There is no shortage of things to do in Victoria, British Colombia on the west coast of Canada. It is a dream destination for many travellers – and with good reason!
Located on the most western edge of Canada on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria BC offers a temperate climate, a large variety of things to do and see and the friendly hospitality for which Canadians are famous.
As a small city with a population of fewer than 100,000 people, Victoria is easy to navigate yet still offers a lot of the amenities you’ll find in larger cities.
Getting to Victoria BC on Vancouver Island is easy and there are a few ways to do it.
If you’re staying in Vancouver, you can take one of the beautiful BC Ferries from Vancouver.
Or you can fly directly to Victoria from a number of Canadian & American cites on a variety of airlines. My favourite way to get to Victoria is via seaplane from Vancouver on Harbour Air.
You can also take the Victoria Clipper from downtown Seattle directly to Victoria.
However you get there, expect to find plenty of great things to do in Victoria, British Columbia!
READ MORE: Check out our legendary guide to travelling in Canada!
Table of Contents
- The Best Things to Do in Victoria BC, Canada
- Day Trips for What to Do in Victoria BC
The Best Things to Do in Victoria BC, Canada
Victoria BC is famously beautiful, especially in the Spring and Summer.
The Inner Harbour is the heart of downtown and is a lively place to spend some time. The Johnson Street Bridge is a particularly scenic spot for setting up your tripod or selfie stick and take some gorgeous photos.
Most of the top tourist attractions mentioned will center around the Inner Harbour. You can walk to most of them in a day or two of sightseeing in the Victoria town center.
Or you can ride the Victoria Harbour Ferry through town to get around via water. These harbour ferry boat tours are a fun way to travel through the city.
The city was named after Queen Victoria in 1868, and is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest so there is lots of history, art, and culture to see here.
But the entire Vancouver Island is stunning, and there are some great day trips to take from Victoria as well. Enjoy your stay on the west coast of Canada and try some of these fun activities.
1) Admire the Architecture at the British Columbia Parliament Buildings
Directly behind the Inner Harbour, you’ll see one of the many examples of Victorian architecture for which Victoria is deservedly famous.
The Parliament Buildings are home to British Columbia’s Legislative Assembly.
It is open to visitors from Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 5:00 pm in the offseason and 7 days a week in the summer.
There are regular guided tours (free of charge) or you can explore the buildings on your own.
You can even observe debates during Question Period if the Legislature is in session!
Summer is the best time to visit the Parliament Buildings. You might get to engage with one of six prominent personalities from Canada’s past!
Dressed in period costumes, these personalities appear on tours and deliver historically accurate monologues and interact with visitors.
There’s little parking near the Parliament Buildings but walking around the Inner Harbour is easy and the best way to get around Victoria BC.
READ MORE: Exploring more in Canada? Don’t miss a trip to Banff, Alberta!
You’ll have to pass through a security screening to gain access to the building.
There’s a lovely Parliamentary dining room open for breakfast and lunch as well as a quaint gift shop.
The beautiful grounds of the Parliament Buildings are available for use and are a favourite spot for picnics and wedding photos.
Bands and choirs perform frequently on the grounds.
2) Visit The Fairmont Empress Hotel
Kitty-corner to the Parliament Buildings near the Inner Harbour you’ll find the majestic Fairmont Empress Hotel.
One of the original grand Canadian Pacific Railway hotels (along with the Banff Springs Hotel, Chateau Lake Louise, Chateau Frontenac, and others) the Empress Hotel was opened in 1908.
It’s designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.
The Empress Hotel recently completed an extensive renovation such that its’ 464 guest rooms are both modern and luxurious.
Fair warning though: the Fairmont Empress Hotel is known as one of the most haunted places in Victoria!
There are regular sightings of a thin moustached man who some believe was the famous architect who designed the Empress, Francis Rattenbury as well as quite a few other characters.
One of the best things to do at the Empress Hotel is to have afternoon tea in the Lobby Lounge.
You’ll be served the Empress’ special blend of loose-leaf tea and Veuve Clicquot Champagne together with traditional afternoon tea favourites like scones, shortbread, cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches and strawberry tarts.
3) Stroll Through Beacon Hill Park
Beacon Hill Park is a highlight of Victoria BC. Located on Government Street, it is a short walk from the Inner Harbour and is nearby to most hotels and accommodations in the city center.
The park is huge, with over 200 acres of greenery to explore. There are plenty of trails for walking, cycling, or jogging. There are fountains, wading pools, sports fields, and picnic areas.
