Victoria is the capital of beautiful British Columbia. It’s the second largest city in the province and a major tourism hotspot in Canada. Known as the Garden City of Canada, every street is a colorful feast for the eyes of beautifully manicured flora, gardens, and topiaries. In 1866, the city become a rich and populous city with major British colonial influence. Walking amongst the colonial and decadent architecture will make you feel as though you’re walking the streets of Europe.
Having spent a year of university in Victoria, I’ve had the opportunity to throughly explore the ins-and-outs and of the city that I now want to share with you. Many people travel here as a weekend getaway so I’ve organized a fun and efficient itinerary for you to make the most of your trip to Victoria. A weekend is definitely a sufficient amount of time to see the best of this city, so pack your bags and walking shoes because this post is all about traveling to gorgeous Victoria, B.C!
This is an optimal and organized itinerary for your weekend to Victoria. First stop, The Inner Harbor.
The Inner Harbor of Victoria is the most iconic scene in the city. Starting at the beginning of April to late September, this area is buzzing with action. It’s the best place to get a first impression of the city and start to take in the sensory overload that is Victoria. If you’re traveling from Seattle, there is a Seattle-Victoria clipper that arrives right in the Inner Harbor. The sea planes, several other B.C. ferries, and all of the bus lines arrive to this area, making it the easiest place to find and get to. You’ll be surrounded by the sight and smell of colorful flower gardens throughout the Inner Harbor. Stroll along the water and watch the sail boats come in and out of the ocean and maybe take a short and cheap boat ride around the harbor. Certified street performers are commonplace in this area. From magicians, to musicians, to a Darth-Vader violinist, you will certainly be entertained wherever you walk.
Spend some time admiring Victoria’s spectacular Parliament Building. The open green-grass fields in front of the capital building is a popular place to have a picnic, play sports, or relax in the sun. There are horse trolley rides that leave from here that take tourists around the Inner Harbor via carriage.
Located right next to the Parliament Building is the Royal B.C. Museum. This museum is spectacular and has a wide-range of exhibits to interest everyone. This is an optional stop as it can take a lot of time to see all of the exhibitions. The museum is well known for its First Peoples art, culture, and history exhibit. Other permanent exhibits include and replicated ‘old town’ that is a very immersive historical display that is easy to get lost in. Nature, wildlife, and geology are other popular and permanent displays. Current rotating exhibitions include the Wildlife Photography of the Year Gallery and the highly anticipated Egyptian Antiquities Exhibition. If you get the chance to visit this museum, I definitely recommend.
High Tea at the Empress Hotel
Walk about the outdoor gardens and take in the sight of the iconic Empress Hotel. This hotel is the crown jewel of the city that is famous for hosting royalty and diplomats from around the world. The most popular activity to do in the city is High Tea at the Empress. High Tea at the Empress is definitely a budget-splurge activity that is meant to be a formal and boutique dining experience. Being a university student, experiencing this was beyond my budget until I finally decided to try it with a friend. It’s a once-in-a-life-time experience (for penny-pinchers like me) and after my experience I actually highly recommend trying it once. The price is $75 Canadian per person. This expense isn’t just about buying an expensive pot of tea, but about the entire sensory overload that is indulging into a royal afternoon of exquisite service and delights. Here is my takeaway from the experience.
This isn’t just a stop-in-for-lunch type of place. It’s a relaxing and prolonged experience that allows guests to relish into the food, presentation, tea, and overall vibe. My friend and I made a reservation a day in advanced, although the hostess said that sometimes (not during very busy seasons) it’s possible to arrive without a reservation. We were sat next to the window where we had a panning view of the Inner Harbor. We particularly enjoyed people-watching and seeing horses trolley by. A soothing piano played everything from classical 1600s ballads to Harry Potter and Toy Story themed interpretations. The atmosphere definitely made us feel bougie and royal for the afternoon!
