack of flowers everywhere. It is estimated.. and actually counted that there are over a billion flowers in Victoria. The 38th annual flower count recorded 1,292,393,303 blooms as of March 2014! This is a fantastic number of flowers that you see along sidewalks, highways, road medians and as a giant "Welcome to Victoria" sign comprises entirely of flowers along the Inner Harbour. Hiking and camping is enjoyed year-round in Victoria, however, owing to the coastal weather, the much adored and hike West Coast Trail is closed to hikers in the winter. Popular Vancouver Island destinations in the summer actually advertise "storm watching" in the winter months, so depending on year sense of adventure, hiking may be a year-round possibility for you as well. Continue to Victoria attractions.