So we’ve had some great chances to play tourist in our hometown this past week and we love the opportunity! This time has been so fun and has also made me reflect on all my favourite things to do in Victoria… We’ve lived here for 3 years now and been tourists the entire time. Whether you’re just visiting, new in town, or lived here for years, here’s a list of a few things you should really try to check out!!
1. Victoria’s Inner Harbour
This is quintessential Victoria- it’s what you see on postcards, it’s what you can do for free, without a car, and with just a few blocks of walking. In my 3 years here, I have never gotten bored walking around the inner harbour or even driving past it!
You see BC Legislature, the Fairmount Empress, the waterfront, some ferry terminals, and people of all walks of life…. it’s just always buzzing and a great place to stroll and enjoy the city.
Sophie’s favourite reason to go to the inner harbour (especially this time of year) is the ice cream and gelato shops along the stretch of Government street right at the inner harbour- this stretch is pedestrian-only and very tourist-y. Eric took Sophie down a few days ago and they went with our classic guess of 30g of carbs per scoop/cup of ice cream and he added an extra 20g for a waffle cone – – It worked great until the fat rise 3 hours later, but we knew to watch for it. She says the maple-cookie gelato was worth it.
2. BC Legislature and Fairmont Empress
While we’re in the Inner Harbour, let’s look at these amazing buildings!!! I admit I’ve never been inside the legislature building, but they do hold tours. I just always enjoy walking past, having a sit on the lawn, taking a photo with the statue of Queen Victoria in front- I can’t resist!
On the opposite corner from legislature is the Fairmont Empress hotel. The Empress is one of a series of grand hotels built across Canada for the railroad in about 1910. If you have the budget, I’m sure the Empress would be an amazing place to stay while in Victoria. We’ve never stayed the night there, but Sophie and I once splurged on high tea there for Easter when Eric was deployed for 6 months in 2017 – it was an experience we’ll never forget. Also, later in 2017, Eric’s ship had their Christmas party at the Empress and we were very impressed with the event they put on!
3. Whale Watching
Okay, this one isn’t for everyone. A: You might not like going out on choppy water in a small boat and B: It is NOT cheap. However, if you want to see whales or sea life, Victoria is the place to do it. Orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, seals, and sea lions are the most common sea mammals you’d see. The boats also stop and show you anything of interest – bald eagles, interesting jellyfish, salmon, etc.
Boat tours are usually 4+ hours long and can go quite far from Victoria – they head to wherever reports of whales have been.
The tour we took in 2017 was on a catamaran because we wanted to be on a larger, more comfortable boat. The staff was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful and they got just as excited to see the whales as we did. On our tour we saw 2 humpback whales together and they did the most amazing thing – a double breach!! This means they both jumped vertically out of the water beside each other at the same time. Our captain was practically giddy, as he said he’d been doing this for 15 years and had never seen that. (Of course, no one got a photo…)
If you can find the extra money for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is really worth it. If you live in the area, make sure the company you use has a whale guarantee (if you don’t see any whales, you get to come back again).
4. Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens isn’t downtown but about 40 minutes outside Victoria. You either will need to drive or there are many bus tours heading there every day from downtown – check with your hotel or cruise line.
Butchart is simply gorgeous. I remember being dragged to a million ornamental gardens with my mom when I was a kid and I hated it. So when I took Sophie here I didn’t expect her to really like it, but every time she went, she’s loved it! Every where you look, it’s just beautiful and something for kids and adults to discover. There is a Victorian carousel in the middle of the park that you can ride for $2/ride that kids love (which we’ve always made sure to stop at).
We’ve visited during every season and they never disappoint. Christmastime is actually done at night and it’s all lit up with a 12 days of Christmas theme and outdoor ice skating (a real treat in warm Victoria!). Early May was my favourite time with all the tulips out, it was just breathtaking.
They also have a lovely restaurant on site that also offers high tea (for cheaper than the Empress). There is also a cafe and a cafeteria for cheaper options for a quick bite.
Note- Military members (but not their family) get free admission. Make sure you show ID and ask for it.
-Also, if you think you’ll go more than once in the year, get an annual pass, because a pass is cheaper than 2 visits.
5. Royal BC Museum
The Royal BC Museum is another gem that is right at the inner harbour – smack dab between BC legislature and the Empress.
The Royal BC Museum is huge. It has days’ worth of exhibits and floors to explore. I’ve been there half a dozen times and still haven’t explored it all. There are huge areas dedicated to natural history, areas dedicated to BC-cultural history (a ton of history on the local First Nations but then also about how Europeans settled here), and areas with special exhibits (we’ve seen the Terry Fox exhibit here, the Egyptian exhibit, and the Maya exhibit). If you’re looking for something to occupy the kids (or yourself!) for the better part of the day, especially if it’s crappy weather outside – head on over to the Royal BC Museum. Bonus- they have BC’s largest IMAX screen and show some amazing movies. They also show Hollywood movies in the evenings!
6. Esquimalt Lagoon
Ok, this one is on my list because it was right down the road from our house and we just loved it here. Located in Colwood on the west shore of the Greater Victoria Area (about 20 minutes from downtown), is about 4 km of beach lined with driftwood on one side of a spit with a lagoon and bird sanctuary on the other side!