The server handed us a tea menu where we had to make the noneducated choice about which tea to drink. Not being tea connoisseurs, we ordered a pot of the server’s recommendation and we were definitely not dissapointed. If High Tea wasn’t already extra enough, the server will give you a tea timer which tells you exactly when the brew is light, medium, or strong before taking the tea bag out of the pot.
Next came the food platters. Three layers of absolute greatness presented in front of us. It is standard to start from the bottom and finish with the desserts on top. Start with the scones, jam, and cream. The correct pronunciation is “skon.” Failure to pronounce this correctly will immediately expose you as ignorant.
Apparently there is a debate as to whether the jam or cream should go on the scone first. I feel most people argue for the case that cream should go first, followed by jam. Despite this controversy it is a common understanding not to use the knife to cut the scone and rather rip it with your fingers. (So many rules of etiquette!). Speaking of High Tea etiquette, avoid making much clashing sounds when stirring the spoon in the tea cup and make sure to ‘flick’ the spoon into the tea as opposed to against the rim. It’s also standard to stir the tea from front to back and stir in a fold-like motion. If you have these rules down, you’ll come across as fancy and experienced even if you aren’t in the slightest.
The second platter is savory. The flavors are absolutely stunning and my friend and I both took slow and indulging bites to maximize the taste. Smoked salmon bites, cucumber sandwiches, mushroom quiche, and egg salad on brioche were some of our favorites. Finally, it was time for dessert. I wish I could recall all of the varying flavors and ingredients in these sweet treats as the combinations and quality of them were simply divine. Chocolate mousse cake, raspberry cream tarts, and shortbread cookies were just some of the bite-sized desserts.
This experience is simply a sensory overload in every way (yes, I’m using that description a lot but it’s true). Taste: the amazing flavors of the food and of course the tea. Sound: relaxing music coming from the live pianist. Sight: the exquisite presentation and fine china that compliments the meal and of course the chandeliers and architecture of the Empress Hotel interior. Smell: the smell of brewing tea and freshly baked scones. Feel: the incredible atmosphere and warmth of the fire. Spectacular!
The entire experience took us about two hours as we moved slowly through the cuisine. We ended up having two pots of tea and enjoyed every minute of looking out the window and people-watching in the room. Expect your High Tea to take at least an hour.
You just consumed a lot of food from High Tea at the Empress and it’s now time to walk it off. The sugar and caffeine from the tea will hype you up for your exploration of Victoria. There is a very popular pedestrian walk that leads from the Empress Hotel all the way down to China Town. This walk is full of souvenir stores, Canadian apparel, restaurants, pubs, and book stores. This is where most of the local street performers like to set up their performances. Continue on this street and you have the option to visit the Bay Center, one of the largest shopping complexes on the island. The Bay Center has a wide variety of retail stores.
Another enjoyable place to walk around is Bastion Square. This pedestrian plaza has numerous brunch places, cafes, pubs, and shops. This is also where Victoria’s premiere night club Upstairs Cabaret is located.
China Town is a must when visiting Victoria and is the end of the walking journey starting at the Empress Hotel and through downtown. It’s impossible to miss with the iconic gate that is the start of avenue. Victoria’s China Town is the oldest in Canada and the second oldest in North America (second to San Francisco). Unlike the China Town in San Francisco and in most other cities, this one has a very authentic feel to it. Walk along the streets and admire the decorations, music, and fountains. There are several places to eat, shop, and get bubble tea on this street.
When exploring China Town, look out for a sign that says ‘Diagon Alley.’ This is one of the most interesting and unsuspecting places in Victoria. What might seem like a narrow alley from the street is a very expansive pedestrian-only pathway that takes you to several hidden stores and shops. This is a fun area to check out and get some ice cream or baked treats. In Dragon Alley there are several Chinese gift shops, jewelry stores, bakeries, a record store, an umbrella store, and more!
When finished exploring downtown Victoria, the Inner Harbor, and China Town, you’ve now scoped out all of the best restaurants in the area. It won’t be difficult to find a great restaurant or bar to get some dinner and complete the day 1 trek.
