Victoria, capital of British Columbia, sits on the craggy southern end of Vancouver Island. With abundant parkland, it’s known for outdoor activities. Victoria is sheltered by mountains and influenced by the warm North Pacific current – creating the mildest climate in the whole of Canada. Parks and gardens in this pretty city are festooned with foliage and flowers throughout the year.
Best Time to Visit
The best times to visit Victoria and Vancouver Island are March to May and September to November. The region sees some of the country’s mildest weather and the driest summers, so while you might experience a light drizzle here and there, plan on comfortable temperatures in the spring and fall.
Top Places to Visit in Victoria
1. Royal British Columbia Museum
British Columbia’s provincial museum is situated midway between the Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel. It is by far the best museum of natural and cultural history in Canada, with many three-dimensional displays offering a feast of sights, smells, and sounds. Walk through a rain-forest, view animals on West Coast beaches and in tidal wetlands, sit among aboriginal ceremonial poles and masks, walk through a big house, and learn of First Nations people’s struggles after European settlement. Other interactive features include a replica HMS Discovery – the ship that brought Captain Vancouver to these shores, and a street of shops in Old Town. Outside, Thunderbird Park is home to traditionally carved memorial and house poles. Nearby, the small mid-19th century, Helmcken House is the oldest residence in British Columbia still standing on its original site.
2. Butchart Gardens
For a visit to one of the area’s premier tourist attractions, follow Highway 17A north for 22 kilometers to the magical Butchart Gardens at Brentwood Bay on the Saanich Peninsula. Here, in 1904, Jennie Butchart, wife of a wealthy quarry owner, started to lay out a fragrant garden in abandoned limestone workings. Flourishing, not least because of the mild climate, the gardens have since been developed into a 20-hectare horticultural tour de force without rival in Canada. The Italian garden, rose garden, Japanese garden, and sunken garden are among the loveliest. Open spaces among the pools, fountains, and the many exotic plants are used for artistic and musical performances.
3. Beacon Hill Park
Green and well tended, Beacon Hill Park is a favorite recreation area close to the town center. From its highest point there are lovely views across Juan de Fuca Strait to the snowy peaks of the Olympic Peninsula. A milestone on the southwest edge of the park marks the western end of the Trans-Canada Highway.
4. Craigdarroch Castle
Victoria’s fairy-tale mansion, Craigdarroch Castle, is considered a gem of Victorian architecture. Immigrant Scottish entrepreneur Robert Dunsmuir commissioned the home for his wife in the 1880s. Dunsmuir made his fortune in coal mining, but died before his mansion was completed. The house is situated in a particularly affluent area of Victoria. Elegant Rockland centers on Rockland Avenue, which is lined with grand heritage homes including Government House – the official residence of Her Majesty’s representative in British Columbia. The house itself is closed to the public but the beautifully kept gardens are a delight.
5. Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site
The gun batteries at Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site, about 13 kilometers west of Victoria, used to guard the sheltered waters of Esquimalt Harbour, once a British naval base. The guns were in service from 1895 to 1956. Today, the well-preserved fortress can be visited. Nearby, the point’s Fisgard Lighthouse was the first on the west coast of Canada, and is a definitive local landmark.
6. Hatley Park National Historic Site
Hatley Park National Historic Site consists of a castle built in 1908 by former British Columbia Premier and coal baron, James Dunsmuir, and an Edwardian estate with Japanese, Italian, and rose gardens. Visitors can choose to walk through the gardens or take a guided tour of the castle – now the base of Royal Roads University.
7. Victoria Butterfly Gardens
Located near Butchart Gardens, the Victoria Butterfly Gardens are indoor tropical gardens designed to house up to 75 species of exotic butterflies and moths, plus some birds, fish, and reptiles. An interesting indoor landscape incorporates waterfalls, trees, and flowers.