Attractions in Victoria
Got a thirst for an adventure, a hunger for celebration, a curiosity for history? Well then you've come to the right place. Victoria comes alive with festivals, fun and food, and it's one of Canada's top destinations for year-round recreation and culture.Beacon Hill Park is named for the two masts placed at the summit as a beacon for mariners. It is just a five-to-ten-minute walk from downtown at the foot of Douglas Street, and is Victoria's grand garden showpiece. This oasis of flowering plants, wide canopied Garry oak trees and the world's tallest totem pole (when it was erected in 1956), has long been a place to relax and unwind. The totem, just off Dallas Road near Cook Street, was recently restored. The heart of Beacon Hill Park is beautifully landscaped and manicured. Shaded trails lead past a wide variety of native and non-native plants, trees and shrubs, and alongside ponds, lakes, streams and fountains. The park is home for numerous species of ducks, birds and wildlife. Some of the landscaping dates back to 1889 when Scottish architect, John Blair, who had come to Vancouver Island a few years earlier, won a design competition. Some 2,000 trees and shrubs – many now rare and endangered – were then planted according to Blair's instruction.
The Royal BC Museum sits on a diverse and fascinating cultural precinct, which includes two of the oldest buildings in British Columbia – Helmcken House and St. Ann’s Schoolhouse. Nearby you’ll discover a perfect picnic spot at Thunderbird Park, with its awe-inspiring collection of totem poles and Mungo Martin House/Wawadit’la. Your stroll around the cultural precinct will take you through the native plant garden and past historically significant sculptures and plaques. Listen for the bells of the beautifully restored Netherlands Centennial Carillon – they ring every hour on the hour, from 10am to 5pm.
Helmcken House, at the Royal BC Museum, is one of the oldest houses in BC. Still on its original site, Helmcken House was the first and only Victoria home of Dr. John Sebastian Helmcken. As a Father of Confederation, Hudson’s Bay Company physician and driving force behind the formation of the BC Medical Association, Dr. Helmcken’s contributions to British Columbia society are many. Steep yourself in BC history as you explore the rooms in which Dr. Helmcken and his wife Cecelia, daughter of governor James Douglas, raised four children and built a busy medical practice.
Located on Victoria’s world-famous Inner Harbour is the newly opened Robert Batemen Centre. Here you can experience nature’s most dramatic subjects through the eyes of one of Canada’s most celebrated artists and naturalists. From the oceans of British Columbia to the wilderness of Africa, this exhibit of more than 100 pieces unleashes the full scope of Robert Bateman’s work.
If creepy crawly things are of interest, but you are not up to being frightened, a visit to the Victoria Bug Zoo will be a special treat. Located on the 600 block of Courtney Street, their knowledgeable guides will reveal the hidden secrets of insects and their habitat. A visit to this must-see miniature zoo offers visitors an excellent opportunity to view and experience LIVE multi-legged creatures from around the world in a fun and friendly atmosphere. While in Victoria be sure to crawl, fly, slither and wriggle your way to the Bug Zoo! British Columbia’s Legislative Buildings, designed by Francis Rattenbury, were opened in 1898. Free guided tours are offered daily showcasing the many design and construction features from native BC materials, as well as an explanation of the parliamentary system of democracy.
The Victoria Public Market at the Hudson is an amazing place to have lunch, pick up your gourmet treats to prepare a lavish dinner, or spend some time people watching. The Market is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 6.30pm and Sunday from 9.30am to 5pm. It is closed on Mondays. Some of the fabulous vendors include Flowers @ the Hudson, Victoria Pie Co., Salt Spring Island Cheese, Island Spice Trade, Roast, Sutra, Cowichan Bay Seafood and many others!
Emily Carr House is open for the visitor season from May thru September and is located at 207 Government Street. Enjoy this opportunity to come and learn about this famous Canadian Artist by touring the beautifully appointed and restored rooms from her childhood home. Throughout the year you can visit contemporary art exhibits. If you are lucky you might see one of the Emily Carr House cats.
With its open aspect and brisk ocean breezes, Clover Point is one of Victoria's favourite places to fly a kite. The trail that proceeds westward to Ogden Point is one of the city's most beloved strolls, and some of the open fields here are designated off-leash, so it's also a popular area for dogs and their owners. The trail traces the top of the bluff that overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca, offering spectacular and ever-changing views of the Olympic Mountains in Washington State. The Strait is the marine highway for both Vancouver and Seattle and, as such, is the busiest water corridor in the Pacific Northwest.
Victoria has a rich history of Chinese immigration, and the city’s Chinatown, established in 1858, is the oldest in Canada. It was designated a National Historic Site in 1995 and is a fabulous place to explore. Discoveries include Fan Tan Alley, a former gambling district that is the narrowest commercial street in North America. The city’s early neighbourhoods have evolved into vibrant villages and shopping districts, which include Cook Street Village, Fernwood, Oak Bay Village, Estevan Village, Chinatown and Fort Street – a fantastic destination for hunters of antiques and collectibles.