Day 2: Fisherman’s Wharf
This city is very walkable and that’s simply the best way to see it. Starting at the Empress, walk along the Inner Harbor and continue onto the water-side trails. Along the walk you’ll see countless boats coming in from the sea, all sorts of sea birds, and maybe even sea otters! After fifteen minutes of walking, you’ll arrive at Fisherman’s Wharf.
This is a very enjoyable place to sit, relax, and eat in Victoria. Walk along the docks and check out the stores/restaurants that are actually house boats! More often than not, seals will pop their heads out of the water to say hi.
Most of the whale watching tours leave from Fisherman’s Wharf and there are many booths in which you can purchase tickets at this location.
Continue your walk along the water until you reach Ogden Point. It’s impossible to miss, but coming from Fisherman’s Wharf, expect to walk through some neighborhoods for a bit. Ogden Point is a long sea wall pathway that extends all the way to a lighthouse lookout. It has a stunning view of the sea and of Olympic National Park in Washington.
Beacon Hill Park
Victoria has a countless number of beautifully maintained public parks, one of the largest and most popular being Beacon Hill Park. Wandering around the countless trails within this area makes for a great and relaxing afternoon by the ocean. Cherry blossom trees, gardens, fountains, ponds, bridges, and hundreds of wading birds make this park lively all year round.
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm
One of the most popular attractions is the Beacon Hill Children Farm, home to goats, sheep, alpacas, miniature horses, geese, peacocks, and pot-bellied pigs. The petting zoo admission is by donation only. Visit in the springtime and there are newly born kids springing all around the petting zoo! These goats are constantly entertaining and very curious to meet people. I visited twice in one week and between my visits four kids had been born! It’s a popular place to bring kids on the weekends and can be very crowded at times, which is why I recommend visiting the petting zoo after 2 pm. The hours of operation run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is only open from April-October.
There is so much do in Victoria, and doing everything in one weekend just isn’t possible. One place that you might want to consider visiting is the iconic Butchart Gardens. This is Victoria’s largest floral and garden complex, and it attracts over a million visitors per year. I have never made it here, however, my sister and cousin made a day-trip out of it and loved it! All I’ve heard are great things about this destination. If would rather not spend the hefty price of high tea at the Empress, this is a great place to experience a similar and less-expensive option. This garden complex is located outside of the city and it requires a bus or taxi to get there. Here are some photos from my sister’s visit.
Here is an interactive map of Victoria. All of the places I have suggested in this post are marked on the map. Take a look and get an idea of where places are relative to each other. I hope this map can help:
There are so many more things to do in Victoria. Here are a few bonus places that I feel should be mentioned in this post. They are unique places that you might be interested to experience if you find extra time or want to substitute it in my weekend itinerary.
West Coast Waffles– A sit-down restaurant with sweet and savory waffles! This menu will blow you away with all of the different types of waffles you can order. The best part, it’s open until 3am! It’s a very popular place to go and eat after partying downtown.
Oak Bay Marina– A beautiful walk on the coast and onto the marina. Watch sailors out in the bay and see seals pop their heads out of the water to say hi.
Cadboro Bay– This is a spectacular beach and public park. It’s a wide-open space to relax, enjoy the sun, and see hundred of dogs at the public dog beach! Walking distance from the beach is one of my favorite restaurants in Victoria: Thai Lemongrass. I highly recommend this restaurant if you love Thai food.
Uptown– This is one of Victoria’s premiere shopping districts. A pedestrian street with name-brand stores. Walmart, H&M, Forever 21, and Best Buy just to name a few…
Uplands Park– I loved visiting this park because one of my favorite things to do is observe immaculate homes. Uplands is where some of the wealthiest people on the island reside and there are countless mansions on this coastal drive. The architecture of the homes is everything from contemporary to classic Victorian.
Upstairs Cabaret– There are several night clubs in the city of Victoria, but this is my preferred one. It is located is Bastion Square near the Inner Harbor and is a great atmosphere for a fun night out. There is a photographer who goes around and takes high-quality group photos throughout the night and then posts them on Facebook the following week.
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Written by Jeff Hyer