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.
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.
Myriad experiences are just a short walk away from the cruise terminal: 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.
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.
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 hefty sales tax is paid on everything you purchase.
On foot: Tie up your shoe laces; this is a walking city. The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has a handy walking map on its website, which shows where the cruise port is in addition to shuttle bus stops, points of interest, restrooms and viewpoints.
By bike: Active-minded travelers can hire bikes or scooters from Cycle B.C (685 Humboldt Street). The Galloping Goose Trail is an easy and scenic cycling route to Sooke. Or, visitors can cycle the city's leafy streets eastward to Beach Drive and Oak Bay.
By taxi: Although pedestrian-friendly, taxis are numerous (Victoria Taxi, Blue Bird and Yellow Cab). At press time, rideshare services are still not allowed in Victoria.
By car rental: Many rental car outlets are located on Douglas Street and include Avis, Budget and National.
Victoria also bustles with cycle rickshaws that will whisk you around the inner city.
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.
Casual joints include Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub (308 Catherine Street, just over the short Johnston Street bridge), where seafood and handcrafted beers star. Another favorite is Canoe Brewpub and Restaurant (450 Swift Street, close to the bridge) on the city side.
For something cheap and cheerful, hit the Puerto Vallarta Amigos Taco Truck for prawn tacos and vegetarian offerings with lots of local atmosphere. No longer just a truck, its permanent location is on a colorful floating house boat on Dock C-12 in Fisherman's Wharf (1 Dallas Road).
Northwest pizza chain Pagliacci's (1011 Broad Street) is recommended for Italian fare, as is Il Terrazzo (555 Johnson Street).
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).
Other good bets include the Tapa Bar (620 Trounce Alley) for Spanish bites and Ferris' Oyster Bar and Grill (536 Yates Street), considered the best place in town for raw oysters.
The Re-Bar Modern Food (50 Bastion Square) is a funky vegetarian option. And a big success, with three locations in Victoria, is Noodlebox (3500 Uptown Boulevard; 3749 Shelbourne Street; and 818 Douglas Street, close to the Empress).
A two-pound box of Victoria Creams from Rogers' Chocolates (913 Government Street) 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 (2250 Oak Bay Avenue, #204), which represents more than 250 British Columbia artisans and artists.
Antique-lovers can peruse the stores of Fort Street, known as Antique Row. For something edgier in the same area, head to North Fort Street, home to east-meets-west fashion boutiques where you'll find modern, sustainable clothing lines for sale, in keeping with the city's trendy-yet-green ethos.