Victoria is a city that combines old world charm with the active lifestyle that is synonymous with Canada. We love it because it is the perfect getaway for the relaxed and adventurous alike – and it looks good enough to eat! Victoria merges Canada’s historical buildings with true Canadian-living shops. Even better, the often stunning and always interesting architecture is surrounded by a glittering ocean teeming with some of the most incredible marine life. Tracy from Destination British Columbia waxes lyrical about how much Victoria has to offer: “Located on Vancouver Island, the capital city of British Columbia, Victoria, offers so much to visitors. In fact, Victoria was voted one of the Top 10 cities in North America by readers of Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2015.”
In the most temperate area of Canada, Victoria is described as having a Mediterranean summer climate that is coupled with mild, rainy winters, making it the easy middle-ground of Canada’s extreme weather scale. This fabulous weather is the reason for the incredible gardens that are scattered throughout the city. Lush foliage blooms everywhere you look, which has landed Victoria the nickname of ‘The Garden City’. A feast for the eyes and a balm for your wanderlust, it’s a fantastic destination for any holiday in Canada.
However, with so much to see in this great country, visitors can often find themselves short for time and looking for ways to get the most out of each location. Luckily, Victoria is the perfect city to take in with on a busy schedule. Whether you’re stopping off in Victoria as part of a Canada fly-drive holiday or a west coast of Canada cruise, you can really get a feel for Victoria in just 48 hours – if you know where to look. Here, we’ve compiled one fantastic itinerary to help you experience all the best of Victoria in just two days.
Our suggested itinerary
Morning- Wander the inner harbour, stopping off for lunch at local eateries
Afternoon- Go whale watching off the coast
Evening- Take a horse drawn carriage ride around the city
Morning- Hike / kayak / go fishing
Afternoon- Check out a cultural hotspot/ have afternoon tea at The Fairmont Empress Hotel
Evening- Take a ferry to fisherman’s wharf for a final dinner
Morning: Wander the Harbours
This is a city that has strong ties to the sea. You can’t escape its marine aspect – and nor would you want to. It enriches Victoria, whether through the fantastically fresh seafood on offer or the history of trade that the city was built on. Visiting the harbours that have been so instrumental to the growth of this area is a great way to spend a morning. Simply soak up the relaxed attitude and great weather. This is the best way to start your 48 hours in Victoria, pick at the delicacies that are on offer to curb mid-morning hunger, or enjoy a coffee overlooking the water. The bustling front of the city is a great way to start your trip here. David from The Travel Insider knows what makes the city tick: “Victoria is all about the water. Strolling around its beautiful inner harbour. Taking a water taxi – perhaps to a restaurant on the other side. Enjoying a harbour tour to the inner reaches of the harbour that few tourists otherwise even suspect exists. Going out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca for whale watching. Traveling between Victoria and the US by ferry or fast cat.”
Afternoon: Killer Whale Watching
After a spot of lunch on the harbour edge, go out to sea and check out some of the most incredible wildlife around. These glorious creatures can only truly be appreciated in the wild. There is no better place to be (almost) guaranteed to spot them than off the coast of Victoria. Tour companies are so confident that many of them will take you out again for free in the unlikely event that you don’t see whales on your first trip. Cameron Wears from Traveling Canucks believes the area is truly special when it comes to whale watching: “Vancouver Island is one of the best places to spot killer whales in British Columbia, especially in the summer months from May to October during the salmon migration. Whales, sea birds and other marine animals are attracted to the area to feed, resulting in a 95% success rate on whale watching tours. We hit the jackpot on our tour with Prince of Whales and spotted over 25 killer whales!”
