A Guide to Victoria, Canada

Victoria

Despite being a born-and-bred Canuck who grew up in Alberta, which is only one province away, I never visited Victoria, British Columbia, until after I moved to Georgia. Because somehow that trip was easier to squeeze into my schedule when it involved taking multiple flights and traveling 2,800 miles. You know how it goes.

Truth be told, Victoria jumped to the top of our travel wish list last year when my brother and his family relocated to Oak Bay, which is just east of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Not only were we dying to visit our little nephews (who are, objectively speaking, almost impossibly cute. Seriously, scientists should study them), but we were also super excited to explore a destination that draws visitors from around the world. We’ve now visited Victoria twice, and both times we were blown away by its natural beauty, mild climate, and cool island vibe.

Further Reading: Must-See Places in Vancouver, BC

Here is our first-timer’s guide to visiting Victoria, British Columbia.

When to Visit Victoria, British Columbia
Parliament Building, Victoria

Despite being in Canada, which on a balmy day is cold enough to give a penguin hypothermia (I’m only half kidding. It snowed in my hometown just last week. It’s June.), the climate in Victoria is surprisingly mild. Even the winter isn’t terribly cold, though it rains a fair bit.

For the best weather, we recommend visiting between May and October. We have visited at the end of April and at the beginning of June and had perfect weather both times.

What to Do in Victoria, British Columbia

There are plenty of activities to keep you busy on a trip to Vancouver Island! These are some of the best things to do in and around Victoria, British Columbia.

Explore the second oldest Chinatown in North America

China Town, Victoria, BC

Victoria’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America (the oldest is in San Francisco). And though it’s fairly compact, it’s a fun place to explore for a few hours. Take your time winding through the narrow alleyways.

Fun fact: Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest commercial street in Canada!

So pop into some shops, take some photos, and definitely stick around for lunch and bubble tea. 

Bask in the beauty The Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens

The most well-known tourist attraction in Victoria, British Columbia, is undoubtedly The Butchart Gardens. The gardens, which have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada, draw more than a million visitors per year. And for good reason. They’re the most spectacular gardens we’ve ever seen. Which is saying something, because we’ve traveled a fair bit in Europe, and Europeans have decidedly green thumbs. The grounds at Versailles are nothing to sneeze at. But The Butchart Gardens are, in our opinion, the most beautiful.

The Butchart Gardens is actually made up of a number of smaller gardens. The most famous (and the one you’ve probably seen on postcards or Instagram) is “The Sunken Garden,” which was cultivated in an empty limestone deposit more than a century ago by Jennie Butchart. Other gardens you won’t want to miss are the Japanese Garden (which reminded us a lot of the gardens we visited in Japan last fall) and the Italian Garden.

We didn’t have the chance to go when we visited, but an afternoon tea is served in the dining room looking out at the Italian Garden.

The gardens are open year-round, but your experience will vary greatly depending on the season. We visited in early June when the tulips were in bloom. Check the website to see what flowers will be blooming on your visit.

Cost: Varies by season, but typically around $30 per adult, $15 for youth, $2 for children. Afternoon tea costs an additional $40 per person.

Learn about Canadian politics at the B.C. Parliament Building

Parliament Victoria, BC

The British Columbia parliament buildings in downtown Victoria were completed in 1898, which makes them positively ancient by Canadian standards. The building and the grounds are beautiful. When we visited, an outdoor band was giving a concert of John Williams’ compositions, which basically makes everything more epic.

Free tours are available throughout the day, though the times change daily. Book in advance for non-English or group tours. Find more information on the website.

Enjoy the sea breeze at Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf

If you’ve ever fantasized about living in a houseboat (and, frankly, who hasn’t?), head to Fisherman’s Wharf. Colorful houseboats dock in the harbor year-round. There are also shops and food stalls, so it is a great place to spend an afternoon.

Hit the Beach

Willow's Beach

I know Canada doesn’t necessarily spring to mind when most people think “beach destination.” It’s not exactly a swing-in-a-hammock-and-sip-a-pina-colada type of place. But there are actually some great beaches near Victoria.

