By Briana Seftel
What's not to like about British Columbia’s compact capital city? Located on the southern end of Vancouver Island, this Canadian city with an English flair is an ideal weekend getaway or starting point to a Canada vacation. One of the world's great small cities, discover the 8 best things to do, from tea to gardens!
1. Stop and smell the roses at Butchart Gardens
No visit to Victoria is complete without a visit to Butchart Gardens, a National Historic Site of Canada located about a 20-minute drive from downtown. Spanning 55 acres, the glorious gardens were the dream of Jennie Butchart, who envisioned the gardens from a barren limestone quarry in her backyard. Spend at least two hours exploring the many astonishing gardens, from the Sunken Garden to the Japanese and Italian Gardens.
2. Peruse the selection at Munro’s Books
Situated in a century-old bank on bustling Government Street, Munro's Books is a bonafide Victoria landmark (and one of the world's most beautiful bookstores). Founded in 1963 by the Nobel Prize-winning Canadian writer Alice Munro and her then-husband Jim, the independent bookstore is a visual treat for the eyes with its neoclassical features. Find a thoughtful and curated selection of local and international books, plus regular author talks and events.
3. Take a selfie in front of the Parliament Buildings
Completed in 1898, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings are an iconic feature of the Victoria skyline. Overlooking the Inner Harbour, the buildings are free and open to the public year-round. Take plenty of photos in front of the Neo-baroque architecture before enjoying a tour through the interior. Make sure you return at night, as the buildings are beautifully lit up.
4. Enjoy afternoon tea
With its distinct British flavor, Victoria is a wonderful place to enjoy a traditional afternoon tea. One of the most well-known places for tea is the Fairmont Empress Hotel, opened in 1908 and consistently named one of the best hotels in the world. For the more budget-conscious, the White Heather Tea Room in Oak Bay does a wonderful homemade afternoon tea complete with sandwiches, scones and desserts.
5. Learn the fascinating history behind "Canada's Castle"
Craigdarroch Castle, known as "Canada's Castle," is a Victorian mansion built on a hill overlooking Victoria by Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal. The castle remained in the family until 1908, and subsequently became a military hospital, college and music conservatory. On a self-guided or guided tour, ascend the many floors of the mansion and get a glimpse of high society Canada during the 1890s.
6. Explore Canada's oldest Chinatown
The 19th-century gold rushes and Canadian Pacific Railway drew thousands of Chinese immigrants to Victoria, where they eventually settled. Today, travelers can explore Canada’s oldest Chinatown with its vibrant mix of restaurants, cultural institutions and quirky souvenir shops. Look out for the traditional Chinese architecture that adorn many buildings, including the Gate of Harmonious Interest at the corner of Fisgard and Government Streets.
7. See the floating homes at Fisherman’s Wharf
Sure, it's a bit touristy, but the colorful Fisherman's Wharf, just around the corner from the Inner Harbour, is a delight to explore. Come for a fresh fish and chips meal, wander down the wooden walkways and past the floating homes or book a kayaking excursion or wildlife-spotting cruise.
8. Take a break at Beacon Hill Park
This 200-acre park within walking distance of downtown Victoria is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon. With a rose garden, petting zoo, tennis courts and walkways, you'll want to spend at least a couple hours exploring this natural beauty. From the park, head toward the water and relax with the locals enjoying the peaceful James Bay.