Seeing everything worth seeing in Victoria in one trip is difficult to do. Many of the best attractions surround the Inner Harbour, which is the heart of Victoria and the best place to start exploring. The list below begins at the Inner Harbour and radiates outward. Downtown Victoria is well contained and exploring on foot or by bike is usually the best way to get around.
1. The Inner Harbour(free): Daytime or nighttime, rain or shine, Victoria's Inner Harbour is beautiful. Buskers along the causeway, restaurants, green spaces to lay in the sun, and never-ending beautiful views. is the heart of this incredibly tourist oriented city. Surrounded by spectacular buildings, historical monuments and stunning totem poles, the Inner Harbour is a free Victoria attraction that takes hours to fully appreciate. From the two kilometre cement and granite causeway that skirts the harbour and then continues at both ends for much longer, to the various centuries old buildings.
2. Royal British Columbia Museum($24): An amazing, and huge museum packed with Victoria's history going back thousands of years. The wonderful grounds around the museum give you a taste of what is inside. Hauntingly beautiful totem poles can be seen near the entrance as well as the elaborately colourful totem poles and long house in the adjacent(and free to see), Thunderbird Park. If museums are not your thing or you don't have time, at least take a look at this marvellous preview. The museum probably will take you at least a couple hours to appreciate as the incredible displays go on and on. From the enormous and authentic totem poles that number in the dozens, to the life size woolly mammoth that has been in millions of photo albums. To full size replica of Captain Cook's ship(the stern half), that you actually walk through!
3. Parliament Buildings(free): Extraordinary to see from the outside, the building is a museum of sorts on the inside. Whether you are gaping at the wonderful architecture or appreciating the extravagant interior, the Parliament Buildings are free to see and though you may be in and out in 15 minutes, you will be glad you did. Overlooking the Inner Harbour, the Parliament Buildings are open to the public year-round. There are even free 40 minute guided tours that run(usually) most days and come highly recommended.
4. The Empress Hotel(free): The Empress is a luxurious and beautiful hotel and a look back into Victoria's history. Built over a century ago, it has become an iconic symbol for Victoria and is a designated National Historic Site of Canada. Afternoon tea is a well loved tradition here. Whether you stay, dine, or just walk through and admire the place, taking a closer look is highly recommended. You can walk through the front entrance(Government St), and continue through to the Victoria Conference Centre and exit at Douglas Street. The Conference Centre is a breathtaking collection of totem poles in a massive palace of glass. Take a look here, the place is stunning, and easily missed while visiting Victoria. You can exit a side door of the Convention Centre and come out through their wonderful gardens and return back to Government Street and the Inner Harbour. The Empress has a small museum of sorts that you might stumble upon if looking for the washrooms one floor below the lobby. Several glass cases containing the wonderful memorabilia of over a century being Victoria's most luxurious hotel. The empress has long been the nicest hotel in Victoria and therefore has been the temporary home to a whole range of monarchs, dignitaries and celebrities. This interesting mini-museum exhibits some fascinating pieces of history from this wonderful institution of past and present extravagance.
5. Whale Watching($100): Tours depart from the Inner Harbour year-round. Three hour tours cost about $100 and consist of much more than whale watching. Part coastal boat tour, part educational experience, whales are just the climax of these amazing tours. Seeing killer whales almost a certainty as there are several known pods that frequent the waters around Victoria. It is not uncommon to see them in numbers approaching 40 on one tour! Along with killer whales, humpback whales and gray whales are sometimes spotted(depending on the season). Harbour seals, elephant seals, sea lions and bald eagles are also commonly seen. Killer whales are also(less colourfully) referred to as the orca whale(pictured here). They are highly social and reside in family groups that are considered the most stable of any animal species. This fact, along with sophisticated hunting techniques and independent "languages" have been described as manifestations of culture! The enthusiasm of your whale watching guide and their incredible knowledge will leave you astounded when you witness these extraordinary creatures up close. It it any wonder why on any given summer day in Victoria, you may spot a dozen whale watching tour boats in the Inner Harbour!
6. Fisherman's Wharf(free): This cute little place is a world of its own with its permanent residents living in floating houses in Float Home Village. There are some great places there to get ice cream, and all sorts of cafes with lots of food choices.. much of it fresh from the ocean. Picnic tables on the wharf are located right in the middle of the action. There is even a free, live show.. the Seal Cam, showing the big, fat and jolly harbour seals lurking below you.
7. Ogden Point Breakwater(free): A giant cement walkway that takes you straight out into the crashing ocean all around. Along the way seeing fishermen casting off from the walkway as well as scuba divers just a few metres away in this popular Victoria diving location. The Giant Pacific Octopus and wolf eel are occasionally spotted while scuba diving here. The area is such a popular dive location that there are even dive markers and underwater plaques to list what may be seen. The Ogden Point Dive Centre is a full service operation that operates under the cafe at the start of the breakwater. Dating back to 1916 the Ogden Point Breakwater and the recently constructed cruise ship terminal receives 380,000 passengers from over 200 cruise ships every year. This sounds like it is a crowded place to visit, however, on most days it is a wonderfully serene stroll out above the ocean. At the end of the breakwater you reach the lighthouse and can step down to the waters edge and peer into the dark, green water and watch the world go by in this amazingly peaceful hideaway.
8. Beacon Hill Park(free): Beacon Hill Park begins just past the Royal BC Museum and from here you could literally walk for hours though this amazing park filled with gardens, ponds and an almost unbelievable array of plants and animals. In 1843, Hudson's Bay Company officers used a high point to line up two beacons to mark Brotchie Ledge. Over the next few decades the park developed into one of the most cherished parks in Canada. 2000 trees and shrubs were planted in the park in 1889 to form various natural wildlife habitats. Beacon Hill Park is packed with wonderful trails, a kids petting zoo, several wildlife pools, water fountains, picnic areas, historical monuments, sports fields, a concert stage and one of the worlds tallest totem poles.
9. Beach Drive(free): This gorgeous coastal driving/biking route around Victoria effectively begins at the Inner Harbour if you drive along Belleville St past the Parliament Buildings to Dallas Road. At Dallas Road you can follow the southern tip of Vancouver Island for several kilometres. Continuing along the oceanfront route on Dallas Road you will pass through Beacon Hill Park on your left(ocean on your right). Dallas Road follows the coast for a couple more kilometres then connects with Beach Drive.
Beach Drive continues with almost constant ocean views and through upscale neighbourhoods before ending near the University of Victoria. You can then retrace your route to the Inner Harbour, or take a short cut through UVic, or continue along the east coast of the island, though the ocean views are limited to the occasional parks along.
10. Craigdarroch Castle($14): An incredible, 39 room, 25,000 square foot house built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. This extraordinary example of extravagance and opulence has been wonderfully preserved as a museum that is seen by over 150,000 visitors per year. Located just 2 kilometres from the Inner Harbour, a 30 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride down Fort St will get you there. Located just off of Fort Street on Joan Crescent, Craigdarroch Castle sits on a hill overlooking the distant Inner Harbour.
Admission is $13.95 which may seem like a lot when you consider that you may be in and out in 20 minutes. If you admire the exquisite details of this magnificent home, however, you may take much longer. Continued to more Victoria attractions.