A one-of-kind adventure destination packed full of fun and great food that caters to both kids and adults
Looking for a one-of-a-kind adventure set against the stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Mountains, and old-growth forests with easy access to an intimate cosmopolitan city that the whole family can enjoy? The answer is Victoria, BC.
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This spot was named after Queen Victoria and is known as the “Garden City,” and is also the capital of British Columbia, located on the southern point of the Vancouver peninsula. And despite its tiny size, this Canadian city packs a powerful punch when it comes to outdoor activities, history (one of the oldest cities in Canada), culture, worthwhile hidden gems, and amazing food. It’s not only a must destination for families but (spoiler alert) even makes a memorable adults-only trip to boot.
Add to that a brag-worthy list of honors (including being recently named the 2nd Best Small City in the World)—this island destination has the mildest climate in Canada, making it a good idea any time of the year. And while a 3-day itinerary will give you a taste of this utmost charming city, there’s so much to see and do in Victoria; if you can swing it, plan to stay a whole lot longer.
All the Best Things to Do in Victoria, British Columbia
1. Victoria, BC Inner Harbour
Victoria's Inner Harbour is a bustling center of activity. During the day, jump onto the cutest pickle boats for harbour-wide tours that detail the history of the land and how the area was initially settled by the Coast Salish peoples and subsequently taken over by European settlers in the late 1700s. The tour takes about 45-minutes—in addition to historical knowledge, you'll get a great view of the town and the seaplanes that land on the water and take off from the harbour every few minutes. From the boat, you can also hop off at Fisherman’s Wharf (a colorful spot full of seaside restaurants and gift shops), then back onto one of the boats to return to the harbour.
Don't Miss: Victoria Harbour Ferries puts on a water ballet from Apr.-Oct. For the best view of this coordinated water dance, head to the Steamship Terminal.
Jeanne Socrates Dock
Victoria Inner Harbour, BC
Back on shore, take a walk to see the impressive Parliamentary Building, The Netherlands Centennial Carillon (a carillon is "a pitched percussion instrument that is played with a keyboard and consists of at least 23 cast bronze bells"—this one contains 62 and is the largest in Canada), and one of the oldest hotels in Victoria—the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel. This hotel was built in 1908 and offers traditional English high tea service. You can also book a whale-watching tour here—and not just any regular whales hang about these chilly coastal waters—you might just see Orcas up close and personal. The best time to see these killer whales is May-Oct.
Insider Tip: Keep an eye out for 'The Hands of Time' public art installations. There are 12 tiny bronze sculptures scattered around the area, making for a fantastic I-Spy game for kids and adults alike. The artwork depicts "life-size hands engaged in activities symbolic of Victoria’s past."
At night, the same area is just as lively but drenched in festive lights that glisten against the water. Take in the buskers or join a nighttime walking tour—we took a ghost walking tour called the Ghostly Walk—delightfully delivered by Discover the Past Walking Tours, where we learned about all the phantoms that still haunt this historic town. Nearby cafes and restaurants are busy and lively—there are plenty of things to do in Victoria at night and during the day.
Snapshot: Watch Some of the Fun Things You Can Do in Victoria, BC
2. Mile 0 Marker
The Mile 0 Monument marks the (symbolic) beginning of the Trans-Canadian Highway. It spans 4,860 miles, crosses over all 10 of Canada’s provinces, and ends in St. John's, Newfoundland.
18 Douglas St.
From here, you can cross the road and access the beach and coastal walking trails, where kids will love building with driftwood and hunting for sea creatures along the shoreline, or walk away from the beach and enter Beacon Hill Park.
3. Beacon Hill Park
In addition to gorgeously manicured lawns and flower beds, Beacon Hill Park is a 200-acre park packed with fun things to do and see. For starters, don't miss the world's tallest, free-standing totem pole on the park's eastern side and the "Moss Lady" hiding on the western side. For little kids, there's the Beacon Hill Children's Farm (donation requested), a playground, and roaming peacocks that kids will love to discover (hint: they hang around close to the lakes).
Insider Tip: Beacon Hill parking is free and easy. Park near the Children's Farm, and you can walk to the various sites within the park from there.
100 Cook St.
The Best Things to Do Near Victoria, BC
4. Malahat SkyWalk
Just 20 miles north of Victoria and the first of its kind in North America, the Malahat SkyWalk is a ten-story wooden structure that offers impressive views of the Salish Sea, and was intentionally (and successfully) built with a small environmental footprint. This fully accessible destination begins with an elevated "tree walk" through the arbutus forest. Keep an eye out for local driftwood artist Tanya Bub's forest creatures (cougars, herons, an owl, and bald eagle) dotted along the way. Once you reach the wooden helix, you'll follow a gentle-incline ramp that will lead you to views of the area including Finlayson Arm, Saanich Peninsula, Mount Baker and the Coast Mountains. It is stunning.
Frankly, the walk and the view are more than enough entertainment but surprise! Not only is there a 60-foot spiral slide you can slide down (not just for kids) but an adventure net suspended over the center of the tower to boot. The latter is not for the faint of heart (but is also so much fun if you can convince your legs to walk across with only some rope between you and the forest floor.
