Victoria, British Columbia is an incredibly unique city that you simply have to experience for yourself.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the city feels isolated from the rest of the world but is just a short ferry ride away. The city seamlessly blends Victorian architecture, First Nations cultural objects, and a modern maritime heritage. On top of all of this, Victoria is home to a vibrant community of more than 90,000 people.
There’s so much to do in Victoria that I can hardly cover the city in a single guide. But if you’re visiting Victoria for the first time or only have a weekend to explore, these are my 19 favorite ways to spend time in Victoria.
1. Explore Victoria’s Inner Harbor
Victoria’s Inner Harbor is the beating heart of the city. Standing on the stone walkways above the harbor, you can watch float planes take off, ferries from the US arrive, water taxis ferry people around the city, and more.
The harbor is surrounded on one side by massive Victorian-era buildings, including BC’s Parliament, and on the other side by the busy shops and modern buildings of the city’s downtown. On most summer weekends, you’ll also find vendors, street performers, and musicians lining the promenade.
I love starting out a trip to Victoria with a stroll along the harbor. It’s such a unique spot that really captures the essence of the city.
2. Window Shop on Government Street
Walking from the harbor into downtown Victoria, the first thing you’ll encounter is the cobblestone pedestrian corridor of Government Street. This area is a haven for tourists, but it’s also a lot of fun to explore.
There are ice cream shops, gift shops, classic restaurants, and much more. Don’t miss Out of Ireland, a quirky Ireland-themed clothing store that transports you back to Victorian times. Government Street is also another great spot to find street performers on most summer weekends.
3. Eat Your Way Through the City
As you make your way deeper into the heart of downtown Victoria, one thing becomes clear: this is a foodie’s city. Victoria is home to a really eclectic and delicious food scene, with a mix of beloved staples that have been there for years and hip new restaurants to try.
If you’re going on a self-guided food tour, some spots I recommend are The Local, Ghost Ramen, Tacofino, John’s Place, and Shanzee’s. But the best way to eat your way through Victoria is by taking a walking food tour from A Taste of Victoria or Off the Eaten Track.
4. Take a Water Taxi to Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf is a working fishing dock and moorage for a colorful collection of floating homes. It’s worth a visit to see the colorful boathouses, but the wharf also provides a nice view across the harbor to downtown. While you’re there, grab an ice cream cone from Jackson’s Ice Cream Float—so-named because the ice cream shop itself is floating on the water.
You can walk to Fisherman’s Wharf from downtown in about 20 minutes, and it’s a really scenic walk through some of the less-crowded parts of the city. However, this is also a great opportunity to take one of Victoria’s famed yellow water taxis. These taxis stop at docks all over the harbor, so they offer a convenient and fun way to get around.
5. Enjoy Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel
Victoria is famous for its Victorian heritage, and there’s no better way to lean into that history than by enjoying afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel. The hotel started hosting afternoon tea when it opened its doors in 1908 and continues the tradition today.
Afternoon tea is held in the Empress’s stunning Lobby Lounge daily. It’s quite the experience, as you get not just a cup of tea but a multi-level tray with your choice of cakes, scones, and tarts. The plates and cups are real china and adorned with the Empress’s crown logo.
Reservations are required, so plan ahead if you want to enjoy tea on a summer weekend. There’s also a dress code to maintain the Victorian atmosphere.
6. Go on a Whale Watching Tour
Vancouver Island is famous for its whale populations, which include humpbacks, orcas, right whales, and blue whales. The island’s coast is also dotted with seals, dolphins, and eagles.
There are dozens of whale watching outfitters that offer tours leaving from Victoria’s Inner Harbor. This is a really fun way to get out of the city for a few hours and spot some rare wildlife. You also get expansive views of the Olympic Mountains—just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca—and the rugged coast of Vancouver Island.
7. Visit Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens is Victoria’s most well-known attraction, and for good reason. The massive series of gardens is like nothing you’ve seen before.
Established in 1904, the gardens show what’s possible with time and imagination. As you enter the Japanese Garden, for example, you pass under towering 112-year-old beech trees and gnarled, vibrant maples. The Sunken Garden offers a vista of colorful tulips and rhododendron before you wind down into the garden itself.
