Before beginning our Car Free Journey, I want to mention a great resource for anyone traveling abroad, and also to some major cities in the U.S. Michael Brein is a travel psychologist, and author of several guidebooks focusing on seeing major sites by public transit.
For each location, Michael includes transit maps, and detailed instructions for using transit to visit the top 50 attractions in that city. His website is www.michaelbrein.com. For a list of specific cities included in Michael’s Transit Guides, visit: http://store.michaelbrein.com/Default.aspx. (The destinations he covers are: Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Chicago, Honolulu, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Munich, Paris, Prague, Sydney, Vienna, and Washington, D.C.)
I just looked at his guide to Los Angeles. In this guide (available only as an e-book), Michael briefly describes 50 major attractions, then he includes detailed instructions about how to get to each one using the Los Angeles subway or light rail. A detailed map of the LA Metro is included. Based on this guide, I recommend considering one of Michael’s guides to cities you may be visiting—if one is available.
Now on to this month’s Car Free destination: Victoria, in the Canadian province of British Columbia.
(A quick note: Frequently, Canadian spellings differ from their U.S. equivalents. Whenever possible, I will use the Canadian spellings. Also, rates are in Canadian dollars.)
What’s Special about Victoria?
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria combines a relaxed lifestyle, old-world charm, walkability, and the sophistication of a major city. The splendor of Bouchart Gardens, the old-world ambience the Empress Hotel—a great place to enjoy tea, exploring one of several distinctive neighborhoods, and visiting a great museum are just a few of the many delights available. Victoria enjoys the mildest year-round climate in Canada. The natural beauty of the Pacific coast is a great setting for outdoor activities, intriguing history and heritage, and a variety of exciting family attractions. Victoria is large enough to be genuinely cosmopolitan, yet small enough to explore easily on foot or bicycle. Getting here is easy and once you’ve arrived, you’ll feel a million miles away.
From Vancouver: Wilson Transportation has direct bus service between Vancouver and Victoria. The service includes a 95-minute ferry ride. The one-way fare for adults is $45 + $16 for the ferry. Discounted fares are available for senior citizens (age 65 and older) and children younger than 16. For details about schedules and fares, and to purchase tickets, visit http://bcfconnector.com/ or call (toll-free) (888) 788-8840.
Five ferries services the Greater Victoria region plus two coming soon:
- BC Ferries (Swartz Bay) (North end of Saanich Peninsula, forty minutes from downtown Victoria.) http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/British-Columbia-Ferry-Services-Inc-/34022/1660/1/
- Washington State Ferry: From Anacortes, WA – San Juan Islands – Sidney, BC (Half hour north of downtown Victoria.) http://www.wsdot.com/ferries/schedule/ScheduleDetailByRoute.aspx?schedrouteid=1655.
- Black Ball Ferry Line – From Port Angeles, WA to Victoria’s Inner Harbour http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Black-Ball-Ferry-Line/34004/1660/1/
- Victoria Clipper – From Seattle to Victoria’s Inner Harbour http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Victoria-Clipper/34766/1660/1/
- NEW: Prince of Whales Transportation – Whale watching & travel between Victoria and Vancouver’s Harbours: . http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Prince-of-Whales-Transportation/34531/1660/1/
From downtown Victoria, you can walk to the Black Ball Ferry, Victoria Clipper, and the new services to come as they are all operating out of Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
Victoria International Airport is served by many airlines. For a list of airlines serving the terminal, go to http://www.victoriaairport.com/airlines. For a list of non-stop destinations (non-stop air service to and from Victoria), go to http://www.victoriaairport.com/non-stop-destinations.
Getting from the Airport to Downtown Victoria
- The Airport Shuttle (operated by Wilaon Transportation) costs $25 ($15 after 9 p.m.). For schedules and rates, go to http://www.yyjairportshuttle.com/
- Yellow Cab provides 24-hour service, and accepts U.S. currency and credit cards. For details and contact information, visit http://www.yellowcabvictoria.com/.
