Victoria is just 25 miles from Port Angeles, the closest American shore. That’s 25 miles closer to America than its Canadian mainland. But the quaint British Columbia capital feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of US city life thanks to its walkable streets, historic architecture, and generally upbeat culture.
Like its residents, its gardens tend to be bright and cheerful — thanks in large part to incredible Victoria BC weather patterns. Tucked within the Olympic Rainshadow, the small metropolitan hub gets 308 days a year with sunshine! So whether you’re looking for indoor activities or plenty of fresh air, there’s a wide variety of things to do in Victoria, BC.
48(ish) Hours in Victoria, British Columbia
With its lush landscape and close proximity to the sea, Victoria sports a thriving food scene that celebrates sustainably sourced ingredients. Here, an exciting mix of cultures are on display ranging from Canadian and First Nations to Chinese and European. The temperate weather has attracted outdoor sports enthusiasts, who hike, bike, and golf year-round, while city dwellers also find their niche among inventive cocktails bars and thriving art galleries.
Friday in Victoria
6:45 p.m. Seafood on the Sea
Don’t stop to soak in the view. Or ponder what’s for dinner. Or wonder if crossing the border into Canada really only took five minutes. (It did. You’re not miss-remembering things.) Head to Red Fish Blue Fish. It closes at 7 p.m. And you’re not going to want to miss these fish and chips.
A harborside institution, Red Fish Blue Fish is operated out of a 20-foot shipping container. Needless to say, the upcycled kitchen doesn’t offer indoor seating. Rather, patrons are invited to dine alfresco on David Forester Way dock, where a collection of picnic tables and bar stools can be found — along with incredible harbor views.
The fish and chips have earned this joint its claim to fame with mentions on Food Network Canada’s Eat Street and Lonely Planet’s guide. But there’s really not a bad order to be had, especially considering that all the seafood they serve is sustainably sourced and locally caught.
8 p.m. Nightcap with a View
Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is ringed by vast viewpoints. Rocky shorelines, expansive waterways, breathtaking mountainscapes. At night, the twinkling lights from nearby communities show just how close the capital is to its US neighbors.
Get acquainted with your surroundings, by heading to Vista 18 Restaurant & Lounge — located on the 18th floor of the Chateau Victoria Hotel & Suites. Located in the heart of downtown, it’s the highest elevated dining destination in the city. Grab a spot in the lounge to savor a cocktail and take in the view.
Of course, if you want to skip the sunset and focus on what’s in your glass, there’s no need to take the 18-floor ride to the sky. Clive’s Classic Lounge is arguably the best cocktail bar in the city. The ever-evolving cocktail menu features housemade tinctures, local and imported spirits, house-aged cocktails, and more.
Saturday in Victoria
8 a.m. Coffee & a Breakfast Sammie
‘Your Day is about to get a little better,’ promises the window sign at Victoria’s downtown Milano Coffee shop. And it is. Sure, the downtown institution doesn’t appear on any of the best Victoria coffee shop lists and has a minimal online presence.
But this joint doesn’t need such high fluent recognition. It’s been an undercover local’s favorite since it opened in 2018. Founded in Vancouver, it’s just one of eight locations scattered throughout British Columbia (and the second on Vancouver Island).
The menu is humble. Scratch-made breakfast sandwiches, slathered with mayo and toasted. Pound cake, heavy on the pound. Layered streusel. Buttery croissants. And oh, the coffee.
Made-to-order pour-overs that offer complex tasting notes. Lush lattes thick with foam. And a plethora of dietary considerations, including vegan fare and the ever-popular oat milk.
9 a.m. Feast Your Eyes at The Butchart Gardens
A riot of blooms and buds, The Butchart Gardens features 55 acres of finely manicured floral displays. Located roughly 14 miles from the downtown core, this breathtaking destination was once a thriving lime quarry. But in 1912, the limestone deposits had been exhausted.
Jennie Butchart, who had moved to Tod Inlet with her husband Robert to found the cement plant, envisioned a grand garden. She began to transfer topsoil to the depleted landscape with a horse and cart. More than 122 years later, Jennie’s passion project has expanded into one of the most world-renowned floral displays in North America.
