Wrapped around the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is a gentle blend of colonial England and contemporary Western Canada. The thriving cafe scene conjures something European, while having the outdoors at your doorstep could only be pure British Columbia bliss. Wherever you venture, this famously temperate region reveals natural, historic, culinary and cultural delights.
Port of Victoria
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Proud of its British influence, Victoria delights in serving up an elegant High Tea, with all the trappings. At the same time, it urges you to get outside and enjoy the alfresco lifestyle. Walking trails lead right from the city center to Dallas Road, what locals call the scenic drive, along the Pacific Ocean and around the southern coast of the city. Vancouver Island is renowned as a world-class scuba-diving destination, where you can get in the water with seals and sea lions on a regular basis. But, for people who prefer to keep their feet dry, there are all kinds of boat excursions, from kayaking and glass-bottom-boat tours, to get you up close and personal with the amazing marine life.
Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, and its grand Parliament Buildings, along with the gracious Fairmont Empress Hotel, dominate the Inner Harbour. Adjacent walkable inner-city streets foster cordiality. And, indeed, walking is a favorite local pastime -- Victoria is lauded as one of the most walkable Canadian cities.
An area of handsome 19th-century brick buildings, windows hung with richly textured flower baskets and lively shops, restaurants and brewpubs, invite leisurely exploration. Or you can just kick back with a picnic on the grassy lawn of the Parliament Building or find a bench by the harbor to breathe in all that fresh, Pacific Northwest air while listening to a busker belt out a tune.
Just beyond downtown, luxuriant yet well-ordered parks and gardens and a rugged, wind-swept Pacific shoreline offer broader vistas and invite you to set off on boat excursions to explore the coastline and soak in the snowy peaked views.
Top Victoria Itineraries
Eurodam4-day Pacific CoastalSan Diego, Victoria, VancouverNow
Oosterdam4-day Pacific CoastalSan Diego, Victoria, VancouverNow
Ovation of the Seas11 Night Hawaii CruiseHonolulu, Honolulu, Hilo, Maui, Maui, Victoria, VancouverNow
Norwegian Joy7 Night Alaska CruiseSeattle, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, SeattleNow
Ruby Princess5 Night U. S. Pacific Coast CruiseLos Angeles, San Diego, Victoria, VancouverNow
Where You're Docked
Cruise ships berth at Ogden Point, a short taxi ride or 15-minute walk northeast to downtown. Most cruise ships offer shuttles or taxi service, but it's a very pleasant walk along the waterfront on Dallas Road then on Government Street to reach the Inner Harbour or Douglas Street into town. Small passenger ships may dock or anchor in the Inner Harbour.
There are no facilities at Ogden Point -- just four well-maintained deep-water docks where passengers disembark. So file into line with your fellow cruisers for the stroll into town.
Tourism Victoria's information center is at 812 Wharf Street in the Inner Harbour. From there, you can see the landmark Parliament Buildings and Fairmont Empress Hotel; beyond, to the north, lies the inner city -- the entire area is very easy to negotiate with a city map.
Myriad experiences are just a short walk away: a slice of Old England, an evocative meander through Chinatown, a forage along Antique Row (on Fort Street), the Royal B.C. Museum and Imax Theatre, and fine hotels, tea houses, restaurants, pubs and shops -- both traditional and contemporary. So put on your walking shoes, and get moving.
To the south and east, you will find lovely Beacon Hill Park and James Bay, as well as a picturesque road, walking paths and beaches along the shoreline to Oak Bay and beyond. The West Song Walkway is a 1.5-mile-long paved pathway that lines the Inner Harbour from downtown Victoria to West Bay Marina -- another very pleasant place for a stroll.
Good to Know
Victoria is a college town and fairly safe. There is, however, an abundance of panhandlers in downtown Victoria, although the police monitor them. Also, keep in mind that Canada's five percent goods and services tax is paid on everything you purchase.
Tie up your shoe laces; this is a walking city. The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has a handy walking map on its Web site, which shows where the cruise port is in addition to shuttle bus stops, points of interest, restrooms and viewpoints.
Although pedestrian-friendly, taxis are numerous (Empress Taxi, 250-381-2222; Victoria Taxi, 250-383-7111). Rental car outlets include Avis (1001 Douglas Street; 800-879-2847), Budget (2634 Douglas Street; 800-668-9833) and Hertz (2505 Douglas Street; 800-263-0600). Victoria also bustles with cycle rickshaws that will whisk you around the inner city.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The Canadian dollar is the official currency. There's a Custom House Currency Exchange across the street from the visitor's center on Wharf Street, and others are in Bastion Square and at 1140 Government Street. Major banks with ATM machines are located at Douglas and Fort Streets. The U.S. dollar and the Canadian dollar are roughly equal these days, but check at www.oanda.com or www.xe.com for the latest rate.
English is spoken.
Food and Drink
Casual joints include Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub (308 Catherine Street, just over the short Johnston Street bridge; 250-386-2739), where seafood and handcrafted beers star. Another favorite is Canoe Brewpub and Restaurant (450 Swift Street, close to the bridge; 250-361-1940) on the city side.
For something cheap and cheerful, hit the Puerto Vallarta Amigos Taco Truck (on the corner of Wharf and Yates Streets) for prawn tacos and vegetarian offerings with lots of local atmosphere.
Northwest pizza chain Pagliacchi's (1011 Broad Street; 250-386-1662) is recommended for Italian fare, as is Il Terrazzo (555 Johnson Street; 250-361-0028).
Red Fish Blue Fish is a takeout fish restaurant with heavenly Pacific cod, salmon and halibut fish and chips. It operates out of a shipping container on the Inner Harbour (1006 Wharf Street; 250-298-6877).
Other good bets include the Sauce Restaurant and Lounge (1245 Wharf Street; 250-382-8662), Tapa Bar (620 Trounce Alley; 250-383-0013) and Ferris' Oyster Bar and Grill (536 Yates Street; 250-382-2344), considered the best place in town for raw oysters.
The Re-Bar Modern Food (50 Bastion Square; 250-361-9223) is a funky vegetarian option. And a big success, with two locations, is The Noodle Box (626 Fisgard Street in Chinatown 250-360-1312; 818 Douglas Street, close to the Empress; 250-384-1314).
A two-pound box of Victoria Creams from Rogers' Chocolates (913 Government Street; 250-881-8771) makes a great gift.
For truly unique, handmade arts and crafts items (pottery, wood turnings, glass art, textiles, jewelry, etc.), you may also want to pay a visit to Side Street Studio (737 Humboldt Street; 250-590-4644), which represents more than 250 British Columbia artisans and artists.