Victoria is one of Canada’s most beautiful and historic cities. These things to do in Victoria, BC need to be at the top of everybody’s Canadian travel bucket-list, and that applies to both residents and tourists!
We’ve honestly yet to meet a single person who has been to Victoria who hasn’t appreciated its unique vibe (and geography). In fact, tourists seem to want to move there after they’ve come ashore, and if you talk to locals, they certainly don’t seem too keen to live anywhere else.
And there’s a reason for that. In fact, there are plenty of reasons for that. Generally speaking, Victoria has its priorities straight. There are opportunities to be outdoors almost everywhere you look, quality museums, a delightful array of restaurants, bars, and pubs galore, and there’s a palpable energy to it all.
Let’s take a look at the top things to do in Victoria, British Columbia, and investigate what makes this remarkable capital city so remarkable.
More About the Beautiful Victoria, British Colombia
Victoria, as many of you will know, is the capital city of British Columbia. That being said, many people do think that Vancouver is the capital since it’s a considerably larger city and is more “in front” of the world internationally with its sports teams and so forth.
The city itself has a population of around 100,000, but the Greater Victoria Area is much closer to 400,000.
Victoria is the southernmost major city in the western part of Canada. As you might imagine, this city is indeed named after Queen Victoria (1837-1901), and it was founded all the way back in 1843, which explains part of the reason there’s such a regal feel to the city.
Cities like Toronto haven’t done a particularly good job of preserving their historic buildings but thankfully for us, Victoria very much has. Simply walking around the core will give you a good sense of that, and particularly when you’re strolling around the Inner Harbour (with views of both the Parliament Buildings and the Empress).
We’ll get into more depth about what exactly you’ll want to do in Victoria, BC, but it is worth mentioning that only San Francisco has an older Chinatown in North America.
We want also to take a moment to recognize that before the Europeans, this area was settled by the Coast Salish First Nations Peoples.
Let’s talk about how to explore Victoria to get the most out of your visit.
What to Do in Victoria, BC – “The Garden City”
The list of things to do in Victoria below is listed in no particular order. Simply use this as a guide to building your own ideal Victoria itinerary in whichever way serves you best. That’s how we like to do things here at We Explore Canada (and Ultimate Ontario, too, for that matter)
Visit Fisherman’s Wharf
The Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria is often overlooked, and we’re really not sure why. It’s a short walk from the Inner Harbour (and a great place to stop on the way into town if you’re coming off a cruise ship), and it’s a unique marine destination.
You’ll find plenty of food options if you’re hungry, tons of photogenic boats, and lovely little “float homes.” Please keep in mind that people do live here, so please be respectful of that if people are out on their respective patios. There are actually 33 berths that are designated for floating homes, all of which have their own vibe.
If you’re into photography and having a nice counterpoint to the historical downtown core, the Fisherman’s Wharf is your ticket.
Spend Some Time at The Royal BC Museum and Archives
This museum has been a focal point of tourism in Victoria since it was founded in 1886. It’s an amalgamation of the province’s natural and human history museum and the extensive British Columbia archives.
The Royal British Columbia Museum is an incredible Canadian museum that has amassed over 7 million objects since it was first an idea. In terms of visiting the museum, you’ll want to know that there are three permanent galleries: The First Peoples Gallery, Becoming BC, and, of course, Natural History.
Before visiting, you’ll want to take a look at their current exhibitions, as the Museum has a reputation for always having something new on display to ensure that no two visits are the same for both residents and tourists.
Take a Few Deep Breaths at Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park isn’t all that far from the downtown core, so you’d assume that it wouldn’t be all that big, but that assumption would be wrong. The park is absolutely massive, as there are over 200 acres in total to visit and enjoy.
There are some natural areas that you can appreciate, plenty of flower beds to add some colour to your day, footpaths and trails, as well as places to play sports or just run wild and free. If you’ve been on a cruise ship for a few days, this might be a fun place just to let the kids have a moment to appreciate being off the ship.
The highlight of the park has to be the Garry Oak Ecosystem, which contains some of Canada’s rarest (and most endangered) biodiversity. All that to say, please be respectful during your visit.
Explore Victoria’s Chinatown
Chinatown in Victoria is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America (after San Francisco).
This is a place where, in our opinion, it’s best just to arrive and walk around. Pop into local shops and restaurants, take a right at the next alleyway and be comfortable losing your bearings for a second. Chinatown isn’t particularly big, so there’s no danger of you getting too lost, but we took this exploratory approach when we visited, and it ended up paying big dividends.
It’s wonderful to see a place that was founded all the way back in 1858 continue to have strong Chinese roots, as many of the residents and business owners here identify as Chinese Canadians.
Don’t miss Fan Tan Alley.