- Public Transportation: The least expensive (but longest travel time) is BC Transit. A one-day pass (good for unlimited rides on all BC Transit buses) costs $5 and can be purchased on the bus. From the airport, take BC route 88 or 83 to the McTavish Road Interchange, and transfer to either Route 70 (a shorter trip, but less frequent service) or 72 (frequent service, but longer travel times to downtown Victoria.) The one-way trip to downtown Victoria takes 40-80 minutes. For rates, schedules, and other information, visit http://bctransit.com/victoria/home/ or call (250) 382-6161/
- For park and ride locations, visit: http://crdcommunitygreenmap.ca/location-type/park-and-ride-facility.
Where to Stay
For a complete list of places to stay, visit http://www.tourismvictoria.com/hotels/.
The best neighborhoods to stay, and suggested accommodations in each neighborhood, if you don’t have a car, are:
- Downtown Victoria: The Fairmont Empress, Magnolia Hotel, Hotel Rialto, Victoria Marriott,
- James Bay: Hotel Grand Pacific, Oswego Hotel, Royal Scot Hotel & Suites, Inn at Laurel Point
- Fairfield: Dashwood Manor Seaside Bed & Breakfast
- Victoria West: Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa
Other good neighborhoods to stay include: North Park, Harris Green, and Fernwood. BC Transit staff offer these additional suggestions: “We would suggest looking at staying in a hotel downtown, as Douglas Street receives a large amount of transit traffic. Another great place is in a hotel along Belleville St. Here is a brief description of each neighborhood (other than downtown):
James Bay is a quiet residential neighbourhood that offers visitors a bounty of unexpected pleasures. History buffs will delight in perusing Emily Carr House, the birthplace of Canada’s best known independent artist or examining the collection of more than seven million unique objects at the Royal BC Museum. If delving into days gone by makes you hungry, head to Fisherman’s Wharf and wander alongside the colourful houseboats while noshing on Fish n’Chips at Barb’s, or head in the opposite direction to Beacon Hill Park to feed the ducks, eat some ice cream at Beacon Drive In, or take a stroll while admiring the breathtaking views of the Olympic Mountains along Dallas Road until you reach the cruise ship terminal at Ogden Point.
Cook Street Village (Fairfield Neighbourhood)
Cook Street Village, a popular residential area of Victoria, is one of “the” places to hang out on the weekend. This part of Cook Street borders Beacon Hill Park and is only blocks from the ocean. The street is a quaint, tree-lined enclave of shops, restaurants, and colourful heritage homes. Victorians and visitors alike sit for hours sipping coffee, reading newspapers and people-watching here. Visitors searching for a bite to eat will not want to miss Big Wheel Burger and Bubby’s Kitchen. Burger fanatics will love Big Wheel Burger’s fresh, local and delicious burgers, made with products sourced from within 100 miles. Many visitors and residents get their coffee, grab snacks and walk from Cook Street down to the ocean, to wander along scenic Dallas Road. This area is also a favourite for locals as runners, cyclists and dog walkers can be found year-round along this oceanfront walkway. Towards the end of Dallas Road is Clover Point, a popular place to kitesurf, hang-glide and fly kites, or just stop and people watch.
Located just 10 minutes from downtown Victoria, BC, Fernwood Square is a popular culinary and arts destination that should be shared beyond just the locals. It is a beautiful, historic location, and a community meeting place that is buzzing almost any day of the week. Fernwood is a community where neighbours know one another, and meet up at one of the many shops or eateries surrounding the square. The tree-lined streets of Fernwood boast many character and heritage houses. The historic Belfry Theatre is a Fernwood landmark, housed in a completely renovated Baptist Church built in 1891 and is Victoria, BC’s largest contemporary theatre and hosts a year-round series of world-class performances. Before a play, make sure to stop into Ça VA Bistro Moderne, providing is fine dining Victoria style – comfortable, affordable and delicious. Ca Va aims to bring you fresh, interesting, local and organic food, proudly serving some of the island’s best produce, meat and seafood. For more information, visit www.belfry.bc.ca/ and www.cavavictoria.com/
Across the Johnson Street Bridge visitors looking for a truly local experience will want to check out the trendy coffee shops, bakeries and beautiful parks in Victoria West, or “Vic West.” Head over to Banfield Park overlooking the Gorge waterway to admire the view as kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders cruise by and wander Dockside Green, a development of green sustainable businesses, with local coffee roaster Caffe Fantastico and bakery Fol Epi on site to pick up local treats. Don’t miss a stop at the oldest brewpub in Canada, Spinnakers.
