Best things to do in Victoria, BC: Local Tips
Updated: Dec 8, 2020
Looking for the best things to do in Victoria, BC? Get to know the city that we've called home for many years! As locals, we know the best times to visit, when to go, how to get to hidden gems on the island, and other fun activities that will keep you entertained and fully appreciating the city during your stay. Victoria has a ton to offer within a 20-minute driving radius of the city. From the Butchart Gardens, Parliament Buildings, beaches, viewpoints, and parks, Victoria has something for everyone.
This article highlights the top things to do in Victoria, and tips on when to go and how to get there.
Want to explore everything Vancouver Island has to offer? Download our free Vancouver Island bucket list. Including secret beaches, waterfalls, hikes, and more to check off on your visit to Victoria.
When to go to Victoria
The best time to visit Victoria is in the spring and summer. Each year thousands of tourists descend upon Victoria, making for a vibrant atmosphere in the city. All of the restaurants, pubs, and stores are bustling with energy and excitement at the same time as the sun starts coming out. Victoria can get pretty grey and rainy during the Fall and Winter but by the time April comes around, the clouds start to part. The city has beautiful flowers and gardens planted throughout, so April-September is ideal if you want to see them and the rest of the city in all its glory. It's also the best time if you want to enjoy the beaches and parks in the area as it will be warm and enjoyable to spend your time outside.
If you're looking to avoid crowds, then plan your trip for "shoulder season". This means either early in April or near the middle-to-end of September. This is when the tourist season starts ramping up or winding down so you can still enjoy great weather and the full experience of the restaurants and shops in the city but you will also avoid some of the larger crowds that come through during the main season.
Best Things to Do in Victoria
Victoria has many great things to do. From gorgeous coastal beaches and hikes to city tripping and whale watching, it truly is a tourist mecca in the spring and summer seasons. The city has a uniquely European feel to it compared to the rest of Canada. There are strict city laws that state buildings cannot exceed a certain height and that they must maintain their original outside designs whenever possible. This means that all of the original buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s are still intact, as evidenced by the beautiful and colorful Johnson Street. Whatever style of activities you like, you will find options that suit your personality in Victoria!
Visit Downtown Victoria
The downtown is known for its stunning British colonial architecture, its First Nations history, and Asian traditions, which can be easily explored by foot. If you only have a day, you should take a relaxing walk along the boat-lined Inner Harbor, stroll through the tiniest alley of North America (Fan Tan alley), learn about British Columbia’s fascinating history at the BC Museum, and visit the neo-baroque iconic Parliament Buildings and the grand Fairmont Empress Hotel.
We also recommend checking out Red Fish, Blue Fish or the world-famous Fisherman's Wharf to experience true Victoria seafood. You will find both of these places located along the inner harbor and if you're there in tourist season you will see lineups for the street food locations from far away! Fisherman's Wharf is unique in that there are personal floating houses along the dock which form an alley between the shops and food vendors. The atmosphere is always vibrant during the summer here and is a must-see in the city!
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With abundant marine wildlife surrounding Vancouver Island, it is no wonder that whale watching is one of the best things to do in Victoria. Whale watching is especially popular during the summer season as then the orca whales flock to the region!
To see these magnificent Orca Whales, sea lions, seals, otters, and humpback whales in their natural habitat, you will need to book a boat tour. Tours generally last about 2-3 hours and the guides are very informative. Check out our 'Whale Watching Tours from Victoria, BC' review article that compares various aspects of whale watching in Victoria: from the best time to see whales, to the types of boats, and top whale watching companies reviewed.
Visit the Butchart Gardens
One of the reasons why many travelers visit Victoria is to take a tour of the English-style Butchart Gardens. This designated National Historic Site is open all-year-round, as each season brings its different flowers and charm. From the blooms of the spring, the entertainment, and fireworks in the summer, the warm colors of the fall, to the Christmas decorations in the winter. The garden hosts diverse gardens, including a Sunken Garden, Rose Garden, and a Japanese, Italian, and Mediterranean Garden. It is a top thing to do in Victoria when you are visiting during the blooms of the spring!
To get to the Butchart gardens, you can either take a bus or go by car. The best bus option is CVS tours, as you can choose your departure and pick up times and you even have the option to go to the Butterfly Gardens on the way back if you desire (they are near the Butchart Gardens). To see the CVS tour options, click here. By bus or car, it will take about 35 minutes to get to Butchart Gardens. From downtown, follow Blanshard street straight out of town and along the highway. After about 15 minutes on the highway, take a left on Keating Cross Road. This will lead you onto Benvenuto Ave and straight to the Butchart Gardens. There will also be signs to the gardens once you exit the highway.
