Attractions, Museums, & Tours - A BC visitors guide
Victoria attractions abound - enough for several days of sightseeing. This BC visitors guide will help you plan for a memorable visit.
On southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Victoria is perfectly situated for visiting a remarkable variety of famous attractions, finding opportunities for great adventure, and for exploring secret local gems that your expert B&B hosts can help you find. Spend a few days here since there’s so much to see and do! Your Victoria's Finest Bed and Breakfast hosts will be delighted to help you plan a most memorable visit.
Downtown Victoria attractions
Victoria's Inner Harbour is the heart and core of downtown. Always vibrant and colourful, the Lower Causeway is a great start to a day with a casual wander. Buskers, artists, sailboats, harbour ferries, floatplanes, tasty street food and more. Hop on a foot passenger harbour ferry and take a tour to Fisherman`s Wharf. "Dive" into the Pacific Undersea Gardens to experience the remarkably varied marine life around Vancouver Island and through the Pacific Northwest.
Looking up from Victoria`s harbour, you will see a panorama of famous historic buildings. The 1898 British Columbia Parliament Buildings sit on 12 acres of manicured gardens and lawns. Free public tours of the legislature tell fascinating stories of BC`s early history. Yes, despite its size, Victoria is the capital city of the province of British Columbia.
Across the street from the parliament buildings, The Royal BC Museum is heralded as one of North America`s best museums. Dynamic and inspired exhibits draw the visitor into realistic experiences to learn about the resourceful native peoples of Canada`s west coast, about British Columbia's wealth of flora and fauna and about the early lives of Europeans settlers from the early 1800`s. The collections and displays of local aboriginal art are particularly impressive. The Museum is also home to the National Geographic IMAX Theatre. For more First Nations' art, including magnificent totem poles, walk next door to Thunderbird Park. Heading up Government Street past the venerable Empress Hotel, the charming streetscape of old town Victoria lies before you. Heritage buildings, with magnificent shops like Rogers` Chocolates, Munro’s Bookshop and the Old Morris Tobacconist date back to the 1880`s.
Explore Bastion Square, part of the original Fort Victoria when our city was a fur-trading outpost in the 1840's. The Maritime Museum of British Columbia is located here. This fine building was built in 1892 as British Columbia`s first Supreme Court. A tour of the building takes in the original court where famous judge Matthew Baille Begbie ruled and became known as The Hanging Judge. Gold Rush fever changed Victoria irrevocably during this era. The palisade fort built by the Hudson's Bay Company disappeared as Victoria grew quickly at the end of the 1800’s.
New neighbourhoods developed, including Victoria`s Chinatown, a living museum in itself as the first and oldest Chinatown in Canada. Explore the tiny mysterious alleys, Fan Tan Alley and Dragon Alley, leading to intriguing shops tucked into Chinatown`s late 19th century buildings.
Victoria`s downtown is compact, walkable and safe. A 10 minute walk takes you from the Design District, one block north of Chinatown, to the Fashion District, known locally as LoJo (Lower Johnson Street), to Trounce Alley by Bastion Square and on to the Inner Harbour. A slight diversion will lead you to the Victoria Bug Zoo on Courtney Street, home to over 40 live species of the world's most fascinating insects and spiders.
Victoria Heritage Homes
Victoria, as Western Canada's oldest city, has beautifully preserved heritage homes, many dating from the mid to late 1800’s. Emily Carr House, on Government Street south of the museum, was built in 1864. A tour of this home provides insight into one of Canada's best known artists and writers, the always controversial and eccentric Emily Carr. Look for the Emily Carr statue at the corner of Belleville and Government on the Empress Hotel property. The 1852 Helmcken House beside the Royal BC Museum is the oldest historic house in British Columbia. Point Ellice House, accessible by harbour ferry from Victoria`s Inner Harbour, is a beautifully preserved example of a modest Victorian family home.
The most magnificent home of all perches on a hill overlooking the city a 15 minute walk from the Tourism Victoria InfoCentre on the Inner Harbour. Craigdarroch Castle was built as the home of the Dunsmuir family. Furnished lavishly in the period of the 1890’s, it's a stunning portrait of the extravagant lifestyle of Western Canada's wealthiest family. Another carefully restored historic treasure, located by the Humboldt Valley District near the Inner Harbour, is the 6 acre property with gardens and orchards for St. Ann’s Academy. This 1850`s property was once home to the Sisters of Saint Ann, French-Canadian nuns.
Looking for ways to navigate Victoria's downtown attractions? Narrated bus tours are available through Royal Blue Line, Big Bus and other bus tour operators. Ask at your bed and breakfast for information on Victoria's bus tours and regional transit system. Apart from these and being a very walkable city, Victoria is bicycle friendly, with dedicated bike lanes in many areas and excellent trails throughout the city and leading out to the Saanich Peninsula and Western Communities. Bike rentals are readily available in a few locations.