BC Transit provides local public transportation for Victoria (For schedules, fares, and other information, visit: http://bctransit.com/victoria/home, or call(250) 382-6161. Telephone customer service is available 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (All times are Pacific Time.
Transit fares for all passengers (including seniors age 65 and older, and students) are:
|Cash Fare||$2.50||Drivers do not carry change|
|DayPass||$5.00||Only available on bus. Drivers do not carry change.|
Taxicabs: BlueBird Cabs – Phone:250-382-2222; Yellow Cab of Victoria – Phone: 250-381-2222
What to Do
Tourism Victoria, the convention and visitor bureau for Victoria, is the best place to go to learn about attractions and activities. For more details about attractions and activities in Victoria, go to http://www.tourismvictoria.com/things-to-do/.
Victoria has a wide selection of cultural and historical attractions, as well theatres, music, and other performing arts. Tourism Victoria suggests this walking tour for those of you who are especially interested in the arts:
- Start your day at the must see Royal BC Museum and experience the Natural and Human History of British Columbia and its First Peoples through unique displays and galleries. Highly realistic and inviting displays, such as the Ice Age, Old Town and Coastal forest dioramas, provide visitors with a sense of having truly experienced the authentic settings. The museum is also host to temporary exhibitions of international renown and an IMAX theatre. bc.ca
- Royal BC Museum’s “Living Languages” Exhibit
From now until June 2017, “Our Living Languages: First Peoples’ Voices in BC” is a partnership project and exhibition being created by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council (FPCC) and the Royal BC Museum. With 34 indigenous languages, British Columbia is the most linguistically diverse region in Canada but only 5% of B.C. Aboriginals are fluent speakers and the vast majority of those are elders. This exhibition will feature dynamic video and audio by FPCC artists and cultural experts – giving visitors the opportunity to hear their voices and perspectives firsthand, while celebrating the resilience and diversity of First Nations languages in BC in the face of change.
- Across the street from the museum you will find the Legislative Buildings where the elected representatives meet to shape the future of the province by debating and passing the laws that govern British Columbia. This 12.5 acre property has served as a site of government in British Columbia since 1864 and free guided tours are provided throughout the year. While visiting the Legislative Buildings, you may be interested in observing debates in the Chamber when the House is sitting; the entrance to the public galleries is on the third floor of the building. bc.ca
- Stroll down Fort Street, home of Antique Row and Mosaic Village, to Craigdarroch Castle. You can also take a bus tour or public bus to the Castle. It is an 1890s mansion with exquisite stained-glass windows, woodwork and period antiques. Built by wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch Castle is a stunning example of the finest architecture, materials and craftsmanship available in the Victorian era. See the spectacular oak staircase and climb 87 steps to the Tower for the best views in Victoria. craigdarrochcastle.com
- Head to Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites of Canada. It is a coast artillery fort built in the late 1890s to defend Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. The Fort includes three gun batteries, underground magazines, command posts, guardhouses, barracks and searchlight emplacements. Visitors can explore gun batteries and underground magazines built a century ago, as well as searchlight emplacements, command posts, and much more. Families often bring a picnic lunch and stay for a half a day or more. *Note: Check the website for event listings at Fort Rodd!
