Victoria (and the surrounding Vancouver Island) is an underrated destination filled with incredible cultural and outdoor activities. The city’s culture is unlike anywhere else in Canada thanks to heavy English influences and a focus on retaining its late-19th-century charm.
Victoria’s nickname is the “Garden City,” and all it takes is a quick stroll through town to see why. Some of the best things to do in Victoria, B.C. involve nature, like cycling through a park or enjoying a classic tea service in a botanical garden. Whale watching and tours through temperate rainforests are also just a quick drive away.
Here are some of the best things to do in Victoria for all kinds of travel styles.
1: Have Tea in Butchart Gardens
Arguably the prettiest place in Victoria—and there are quite a few contenders—Butchart Gardens is a massive botanical garden just outside the city limits. The gardens have been open to the public for more than 100 years, and they’re a lovely place for anyone with even a passing interest in plants.
While you’re here, be sure to make time for an afternoon tea service. Because the city has such a strong English culture, afternoon tea is a tradition. And there’s no better place to experience it than at Butchart Gardens while enjoying the stunning views. You can opt for a single tea or coffee at the Garden Cafe, but a full tea service will also include small sandwiches and sweet snacks—and if you ask a born-and-raised Victorian, they’ll tell you that sweets are a non-negotiable part of a proper tea time.
2: Sample Spirits at the Victoria Distillery
Have you ever tried hemp vodka? Or oaked gin? Whether you say yes or no to that question, a visit to the Victoria Distillery is one of the most fun things to do in Victoria, provided you like spirits or cocktail mixing of any kind. You’ll have your choice of a few different tours and tasting pairings, where you can learn how they make their beloved spirits (and taste a few yourself).
Once you’ve taste-tested the options and figured out which you like best, be sure to order a cocktail in the distillery’s cocktail room. Opt for an indulgent drink made with their dark chocolate liquor, or choose something with Sidney Spiced to warm your soul if it’s chilly outside. The entire operation has won awards for its sustainability and eco-friendly production methods.
3: Fly Down a Rainforest Zipline
Just outside of Victoria, a bit further out into the wilderness of Vancouver Island, lies a high-octane and high-elevation adventure. On a zipline canopy tour, you’ll soar through the temperate rainforest in Sooke. With a knowledgeable safety instructor, you’ll slide across eight zip lines and cross two suspension bridges, all with fantastic views of the forest and ocean beyond.
4: Whale Watch around the San Juan Islands
One of the absolute best things to do in Victoria, B.C. is to head out on the water in search of humpback whales. The waters around Vancouver Island are a summer home for migrating whales before they head to Mexico or Hawaii for the winter. You could also see grey whales, which follow a similar migration pattern as the humpbacks.
Along with whales, the Salish Sea and the northwest Pacific Ocean are also home to marine species like California sea lions and harbor seals, as well as more unique pinnipeds like the massive elephant seal (which you can often hear from a mile away).
5: Stroll Along the Inner Harbor
As you might imagine from Victoria’s geography, access to water has always played a considerable role in the city’s development. Long before it was a city, Canada’s First Nations people relied on the water for transportation, trade, and as a plentiful food source. Once the British arrived with the Hudson Bay Company, the waterfront played a similar role, though it also became a hub for naval defense and, eventually, yachting and recreation.
Now, there’s a lovely walking and jogging path along the Inner Harbour that goes past some of the city’s most notable buildings. That includes the Fairmont Empress Hotel (a former railway hotel opened in 1908 and now a National Historic Site,) the pseudo-Renaissance-styled Parliament Buildings, and the Royal British Columbia Museum. The Inner Harbour is an excellent place for an afternoon walk or morning jog.
6: Go Back in Time at Craigdarroch Castle
Despite the fact that Victoria is a city full of beautiful architecture, there’s one particularly unique building worth a trip for anyone who loves history: Craigdarroch Castle. The castle was built in the late 1800s for Robert Dunsmuir, a coal baron and member of Victoria’s high society. The sprawling home is more than 25,000 square feet and remains as it was during the 19th century, right down to the stained glass and ornate woodwork.
A historical society now manages the home, and taking a tour there is one of the most fun things to do in Victoria for history buffs. Tours are self-guided, and staff are on hand to answer questions and paint a portrait of what life was like in that era.
7: Cycle through Beacon Hill Park
Victoria has quite a few urban parks, but the most well-loved among them is undoubtedly Beacon Hill Park—think of it as Victoria’s Central Park. The communal space covers more than 182 acres and includes meadows and footpaths, gardens, lawn bowling, picnic areas, a playground, performance areas, and protected habitats for some of B.C.’s rare plants.
One of the best ways to see the park is from the saddle of a gentle road cycle or cruiser bike. The park is a trendy biking destination, so it’s quite safe and motorists are used to cyclists. You can bike along the water (where you’ll often see kitesurfers and windsurfers) or pedal past meadows and huge native trees. There’s also an area of the park once used by First Nations People (specifically the Lekwungen People) with exhibits and preservation efforts underway.
8: Taste Your Way Through the City
For many travelers, tasting local cuisine is the best way to get to know a city. And if you’re one of those travelers, then taking a food tour downtown will definitely be one of the most fun things to do in Victoria. The city’s food scene blends all the best of European cuisine along with some Eastern influences, since the city is becoming more and more diverse by the day.
Where exactly a food tour will go depends on what company you travel with and what foods are in season, but popular destinations include the Victoria Public Market, town squares like Bastion Square or Market Square, Chinatown, and small mom-and-pop places you’d likely never find on your own. In addition to various drinks, you might be able to try meatballs and French pastries, chocolate, street food, seafood, and (of course) Canadian classics like gourmet poutine.
9: Hike Mount Tolmie
Even though Victoria is a city, there’s excellent hiking just a few minutes from downtown. Taking a hike up Mount Tolmie is one of the best things to do in Victoria, B.C., as it gives you a bird’s-eye view of both the city and the entire Saanich area.
For a longer hike, start from a lower elevation and hike to the summit. The journey gains about 400 feet of elevation and is only about a mile long, though it’s uphill most of the time. If you’re more interested in the views than the hiking, you can drive most of the way up and explore some of the paths closer to the top rather than starting at sea level. There are several relaxing picnic areas and information at the top about the area’s history and what peaks and waterways you’re looking at in the distance.
10: Explore Old Town Victoria
Victoria was established in the 1800s, and while trading and trapping were big industries back then, so too was something a bit more lucrative: gold. The Old Town of Victoria retains much of the same look it did back in the gold rush days, right down to the historical buildings that once served as hotels and saloons. Many of them have since become funky shops and cute cafes, and there’s even a maritime museum if you’re interested in the city’s nautical history.
Also in Old Town are two must-see sights: Chinatown and Centennial Square. Be sure to check out the First Nations Totem poles and City Hall in the latter. Victoria’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America, just after San Francisco’s. It’s worth a visit as it seamlessly blends Chinese history and architecture with modern-day cuisine and crafts. Fan Tan Alley is an especially great place to shop if you’re keen to explore some small, internationally sourced boutiques.
Victoria is an amazing city and truly one of the most unique on the West Coast. You can explore this beautiful destination on a luxury cruise that also travels to Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. Browse cruises to Victoria on our website and book an unforgettable vacation today.