Miniature World at 649 Humboldt Street is a very interesting attraction where you will see 80 miniature displays of places, events and themes in fantasy and history. The Imax Victoria Theatre, in the Royal BC Museum, will take you away from the ordinary and into a world of wonder. Craigdarroch Castle at 1050 Joan Crescent is an outstanding landmark home which was built in 1887-90 by Robert Dunsmuir for the woman he loved.
One of the seasonal points of interest requires you drive or take a tiny ferry to 1860s Point Ellice House at 2616 Pleasant Street for a tour and afternoon tea on the lawn. The Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse at 2765 Admirals Road, beside the Gorge Waterway, are National Historic Sites of Canada. A manor and schoolhouse are the centrepiece of the historic site. These were commissioned by the Hudson’s Bay Company in order to offer education and lodging for their staff. Today these buidlings are open as museums of the colonial background of Victoria.
Outside the Downtown area and en route to the Airport and Ferry terminal brings you to Victoria's premier attraction, The Butchart Gardens which continues to impress everyone with its beauty. Jennie Butchart started this 22-hectare (55-acre) piece of paradise, which now includes the Italian, Rose, Japanese, Sunken and Mediterranean gardens, as well as the Star Pond and the Ross Fountain. The Butchart Gardens was named a National Historic Site of Canada in 2004 on its 100th anniversary. Eco-friendly electric boat tours ply the close-by waters of Tod Inlet from June to September. Ride the Rose Carousel complete with an exquisitely hand carved menagerie of animals from around the world. Located in Brentwood Bay these resplendent gardens are 23 kilometres (14 miles) north of Victoria. Night Illuminations and evening entertainment in the summer months add another personality to The Gardens.
Nearby Butchart Gardens, Victoria Butterfly Gardens offers your only opportunity to experience the warmth, beauty and romance of a tropical jungle without going to the tropics. Stroll through this indoor tropical wonderland, where Caribbean flamingos walk through the streams and ponds among the beautifully coloured koi, goldfish, jack dempseys, albino oscars, tetras, barbs, jaguar cichlids, plecos, Australian whistling tree ducks and red-eared slider turtles.
Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site & Fisgard Lighthouse It remained in service for more than 50 years, and was decommissioned in 1956. It's a great adventure on a quiet afternoon, and the site offers stunning views across the strait to the Olympic Mountain Range in the distance, and Esquimalt Harbour. Just past the lower battery and across the causeway, the oldest lighthouse on Canada's West Coast stands guard. Built by the British when Vancouver Island was still a Crown colony in 1860, Fisgard Lighthouse has guided mariners for generations. Its beam, which radiates out from the top of the 47-foot-high structure, is visible for ten nautical miles. The former keeper's house now contains exhibits, artifacts and display panels. Take Highway 1A and Ocean Boulevard.
Esquimalt Lagoon Migratory Bird Sanctuary saltwater lagoon is located in Colwood at the base of the Royal Roads property, next to the Fort Rodd Hill/Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites and a view across Esquimalt Harbour at Dockyard. Magnificent ocean, mountain and city views provide a backdrop to an important stopover on the Pacific Flyway, a “bird highway” between North and South America. Nearby lands contain a variety of wildlife and some of the biggest Douglas fir trees in BC. Adjacent to Fort Rodd Hill, Hatley Castle and Royal Roads University, and a must visit is Essencia: Home of the Coast Collective Art Centre located within the Holiday Inn Express building. You'll find the amazing work of over 100 local artists.
At Hatley Castle & Gardens experience tranquility and serenity as you stroll the heritage gardens and enjoy the protected natural beauty. This Edwardian estate, designed by Boston landscape architects Brett and Hall, has four distinct landscape zones. Hatley Castle sits proudly as the centerpiece from which a series of garden rooms lead to the newly restored 1914 Lord and Burnham greenhouse. The site contains an impressive range of exotic trees, shrubs, flowers and plants, with picturesque ponds, paths, brides and a Japanese Gazebo.
Mount Tolmie A paved road winds upward from Cedar Hill Cross Road and Richmond Road to a parking area at the 120-metre summit of Mount Tolmie and one of the best – and breeziest! – views of the city. Trails meander through the Garry oaks and arbutus meadows around the summit, and the 18-hectare park is also a popular choice for picnicking, wildflower viewing in the spring, and blackberry picking in late summer.
Whiffen Spit - Sooke. Just beyond the town of Sooke, at the end of Whiffen Spit Road, a rocky finger of land stretches into Sooke Harbour. Whiffen Spit, the harbour's natural breakwater, forms a one-kilometre-long protective barrier. Just metres wide in some places, it is a scenic choice for a walk. It's also a great place for a picnic, birdwatching or launching a kayak. The seaward side of the spit is home to many oceangoing birds, and the rough surf seems to be particularly popular in the winter with Harlequin Ducks, which can be frequently spotted tumbling in the waves.