Evening: Horse and Carriage Ride Through Old Victoria
For sightseeing on the go and a different perspective of Victoria, a horse and carriage is the most romantic vehicle you can choose. As charmingly old fashioned as some areas of the town, it is easy to see how Victoria would once have looked when it rang with the sound of horse hooves. Cameron thinks it is one of the better ways to see what the city has to offer: “A different way to discover the historical city by horse-drawn carriage. The relaxing, romantic and informative tours allow visitors to see the city’s attractions in style, while traveling through old residential neighbourhoods, scenic waterfront roads and the second oldest Chinatown in the North.”
The intimate mood of a horse-drawn carriage ride is perfect for a special date night or celebration with a loved one and a wonderful way to round off your first day in this fabulous city. In typical Canadian style, the locals will go the extra mile to ensure you have a perfect experience. Cameron suggests, “If you’re in the mood to turn up the romance, most operators allow you to crack open a bottle of champagne or wine while you tour the city by night. The horse-drawn carriages will pick you up from your hotel or restaurant. You can also organize your trip directly from the horse carriage operators, located beside the BC Parliament Buildings. Tours range from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours.”
Morning: Outdoor Pursuits in Victoria
The best way to scope out the entirety of the city, with its complex layout, is from a high vantage point. Head up to Mount Douglas, which, though a little short of full mountain stature, is a great place to see the city. With Victoria spread out beneath you, enjoy a mid-morning picnic after an exhilarating hike to kick start your second day.
With its strong focus on the sea that surrounds it, there is no surprise that water sports are a big deal in Vancouver, so hiring out a kayak is no problem. If you are looking to experience something a little different, scuba diving equipment can also be rented along with lessons to truly immerse yourself in the wonderful marine wildlife.
If its dry land that floats your boat, Tracy believes there are many options available in and around the city “if you’re looking to experience some of the many outdoor pursuits available from hiking to cycling, playing golf to salmon fishing.” There are lots of hiking routes available for every ability, so whether you are looking for a leisurely meander or an adrenaline-pumped scramble, there will be something suitable in the area. A great option just outside Victoria is the famous and beautiful Butchart Gardens.
Afternoon: Relax with Victoria’s Cultural Gems
The history of the city means enjoying the centre goes hand-in-hand with marvelling at the glorious old buildings. The Fairmont Empress Hotel opened in 1908 and is iconic for its prominent position on the harbour, as well as being famed for its afternoon tea which is a fabulous little luxury after your morning of exertion. If you wish to know more about Victoria’s famous residents, then check out the Canadian artist Emily Carr’s house, or take a look at Munro’s Books belonging to the first husband of Nobel Prize in Literature winner, Alice Munro. Alternatively, follow Tracy’s advice and “enjoy the shopping, dining and theatre, which Victoria has covered.” She continues, “The city also boasts some of the best museums in Western Canada and is now a cosmopolitan centre with a lively entertainment scene and wide array of attractions.”
For a truly unique experience, muddle your history with some cocktails. Little Jumbo is a speakeasy that soaks up all the prohibition era class and delivers it back to you with an air of mystery. Hidden down a corridor and indicated by only a neon purple elephant sign, it is the epitome of secret delights and is fantastic for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Evening: Take a Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf
If you visit in the height of summer, a ferry ride is a fantastic way to escape the heat and get out on the ocean that glimmers so invitingly from all over the city. Cameron knows it is a great way to get off your feet and still enjoy the area: “A fun way to get around the Inner Harbour is to take the Victoria Harbour Ferry. The little green and white ferries leave from various points around the harbour, making it a relaxing mini-cruise while you discover the city.”
There are also great places to eat and drink on the Fisherman’s Wharf, making the ferry just as much about the destination as the journey and a wonderful way to round off your 48 hours. Cameron says, “Marvel at the iconic, blue steel Johnson Street Bridge while sea planes take off and land in the bustling harbour. Just look for the “Ferry Stop” signs at major waterfront locations around the harbour. You can stop off at Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and grab a refreshing pint of craft beer or visit the Fisherman’s Wharf and sample the world famous fish and chips at Barb’s.”
Image Credit: Mitch Barrie