Ahh, Victoria. Just thinking about spending a weekend there has me feeling a mix of excitement and oddly, peace. Perhaps that’s because it’s a destination that can offer you either of these, and anything in between.
Victoria BC (on Vancouver Island) is a perfect spot to escape to for a day from Seattle (or Vancouver). In a relatively short but scenic journey, you’ll be transported to a city that showcases its English heritage, while at the same time, embraces a new vibe as its old brick warehouses are transformed into hip boutiques, and a plethora of great eateries.
You’ll soon quickly see that although you can have a great day trip to Victoria, you really should plan to stay longer. How many days do you need? I’d highly recommend at least two. We spent a long weekend there, and could easily have stayed longer. And when I return next, I plan on exploring beyond Victoria.
So let’s not muck around, let’s plan now to make it a weekend getaway!
Here’s what to see, do and eat to make your time in Victoria B.C. the perfect weekend escape.
How to GET TO Victoria from Seattle
Imagine flying over Vancouver Island, viewing all of its beauty from above, then coming in to land right in the centre of all the activity, on the harbour front. This is certainly a grand way to start your weekend, and a great option if you’re also wanting to maximise every minute of your weekend.
Your other alternative is not too shabby either. The ferry from Seattle departs from a downtown pier, and travels among the San Juan Islands before it reaches Victoria. Being on the water, you have the opportunity to see some of the islands up close as you head by, and you may just be spoiled by the spotting of some local wildlife. Our trip on the ferry was kinda magical – the sea was like glass most of the way, and we were spoiled with whale sightings along the way.
And guess what – you can combine these two options to get the best of each way.
Whichever way you travel, you will arrive in the heart of Victoria’s bustling harbour, overlooked by some seriously impressive historical & grandiose buildings.
You’ve got a couple of options for your ferry and / or seaplane.
They also offer heavily discounted parking in downtown for your car.
The ferry journey is a little under 3 hours, while the seaplane is 45 minutes.
From Port Angeles : BlackBall Ferry Line – 90 minutes (also a take your car option)
Where to STAY in Victoria, B.C.
Victoria is often referred to as the ‘walking city’, and once there, you’ll see why. All of the inner harbour area is very walkable, so any accommodation in this area is recommended.
If you’re wanting to splurge, nothing else will compare to the experience at The Fairmont Hotel.
However, there are a ton of other lovely hotels, and delightful Air BNB’s to stay in.
Check out the map below to see your options.
Top things to SEE & DO in Victoria
For me, whale watching and Victoria are synonymous. It is the perfect environment to view orcas, humpback and minke whales, alongside sea lions, seals and porpoises.
You may see whales at any time of year, however, peak season for whale watching is from May through October, when salmon are migrating.
A whale tour was at the top of my list of things to do in Victoria. But sadly, I learned a lesson here, and did not get to do a tour. At the time, some tour companies did not run every day, with many operators only sailing on days that cruise liners were in town. On the Monday I had set aside to do our tour, the only tour had already sold out. ☹ Which just means I’m going to have to go back to do it.
Visit the Butchart Gardens
The Butchart Gardens are definitely one of Victoria’s stand out attractions. I still remember seeing photos of it as a child in Vancouver, and asking if we could visit. It is a destination whose appeal transcends age. I wonder if Jennie Butchart had a full vision of what would become when she started transforming the former quarry with the Sunken Garden? Her story and achievement are quite remarkable, and it is an absolute joy to be able to wander many of the 55 acres that make up the Gardens today, which are now a National Historic Site of Canada. Whatever the weather, or the season, you cannot help but be impressed, and will treasure your time there. As any garden does, everything here changes with the season, and anytime is the right time to come.
Viewing the gardens does involve a lot of walking, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes.
Top Tip: If you’re intending to do both whale watching and the Butchart Gardens, choose a tour that combines them, for a better deal.
Tour the Parliament Buildings
The Parliament Buildings combine with the Fairmont Express Hotel in creating an incredible presence and majestic impression on the Victoria harbourfront. They are two equally iconic buildings, that you simply cannot miss. In fact, both buildings were designed by Francis Rattenbury, an English immigrant, which explains their very English look.
Did you know that Victoria is actually the capital of British Columbia? So the Parliament Buildings are the home of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and as much as a tourist destination, they are very much in use.
If you like character, and architecture, then touring the Buildings needs to be on your list. There are free guided tours daily (except when shut as currently in our covid world.)
Outside, the grounds and gardens are quite lovely. There’s a statue of Queen Victoria on the front lawn, as well as the British Columbia Legislature Cenotaph commemorating the prince’s World War I, World War II, Korean War and Afghanistan War dead.
At night, the entire perimeter of the building is lit with strings of lights, it’s a magical site to see. Yes – you need to take photos of it during the day and at night.
Dine at the Fairmont Empress Hotel for high tea
High Tea at the Fairmont is a century old tradition, and Victoria institution. And with that comes a pretty hefty price (C$82 per person). But, if you’re up for the splurge, it truly is a unique Victorian experience, in the most elegant surroundings. Of course, you’ll need to dress for the occasion – not just to fit in, but also because there is a strict dress code.
I think it is quite lovely that traditions like dressing up for an occasion like this exist. Who doesn’t love an excuse to get out the glad rags and heels?!