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Relax at one of the best beaches in Victoria
When the temperature rises and the blue sky and sunshine beckon in Victoria, it is time to hit the beach. Surrounded by the ocean, there are numerous beaches to choose from!
1. Gonzales Beach is very sandy and one of the warmest beaches in Victoria as it's protected by hills on both sides. You will have a beautiful view of the Olympic Mountains in front of you as well as a small island to your left. It's a great spot to relax outside of the city!
2. Willows Beach is another sandy beach located about 15 minutes from downtown Victoria (near Oak Bay). This is my favorite beach of all because of its peace, serenity, and view. It is rarely overcrowded and you will have a spectacular view of the many islands between Victoria and Washington State. In fact, on a clear day, you will have a full view of snow-capped Mount Baker with the ocean in front of it.
3. Witty's Lagoon is the best beach in town for skimboarding and ocean swimming in my opinion. The tides are very extreme here and on any given day, you could walk for 20 minutes out to the end of the sandbar. The waves break gently and there are tons of seals due to the warm water and plentiful fish in the area. To get there, enter the address 4100 Metchosin Rd, Victoria, BC V9C 3Z6. The walk down is pleasant with a waterfall on your left and a well-maintained path. Wear shoes if you can as it does get muddy if it rained recently.
4. Thetis Lake is another great spot to enjoy a spring or summer day. This is the most popular spot in Victoria for swimming due to the higher water temperature than the ocean and its proximity to the city. With a car, you can get to Thetis lake within 20 minutes. When busing, it would take about 1 hour depending on where you depart from. I recommend the 50 bus!
5. Durance Lake is my favorite local spot for taking a dip. The nice thing about this lake is that it has enough space in the end that you can be almost totally alone. Take a floatie and a picnic to enjoy this gorgeous lake setting in the woods! This lake is not accessible by bus, so you will need a car or taxi to get you out there and it's about 20 minutes from downtown.
*Note: For a full list of the other top beaches outside of Victoria, check out our ultimate travel guide to Vancouver Island.
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Go for a Hike in Victoria with a Spectacular View
There are many local hikes in and around Victoria. The majority of the ones listed below lead to great unique viewpoints and can be reached within 20 minutes of the city. Enjoy Victoria's beautiful scenery!
1. Walbran Park Lookout is by far the best sunset spot in all of Victoria! You will get 360 views of the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, the Juan de Fuca straight, skyline of Victoria's downtown, and even a few small bays along the coastline. Read more about how to get there in this blog post.
2. Ogden Point is a classic Victoria destination perfect for a photo near the ocean. To get there, keep walking about 10 minutes past Fisherman's Wharf on the right side of the road. You will see cruise ships docked and a long breakwater rock face. You can walk about 15 minutes to the end of the breakwater and see the famous Ogden Point lighthouse. You might even get lucky and see a humpback whale or Ocra at the end of the breakwater.
3. Dallas Road is a great spot to take in the coastal side of Victoria right near downtown. There is a long stretch of the walking path that runs all the way from Ogden point and out to Clover Point Park. Take a walk here on a sunny day and feel the wind and sea breeze flow through your hair! Take a walk down to the beach along the way to get the full experience.
4. Mount Doug is another great viewpoint similar to Walbran Park in that you get full 360 panoramic views of the surrounding region. You can drive to the top or hike up the numerous trails around there. This is a close 2nd sunset spot in Victoria compared to Walbran Park Lookout. For getting there by bus from downtown, take the 47 bus and then transfer to the 39. It will take you about 45 minutes by bus or 15 minutes by car.
5. Mount Tolmie is another nearby hill that offers a good city and sunset view. It is very close to UVic and the summit can be accessed by car or via the 20-minute walking trail from the base. The summit view is great for sunset as the sun goes down behind the city and lights up the mountains and ocean all around you.
Go on a Hike just outside Victoria
1. Goldstream Provincial Park is a great spot for a half- or full-day hike. Here, you can go to the Trestle Bridge route on the left side of the road which was used by trains in the past. You will see a hidden waterfall on your left directly after entering the park and then climb about 25 minutes up to the train tracks. Be careful as the tracks are not maintained and it is a LONG way down! The route is about 2.6km in total with 173m elevation gain.