Plan to spend at least half a day at Butchart Gardens. This is a place you’ll want to take the time to fully immerse yourself and wander off into hidden alcoves. If you stay into the evening, the gardens are beautifully lit up and there are fireworks shows throughout the summer.
8. Wander through Victoria’s Chinatown
Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada, dating back to the late 1850s when Chinese miners migrated en masse from California to British Columbia. Today, it’s a rich cultural oasis in the middle of downtown Victoria.
As you walk beneath a massive gate signaling the entrance to Chinatown, the signage turns increasingly from English to Chinese. There are dozens of Chinese restaurants offering specialties from all over China, plus bakeries, bubble tea cafes, and more. Don’t miss the narrow entrance to Fan Tan Alley, which opens onto a corridor with even more shops and restaurants to explore.
9. Kayak around Victoria Harbor
On a hot summer day, there’s no better way to cool down than by getting out on the water. You can rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from several outfitters located on the Inner Harbor.
For a more off-the-beaten-path paddle, head over to Oak Harbor or McMicking Point. There are rental shops in both spots and the water is often surprisingly calm.
10. Take in the Views from Breakwater Lighthouse
One of the best views in Victoria is from the city’s James Bay neighborhood, where a quarter mile-long breakwater juts out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. You can walk all the way to the end of the breakwater and it feels like you’re walking straight into the snowy Olympic Mountains in front of you.
The end of the breakwater features a historic lighthouse and viewing platform. This is also right by where huge cruise ships pull into Victoria. It’s pretty neat to watch one steam into the harbor.
11. Explore the Royal BC Museum
The Royal BC Museum is another can’t-miss attraction in BC. It’s part natural history museum, part anthropological museum that explores the history and present of First Nations people on Vancouver Island.
As you tour huge totem poles, canoes, and hunting tools, you can learn about the maritime peoples that called the region home for thousands of years before English settlement. You can also explore the wildlife of BC and even tour an interactive replica of the HMS Discovery, the ship that carried Captain George Vancouver to the shores of BC in 1791.
12. Tour the BC Parliament Building
BC’s Parliament Building is a monument to Victorian architecture just yards from the Inner Harbor. As impressive as it is on the outside, it’s even more impressive inside.
There are guided and self-guided tours available that let you enter the building and walk beneath its enormous rotunda. The huge marble columns and stained glass are really impressive and date back to the building’s construction in 1893.
13. Grab Fish ‘n Chips for Lunch
As an island city with a long maritime history, it should come as little surprise that Victoria offers spectacular seafood. The fish ‘n chips are especially good—so good, in fact, that you often have to wait 30 minutes or more to be served during lunchtime on weekends.
My favorite spot for fish ‘n chips is Red Fish Blue Fish, a small but popular restaurant on the docks below Wharf Street. While you wait, you can watch float planes take off from nearby Harbor Air.
Another great option is Barb’s Fish & Chips, located on Fisherman’s Wharf. If you’re looking for somewhere without a wait, Fishhook is a few blocks from the water and sees far fewer crowds.
14. Hike to Waterfalls at Goldstream Park
There are tons of hiking options on Vancouver Island, but many of the best hikes are an hour’s drive or more from Victoria. That’s not the case for Goldstream Park, which is less than 30 minutes by car.
Goldstream Park offers 10 miles of trails that wind along the Goldstream River and its many waterfalls. In the fall, look for salmon swimming upstream to spawn. You can also hike up Mount Finlayson, which provides outstanding views of lower Vancouver Island.
15. Check Out a Public Market
Victoria is home to numerous public markets that give you something new to explore every day. From Thursday to Sunday, the Bastion Square Market showcases local artists and musicians. On Saturdays, the James Bay Market offers locally grown produce, crafts, and food vendors.
If you miss these markets, Victoria Public Market on Hudson Street is open every day. It features a French bakery, cheese and meat shop, flower stand, and more. There’s also Market Square, a recently renovated area that’s home to Mexican, Indonesian, Chinese, and vegan restaurants.
