The 20 Best Things to Do in Victoria
There are few Canadian cities as charming as B.C.’s capital. Check out 20 essential experiences that showcase Victoria at its very best.
The Best Things to Do in Victoria
Tea at Fairmont Empress
There are many types of afternoon tea, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more regal take on the experience than at Fairmont Empress. This century-old Victoria tradition is so popular, in fact, more than 500,000 cups of tea are served here each year. Enjoy loose leaf tea dispensed from fine china, accompanied by three tiers of freshly baked scones, mini-sandwiches and petit fours. You can even kick it up a notch with a glass of champagne. Cheers!
Read on for more essential things to do in Victoria.
Tour Craigdarroch Castle
You won’t find many castles in Canada, but the few we do have go out of their way to impress. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, Craigdarroch Castle was the Victorian-era status symbol of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Situated on a hillside overlooking the city, the castle has been meticulously restored to its former glory. Visitors keen to get a glimpse of how the upper crust lived in the 1890s can take a self-guided tour through this National Historic Site. There are four floors to explore, plus a few juicy scandals—and ghost stories—to delve into.
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Visit the Royal BC Museum
Situated in Victoria’s sparkling Inner Harbour, the Royal BC Museum is a trove of cultural treasures. Natural history galleries allow you to explore the entire province from its mountains to the Pacific coast, including an Ocean Station where you can discover sea life in a Jules Verne-style submarine. But don’t spend all your time indoors: the museum’s Thunderbird Park is home to an impressive number of Indigenous totem poles, all crafted in the park’s on-site Carving Studio.
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Play at Beacon Hill Park
Thanks to its abundance of parkland and mild coastal climate, Victoria is known as “the City of Gardens.” One that’s not to be missed is Beacon Hill Park, which enjoys a prime location bordering the sea at the edge of downtown. Little ones will love the petting zoo at the Children’s Farm, but there are plenty of playgrounds and sport courts to entertain all ages, as well as leafy footpaths, a putting green and rose garden. Instagrammers will want to snag a selfie at the Mile “0” marker for the Trans-Canada Highway.
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That mild climate also makes Victoria one of the few spots in Canada where you can golf every month of the year. Canada’s only 36-hole Nicklaus Design course can be found at Bear Mountain, while other courses are renowned for their awe-inspiring views of the Olympic Mountains and the Pacific. An abundance of local wineries, breweries and spas offer all the rejuvenating therapies that elevate a golf trip from “good” to “unforgettable.”
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Have a Cuppa at Murchie’s
Tea isn’t just a tradition, it’s a way of life for many Victorians. Established in 1894, Murchie’s Tea & Coffee is Canada’s oldest tea company. The founder, John Murchie, delivered tea to Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in Scotland before immigrating to Canada. Once here, he began importing and blending teas from around the world, and more than a century later, business at his cafés continues to be brisk. Visitors to the downtown Victoria location are welcomed by an impressive wall of tea canisters, which they can sniff and sample to their heart’s content. No matter which blend you choose, it’ll pair beautifully with a scone.
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Wander Through The Butchart Gardens
One of the most popular things to do in Victoria, The Butchart Gardens attracts more than a million visitors a year—and with good reason. Here, you’ll find 55 acres of manicured lawns and intricate floral displays, and new splendours with each season thanks to the fact that it’s open year-round. While it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pick a favourite from the 900 varieties of plant life on display, you’re sure to awaken the senses while strolling the impressive gardens which highlight landscaping techniques from around the world.
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Plunge into a Nordic Spa
RITUAL Nordic Spa is the perfect place to rest and recharge in Victoria. Offering a modern take on the age-old Finnish sauna house tradition, RITUAL features traditional wood saunas, infrared saunas and a eucalyptus steam room. To cool off, hit the cold plunge pool or douse yourself with Nordic bucket showers. Throw in a massage, and you’ll feel worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the city. As a bonus, you won’t get shushed for having a good chinwag: At Finnish sauna houses it’s OK to chat!
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One of the most exciting things to do in Victoria is whale-watching. With so many species calling this part of the Pacific home, it’s one of the best spots in North America for marine mammal viewing. Orcas (killer whales) are the most frequently sighted, and your best chances of viewing them, plus humpback, minke and grey whales, is on a boat tour from April to November. In addition to whales, it’s quite likely you’ll spot seals, sea lions, porpoises and bald eagles, too.
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Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America. Situated on the edge of downtown, the district is full of vim and vigour. You’ll want to walk under the Gates of Harmonious Interest (above), a paifang arch, built as a nod to Canada’s multicultural society. Amid the striking heritage brick buildings are bakeries, restaurants and herbalist shops. Make it a point to stroll down Fan Tan Alley, North America’s narrowest street. Back in the 1800s it was a haven for gambling halls and opium dens; now it’s filled with independent boutiques and too many Instagram backdrops to mention.
