Victoria is a small city located on Vancouver Island’s southern tip and is renowned as the “Garden City” and for its marine setting. As British Columbia’s capital city, some aspects of Victoria feel more like a small town due to all the small businesses, the waterfront setting, and access to other places on Vancouver Island.

This small city with a population under 100,000 residents is a popular place for tourists to visit with approximately 4 million visitors spending at least one night here in 2019. About 50% of tourists come from other places in Canada, 31% from the USA (Victoria is a cruise ship stop), and 19% from other international destinations.

We absolutely love Victoria because it has so much of what we like in Vancouver but on a much smaller scale; it is walkable/bike able, has many good places to eat and drink, nice uncrowded beaches, and is near hikes and other outdoorsy adventures. We would go quite as far as saying as it is the only other place in Canada we’d even consider living due to the above mentioned and that its QAF (quaint as f*ck)!

In this post, we share tips and information to help you plan a long weekend to enjoy all the small charming city of Victoria British Columbia has to offer!

Getting Here:

It is not as easy to get to Victoria as it is to get to Vancouver but there are numerous options from Vancouver, other places in Canada and Washington State especially during the summer. The information shared below is a combination of options pre-pandemic as well as during the pandemic and will be updated accordingly.

From Vancouver:

From Vancouver, there are 3 options:

  • By ferry: BC Ferries operates ferries between Vancouver (Tsawwassen) – Victoria (Swartz Bay) daily and the crossing takes about 1.5 hours. This is by far the cheapest option to get to Victoria, especially if you plan on driving. We do recommend paying extra to make a reservation in advance to avoid waiting hours at the terminal.
  • By air:
    • Seaplane: You can take a seaplane from either downtown Vancouver or by Vancouver International airport to get to and from Victoria. We recommend this option to experience a scenic flight and for a quick weekend to Victoria to avoid the hassle of renting a car if you plan to drive.

From elsewhere in Canada:

Air Canada and West Jet operate non-stop and connecting flights to YYJ – Victoria from other Canadian cities such as YLW – Kelowna, YYZ – Toronto Pearson International Airport, YYC – Calgary International Airport and YEG – Edmonton International airport to name a few. Since summer is the busiest time for domestic travel, this is when you will have access to the most flights.

YYJ – Victoria International Airport is located in Sidney, approximately 20 minutes outside of Victoria and so upon arrival, you will either need to rent a car, take a bus, take a taxi or shuttle.

From Washington State:

When the border is open to non-essential travel, there are two ways to get to Victoria from Washington State.

  • By ferry:
    • The Black Ball Ferry: This ferry service operates between Victoria and Port Angeles for foot and passengers also taking their vehicules.
    • The Clipper: This ferry operates between Victoria and Downtown Seattle’s Waterfront Pier for foot passengers.
  • By air:
    • Seaplane: Kenmore Air offers seaplane service between Seattle’s Lake Union to Victoria Harbour.

Where to Stay:

There are many places to stay in Victoria and the surrounding area from hotels (both chain and independent),Airbnbs, bed and breakfasts, resorts, and vacation rentals.

In regular times, it is very expensive to visit Victoria in the summer; most hotels charge upwards of $400 a night! And so if you want to use points, using them at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Suites Victoria is a good idea. We once purchased Hilton Rewards points on discount to use them here because the cost of purchasing the points per night was cheaper than paying for the room rate. We like the DoubleTree’s location, some of the rooms have nice views and balconies, the breakfast is good (a-la-carte during the pandemic), the service is good, they treat us well as Gold members, and we are fans of the DoubleTree cookies.  We enjoyed staying here more than the Marriott because the rooms have been renovated more recently and some have balconies.

We have had the Westin Bear Mountain Resort on our list of places to stay for a long time but it is always so expensive, they charge a resort fee and parking. Last summer, one of their separate buildings became a hotel of its own, the Fairways Hotel on The Mountain for much less expensive. It is more or less the same room but at a fraction of the cost (we paid $85CAD per night), you don’t have access to the resort amenities and all you need to pay is about $10 per day for parking (rate at the time). We enjoyed staying here because you are connected to an extensive trail network (Gold Stream Provincial Park and Mount Finlayson), making it a great place to stay for day hikes. The resort is also located on a golf course which is definitely appealing to golfers.

If you ask people where they should stay, many will say “The Magnolia”. The Magnolia Hotel is an independent boutique hotel that has won over so many people with its charm. This 64 room hotel is a great place for a romantic getaway. Tip: Book a Diamond room during the winter because they have gas fireplaces to keep you warm!

Opened in 1908 as one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria evokes a sense of connection to the past. Royalty and celebrities have flocked to this hotel since it opened and even if you are not staying in one of its 464 rooms, you will feel the need to visit, even if just to snap a photo of this majestic Edwardian-style castle hotel or to enjoy a cocktail or high tea.

Victoria Harbour and the Fairmont Empress Hotel
Victoria Harbour and the Fairmont Empress Hotel

Oak Bay is a suburb to the east of Victoria. As we were driving there, we were reminded of some spots in California but without the freeways and traffic. The Oak Bay Beach Hotel is another historical resort built in the early 1900s that still exudes luxury. The hotel has nice views of the ocean, access to trails along the ocean, restaurants on site as well as mineral pools with views of the ocean. This is another good place for a romantic getaway in a serene and peaceful setting while also being close to Victoria to enjoy the city.

