For those seeking a rich history, a regal presence, and a rousing cultural experience beyond compare, British Columbia’s capital city, Victoria, named after the revered queen, will not disappoint. You’ll see proof of Britain’s influence, but also of Victoria’s origin as the traditional territory of the Lekwungen people, including descendants from the Songhees and Esquimalt nations. Learn more by exploring the Signs of Lekwungen, an interpretive walkway along the Inner Harbour.
The Royal BC Museum chronicles the province’s natural and human history, balancing the curiosity of visitors with the duty of safeguarding historical and cultural heritages. Featured collections include 10,000 years of history of B.C.’s First Nations cultures. You’ll enjoy the Natural History and Human History collections and be spellbound by the more than 100 paintings by Emily Carr.
The Parliament Buildings and their central dome overlook the Inner Harbour. The front lawns have held as many as 40,000 people at events. Nearby is the historic yet recently renovated Fairmont Empress Hotel, where afternoon tea is a local favourite.
If you crave a more global experience, Chinatown celebrates the spirit, architecture and food of the Chinese immigrants who arrived 150 years ago. Walk through the Gate of Harmonious Interest and view the Chinese Public School and its hanging lanterns. Or, enter through Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in the country and the home of more than a dozen locally owned shops.
Inhale the ocean air, munch on local fish and chips, and watch otters and seals frolic below the water’s surface at Fisherman’s Wharf, a working harbour. If naval history excites you, check out Esquimalt, just five minutes away. Explore the parks and beaches or visit the CFB Esquimalt Naval and Military Museum and learn what the Military Police are doing today.
From Victoria, drive the south shore or hop on a tour bus and head to Oak Bay, a quaint beach town in a spectacular natural setting. On your way, stop by Craigdarroch Castle, a stunning example of Victorian architecture built in the 1890s by wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. Once in Oak Bay, enjoy kayaking, dining at the Oak Bay Marina, visiting small art galleries such as The Avenue Gallery, and basking in luxury at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel.
Head northeast of Victoria and be lulled driving through the lush pastures and rolling hills of Saanich and the Saanich Peninsula. The renowned Butchart Gardens tempt you with relaxation in both the Japanese Garden and the Sunken Garden, or tease you with an aromatic afternoon exploring the Rose or Italian Gardens. For a hands-on Children’s Garden, head over to The Gardens at HCP, home of Canada’s largest outdoor bonsai garden and a unique winter garden.
Keep driving and discover for yourself the welcoming experience that awaits at Roost Vineyard Bistro and Farm Bakery, where the focus is local food, wine, and sustainability. North Saanich’s Snowdon House provides gourmet foods and a genuine farmhouse B&B experience. Don’t miss the fruit-infused vinegars.
Continue along the peninsula until you arrive at the seaside village of Sidney, home of the Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, a world-class aquarium and learning centre. Dig and discover at Mineral World and Scratch Patch. Then, think skyward and head to the BC Aviation Museum, which collects, restores, and displays aircraft and artifacts.
If excitement is what you crave, you’ll find it in Westshore.
Strap on your helmet and grab a bike (bring your own or rent one at TREK Bicycle Store of Victoria or Sports Rent) and ride the Galloping Goose Regional Trail, lined with forests, ferns, a river, and even a trestle bridge. For young and young-at-heart thrill seekers, there are sky-high obstacles such as ziplines, aerial games, and a 40-foot jump at WildPlay Element Park. If you need more speed, get stoked at Adrena LINE Zipline Adventures and see nature from new heights. There’s even a night ride.
For a more relaxed pace, let the experts at Golf Central find the right game of golf for you. From a shuttle ride to a preferred tee time, ask them about Bear Mountain’s Mountain or Valley Course, Highland Pacific Golf Course, or Olympic View Golf Club.
If you’re channeling your inner Edwardian persona, visit Hatley Park National Historic Site and the grand Hatley Castle, or take another step back in time and visit the secret bunkers at Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Site.
A squabble of gulls, a siege of herons or a single black oystercatcher, there are so many birds, you’ll never walk alone at Whiffen Spit. This less-than-a-mile-long sandspit running into Sooke Harbour offers a raw, wild experience watching birds, the water, and the skies.
If the call of the waves is what you are longing to hear, head over to Jordan River, where the surfing is competitive and not for beginners.
But if it’s the land that beckons and you thirst for endless views of the shorelines, the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail will satisfy you fully. This 47-kilometre wilderness trail runs from China Beach to Botany Bay in Port Renfrew. The surf roars and wildlife and marine life are visible, but take note, the trail is strenuous and sometimes rugged. When you get to Botanical Beach you’ll see one of the richest tidal areas along the West Coast. For a fantastic coastal walk a little closer to Victoria, try East Sooke Regional Park with 50 kilometres of trails though forest, marsh and field, complete with tide pools.
Afterward, you’ll appreciate the relaxing hot tub at Prestige Oceanfront Resort. Or, if you have a large group, consider a luxury two, three or four bedroom vacation home at Sooke Harbour Resort & Marina. If you’d rather not have to choose between a luxury waterfront vacation and a hardy wilderness lodge, you’ll find both at Wild Renfrew at the end of West Coast Road.
You’ll always remember the Gulf Islands. Take the Island Time Tours guided day trip to Salt Spring and enjoy a tasty visit to a cheese farm, followed by shopping in Ganges Village and a refreshing visit to a funky brewery that uses deep spring waters. Or book a single or multi-day adventure with Coastal Bliss Adventures. If you are here on a Saturday, plan on visiting the famous Salt Spring Saturday Market where potters, jewellers, fibre artists, woodworkers, and artisanal food producers all sell their treasures.
For something spectacular, try Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, a 15-island nature area where deer, orcas, and seabirds are frequently seen from shore, from a kayak, on a hike or from where you pitch a tent. Listen to frogs croaking or find one of four view scope locations on Saturna, Mayne, Sidney, and Pender islands. Can’t kayak? No worries. Head to Ocean River Sports’ Saturna Sea Kayaking Outpost for tours and rentals. The staff will point you in the right direction for what you want to see.
There’s no shortage of excellent places to stay, including the glorious Poets Cove Resort and Spa on Pender Island with breathtaking views and sunsets. Go glamping and grill your own burgers in one of seven shiny Airstreams at Woods on Pender, embrace laid-back country luxury on the 22-acre Hastings House Country House Hotel or watch the sun rise over the Salish Sea from Harbour House Hotel on Salt Spring Island.