Insider Tip: If the line for the Malahat SkyWalk slide isn't long when you are making your way up the tower, stop here first before making it to the very top. Word on the street is the line can sometimes back up so take your turn when you can. And bonus? On your way back down, you can jump in line again. Whee!
Good to Know: If you didn't rent a car (you really don't need one if you spend most of your time in Victoria), you can book a shuttle service to Malahat SkyWalk through Island Time Tours who offer daily shuttle service departing at 11:00 a.m. with pick up from four convenient locations in downtown Victoria.
901 Trans-Canada Hwy.
5. Goldstream Park Niagara Waterfall
Since you're out in the country, take advantage of the plentiful and gorgeous hiking trails around the area—plus a noteworthy ice cream stop—on the way back from Malahat SkyWalk. Our recommends? Niagara Falls (or Golden Niagara Falls) in Goldstream Provincial Park, where you'll encounter a 150-foot drop, an old forest, plus plenty of trails if that ten-story climb hasn't tired you and your kids out.
Good to Know: While the waterfall is accessible from parking lots located on both sides of the highway, we recommend parking on the western side if you just want to tackle the short hike to the falls. You'll see small signs for parking that appear somewhat unconvincing that you should pull over. If you want to explore the larger part of the park, park in the larger parking lot (a left-hand turn on your way back to Victoria). Just know that you can only make a right-hand turn out of the Goldstream Park parking lot—sending you north for a couple of miles before you can logistically turn around.
Insider Tip: In Oct. and Nov., salmon come here to spawn.
After you've seen the impressive falls, if you need a nosh, don't miss Ice Cream Mountain—a roadside dessert shop scooping out delicious flavors. Bonus? You buy one scoop—you get the other for free.
6. Butchart Gardens
Perhaps the most famous garden in Victoria, the Butchart Gardens are a privately owned and operated 55-acre garden, over 100 years old, a National Historic Site of Canada, and is an itinerary must—not just for flora enthusiasts, but has something fun for everyone. Kids will love the Rose Carousel—the only carousel on Vancouver Island that features a menagerie of hand-crafted animals and chariots—our favorite animal? The Orca whale, of course.
Next to the carousel, you’ll find "Massive totem poles (30 feet tall and 4 feet wide) that were carved on-site by Master Carver Charles Elliot of the Tsartlip Nation" in the classic Coast Salish style. According to the Burke Museum, this style generally exaggerates and depicts creatures through their most noticeable features—giant heads, eyes, snouts, and beaks.
Everyone in the family will enjoy the Ross Fountain near the Sunken Garden—a 70-foot dancing waterfall that is mesmerizing.
800 Benvenuto Ave.
Brentwood Bay, BC
More Fun Things to Do in Victoria (with or without Kids)
There is so much more to see and do in this charming, historic town, whether you travel here with kids or plan a girls trip weekend away and with over 100 parks and open spaces, there's always somewhere new and fun to check out:
7. Victoria Bug Zoo: This mini-zoo contains 50 fascinating species, including giant walking sticks, praying mantis, glow-in-the-dark scorpions, hairy tarantulas, and Canada’s largest ant colony.
8. Miniature World: See two of the World's Largest Doll Houses circa 1880 with over 50 beautifully furnished rooms and the world's smallest operational sawmill.
9. Royal BC Museum: Records almost exclusively from British Columbia, as well as neighboring states, provinces, and territories.
10. Clover Point Park: Play along this coastline, watch kite flyers, windsurfers, and wave to Washington's Olympic Mountains across the strait of Juan de Fuca.
11. Ogden Point Breakwater: a 1.1-mile out-and-back trail that takes you out into Juan de Fuca Strait with a lighthouse at the end. Don't miss the Ogden Point Victoria sundial located here—one of 11 sundials found around Victoria, BC.
12. Roger's Chocolates: Canada's first chocolatier (also a spooky stop on the Ghost Tour) has been dishing out quality chocolate treats since 1885. Pick up the Victoria Cream—originally made with a rich and creamy center, smothered in dark chocolate but now comes in 20 flavors like caramel, coffee, and maple.
13. Fan Tan Alley: The narrowest street in Canada, as well as Canada's oldest Chinatown, what was originally a Chinese gambling district, is now filled with must-see shops, cafes, art galleries, and more.
14. Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses: Canada’s oldest licensed brewpub (founded in 1984) and Victoria's only "gastro-pub," the food is locally sourced and a must-stop for ale-lovers and those following the self-guided Ale Trail.
15. Shopping: Whether you're into antiques, fashion, chocolates, jewelry, or gifts—Victoria's shopping district is relaxed, fun to wander (the streets are closed to car traffic) and are perfectly set up to leisurely walk around.
Where to Eat in Victoria, BC
Sherwood Cafe: This European-style cafe serves fantastic food and drinks morning, noon, and night—in a chicly-designed, Instagram-worthy spot where everything looks as good as it tastes. Our recommends? The Sherwood Hashbrowns which are light, crispy, and presented in a fun and unique shape that'll make you question why hashbrowns are served any other way. The Smashed Avo Toast—piled high atop sourdough and is delightfully filling, and of course, The Breakfast Sandwich on the Brioche Bun—strikes that perfect balance between sweet and savory in every bite—and is a no-brainer for a pre-meal hike.