You can reach The Gardens by car, taxi or public transportation. Alternatively, you can catch a comfortable seat aboard a CVS double-decker sightseeing bus. These narrated tours originate at the Fairmont Empress. Book your tickets in advance to secure your seat aboard the 9 a.m. departure.
The sprawling grounds feature five unique gardens (Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden, Italian Garden, and Mediterranean Gaden). The Sunken Garden is undoubtedly the most popular, thanks in large part to its unique topography, including green-cloaked walls; 151 flower beds; and ‘the Mound,’ a massive limestone lookout point situated at the center of the garden. It’s accessed by several flights of stairs built into the limestone and offers a birds-eye view of the paths that wind below.
1 p.m. Sip Like Royalty at the Fairmont Empress
Since the Fairmont Empress was built in 1904, it has welcomed celebrities, dignitaries, and royals to its well-appointed rooms, plush communal spaces, and luxurious spa. Considered one of the top Iconic Hotels in the World by National Geographic Traveler magazine, its chateau-style design gives way to a breathy interior, modern interior.
To experience the pinnacle of old-world elegance, book a seating for ‘Tea at the Empress.’ A magical affair, it’s hosted in the Lobby Lounge and is a far cry from the steeped bags you’ll find in American coffee houses.
Indeed, Tea at the Empress is an event, complete with a dress code. (It’s kindly requested you save the flip-flops, tank tops, and hats for elsewhere.) It’s also quite the meal — thanks to the exquisitely prepared selection of finger sandwiches, tarts, scones, and cookies.
3 p.m. Stroll & Linger throughout Victoria’s Inner Harbour
You experienced a touch of the Inner Harbour when you landed on this watery highway. But did you realize that in addition to the active International Airport, the harbor is host to a ferry terminal, the Victoria Clipper dock, a thriving houseboat community, several sightseeing boat excursions, and a collection of friendly pedestrian water taxis (aka Pickle Boats)?
West, along the Inner Harbour, you’ll pass the iconic Parliament Buildings. Free guided tours are available seven days a week. (During weekdays, visitors can take their own self-guided tour.) Each tour begins on the front driveway and lasts approximately 20 – 30 minutes.
Roughly 17 minutes (just .8 miles) from the Empress, you’ll find Fisherman’s Wharf — one of Victoria’s eclectic houseboat communities and novelty shops, including food kiosks specializing in seafood.
South of the Fairmont, is the Royal BC Museum and the free outdoor display of First Nations totem poles and homes, known as Thunderbird Park.
Follow the harbor north and you’ll the “The Homecoming” statue which captures the magical moment when a sailor returns home. The iconic Old Customs House (sometimes referred to as the bubblegum building, thanks to its pink brick) is an excellent place to snap a selfie. And at the heart of downtown is Bastion Square, where a ceremonial entry arch welcomes visitors to the original site of old Fort Victoria.
6 p.m. Grab Dinner in Canda’s Chinatown
Thousands of Chinese immigrants settled in Victoria during the 19th-century gold rush. The primary workforce responsible for constructing the Canadian Pacific Railway, they settled above Johnson Street. Today, the vibrant community of narrow streets and alleyways is Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
Today the fare in Chinatown lends itself to fusion, an exquisite expression of cultural cuisine imbued with cultural diversity. NUBO Kitchen + Bar, a Japanese tapas and sushi restaurant, marries authentic Japanese cuisine with Korean and Western influences. Here, the menu is designed to be shared and explored with fellow diners.
An understated gem, Băo is tucked just outside Chinatown’s core. A cozy destination for Asian fusion, it’s the kind of joint where you’re likely to rub elbows with locals. While the ramen and the bibimbap are nice, come here for the restaurant’s namesake – bao. These Taiwanese steam buns are filled with a plethora of choices, ranging from buttermilk fried chicken and pork bahn mi meatballs to a classic Taiwanese grilled pork belly (or favorite).
Sunday in Victoria BC
9:30 a.m. Brunch it Out
9:30 may not technically be ‘brunch,’ but when you’re in the brunch capital of Canada, it’s more of an all-day occasion. Beloved favorites include Jam Cafe where southern comfort food like buttermilk biscuits and fried chicken are a staple. Floyd’s Diner is a Victoria, bc landmark, where the casual, family-friendly atmosphere is matched with a peppy mix of classic diner food.