Be sure to visit Hatley Park as it is one of Canada’s largest and most diverse National Historic Sites. At the centre is a magnificent castle built in 1908 by former British Columbia Premier and coal baron, James Dunsmuir. Authentic and beautifully preserved, this 565 acre Edwardian estate is nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, 25 minutes from downtown Victoria at 2005 Sooke Road. Echoes from the past will link you to present day adventure as you enjoy daily tours of Hatley Castle, visit the museum and gift shop, or stroll through the Japanese, Italian and Rose Gardens. The intimate setting and gracious hospitality is ideal for weddings, afternoon tea, meetings, retreats, conference, corporate team building, motion picture films or special events. hatleypark.ca
Since 1951 the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has been located just ten minutes from downtown Victoria in a beautiful park-like setting. The Gallery is housed in a combination of contemporary exhibition spaces and the remarkable 1889 Spencer Mansion. It is the largest public art gallery on Vancouver Island and one of the most significant in Canada with its important collection of visual and decorative arts. In addition to local historical and contemporary art, the Gallery has an outstanding collection of art from Asia, including one of the only authentic Shinto shrines outside of Japan which is showcased in an Asian Garden. aggv.ca
Be sure to visit the birthplace and childhood home of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most famous artists and authors, located in historic James Bay. Built in 1863, Emily Carr House is just minutes away from the Inner Harbour. It is restored to accurately depict the Victorian household and lifestyle of the Carr family. Emily’s childhood home features a People’s Gallery which alternately features works of art by local artists and original works by Emily Carr herself. emilycarr.com
Ideas for Family Fun
Here are some ideas for fun that your whole family can enjoy:
- Explore some of downtown’s interesting streets, while enjoying some shopping:
- Inner Harbour – Home to the Parliament Buildings, the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel and a plethora of activity in the Inner Harbour, from buskers to float planes, whale watching boats to kayaks. The Inner Harbour causeway is stroller and wheelchair friendly for a scenic walk that the whole family can enjoy.
- Government Street – Wander up the cobblestone street of the main “strip” and delight in the mix of old and new. Don’t Miss: Roger’s Chocolates
- Upper Fort – Fort Street has long been known as Antique Row for its many auction houses and antique shops, but the arrival of several international restaurants, fashion boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries, book stores and jewelry shops have given Upper Fort a fresh feel.
- Don’t Miss: The London Chef and Dutch Bakery
- LoJo – Otherwise known as Lower Johnson (Johnson Street between Wharf and Government), the street is characterized by colourful heritage buildings, but the shopping experiences are fresh and hip. The neighbourhood defines the new buzz word “HeritEdge.” Storefronts primarily feature locally designed fashions, but naturally-made products, cosmetics, hair salons, coffee houses and restaurants complete the mix. Nearly all 40 businesses are locally owned and many by first time proprietors.
- Design District – Downtown Victoria is a more stylish neighbourhood than ever thanks to the Design District. This neighbourhood offers a unique collection of furniture, luxurious fabrics, hand-knotted rugs, vivid lighting, eclectic artwork and an abundance of home décor accessory shops. You are sure to find everything required to decorate your home and enjoy the lively atmosphere provided by the many cafes, brewpubs and fine restaurants.
- Chinatown – Although Victoria’s Chinatown is small, its history is grand. The oldest in Canada and once home to opium dens and gambling halls, Chinatown now mixes contemporary stores and live-work condos with traditional Asian markets and diners. Many of Victoria’s contemporary home decor and furnishings stores are found in this neighbourhood. Visitors can stroll historical Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada – or Dragon Alley. Don’t Miss: Silk Road
- Whale Watching – The waters surrounding Victoria are home to an abundance of marine wildlife that are perfect for whale watching. The orca, or killer whale, is the main whale found in the area but gray, humpback and minke whales are also often sighted. Sea lions, seals, porpoises and a number of marine birds are also residents. Three pods of resident orcas – totaling nearly 90 whales – live in Victoria’s waters. There is a multitude of whale watching tour companies in Victoria that offer top-notch experiences for visitors riding aboard their high-performance sport boats, including Eagle Wing Tours, Prince of Whales, Orca Spirit, 5 Star Whales, Great Pacific Adventures, Springtide and BC Whale Tours.
- Cycling – According to the Government of Canada (Stats. Can. 2011), Victoria is the fittest city in Canada and is also the cycling capital of Canada. More people commute by bicycle per capita than any other Canadian destination and it is a great way to see the city!
- Tour the City by Bicycle with The Pedaler 719 Douglas Street (Crystal Gardens), Phone: 778-265-7433 thepedaler.ca The Pedaler offers a variety of tours, and can create a customized trip for your group or family.