16. Sample Victoria’s Brewery Scene
Victoria is home to nearly a dozen breweries, with more opening up seemingly every year. Several of these are right downtown, making them perfect for a walking tour. Even the ones that are further from the city center are no more than a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute water taxi.
My personal favorites are Moon Under Water, Phillips Brewing, and Driftwood Brewing. If you want to try as many breweries as possible, consider signing up for a craft beer tour with West Coast Brewery Tours or Canadian Craft Tours.
17. Go for a Stroll in Beacon Hill Park
Just outside the downtown area is one of Victoria’s best-kept secrets: Beacon Hill Park. This wooded park offers a quiet place for stroll and takes you to a rocky beach with sweeping views over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Within the park, you can check out the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole or the official starting point for the 4,860-mile Trans-Canada Highway.
After exploring the park, stop off in Cook Street Village. This is a quiet neighborhood with some terrific shops, a few cafes, and off-the-beaten-path restaurants.
18. Visit the Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Another fun option to get out of the city center is to visit the Victoria Butterfly Gardens. This is a unique experience, offering something of a cross between a tropical rainforest zoo and gardens like those you’ll find at Butchart Gardens. In addition to butterflies, you’ll see tropical birds, fish, iguanas, and more.
The Butterfly Gardens is entirely indoors, so it’s a great rainy-day activity.
19. Bike the Galloping Goose Trail
Victoria has a really impressive network of bike trails, including some rails-to-trails systems that are almost perfectly flat to bike.
The Galloping Goose Trail—named after the Galloping Goose railroad that used to operate in the 1920s—runs 35 miles from the heart of Victoria all the way to the abandoned mining town of Leechtown. It passes through Victoria’s outlying neighborhoods and some peaceful forest sections, making it a great tour of lower Vancouver Island.
Another great ride is the Lochside Trail, which connects Victoria to Sidney. It’s 36 miles roundtrip and offers outstanding views of BC’s Gulf Islands for much of the way. There are also tons of cute seaside shops and restaurants to explore when you get to Sidney.
How to Get to Victoria, BC
Since Victoria is on Vancouver Island, the best way to get there is by ferry. You have a few options.
- Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry: This is the main ferry route to Victoria. It runs from just south of Vancouver to Swartz Bay, which is about 30 minutes north of Victoria. Ferries run hourly throughout the summer.
- Anacortes-Sidney ferry: If you’re coming from between Everett and Bellingham, the best option to get to Victoria is to take the ferry that leaves from Anacortes. There’s usually only one sailing a day, so the schedule can be constraining. However, the ferry winds its way through the San Juan Islands, so it’s quite a scenic way to get to Vancouver Island.
- Seattle Clipper: The Seattle Clipper is a passenger-only ferry that connects downtown Seattle and downtown Victoria. It’s great if you’re visiting Victoria as a weekend getaway since the ferry takes less than three hours and you can walk right on.
- Port Angeles-Victoria ferry: The Black Ball ferry from Port Angeles crosses the Strait of Juan de Fuca and deposits you right in front of the BC Parliament building. It’s fast and you can easily walk into downtown Victoria if you don’t want to bring a car.
You can also fly into Victoria. The city has an international airport, and there are several regional airlines that fly float planes directly into Victoria’s Inner Harbor.
Do you need a car in Victoria?
Getting to Victoria without a car can be tricky. There are buses from Swartz Bay and Sidney, but these aren’t always convenient. Another option is to take a taxi from the ferry terminals to the city center.
However, once you’re in Victoria, you don’t need a car for the most part. The city is extremely walkable and there are frequent buses to popular destinations like Butchart Gardens.
If you can manage getting to Victoria without a car, I highly recommend it. Traffic from the ferry terminals to the city center is often bad and parking in the city can be challenging. It’s also much cheaper to book a passenger ticket on the ferry than it is to book a car reservation.
Victoria is a vibrant city with so much to offer. You can go for a weekend and barely scratch the surface or spend a week and still find plenty of things to do. It’s one of my favorite cities in the Pacific Northwest and, after you visit, I’m sure it will be one of yours, too.