But for the end-all to-be-all of Victoria brunch, venture to Blue Fox Cafe. An eclectic sampling of West coast culture is imbued in the hectic diner where the menu star is none other than the beloved ‘Benny.’ A Victoria favorite, the ‘Benny’ (aka an eggs Benedict) is available in 10 different varieties ranging from classic smoked ham to a chicken, browned mushroom, fresh arugula, and cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto variety.
11 a.m. Galleries & Castles
Seven contemporary gallery spaces are adjoined with the 1889 Spencer Mansion to make up the remarkable Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. The largest art gallery on Vancouver Island, it’s home to an outstanding collection of art from Asia (including the only authentic Shinto shrines outside of Japan) and a large collection of works by Emily Carr.
After you’ve perused the gallery, don’t forget to wander over to the nearby Craigdarroch Castle. The “bonanza castle” was built between 1887 and 1890 for Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune in Vancouver Island coal. It features four floors of exquisite stained-glass windows, intricate woodwork, and Victorian-era furnishings. Self-guided tours are available Thursday through Sunday and tickets must be purchased online.
2 p.m. Shop, Eat, Shop
Fashionistas began recognizing Victoria’s eclectic and inspiring shopping scene in 2016, when the city’s collection of “stylish indie boutiques stocked full of local designs along with great bars, bakeries, and restaurants,” were noted in VOGUE as the ‘it place’ for a girl’s getaway. A diverse mix of locally crafted goods and consignment boutiques — located relatively close together — make wandering the historic streets a treasure trove of inspiration.
Among the must-visits is: Zingaro Floral Perfumery, a local parfumary shop where owner Palma Cafolla will take you through an exquisite sampling experience to find your perfect scent; Bernstein & Gold, a carefully-curated selection of denim; and Upcycle Closing Collective, a modern consignment shop where the quality and diversity is ultra-inspiring.
For not-so-average greeting cards, stop by The Regional Assembly of Text. While the typewriters are no longer available for rent, the selection of cards, pens, and buttons won’t disappoint.
Looking for a new read? Get lost in Munro’s Books — a Victoria staple. Housed in the twentieth-century Royal Bank of Canada, the interior has grandiose ceilings that sore overhead, reminiscent of an ancient Roman library. Indeed, it’s the kind of setting where one could easily get lost reading the first chapter of a newly discovered title.
While at Munro’s, you might consider wandering south on Government Street just half a block to Bard & Banker. The pub is housed in another renovated bank, the Bank of British Columbia, which opened in 1885. Today, its patrons come here for local brews and casual, delicious fare.
Other bites while wandering? Fol Epi bakes wild-yeast bread from milled-on-site organic flours in brick ovens. The result is a carb-lovers dream. Foo Asian Street Food serves up dumplings made from Paneer cheese and served with a masala cream sauce, a light and flavorful albacore tuna bowl, and a bright and fresh papaya salad that will wake up with its chili lime dressing.
5 p.m Check-in & a Pre-Flight Bite
You were likely too focused on Red Fish Blue Fish to have noticed Flying Otter Grill when you arrived Friday. But the quaint laid-back pub is located a stone’s throw from the terminal. In fact, the floating eatery offers outdoor seating on the patios around the terminal.
Head here for a drink, surf ‘n’ turf comfort food, and harbor views. Order and pay at the kiosk inside and then find a seat that suits your fancy. The friendly staff will deliver your order directly to your table. Plus, the close proximity to the airport ensures you won’t be late for your 45-minute check-in window. International travel is finicky. Checking in even a minute late could make you miss your flight.
How to Get to Victoria BC from Seattle
There are a variety of ways to get to Victoria, BC. We’re a bit biased, but our favorite is taking a Seattle to Victoria seaplane flight. In fact, this itinerary is based on our summer schedule. It has you flying on the 5:30 p.m. Friday flight from Kenmore Air Harbor and heading back to Seattle on the 6:45 p.m. flight departing from the Victoria Inner Harbour Airport.
Alternatively, you can catch the roughly 3-hour Seattle to Victoria ferry with the Victoria Clipper. Or, you can catch the Black Ball Ferry Line’s M.V. COHO that departs from Port Angeles — a roughly 2.5-hour drive and 90-minute vessel crossing aboard the ferry.