- Bike Tours Victoria biketoursvictoria.com/ or call 250.891.8545 Bike Tours Victoria provides fun, leisurely, informative guided bicycle tours of Victoria, BC. Bike Tours Victoria tours are designed for all types of cyclists and tour pace are set to guest ability and highlights the best of the cities, parks, attractions and culture past and present with stops for stories and photo stops along the way. Or, take in the city independently with a bicycle rental from one of the following companies:
- Cycle BC Rentals http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Cycle-BC-ca-Rentals/34120/1258/1/
- Cycle Treks Tours and Rentals http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Cycle-Treks-Tours-and-Rentals/34122/1258/1/
- Transit Cycle Company http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/TRANSIT-CYCLE-CO—Bike-Rentals-Delivered/65152/1258/1
- Trek Bicycle Store of Victoria http://www.tourismvictoria.com/listings/Trek-Bicycle-Store-of-Victoria/65444/1258/1/
Two bicycle trails worth exploring:
- The Galloping Goose: The Galloping Goose Trail is a linear park that stretches 55 km from Victoria to Sooke. Built on abandoned railway tracks and trestles, the Galloping Goose is part of the Trans Canada Trail and is well used by locals and visitors alike. Recommended stops along the way include Hatley Castle & Park, Sooke Potholes and Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites.
- A City Ride: Grab your bike and cycle Dallas Road and stop in Cook Street Village to take in the neighbourhood vibe while sipping coffee and reading newspapers. Ride back to Dallas Road, through the Rockland area with its magnificent homes and pass the Oak Bay Marina and take a turn into Oak Bay Village and stop for a snack.
- Take a Victoria Harbour Ferry Tour to Fisherman’s Wharf: With 18 stops around Victoria Harbour the ferries pass by each stop approximately every 20 minutes. To find one, look for the “FERRY STOP” signs at major waterfront locations around the harbour. We recommend taking a scenic tour of the Inner Harbour and the Gorge Waterway with Victoria Harbour Ferries. victoriaharbourferry.com
Outdoor Adventure Ideas
Walking, Running & Hiking (a few ideas)
Victoria is the most walkable city in Canada as more people commute on foot than in any other city in the Country. Running is also very popular. Popular running routes in downtown Victoria include:
- The Inner Harbour through to Fisherman’s Wharf and on to Ogden Point
- Beacon Hill Park
- Dallas Road
- The Songhees/ Westsong Walkway
- Upper Harbour
Here are some hiking ideas:
- Thetis Lake Regional Park (BC Transit Route 53 to Six Mile and Atkins, then a 15-minute walk) bc.ca/parks/thetis/index.htm. Located 20 minutes northwest of Victoria, Thetis is a regional conservation area established as Canada’s first nature sanctuary in 1958. Go for a hike on the scenic trails hugging Upper and Lower Thetis Lakes. For for more panoramic views of the lakes and surrounding hills, follow the more challenging trails up Seymour or Scafe hills. In spring and summer, wildflowers dot the hillsides. The beach area of Thetis Lake is perfect for a family picnic or a refreshing swim.
- Elk/Beaver Lake Regional Park (BC Transit Route 72 to Beaver Lake and Elk Lake Roads. Then, you can walk into Beaver Lake. There is a walking path around both Elk Lake and Beaver Lake crd.bc.ca/parks/elkbeaver/index.htm. Located 20 minutes due north of Victoria, this is a popular recreation area that offers outdoor opportunities for everyone. The lake is used cooperatively by swimmers, windsurfers, sailors, water-skiers, fishers and rowers. Some park trails are designated as multi-use for hikers, cyclists and horse riders, while others are for hiking only.
- Ocean River Adventures oceanriveradventures.com (located in downtown Victoria) Sea kayaking with Ocean River Adventures is the perfect way to explore Vancouver Island. Lush green rainforests, towering mountain vistas and remote ocean islets are the standard backdrop to a paddler’s excursion here. One of the tours offered is the This Victoria Harbour Sunset Kayak Tour, that takes 2.5 hours
Take a Walk
Most neighbourhoods are very walkable in Victoria, but especially unique paths include the Dallas Road Pathway, the Inner Harbour, the David Foster Harbour Pathway and the Westsong Walkway. For more ideas, and a description of several guided tours, go to
Visit some of Victoria’s Most Popular Attractions
(Unless we include a BC Transit Route number, all attractions are in or close to downtown Victoria.)
- Beacon Hill Park: Victoria’s beloved Beacon Hill Park, located in the heart of the city, has a landscape of manicured flowerbeds, graceful trees, lakes and bridged streams. It is an ideal place to spend a relaxing afternoon. Here visitors will also find the world’s tallest, free-standing totem pole carved from a single log, a cricket pitch, and a children’s petting zoo. In addition to the zoo, highlights of the park for children include playing in the waterpark and playground, spying graceful peacocks, and friendly ducks throughout the park, kite flying, paragliders, and kiteboarders along the Dallas Road side. *Note: Don’t forget to visit the park with a soft serve ice cream cone in hand from across the street at Beacon Drive-In.
