Many have heard of Victoria, a Travel + Leisure Top 10 North American city with quaint British flair. That's because it's beautiful, charming, and artsy, not to mention surrounded by passionate locavore farmers and craft brewers. Also on offer? Scenic coastal hiking, biking, and marine sea life all within striking distance.
Though you might not realize it, Victoria is BC's capital. It's also situated on the southern tip of giant Vancouver Island and is just a short float plane ride away from the mainland's city of Vancouver. Victoria's sunny climate -- Canada's mildest -- means a visit any time of year is pleasant, especially to the world-renowned Butchart Gardens, as dazzling lit up for the holidays as it is in spring with the tulips. Scan this quick guide to Victoria and don't miss these top 10 attractions.
Arguably the area's biggest draw, the celebrated Butchart Gardens is 55 acres of showy displays of flowers, blossoms, shrubs, and trees meticulously manicured and landscaped, plus an enormous dragon fountain gifted from China. It's a delight to stroll or sit among the classic rose garden or under a fragrant vine-draped pavilion. If you're up for something else, Butchart also hosts all kinds of workshops, walks, dining and afternoon tea options, boat tours, lawn concerts, and events, including the summer Saturday evening fireworks shows. Allow time to browse the art-filled Seed and Gift Store.
Victoria claims its part in the craft beer revolution as the site of Canada's first brewpub, and you'll want to taste the city's contributions. Follow the Ale Trail and hit the staples -- Canoe Brewpub, Swans Brewpub, Vancouver Island Brewery, Spinnakers Brewpub -- and mix it up with some up-and-comers, matched with outstanding Vancouver Island fare.
Beautiful is no exaggeration when referring to the postcard-perfect Inner Harbour. It's a historic fishing and shipbuilding area with distinctive architecture rooted in trade dating back to the coastal First Nations. Today, it's a bustling place with cruise ships, recreational boats, ferries, and float planes gliding in and out -- your starting place for a kayaking or whale-watching excursion. Ideal for walking and people watching -- we're partial to the buskers -- it's within walking distance of 200-acre, oceanside Beacon Hill Park and the city's historic downtown core. Check the events calendar for summer events, outdoor concerts, shows, and festivals.
Prince of Whales Whale Watching and Marine Adventures
A North American No. 1 whale-watching destination according to Travel + Leisure, you want to see Vancouver Island's gargantuan marine creatures in action. The pros at Prince of Whales will take you out on the water to spot acrobatic humpback, pods of up to 100 leaping orcas, and mink whales, plus bald eagles, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and harbor seals. Though you can consistently see whales from April to October, go in March and April to see migrating gray whales or in May and June for humpback.
Royal BC Museum
Known for its superb collection of First Nations art and especially masks, the Royal BC Museum focuses on natural and human history through a social and environmental lens, with 7 million artifacts, specimens, and documents on display. The approach is immersive, so you'll get to experience what it was like in Victoria in the 1920s or how it might've felt standing next to a hulking woolly mammoth. Learn about Royalty in BC, for example, iconic painter Emily Carr, or watch an immersive IMAX movie, one of only 35 state-of-the-art systems in the world.
Victoria's rural Saanich Peninsula is locavore haven, dotted with rolling hills, green fields, farms, boutique wineries, and cideries. Bonus: Most spots out here are mom-'n-pop type operations devoted to organic, sustainable practices. The city celebrates its producers, proudly showcasing area suppliers and labels. Dine at a favorite restaurant, taste some Vancouver Island wine or cider at the source, or pick up the catch of the day from the wharf near downtown. There's also the Victoria Public Market, which has it all under one roof.
The Spa at Brentwood Bay Resort
Add West Coast-style R&R to your itinerary. Not only is Brentwood Bay Resort and Spa stylishly perched in the trees overlooking the ocean, it's also home to a tranquil, full-service spa offering hot stone and traditional Thai massage, plus an outdoor hot tub and pool. Top rated by Cond? Nast Traveler and other glossies, the resort leads acclaimed Pacific foraging and seafood eco tours and paddling adventure packages, too.
BC's graceful Parliament buildings are a signature Victoria landmark. Overlooking the harbor, the legislature is open year-round to the public and seven days a week in summertime. Take a guided tour to learn more about BC's provincial government or explore the buildings on your own. You can even dine there and rub elbows with VIPs or pick up a souvenir in the gift shop. The 45-minute tours are free.
Cook Street Village
Charm? Victoria's got it in spades. Historical Cook Street Village, with its European feel, eclectic stores, coffee houses, gourmet grocers, clothing boutiques, Brit-style pubs, and creative eateries, is a good example. The Old World ambiance is leisurely, so you can take your time browsing the neighborhood spanning the five blocks between Oscar and Leonard Streets. You'll also want to shop Johnson Street with its handsome heritage buildings and overflowing flower baskets, and Canada's oldest Chinatown. While you're at it, rent and ride bikes. Victoria is a fantastic cycling city.
Afternoon Tea at the Empress
High tea in Victoria is a long and storied tradition. And it's especially great at the Fairmont Empress hotel, a stately brick Edwardian frequented by royalty, where traditional English afternoon tea is served in the elegant dining room. Skip breakfast so you can fit in all the pastries, finger sandwiches, and flaky scones with clotted cream and jam. It's an affair that's nothing short of sumptuous.