Numerous galleries throughout the region exhibit and sell work by local artists. Winchester Gallery, Xchanges, Alcheringa, West End Gallery, Out of the Mist, Eagle Feather Gallery, Open Space are just a few. Visit the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, one of Canada's finest art museums housing a permanent collection of 15,000 objets d'art, with a primary emphasis on Canada, China and Japan.
Victoria walking tours
A number of tour professionals offer group and personalized walking tours through different historical areas of downtown Victoria such as the Old Town, Chinatown or even through an old cemetery. John Adams and his Discover the Past Walking Tours is just one of the many operators. Your accommodation hosts will help you locate the walking tour that best suits your interests.
Greater Victoria attractions
Visitors to BC find countless attractions to explore beyond Downtown Victoria to other beautiful regions of Southern Vancouver Island. Butchart Gardens, wineries, farm markets, studios for talented local artisans, great hikes, spectacular beaches and more give hints of the variety and excitement you will find when touring our regions.
The Saanich Peninsula
The Saanich Peninsula, mere minutes north of downtown Victoria, holds great attractions as well as lovely, pastoral scenery. Farm markets are dotted along the way where you can test the local produce of our numerous organic farms. Head to the Saanich Fairgrounds on Saturdays during the summer for the largest market in the region, or take a drive along Oldfield Road to savour organic berries, field fresh produce and delicious, farm baked goods.
Butchart Gardens hosts over 1 million visitors each year, clearly one of the top attractions in BC, if not Canada. All five of their seasons (Christmas counted as one very special season for Butchart Gardens' visitors) are worth a visit. Butchart Gardens is famous for many things, including their brilliant fireworks displays each Saturday night during the summer and illuminations in summer and at Christmas.
The intriguing Butterfly Gardens is located conveniently along the entry drive to Butchart Gardens. A tour of their 12,000 square foot facility highlights the life cycle and spectacular colours of tropical butterflies and moths. The stars of this show, the thousands of free-flying butterflies, flutter around you as you walk amongst the tropical flora! Next door at the Church and State Winery you will be thrilled by demonstrations of The Raptors, birds of prey showing their prowess.
Fascinated by space? Consider visiting the Centre of the Universe, the interpretive centre of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, with spectacular views of both Victoria and the Cosmos. If flight is your fancy, drop into the BC Aviation Museum at Victoria International Airport. This small but very active museum contains restored aircraft and artifacts related to the history of aviation in British Columbia. The airport is located by Sidney, a quiet seaside town with quaint shops, a wonderful marina, decent restaurants and a collection of unusual bookshops. Thursday nights during the summer are market nights for Sidney as the main street is closed and market stalls fill Beacon Avenue. The Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre, located at the end of Beacon Avenue, is an aquarium and marine education centre. Hundreds of fish, invertebrates and marine plants recreate our local waters to help us understand the wealth of life beneath the surface.
For a look into Vancouver Island’s rural past, see the Saanich Historical Artifacts Society where 29 pastoral acres contain everything from a blacksmith shop to an early sawmill and working steam engines and a small scale steam train.
West towards Sooke
Exploring the Western Communities and Sooke gives a whole, new perspective on life in the Victoria region. Golf courses range from pastoral and idyllic to tough mountain top challenges. Hiking and bike trails, beaches and backroad wilderness drives give excellent access to stunning scenery.
Fisgard Lighthouse, Fort Rodd Hill and Hatley Castle are located along Hwy 14. Fisgard is noted for being the first lighthouse on Canada's West Coast. Constructed by the British in 1860, exhibits tell of shipwrecks, storms and the everyday working equipment of a lightkeeper a century ago. The lighthouse and adjacent Fort Rodd Hill are national parks. Fort Rodd Hill was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century to protect the Esquimalt naval docks. (in the summer walking tours are offered of the Naden naval base there.) Nearby, Hatley Castle is found in the centre of Royal Roads University’s 600 acre grounds. Built by the famous Dunsmuir family as their family estate, the gardens and castle are both open to the public for touring.
Heading west from these attractions, take a wander south to Metchosin for a hike to Witty’s Lagoon Beach or to explore this region’s ‘art trail’ and discover talented artisans and studios featured biannually in the Stinking Fish Studio Tour. Sundays in summer are market days behind the Metchosin Fire Hall on Happy Valley Road.
Wander the winding roads further to East Sooke Park and its many hiking trails or take either Happy Valley Road or Kangaroo Road as faster but still scenic routes to Sooke. This town of 10,000 found its origins as a fishing, logging and farming community, all enterprises that demanded strong, resilient people. Have a glimpse of life in Sooke’s early days at Sooke Region Museum. The museum also hosts the local tourism office where you will find information about Sooke today, with local artists, restaurants, wonderful hiking and spectacular beaches making this part of southern Vancouver Island a fascinating one to explore.
We hope this guide has been a helpful introduction to some of the many things to do here. Please do not hesitate to ask your B&B hosts for more information about Victoria attractions, museums and tours.
Our BC visitors guide to Victoria attractions