710 Pandora Ave.
Big Wheel Burger: Off the beaten path in Cook St. Village (less than a 10-minute drive from Beacon Hill Park), Canada’s first carbon-neutral fast food burger spot is focused on sustainability without compromising taste. This "Big on Taste, Small on Waste" restaurant offers burgers (in addition to beef, they have chicken and veggie burgers), hot dogs, salads, fries, craft sodas and beers with all-natural ingredients from Phillips as well as milkshakes. They source their products within 100 miles of their location and use locally raised, hormone and antibiotic-free meats, but just as important, they deliver on taste in spades.
Insider Tip: While they offer the usual flavors of shakes like vanilla and chocolate, don't miss the Nanaimo Bar Shake. The Nanaimo Bar is named after the Canadian city, Nanaimo, in British Columbia, and is a no-bake dessert bar typically consisting of three layers: "a wafer, nut, and coconut crumb base; custard icing in the middle; and a layer of chocolate ganache on top." Big Wheel has reimagined it into a shake and is absolutely delicious.
341 Cook St.
Pagliacci's: Open since 1979, you'll understand why this Italian restaurant has a cult following once you taste their focaccia bread. The menu is extensive and fun—plates and dishes are named after famous people and famous movie lines like "Bill Murray's Meatballs" and "I'll Have What She's Having," and the atmosphere is lively and buzzy—it's one of those places that just feels good to be inside. But the best part? The food (and that focaccia bread mentioned above). The meatballs for an appetizer and the tortellini as the main made for such a stuff-worthy meal.
Good to Know: This is also one of Victoria's most popular restaurants—get here early as no reservations are taken, and a line does form—but is totally worth it. PS: There is live jazz Sun. through Thurs.
1011 Broad St.
Red Fish Blue Fish: Open Mar. through Oct., this casual, sustainable seaside spot serves up the lightest and crispiest fish 'n chips you'll find outside of England. If you discover a queue, the wait is well worth it, and you'll agree once you dig into their crispy tempura-battered cod (or choose halibut or salmon), dip-worthy tartar sauce, and Kennebec chips. Once you have your food, grab a spot on the wooden pier and enjoy the magical view of Victoria's harbour.
1006 Wharf St. (at Broughton)
Where to Stay in Victoria, BC
Chateau Victoria Hotel & Suites
This locally-owned and operated hotel is conveniently located within a few blocks of the harbour and the shopping and restaurant district of downtown Victoria. Parents will appreciate the one and 2-bedroom suites (the hotel has 118 suites including one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and executive plus 58 traditional rooms) that allow enough space to hang out long after the kids have gone to bed.
Good to Know: There's a pool and hot tub on the 2nd floor for energetic kids who haven't tired from all the sightseeing and exploring. If the weather's nice, head up to the 18th floor for a view and a bite at Vista 18—Victoria's only rooftop restaurant. Here on a girl's trip or an adult getaway? Make sure to stop at Clive's Classic Lounge on the lobby floor—a moody bar serving up glamorous 1920s-style vibes. Order the "Deep Dark Woods,"—a gin-based drink, smoked under a cloche, for a most dramatic drink. P.S.: If you like gin, Victoria is your town with four noteworthy distillers, including fan-favorite Sheringham Distillery.
740 Burdett Ave.
How to Get to Victoria, BC from the United States & Mexico
Where is Victoria, BC? Victoria is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island off Canada's Pacific coast, just 107 miles northwest of Seattle and approximately 60 miles southwest of Vancouver, British Columbia.
How to Get to Victoria from Seattle: The Victoria Clipper leaves Seattle at 8 a.m. and arrives at Victoria's Inner Harbour at 10:45 a.m. It's about a 15-minute walk from the ferry terminal to the Chateau Victoria Hotel. You can also catch the 5 p.m. ferry and return to Seattle the same day, making it a fun day trip. There are also non-stop flight options through Air Canada.
Additional non-stop flights to Victoria include Toronto, San Francisco, Honolulu, some cities in Mexico, and many cities throughout Western Canada.
For most other cities in the US, Air Canada flies into Victoria (YYJ) with a connection via Vancouver, BC. The flight from Vancouver to Victoria is about 10 minutes. The drive from Victoria International Airport to downtown Victoria is about 30 miles.
How to Get to Victoria via Seaplane: Seaplane flights are available daily to and from Victoria’s Inner Harbour to Vancouver International Airport, Vancouver Harbour, and Seattle. Harbour Air services Victoria to Vancouver, and Kenmore Air services Victoria to Seattle.
Do I Need a Car in Victoria, BC? The city of Victoria is easy-to-navigate and very walkable, and while a car isn't necessary to get to attractions around town, you will need a vehicle to access activities outside of town.
—This trip was paid for by Tourism Victoria but all opinions belong to the writer.