Visit China Town
The “Gate of Harmonious Interest” marks the entrance to the oldest China Town in Canada. The gate was built in 1981 to symbolise a shift towards the new multiculturalism in Canada. It won’t take you long to explore the area, as it’s really only just a couple of blocks, but you should include the very unique Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. It is only 35” wide (90cm) at its narrowest point!
And of course, if you love Chinese food or tea, this is the place to enjoy it.
If you’d like to move away from English architecture to something more colourful and vibrant, then a visit to the float homes (house boats) on Fisherman’s Wharf should be on your list. Or if you’re hungry for seafood!
There is something so intriguing about float homes, they seem to bring a little bit of whimsy to life. I wonder if that’s true for those who live in them? Wandering past them along the docs of the wharf, we couldn’t help but stop at each one, enjoying the colour, the architecture, and in some cases, the weird and wonderful.
Alongside the float homes, the wharf also houses plenty of places to eat and shop, and is the departure point for many marine based activities. Including being a Pickle Boat stop.
Take a ride on a Pickle Boat
The Victorian pickle boats stole my heart. I mean – look how cute they are!
Victoria is a very walkable city, but I think you simply must take a pickle boat ride at some time, just to experience it.
The pickle boats operate as water taxis across the inner harbour area ($7.50 a ride), or there are a range of tours you can take. The Pickle Pub crawl sounds like lots of fun!
Wander the Inner Harbour
Downtown Victoria is blessed to sit on the edge of a magnificent harbour, framed by statuesque buildings on one side, with views to commanding mountains in the distance. The harbour itself is a hive of activity, with sea planes landing, large ferries coming and going, cruise ships docked, and pickle boats criss crossing the water.
Just walking around the harbour is an activity in itself. There are plenty of spots to stop and sit and take it all in. You’ll probably find plenty of entertainment on land as well, market stalls are common, as are buskers.
Walk the West Bay Walkway to Esquimalt
If you’ve been indulging in many of Victoria’s delicious foods, you may feel the need to walk a little bit of it off. It may help justify dinner and dessert tonight right?
The West Bay Walkway (or Songhees walkway) starts just across the Johnson St. bridge, and runs around the foreshore. It’s pretty much flat, and well paved, and the views are just lovely. We walked from the bridge to the West Bay Marina, where there’s another community of floating homes. One way it’s about 3km.
It’s a great place to watch the float planes land.
You can continue your walk and return home, or you can catch a Pickle boat here, back to the Inner Harbour.
Shop at Market Square
What visit would be complete without a little retail therapy right? For me that doesn’t even have to include actually buying anything, I just love to browse beautiful shops. If you’re like me, then you need to head to Market Square.
Boutique shops with unique merchandise are housed in brightly painted heritage buildings, which just adds another element to the enjoyment of wandering this area. At night they’re also lit up beautifully, so it turns into a shopping wonderland. Who wouldn’t want to shop here?! (And no, I wasn’t able to resist a couple of beautiful pieces for my home, that still make stop and smile and remember our time in Victoria.)
Alongside Market Square, you’ll probably also enjoy wandering up Government Street. It’s a bit more touristy, but there’s a good mix of retail and entertainment options. There may or may not also be a couple of lovely chocolate shops on this street. (shhh)
If you have more time, consider some of these other ideas:
- Explore the Victoria Butterfly Gardens
- Learn more of Victoria’s history at the Royal B.C. museum
- Tour the stately home of an 1800’s coal baron – Craigdarroch Castle
- Wander the 200 acre Beacon Hill Park
Best places to EAT in Victoria
Head here for an incredible breakfast. This is a local institution, so you need to be prepared to line to get in.
Do you have a special occasion to celebrate, or are you a foodies? If you answer yes to either of these, you’ll want to pick Il Terrazzo for dinner. The restaurant is full of atmosphere, and the food – oooh la la. Make sure you book.
The Bard and Banker
You’ll be hard pressed to realise this is not a beautiful restoration of a grand English pub. Although the building is historic, the insides are all a faithful reproduction. It is beautiful. If you are / have a beer connoisseur with you, this is where you need to head. They have more 30 beers on tap (apparently this is an important fact!) They also do a great breakfast deal (and yummy brekkie to go with the deal). There are numerous spots to enjoy the pub, including a small rooftop terrace.
A beautiful spot to enjoy lunch if the sun is shining. The Local is easy to spot – it’s the place with all the hanging baskets.
Perverted Ice Cream
For ice cream that’s just a little bit different (but still delicious)
Getting AROUND Victoria
Downtown Victoria is quite a condensed area, and as such, it’s very walkable. We always tend to walk more while we’re vacationing anyway – it helps justify all those extra snacks and delicious meals out.
BUT you may wish just for novelty sake, to take a Pickle Boat across the harbor at some stage (see above).
Or, take a horse and cart and feel as regal as the buildings look.
And, there’s always bikes, scooters, and taxis to be hired if you don’t want to walk, or want to go a little further.
So there you have it. A ton of crazy good, fun, & spectacular activities to keep you well entertained while in Victoria B.C., and a wealth of delicious, character filled places to eat and drink. A weekend away never looked so good!
Last but not least, you will need to take your passport with you (& may need a visa). Check here for more details.
PS. If you think Victoria looks like a great place to visit, I think you’ll also enjoy these charming towns in Washington. They make great day trips from Seattle.
PPS. I transformed our weekend escape photos into memories – using digital scrapbooking. You might be surprised at how easy and effective this is.