What to Do:

Victoria is a small city but offers lots too. Here are some of our recommendations:

  • Butchart Gardens: Butchart Gardens is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Victoria (located in Brentwood Bay). With 55 acres of gardens, it is a lovely place to enjoy walking in curated gardens that showcase so many things that grow in this part of the world.
  • Fan Tan Alley: Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest China Town and Fan Tan Alley is the narrowest street in Canada and home to small shops.
  • Inner Harbour: Victoria’s Inner Harbour is near downtown has trails by the water for you to enjoy the scenery as well as access to tours.  
  • Craigdarroch Castle: If you are a fan of the Victorian era, Craigdarroch Castle is a place to visit. Built in the 1890s, this Victorian mansion (aka as a castle) has been preserved for and a relic of the past.
  • Sooke Potholes: Located to the north of Victoria in Sooke, the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park is a great place to spend the afternoon on a warm and sunny day to explore/hike and swim in the pools formed by a unique rock formation from the las known ice age.  We recommend arriving by 11:30 on a nice weekend day and being prepared to pay about $2 for parking. Fact: In 1960, the land was purchased with the goal of having a 200 room luxury resort built here but the project was abandoned, as are some of the buildings from the original construction phase. We are very happy the project was abandoned and the area left as is for people to enjoy in its natural state.
  • Drive up the Coast: We recommend driving up the coast from Victoria to visit the small towns and the coastal areas. We took a whole day to visit Sooke, Jordan River, China Beach, Sombrio Beach and Port Renfrew before looping back and visiting other towns, like Duncan see next section for more information about wineries).
  • Tours/Activities: There a number of tours available, like whale watching, walking, food, ghost, horse drawn carriage, kayak, etc.  
  • Visit other Places on Vancouver Island: You may to spend a few days in Victoria before visiting other places on Vancouver Island. Check out our other posts for ideas:

Where to Eat and Drink:

Victoria has a diverse dining scene that ranges from the trendy things you would find in Vancouver to more casual options that reflect its character and marine setting. Victoria is also home to a vibrant craft beer scene, cideries, wineries and distilleries (it’s where Empress Gin is made!).

Here are some of our favorite places to eat:

  • Smoke and Anchor: Located in Fisherman’s Wharf, the Smoke and Anchor is a great place to enjoy some smoked meats and beers outdoors. Tip: make sure to try their rosemary garlic fries!
  • Red Fish Blue Fish: Located in the harbor area, Red Fish Blue Fish is a great spot to enjoy fish and chips, chowder and other seafood dishes like their tacones.
  • Superbaba: Located in downtown Victoria, Superbaba serves up casual Middle Eastern food to go (not open for dine-in right now). We love getting a bowl from here to go and enjoy at the beach!
  • Los Panas Kitchen: Located in Market Square, Los Panas Kitchen is a food truck serving up Venezuelan arepas. We recommend grabbing some arepas and enjoying them with a beer at Whistle Buoy.  
  • Chicken 649: If you are craving Korean fried chicken, Chicken 649 will satisfy that craving.
  • Re-Bar: Re-Bar is a quaint eatery offering a variety of lunch, brunch and dinner options with lots of vegetarian and vegan dishes too.  

Here are some of our favorite places to have drinks:

  • Phillips Brewery: Phillips has been making craft beer before craft beer was a thing. Their beers are always solid, the space is fun and welcoming, and we enjoy their pretzels too!
  • Île Sauvage Brewing: Île Sauvage Brewing means “Wild Island” in French and is the place to sample Belgian-style wild and sour ales.  
  • Whistle Buoy Brewing: Whistle Buoy Brewing is conveniently located in market square and has a nice patio to enjoy beers and arepas from Los Panas.  
  • Swan’s Brewery, Pub and Hotel: Swan’s feels like an old school pub and is a great place to enjoy a few beers and snacks.
  • Category 12: We had some of our favorite beers of the summer at Category 12 and recommend stopping here on your way to Victoria after you disembark the ferry.   
  • Sooke Oceanside Brewing: After visiting the Sooke Potholes Park, we stopped in for a beer flight and to buy some bottles to take home. This is a super small place that has solid beers.
  • Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse: We enjoyed visiting Sea Cider for a cider flight and one of their meat and cheese plates. It is not our favorite cider but we do enjoy the setting and think it is worth visiting.
  • Averill Creek Vineyard: Averill Creek is located in Duncan, so a bit of a drive from Victoria but doable for a day trip, especially if you plan to visit the other wineries in the area.
  • Unsworth Vineyards: We also enjoyed a wine tasting at Unsworth the day we drove to Duncan. They also have a restaurant onsite.  

Summary:

We always enjoy long weekend in Victoria and often spend 1-2 nights here before heading other spots, like Tofino/Ucluelet or even Salt Spring Island. As much as we love Vancouver and all it has to offer, we appreciate the slower pace of things in this small city and the access to coast. We also really enjoy the restaurants, breweries, and wineries, often visiting favorites and finding new ones along the way.

Have you been to Victoria? Do you have any other places to stay, activities, and places to eat to recommend?

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