Beacon Hill Park is the best in summertime when the weather is warm. Have a picnic, go for a jog, or climb up to Beacon Hill Lookout for views of the Olympic Mountains surrounded Vancouver Island.
If you want to dive even deeper into nature when visiting Victoria BC, consider driving 25 minutes out of the city to Goldstream Provincial Park for some hiking. Mount Douglas Park also has hiking trails.
But if you’d rather stay close to the city, Beacon Hill Park is a gorgeous spot in Victoria.
For a real treat you can book a carriage tour through Beacon Hill Park and the nearby James Bay. This is an easy alternative to doing a walking tour through the city, as your local guide will tell you all about the area’s history while you ride.
4) Admire the Art Galleries at the Royal British Columbia Museum
Visiting the Royal British Columbia Museum is definitely one of the best things to do in Victoria.
Located right beside the Parliament Buildings facing the Inner Harbour, this great museum features both natural history and human history.
What I love best about the Royal BC Museum is the extensive Indigenous collections comprising more than 14,000 objects from throughout the state.
Representing many of the First Nations of British Columbia including Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Nlaka’pamus and Athapaskan as well as the local Coast Salish people, this beautiful collection will take your breath away.
Don’t miss the exquisite Salish and Nuu-chal-nulth baskets, beadwork and gold and silver jewelery.
The totems outside the Museum building (in an area known as Thunderbird Park) are mostly Haida replica totems and are regularly replaced when they run the risk of falling, as recently occurred in June 2019.
Canadian Icon Emily Carr is well represented at the museum with over 100 paintings as well as sketches, handcrafts, scrapbooks, letters, diaries and much more.
Also a part of this museum is the Natural History Gallery, a fascinating spot to check out if you’re interested in the natural world. Fans of nature should also walk a few blocks down to the Victoria Bug Zoo, a mini zoo that educates visitors about bugs and insects. The Bug Zoo is home to Canada’s largest ant colony!
Another cool place to check out in Miniature World. It’s sort of a museum, sort of an art gallery. Miniature World showcases mini replicas of events and time periods throughout history.
5) Feel Inspired at the Emily Carr House
The Emily Carr House is one of the best stops while exploring downtown Victoria BC.
At just a short 10-minute walk from the Inner Harbour, this stop is a natural addition to your day in Victoria BC.
Emily Carr is one of those exceptional Canadian figures that loom large in the national consciousness.
She was the first serious artist to feature Indigenous subjects and figures in her work and she is well known for visiting the most remote native settlements throughout British Columbia to capture their unique qualities and beauty.
Best known for her exceptional paintings, she is lesser known as a writer.
Her book Klee Wyck, a collection of sketches of Indigenous life was so well-received it won the Governor General’s gold medal for literature.
Emily Carr House is open to visitors Tuesday to Saturday from 11 AM – 4 PM May through September.
The house and gardens are carefully tended and remain as they were when she lived there.
Emily Carr House also hosts art exhibitions, readings and forums. Don’t miss the gardens – they’re particularly lovely.
6) Roam Through Victoria’s Chinatown
After exploring historic buildings, museums, art galleries, gardens, and more, head to one of the most exciting parts of the city: Chinatown!
It is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and the second oldest in North America. Not only is it full of delicious food, interesting shops, and fun bars, it is a celebration of the culture and history brought over to Canada from Chinese immigrants.
Spend a few hours wandering though the narrow streets and checking out all the eateries and shops.
Definitely head to Fan Tan Alley, a cozy and scenic little alleyway in Chinatown. Nestled between Fisgard Street, Government Street, and Pandora Ave, Fan Tan Alley is famous for being the most narrow street in Canada.
If you can squeeze down it, you’ll find lots of boutique shops, coffee shops, and cafes to check out. It’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in Victoria.
Canada’s oldest Chinatown is definitely one of the best places to eat in the city, as is Cook Street Village. There are plenty of food kiosks around that offer affordable and authentic Chinese food.
Day Trips for What to Do in Victoria BC
There are quite a few great attractions outside of downtown Victoria that are worth your time.
In the surrounding areas of Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, check out some of these places.
7) Visit Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site
Fort Rodd National Historic Site is a really interesting destination, especially for families.
This is a coast artillery fort built in the late 1800s to defend Victoria as well as the nearby Esquimalt Naval Base from the threat from Russia at the time.
It was in continuous operation until 1956 when it became obsolete.
Kids and adults alike find it really fun and interesting to explore the gun batteries and artillery emplacements.