We visited Willows Beach, which is located east of Victoria in Oak Bay. The views of the sailboats and mountains are stunning. It is also a good option for families, since it’s a great place to swim (in the summer) and there is a playground, bathroom facilities, and a tearoom that sells food, drinks, and desserts.

Chill out at Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park is a fun place to spend a morning or afternoon. Take a stroll (or jog) through the gardens, sit by the pond, and check out the world’s tallest totem pole. Keep your eyes open, because you might just make a new friend. When we were there, we saw a peacock proudly displaying his tail feathers, something my three-year-old nephew loved.

For families traveling with children (or animal-lovers of all ages, really), be sure to check out the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, which is home to several types of farm animals.

A highlight of any visit to the farm is the “Running of the Goats.” Think “Running of the Bulls,” except calmer, less dangerous, and a whole lot cuter. Ok, so it’s actually nothing like the famous Spanish event. But it’s still a lot of fun.

Basically, at 10:10am every morning, visitors can stand along the path and cheer on baby goats as they run from their nighttime enclosure to their daytime enclosure (the same thing happens in reverse at 5:10pm). It is primarily intended for children, but it is fun for all ages and we saw groups of people with and without children when we went. Because is anyone ever too old to ooh and aww over baby goats?

Once the goats enter their daytime enclosure, visitors are welcome to get up-close-and-personal with them. Just watch out. They love to jump on people’s backs and nibble their hair! Worth it? Definitely.

Cost: entry to the farm is free, but donations are encouraged.

Climb Mount Doug

Mount Doug

For great views of Victoria and the surrounding area, head to Mount Doug. You can drive partway and then hike up to the top. It’s a fairly easy climb, even for children. Our three-year-old and one-year-old nephews were able to complete it without difficulty (though it took them a while, because they liked to stop to look at everything!).

Make new friends (and enjoy a treat) at the Oak Bay Marina

Oak Bay Marina

The Oak Bay Marina is more than just a place to dock a boat. It’s also home to some of Vancouver Island’s plumpest—and cutest—locals: the Oak Bay seals. If you stop by, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them! While you’re there, be sure to grab a Nanaimo bar—a three-layer Canadian dessert that was invented on the island, though some (and by that I mean me) argue it was actually given to Canadians as part of a divine revelation—at the Marina Dockside Eatery. I’m a Nanaimo bar aficionado, and the Nanaimo bars at the Marina are some of the best I’ve had on the island.

Enjoy the bird’s eye views from Mount Tolmie

Mt. Tolmie

Another place to enjoy some great views of Victoria and the surrounding area is from the top of Mount Tolmie. You can either walk or drive to the top. (We drove, because we were traveling with two babies!) There is a large, fenced-in cement slab at the summit, which was a great place for our nephews to burn off some steam and fly a kite. For the best views, visit at sunrise or sunset. Just be sure to bundle up, because it can be quite cold and windy, even in summer.

Have a swanky afternoon tea

Burtchart Gardens

In some ways, Victoria bears a stronger resemblance to England than to the rest of Canada. And one of those similarities is the city’s love of tea. In fact, it is known as the tea capital of Canada, something that makes my coffee-hating self quite happy! Victoria was where I first heard of a London Fog (an Earl Grey tea latte with a shot of vanilla), and my life was forever changed. If you’re a fan of afternoon tea, Victoria is an awesome place to indulge.

The most popular (and swanky) place to enjoy high tea in Victoria is at the famed Fairmont Empress Hotel. At $82 per person, it is definitely on the pricey end of the spectrum. But if you want to feel like Princess Kate, this is the place to do it. Be sure to dress appropriately snazzy or risk getting turned away.

Other popular spots include Pendray Tea House and The Butchart Gardens.

We haven’t had a chance to have high tea in Victoria yet, but it is definitely on my list for future visits!

Where to Eat and Drink in Victoria, BC

Victoria is home to some amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and teahouses. These are some of our favorite places to eat and drink in Victoria.

Blue Fox Café

blue fox cafe

Start the day off right with a hearty breakfast from the Blue Fox Café, a great local joint. The lines are typically out the door, but the wait is well worth it. Blue Fox Café is known for their delicious eggs Benedict, but the French toast is pretty amazing too!