There is a local artist who has made bird sculptures out of driftwood and put them up, and they are dotted along the beach side (all birds native to the area, too).
Every Friday and Saturday in the summer from 11am-7pm there are food trucks and live music at 5pm.
This is an excellent place to come sit and spend a few minutes, a few hours, or the whole day. Watch the boats go by, see some seals usually pop their heads up and down, take the dog for a walk, grab a bite to eat, and just enjoy the sea breeze.
Parking is free, the beach is free, and there are public toilets on the west end of the beach.
7. Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill park is a beautiful gift right in the middle of the city for everyone to enjoy. The big draw for families is the Beacon Hill Children’s Zoo and their petting area for goats! This opens at 10am every day from spring-fall with a GOAT STAMPEDE where the goats all run from the barn down to the petting pen and you get to cheer them along. Then you go into the pen with them and play! The babies are the big crowd-draw here- they’re as adorable as kittens or puppies and want to play and discover just as much! The children’s zoo admission is by donation with suggested amounts being $4/adult and $3/child.
Outside of the children’s zoo is a beautiful expansive park with gardens, ponds, trails, play equipment, and public toilets. The peacocks are not to be missed!!
8. BC Ferries
Now, I may be lambasted for this by locals who detest BC Ferries service- but I have nothing bad to say about them because honestly, we haven’t used the ferry a tonne since we’ve moved here and I’ve always been happy with them when we have! Other than the time it takes and planning to travel in general, I love being on the ferry and on the water! If you have a reason to take a ferry – to go to Vancouver, Duncan, Salt Spring Island, or many other places- go! And then enjoy the ferry ride as a little on-water tour. It’s a vantage point you so rarely get to see. Sometimes you are lucky enough to see whales or wildlife (I’ve never seen whales but I saw porpoises last time!) and every view is spectacular. Grab a bite to eat on the ferry or bring a packed snack – kick up your feet and enjoy the cruise.
(Bonus- they have fantastic parents’ rooms on board – we needed to change Sophie’s Omnipod during our last trip and she wasn’t comfortable doing it in the cafeteria in front of people. We found this quiet parents’ room, it was clean, comfortable, and private. Great to nurse your baby or change your medical device!)
9. Goldstream Provincial Park
Goldstream is another point that is outside of Victoria proper, but is a direct shot out the Trans-Canada Highway from downtown, only about 25 minutes. Then when you get there, you’re in a different world. If you’ve never been to the west coast or our temperate rain-forests before, this is something awesome to check out. As soon as you park in the day-use parking area, you’ll be astounded by the old-growth trees. Go for a short walk along Goldstream river and you may see bears and salmon (especially in October/November when you’ll see the salmon jump upstream to spawn). There’s a small walk to ‘Niagara Falls’ which in the springtime doesn’t disappoint (is a mere trickle in the dry summer and fall months).
There is a Visitor’s Centre with lots of information and a little snack shack at the day-use area near the public toilets. There’s also picnic tables and fire pits if you’re so inclined to lay a fire and roast some marshmallows and weenies. There is no cost to the day-use area.
While I’m at it– I won’t put it in a new point here but hikes anywhere around Victoria and Vancouver Island are worth heading out to, if you can. Some of our favourite are Charlie’s Trail at Royal Roads, Witty’s Lagoon, Mystic Beach, and here in Goldstream. Check out Victoria Trails to see what trails are convenient to you and the difficulty level you want. We always needed to be aware of what I could manage with my MS and then what the difficulty level was for Sophie’s T1D – how much carb-loading did she have to do beforehand and how often would we have to check her blood sugars throughout.
Hiking in Victoria was always an adventure – if it wasn’t rain-forests and old growth trees, it was ocean views. You couldn’t beat it!
Yep. Just brunch. That’s not some exotic place that you can’t see anywhere else in the world; however, Victoria is the brunch capital of Canada. Yes, that’s right- we know how to brunch it up real good. There are so many places to brunch in Victoria – eclectic places, fine dining, hole-in-the-wall, funky, upbeat, greasy spoon, hearty, veggie/vegan, pop-ups, food trucks, and top secret places. Just check out this 2018 article by The Globe and Mail detailing why we’re such an awesome brunch hot spot.
Sure, there’s a line up at a lot of these places, and I’m completely adverse to lines – but even I have to admit they’re worth it. Jam Cafe and Floyd’s Diner may be my favourite’s. Do they have carb counts listed? heck no.
Sophie got a Belgian waffle the other day and we had her put in the carbs we estimated (waffle+syrup+strawberry topping=100g??) and it was more insulin than her pump allows in a single dose (the pump is programmed this way to avoid overdoses because she so rarely needs this much in a single sitting). So we maxed out how much it would give her and ‘surfed’ the rest…. this means watching her blood glucose graph closely afterwards and as soon as we deemed she needed more insulin, we gave her the remaining 3 units that we calculated she needed.
It’s a huge indulgence. I don’t suggest you do this every day of vacation or if you live here, but at least once, or on special occasions, it’s so worth it. Hit up the great brunch spots of Victoria and enjoy!
So I know there’s a lot more to do, of course there is. But jeez, I can’t write forever, can I? These are just my 10 suggestions.
Victoria is a fantastic place to tour as a family – see history, culture, and natural beauty!
What would you add to the list?