There are lots of audio and video enhancements to make the experience more interesting and enjoyable.
When we were visited we were treated to a historical re-enactment of soldiers practising maneuvers on the property, as well as a wide variety of other costumed characters, some in military garb and others in Victorian costumes.
There’s lots of opportunity for hands-on interaction with de-activated artillery pieces, which is sure to impress even the most jaded youngsters.
If you’re keen on camping, make sure to book your camping experience at Fort Rodd Hill.
The view of the Pacific Ocean is worth waking up early!
8) Tour Hatley Castle
Just a quick 10-minute drive from Fort Rodd Hill is the beautiful Edwardian Hatley Castle.
The castle is built on 565 acres at the behest of a railway baron in the early 20th century.
Constructed without regard to cost, Hatley Castle was formerly the family home of the Dunsmuirs.
Sadly, the family patriarch would only live in the Castle for 12 years before he died. His widow and daughter continued to live there until their deaths in 1937.
At its peak, Hatley Castle employed 100s of staff, from gardeners to cattlemen to house workers.
Hatley Castle was then the home of Royal Roads Military College until 1994. It was thereafter leased to a new university, Royal Roads University, who continues to use the property today.
Many movies and TV series have been shot at Hatley Castle, including Deadpool, The Killing, X-men: The Last Stand and Smallville.
You can get a guided walking tour of the estate or a self-guided tour of the sumptuous gardens.
Don’t miss the Japanese Garden which dates from 1910 and includes twisting paths, statues of cranes and beautiful ponds.
Hatley Castle has an interesting museum on-site and is open every day from 10:15 am to 3:00 pm.
Parts of the castle are available to rent including the first floor, drawing room, and parts of the gardens.
It’s a local favourite site for lavish weddings.
If you don’t have the time to venture out of Victoria, there is the Craigdarroch Castle right in the city. Opened in the late 1800s, Craigdarroch Castle is another interesting National Historic Site in Victoria.
9) Go Whale Watching
If you love getting out on the water and looking for wildlife, a whale watching tour from Vancouver Island is a must!
Different types of whales frequent the cold waters off the west coast of Canada during April to November. However, July to October are usually the best months for whale watching.
Humpback whales, minke whales, grey whales, and sometimes orcas can be seen on Victoria whale watching tours. You may also spot dolphins, seals, sea lions, sea birds, and other wildlife.
There are lots of amazing tour companies in Victoria where you can book a whale watching tour with experienced local guides. Many tours also have a marine biologist on board as well so you can learn about the species and the ecosystems around you.
If you’re visiting during peak whale season, book your whale watching tour in advance to ensure it doesn’t sell out. This is an amazing way to get up close to the incredible wildlife in their natural habitat.
10) Explore Butchart Gardens
This massive green space is the top attraction in Vancouver Island and it’s no wonder why!
Now recognized as one of the National Historic Sites in Canada, Butchart Gardens has a long and interesting history and is a must-see destination on your visit to Victoria.
Located between the Swartz Bay ferry terminal and downtown Victoria, the gardens are easily accessible by car, bus or bicycle. There are also many tour companies offering full-day or part-day tours. The garden is dog-friendly too!
Plan to spend at least half a day at the Gardens but a full day will allow you to really experience all that the Gardens have to offer.
Current daily fees are USD$25 during high season. Or you can book yourself a private tour of the gardens, which is very popular.
Pro tip: keep your ticket to return the next day for only USD$3.00!
Butchart Gardens is open year-round with every season offering something unique and different.
Spring is a really lovely time to visit. Fresh blossoms are on full display and the crowds of visitors have not yet descended.
Summer is arguably the best time to visit the gardens. There are fireworks displays every Saturday from late June to the end of August.
The rose garden is in full bloom, and be sure to check out the Japanese Garden and Sturgeon Fountain as well.
There are also live performances on the concert lawn every night, and a great electric boat tour (for an additional fee).
The Fall is a great time to visit for the smaller crowds but still quite a few late-blooming shrubs and trees.
This is a great time to see the changing colours of the maples. It’s also the only time the greenhouses are open to the public
Winter is a really magical time to visit as Butchart Gardens is decorated for the season and there are many wonderful seasonal activities to enjoy.
There’s carolling, ice skating, Christmas displays, and a really special holiday experience.
After Christmas, the Butchart family residence is opened to the public for tours, complete with original furniture and lots of interesting memorabilia.
Also consider visiting the Victoria Butterfly Gardens which are just a 5 minute drive away from the Butchart Gardens.