Noted for its charm, and its French style pastries, a visit to Victoria, British Columbia doesn’t disappoint. Victoria is a great walking city with different neighborhoods offering different pleasures. Lower Johnson Street combines colorfully painted historic buildings with local shopping, restaurants. Nearly all estimated 40 businesses are locally owned.
The Inner Harbour is the premier strolling area of the city. It’s home to the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and places to enjoy the activities of the harbor. Head to Government Street for more shopping and dining. Kids may not be interested in shops, but they might enjoy the Victoria Bug Zoo. At the other end of town, stop by Chinatown. It’s small, but offers Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada – as well as Dragon Alley.
Major Standout Attractions
The dream of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch (which means “rocky oak place” in Gaelic) was completed in 1890 and filled with stained glass, intricate woodwork, and plush Victorian-era furniture. Subsequently it functioned as a military hospital, a college and now the Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Museum.
The Royal BC Museum offers an introduction to the richness of the history of British Columbia. Guided tours are available of First People, Natural History, and Modern History tours or join the Highlights Tour with a taste of each. Admission to the IMAX Theatre is extra. Don’t miss the third floor history gallery and First Peoples Gallery. Be certain to walk through their impressive outdoor totem pole collection towering over Thunderbird Park, and the kids will love it, too.
Located on Vancouver Island about equidistant from Victoria and Vancouver, no visit to the area would be complete without spending the day enjoying Butchart Gardens — easily one of the finest on the North American continent.
Food and Lodging
The Chateau Victoria Hotel & Suites is highly recommended. The suites are huge and the hotel is perfectly located in the heart of the city, but just off a main street so it isn’t noisy or congested. Stop and admire the statue in front of Clive Piercy, owner of the Chateau Victoria Hotel and Suites and his beloved dog Shaker.
Have breakfast at Willie’s Bakery & Café. It’s the oldest bakery in Victoria, and you can even sleep in the two guestrooms upstairs in a heritage building in the neighborhood called LoJo — Lower Johnson. An alternative for a lighter and more casual but quite excellent breakfast is Murchies at 1110 Government Street. There’s plenty of seating, including comfortable chairs and low tables for a sitting-in-the-living-room feel. They serve breakfast (quiches, muffins, croissants, scones), lunch and of course their teas (their coffee is good, too).
For take-away light meals and pastry for any and all occasions — there’s one total standout. Patisserie Daniel (1729 Cook Street). The feather light mushroom and Parmesan quiche with a hint of a crust was delicious. Their almond chocolate croissant had me swooning.
There’s no shortage of tea shops, but one standout is Silk Road Tea on the edge of Victoria’s tiny Chinatown. Silk Road’s newest offering is tea and chocolate pairings. The chocolate is locally made artisan chocolate. One pairing was Peach Paradise – a peach black tea – with a smoked caramel dark chocolate flavored with Lapson Suchong. Unique, delicious, intriguing.
Getting To and From Victoria
You can fly in to Victoria International Airport and then a cab or a shuttle into the city. If you’re in the pacific Northwest, you can take Black Ball Ferry and have your car right there for excursions — including driving to Butchart Gardens. Their Port Angeles terminal is just a 2.5 hour drive from Seattle, WA.