919 Fort Street | Suite 101, Victoria, British Columbia V8V 3K3, Canada

Spice Aid

Spice Aid

Craving some cheap Indian food? (Of course you are, because cheap Indian food is the best thing you’ll ever regret eating!) Check out the Spice Aid food truck, which serves up delicious South Indian cuisine. We may be slightly biased since we know the owners, but the food really is delicious!

Its location varies, but it is typically parked in the Fountain Tire parking lot on Herald Street.

610 Herald St., Victoria, BC V8W 1S7, Canada

Red Barn Market

If you’re looking for a quick takeaway lunch, head to Red Barn Market. Though it is primarily a grocery store, the deli serves delicious sandwiches that are perfect for lunch-on-the-go. We took ours to Willows Beach and had a seaside picnic with stellar views.

Multiple locations.

Cold Comfort

cold comfort

Ice cream fans should hit up Cold Comfort. They offer a wide variety of flavors, from London Fog to olive oil and sea salt, and their ice cream sandwiches are amazing. They also have a wide variety of vegan ice creams that are just as delicious as the real deal!

1115 N Park St #2, Victoria, BC V8T 1C7, Canada

Hey Happy

Hey Happy

Even the snobbiest of coffee-loving hipsters (*ahem* Sam *ahem*) will enjoy the coffee selection of Hey Happy in downtown Victoria. They also make a good London Fog for non-coffee-drinkers. Inside seating is limited, so grab a cup to go and enjoy the nearby shops!

560 Johnson St #122, Victoria, BC V8W 3C6, Canada

Discovery

Discovery Coffee

Another coffee shop in Victoria that passed Sam’s coffee test was Discovery Coffee, which actually has a few locations (we went to the one in Oak Bay). Discovery has a more eclectic feel and a greater seating capacity. They also serve some pretty spectacular donuts.

Multiple Locations.

Hide & Seek

Hide and Seek

If you’re sensing a theme by now, that’s because Sam makes a point of hitting as many coffee shops as possible when we visit Victoria, and my brother, sister-in-law, and cousins who live there are happy to oblige! Hide & Seek is another coffee shop worth checking out.

Hide & Seek is located on Oak Bay Ave., one of the main commercial streets in Oak Bay. So while you’re in the area, be sure to explore the surrounding area.

2207 Oak Bay Ave, Victoria, BC V8R 1G4, Canada

Where to Shop

Sam and I aren’t typically big spenders (mainly because we try to save every penny we can for our travel fund!), but there are a few shops we always make sure to hit when we visit Victoria, British Columbia.

The Regional Assembly of Text

Assembly of text

The Regional Assembly of Text is a stationery store that sells greeting cards, postcards, journals, pens, tea towels, and more. But unlike tacky tourist shops, The Regional Assembly of Text’s merchandise is modern and unique. There are even vintage typewriter stations where visitors can type letters and postcards.

Sam and I mail home a postcard from each place we visit—a tradition we started in Vatican City several years ago—so we made sure to pick one up here (the store sells stamps and there is a post box just down the road).

560 Johnson St #116, Victoria, BC V8W 3C6, Canada

Murchie’s

Merchie's

Only available in British Columbia, Murchie’s tea is some of the best I’ve ever had. They offer a wide selection, but my favorite is the Earl Grey. It even comes in a cute little tin! Both times we’ve visited Victoria I’ve stocked up on some to bring home. The teahouse attached to the store is a great place to sample the tea (and enjoy a sweet afternoon pick-me-up!).

The only other tea I like as much as Murchie’s was the Mackwood tea from Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka.

1110 Government St, Victoria, BC V8W 1Y2, Canada

Russell Books

Russell Books

I am always on the hunt for a good book store, and Russell Books in downtown Victoria is one of the best. The family-owned shop, which has a massive selection of new and used books spanning multiple floors, is basically a book-lover’s paradise.

734 Fort St, Victoria, BC V8W 2P5, Canada

Victoria is one of the most popular destinations in Canada, and it’s easy to see why. We are looking forward to visiting again next year!

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A Guide to Victoria, Canada

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