Alternatively, you can do a more challenging hike to the neighboring peak of Mount Finlayson on the right side of the road. This is about a 6km, 431m elevation gain hike and should only be done by people in decent shape. The top view is extremely rewarding with views of the surrounding mountains and valleys as well as the ocean that surrounds Victoria. To get here by car, take Highway 1 out of town to your left. Then after about 20 minutes, the entrance to Mount Finlayson trailhead will be on your right before you go up the Malahat road.
2. Gowlland Todd Provincial park is the final hiking spot that I would recommend if you're looking to stay near the Victoria area. It is about a 20-minute drive from downtown and located directly to the left of Durance lake. The view at the top offers stunning views over the Clayoquot Sound and the trail is well-maintained. Take the Ridgetop Trail loop for a 9km journey through lush forest and get a great workout in with a rewarding view. This trail is more maintained than the Mount Finlayson loop, but about the same elevation gain so be prepared for a hike!
How To Get To Victoria
Victoria is located on Vancouver Island, which means the only way to get there is by ferry boat or plane. While this is nice for the scenic and remote aspects of Victoria, it can also be difficult to plan your trip if you don't know where to look. Here are your options, all with their pros and cons depending on where you are arriving from:
If you're coming to Victoria from somewhere other than BC or Washington State, then you may want to consider flying due to the simplicity and not having to time up your trip to catch a ferry boat. There are many flights from major airports across Canada and the US, most of which land in Vancouver first and then have a short flight onto Vancouver Island. From the airport, you would then take a taxi to the city which is about a 30-minute trip. Skyscanner is a good website for booking your flights as cheap as possible.
Pros: Simple, fast, and good option for non-west coast residents
Harbour Air is the main seaplane operator for Victoria. They fly from Vancouver harbor straight to the Victoria inner harbor, making it by far the fastest and most convenient option for getting from city to city. They also offer a flight from Lake Union in Seattle, making it a convenient option for visitors from Washington State. The price for a one-way ticket is generally just over $200 CAD.
Pros: Fastest and most direct route possible between Vancouver or Seattle
The Clipper is a great option for people from Seattle. Running a couple of times per day during tourist season, it's easy to plan your trip and be walking the town in Victoria within a few hours from leaving downtown Seattle. The cost ranges from $115-$160 USD depending on what time of the year you go.
Pros: Most direct and convenient option from Seattle possible without flying
Cons: Somewhat expensive for a weekend trip compared to other ferry options. It can be bumpy.
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The BC Ferries operate many routes between the mainland Vancouver area and Vancouver island. The most popular route is to depart from Tsawassen Ferry Terminal (35-minute drive from downtown Vancouver and also accessible via bus) and then arrive at Swartz Bay terminal on Vancouver Island. Once you arrive at the terminal, you can either take a 45-minute bus to downtown Victoria or take a 30-minute taxi ride. It's also possible to drive your car on if you have rented a car or have your own. The cost for a car and driver is about $70 CAD one way and the cost for walking on is about $15 CAD one way.
Pros: Moderate price. Cheap option if you walk on. Convenient scheduling with boats every 1-2 hours from Tsawassen.
Cons: Takes a lot of patience and timing coordination if you are walking on due to bus schedules and boat schedules.
Black Ball Ferry
If you are coming to Victoria from Seattle or Oregon, then you may want to consider the Black Ball Ferry! It is very convenient if you have a vehicle as it's about a 2-hour drive to the Port Angeles terminal from downtown Seattle. Then it drops you off right in downtown Victoria rather than having to drive again from the drop-off area in Swartz Bay like you would have to with BC ferries. However, be aware that the prices are in USD and thus a bit more expensive than BC ferries normally. The cost for a car and driver one-way is $66 USD and for a walk-on only it's $19 USD.
Pros: Most convenient option when coming from Washington State as the border wait is short right when you get off the ferry and it drops you off right in downtown Victoria.
Cons: More expensive than BC ferries and only runs 4 times per day during peak season, making it more difficult to plan the timing for your trip.
Check out our video from when we were "tourists in our own town" earlier this year! You'll see the Butchart Gardens, downtown Victoria, Mount Tolmie, and some of the other spots mentioned in our blog
Want more travel tips for Vancouver Island? Check out our full Vancouver Island Adventure Travel Guide.
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Let us know about your time in Victoria! What was/is your favorite spot around the city? Comment below!