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Take a Kayaking Tour
You’ll get an entirely different perspective of Victoria from an urban kayaking tour. Outfitters such as Kelp Reef Adventures and Ocean River Sports guide kayakers of all ages through the historic harbour waterways, gliding underneath floatplanes and beside water taxis, tug boats, and some of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Guides are well-versed in aquatic life and will point you in the right direction to view seals, otters, brilliantly-hued starfish and even red rock crabs. For a mesmerizing view of Victoria’s parliament buildings, opt for an evening tour, when the B.C. Legislature (above) twinkles like a Christmas display.
Enjoy Oak Bay
If you’re a real estate window-shopper, Oak Bay is a community that’s worth a wander. This charming waterfront neighbourhood just a short drive from downtown is packed with mature oaks and stately homes that fetch some of the highest prices in the city. Whet your appetite at a traditional English pub, or grab an afternoon tea to-go from the White Heather Tea Room for a picnic on nearby Willows Beach. If you’re in need of pampering, Boathouse Spa at Oak Bay Beach Hotel offers holistic treatments, and you can upgrade for access to the luxe outdoor mineral pools.
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Stroll the Inner Harbour
With iconic landmarks like the Parliament Buildings and Fairmont Empress Hotel, you’d be hard pressed to find a prettier harbour than Victoria’s. It’s a bustling hub for seaplanes, ferries and tall ships, and in the summer it plays host to a number of festivals and live performances. Not to miss are the seafood creations of Red Fish Blue Fish, a harbourfront takeout joint housed inside a shipping container. You can’t go wrong with tempura-battered fish and chips or a fish tacone.
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Ride the Galloping Goose Trail
Part of the Trans Canada Trail, the Galloping Goose Trail stretches 60 kilometres from Victoria to Sooke, B.C. along abandoned railway tracks and trestles. You don’t need to cycle its entirety to soak up the epic scenery, though. Even a short ride delivers ever-changing vistas, as one minute you’re cycling by an eclectic neighbourhood, and the next you’re gazing over the ocean. In Victoria, the trail is paved and goes over bridges, through playgrounds and green spaces. One of the best jumping-off points for exploring the trail is the funky, family-friendly Hotel Zed, which offers complimentary bikes (including tandem!) for guests, and a trail access point just blocks away.
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Hop on a Harbour Ferry
Shuttling passengers from one side of the bay to the other, Victoria Harbour Ferry is both a method of transportation and an attraction in itself. The famed “pickle boats” (some are cucumber green in colour), zoom up and down the Upper and Inner Harbour. It’s a fun way to explore Victoria’s coastal communities, not to mention its eclectic waterfront pubs. Simply look for “FERRY STOP” signs at locations around the harbour and hop on!
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Calm the Mind with Forest Bathing
Given all its seaside attractions, it’s easy to forget Victoria is surrounded by lush coastal rainforest. In fact, it’s the perfect place to try your hand at “forest bathing,” a Japanese wellness therapy with benefits that include heightened senses and calmed nerves. A nature walk with Mystical Rainforest Tours can take those benefits to the next level, with expert guides taking visitors on a walking meditation through old growth forests, sharing tips on how to tap the healing powers of nature.
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Tuck into Brunch
Many urban centres claim to be brunch cities, but Victoria has walked the talk for decades. This weekend tradition has become so popular, many eateries such as Jam Cafe offer their bountiful breakfasts all week long. Notable spots include The Ruby and Floyd’s Diner, where if you ask for the Mahoney, you’ll get whatever the cook feels like preparing for you. If you’re looking for a wholesome upscale experience, the veggie-forward dishes at Nourish Kitchen & Cafe will stay with you long after the buzz of the beetroot latte wears off.
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Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
Answer the call of the sea by chugging your way over to Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf. Be sure to arrive hungry as there are lots of food kiosks, many of which specialize in fresh seafood. One of the fixtures is Barb’s Fish & Chips, which has been dishing out locally-caught B.C. halibut for decades. After you’ve got your fill (but not before a trip to the floating ice cream parlour, of course), consider an excursion with one of the many eco-tour companies that depart from here.
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Get Creeped Out
Steps away from the Inner Harbour lies a family attraction that’s sure to bug all ages. If you’ve ever fantasized about holding a tarantula or having a millipede wriggle its way up your arm, make a beeline for the Victoria Bug Zoo. This insectarium offers safe animal handling experiences and plenty of opportunities to learn about the insect kingdom. Other fun creepy-crawlies just waiting to make your acquaintance include glow-in-the-dark scorpions and a 1.7-million member strong ant colony.
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Swan About the Magnolia Hotel
Looking for an elegant spot to rest your head? The Magnolia Hotel & Spa has long been recognized as one of Victoria’s best boutique hotels. Guest rooms are spacious with plush furnishings and thoughtful touches, but what really sets this property apart is its dining room, The Courtney Room. It’s worth the splurge, particularly if you’re tucking into the multi-course Chef’s Tasting Menu, which showcases the very best seasonal ingredients from Vancouver Island’s farms, forests and shorelines.
Now that you know the best things to do in Victoria, check out the top 20 places to visit in B.C.