Famous B.C. destination changing with the timesIf it’s been a while since you visited Victoria, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. And if you’ve never visited British Columbia’s capital city, you’re in for a delicious treat.
With its pretty gardens, gracious heritage buildings and relaxed pace, romantic little Victoria has always been a draw for visitors. But today’s Victoria has also become a vibrant community of young foodies, passionate artisans and creative entrepreneurs, with plenty of outdoor adventures and fun attractions to keep everyone busy. Best of all, you can take in an array of city highlights even on a short weekend visit.
The heart of the city is the bustling Inner Harbour, where floatplanes, harbour ferries and whale-watching excursions vie for space, and where any visit to Victoria should begin.
At the foot of the harbour is the elegant, century-old Fairmont Empress Hotel, an Edwardian chateau-style hotel designed by the city’s famous architect, Francis Rattenbury. The multi-talented Rattenbury also designed the nearby B.C. Parliament Buildings, as well as the recently renovated Steamship Terminal building, which is now home to the Robert Bateman Centre and a terrific casual eatery, Steamship Grill. Indeed, Rattenbury’s imprint is all over the old part of Victoria.
But so is the memory of the gold rush. In the 19th century, Victoria was a prosperous merchant town, and many fortunes were made outfitting prospectors heading to the Cariboo, Fraser River and even up to the Yukon, perhaps more than in these destinations themselves. The old warehouses still line Wharf Street, many of them painted cheerful colours and housing shops, pubs and restaurants. Trendy Lower Johnson Street is a whole neighbourhood of funky shops and restaurants that trace their roots back to the days of the gold rush, as does Victoria’s tiny Chinatown — the oldest in Canada — just a few blocks away. It’s home to Canada’s narrowest commercial street, quirky little Fan Tan Alley, as well as Silk Road, where tea master Daniela Cubelic creates exquisitely fragrant blends.
Tea is a bit of a passion for Victorians, which is not much of a surprise given the city’s strong British heritage. You can get a good cuppa as well as a proper afternoon tea at several places around the city, most famously at The Fairmont Empress, which promises a delectable spread that is one of Victoria’s quintessential experiences.
That British heritage also translates to a vibrant pub culture, and no visit to Victoria is complete without stopping for a pint at one of its many excellent pubs, especially Spinnakers, the oldest brewpub in Canada and a place as notable for its fantastic farm-to-table fare as it is for its great ales. (The seafood chowder is a must.)
In fact, the foodie scene here is all about hand-grown, hand-made ingredients. With two abundant agricultural areas just outside the city — the Cowichan Valley and Saanich Peninsula — farm-fresh fare is always just a few minutes away, and always to be found on the table. You’ll even find chefs growing their own goodies, especially at places like 10 Acres Bistro + Bar + Farm, which owns its own farm. You’ll also catch them making their own preserves, charcuterie and even, if you’re at North 48, housemade cheese whiz. That handcrafted ideal applies as well to the city’s exceptional cocktail joints, such as Little Jumbo and Veneto Tapa Lounge.
It’s not just tomatoes and lettuce that grow so beautifully here — so do flowers. Victoria is celebrated for its lush, beautiful gardens. The most famous of them is the grand Butchart Gardens, a family-owned show garden in an old quarry out on the Saanich Peninsula that is one of the city’s absolute must-sees. It features a number of spectacular themed gardens and if you are very lucky, you may even come across the elusive Himalayan blue poppy.
Of course, Saanich is a little ways out of the city, but there are a number of tour buses that will get you out there. Even better? If you’re serious about two-wheeling, rent a bike and pedal your way. Victoria is considered the cycling capital of Canada and is criss-crossed with flat, accessible trails, including the Galloping Goose, which goes all the way from Sooke to Saanich. If you’d prefer a guide, The Pedaler offers cycling tours that will get you all over Victoria, including pub tours, foodie tours and tours of the main attractions. Too much work for you? Then hop into the sidecar of a vintage motorbike and let Sidecar Victoria whisk you around to the most scenic spots and major sights in Victoria.
Those sights include the exceptional Royal BC Museum, one of the top regional museums in Canada and a great place to spend an afternoon. They also include Craigdarroch Castle, a National Historic Site, the teeny-tiny charms of Miniature World and the bucolic beauty of Beacon Hill Park. And you won’t want to miss the legacy of one of Victoria’s most famous daughters, the modernist painter Emily Carr. You can visit her childhood home, see her paintings at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and say hello to the bronze statue of Carr with her dog Billie and monkey Woo outside The Fairmont Empress.
And like all good visits to Victoria, that brings you back to the Inner Harbour, where you can sip a cocktail, nibble on fish and chips, paddle a kayak, pick up a carving from a First Nations artist, and watch the sun set on another idyllic day in Victoria.
For what to do, see, eat and more in Vancouver, visit tourismvictoria.com. For more on British Columbia's destinations and travel information, visit HelloBC.com.
RECOMMENDED LODGING: Victoria lodging
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