Hike Up Mount Douglas
Mount Douglas is maybe a 15-20 minute drive from the Inner Harbour, but you’re going to end up in a place that feels worlds removed from city life. There are coded trails to make it clear where you can be comfortable hiking, and the reason most people are coming here is that when you get to the top, you’ve got an absolutely sensational 360-degree view of Victoria.
You can get to the top by car, but it’s a lot more worth it to hike, especially because the air in Victoria just somehow feels fresher than everywhere else!
Pop into a Local Brewery
Victoria has been at the forefront of the craft beer scene for a long time. It’s no surprise that the city hosts the oldest craft beer festival in Canada.
You’ll likely come across a number of breweries just by walking around, and that’s because there’s a real social culture in Victoria. People always seem to be out and about, making the most of their days and nights. The beer here is great as well!
If you’re looking to do a bit of a brewery crawl, consider visiting any of the following: Driftwood Brewing Company, Whistle Buoy Brewing Company, Hoyne Brewing Company, Herald Street Brew Works, Lighthouse Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewing, Ile Sauvage Brewing Co., or Phillips Brewing.
Appreciate the Inner Harbour, One of the Most Beautiful Harbours on the Planet
If you’re exploring Victoria, you’re not going to miss the Inner Harbour, even if you tried, but it’s important to spend a good amount of time here to get a feel for things.
In the Inner Harbour, you’ll find the Royal BC Museum, the Tourist Information Centre, the Robert Bateman Gallery, the Parliament Buildings, and, of course, the Empress Hotel. Take a walk around and observe the energy if you can – it’s a fun place to just stand for a second, and live music and performers seem to focus on this area as well if that’s your thing.
We decided to take in the sunset from the Q Bar at the Fairmont Empress, and that turned out to be a wonderful decision. There’s an old-world charm there and some top-notch bartenders. It’s widely considered to be one of the best bars in Canada. If you do go, be sure to sip on the locally crafted Empress 1908 Gin.
Set Eyes on Craigdarroch Castle
Whoever owns the domain thecastle.ca has to be pretty darn important, right? Well, yes.
Craighdarroch Castle bills itself as “Canada’s Castle,” and they are indeed a National Historic Site. The castle was constructed in the late 19th century as an extravagant family residence for an immensely wealthy coal baron, Robert Dunsmuir, and his wife, Joan.
The Castle passed through a myriad of hands and served at different times as a military hospital, a college, offices, and even a conservatory. Thankfully, in the late 1970s, it finally became a historical museum.
They run tours, at this time, from Thursday through Sunday (and tours take approximately 60minutes), but you can also simply purchase self-guided tickets when you arrive.
Go Out for a Memorable Meal in Victoria
There is no shortage of great restaurants in Victoria, but here are a few that you might want to have on your radar during your visit.
- Finn’s: The 1882 heritage building in the downtown core is beautiful, but it’s the sustainably caught fresh seafood and a mean cocktail menu that will seal the deal.
- Pagliacci’s: This place is on most Canadian foodies’ lists because it’s seemingly had a lineup since it first opened in 1979. Great quality Italian cuisine in the heart of Victoria.
- Red Fish Blue Fish: Other than the fact that their name is amazing, what’s even more amazing is the way this place uses tempura batter to perfection with their seafood.
- Saveur: This place isn’t right in the downtown core, but it’s worth the short walk north to get to it. Its local ingredients meet French-inspired cuisine.
Other places you may want to consider for dinner include Il Terrazzo, Jam Cafe, and Nubo Japanese Tacos.
If you’re keen to head out for a drink after dinner, we’d recommend Clive’s Classic Lounge, Clarke & Co., and Little Jumbo. You won’t make a bad choice amongst those three!
Smell the Flowers at Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens, we should first note, is actually a 25-minute drive away from the downtown core, but if you’ve got a vehicle, it’s worth the drive to see this internationally renowned display garden that sits on over 50 acres.
On its one-hundredth birthday, Canada was kind enough to designate this place as a National Historic Site of Canada, and it was well deserved. They have over 25 greenhouses, over 50 full-time gardeners, and nearly 900 bedding plant varieties, and they’re open year-round.
That’s a Wrap on the Stunning Capital of BC, Victoria
We sincerely hope this guide serves you well when you’re exploring Victoria. Whenever we see those surveys come out about the world’s most livable cities, Victoria always seems to be near the top of the list, and it’s easy to see why that’s the case once you’ve visited.
From a tourist perspective, things are relatively compact, so you can cover a lot of ground and get a good feel for Victoria even on just a weekend. Safe travels, and enjoy one of the most beautiful cities not just in Canada but across the world.
Christopher Mitchell is a Co-founder of We Explore Canada. He’s visited over 80 countries and has lived on 4 continents, but now has his eyes set squarely on exploring this incredible country and helping others do the same.