- Royal BC Museum bc.ca (we discussed a special exhibit here last month) With a collection of more than seven million items and 26,000 square feet of indoor exhibits, there is no better place to learn the history of British Columbia than the Royal BC Museum. Realistic settings bring displays to life in the renowned First Peoples exhibit, Modern History Gallery, 20th Century Gallery and new Natural History Gallery. The Royal BC Museum also includes Thunderbird Park, the Carving Studio, Mungo Martin House/Wa’waditla, the Netherlands Carillon Tower, BC Archives, native plant gardens, Helmcken House and St. Ann’s Schoolhouse.
- Victoria Bug Zoo / British Columbia’s capital city offers visitors the chance to enter the amazing world of insects and spiders. Victoria’s Bug Zoo offers over 40 fascinating species including Canada’s largest ant farm. Get up close and personal with live giant walkingsticks, alien-eyed praying mantids, hairy tarantulas and glow-in-the-dark scorpions. The knowledgeable “bug guides” will reveal the exotic secrets of this hidden kingdom and provide a safe animal handling experience for those feeling more adventurous. Imagine holding a tickling 400 leg millipede that stretches the length of your forearm! A visit to the bug zoo offers an unforgettable, hands-on adventure.
- The Butchart Gardens butchartgardens.com (BC Transit Route 75). In 1904, the concept of the Butchart Gardens began with an effort to beautify a worked-out quarry site on the 130-acre estate of Mr. and Mrs. Butchart. Today, the Butchart Gardens includes fifty-five acres of spectacular display gardens and a National Historic Site of Canada. *Don’t Miss Butchart Gardens’ Rose Carousel for kids. It is the only one of its kind on Vancouver Island. If you have your family with you, take time to enjoy the new Family Discovery Walk. Stop by Butchart’s Visitor Information Center for your own copy of the Family Discovery Walk worksheet. Kids and parents (or grandparents!) can explore the gardens in a whole new way by discovering its history, drawing pictures and learning lots of fun facts.
- Abkhazi Gardens (BC Transit Route 7). Located on Fairfield Road, this is smaller than Butchart Gardens, but much closer to downtown. Abkhazi Garden has received international recognition for its unique west coast design, but it is the story of two royal lovers that has captured people’s hearts. War and imprisonment kept Georgian Prince Nicholas Abkhazi and Peggy Pemberton-Carter apart until they were able to finally reunite in Victoria to create what they called “A garden that love built.” The Garden is known for its collection of splendid rhododendrons and azaleas. Visits in April and May guarantee breathtaking displays of colour and is the ideal setting for a cup of the garden’s tea, Royal Abkhazi produced by local tea purveyor Silk Road. The tea is a graceful blend of black teas, vanilla, citrus and of course, soft florals, and reflects the passion of this modern-day romance in a garden. In 1946, the property that is now Abkhazi was purchased by Peggy Pemberton-Carter who came to Victoria after spending close to eight years in a Japanese internment camp outside of Shanghai. She was soon reunited with Prince Nicholas Abkhazi who she had met and fallen in love with in Paris in the 1920’s. Married in Victoria, they began building their garden and home. Slightly more than one acre, the garden features native Garry oaks, ornamental evergreens, significant rhododendrons, rock and alpine plants, naturalized bulbs and examples of Japanese maples and weeping conifers. Abkhazi Garden is maintained by volunteers of the Land Conservancy of BC.
- The Butterfly Gardens(BC Transit Route 75). Victoria Butterfly Gardens offers a rare opportunity to experience a tropical jungle in the northern hemisphere. The gardens are home to ducks, flamingos, rare tropical birds, achameleons, geckos, poison dart frogs, tortoises, turtles, giant koi and thousands of tropical free flying butterflies, all housed in a 12,000 square foot enclosure. Located just five minutes from the world famous Butchart Gardens, the gardens also feature stunning blooms and thousands of tropical plants, including a carnivorous plant display.
- Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. (BC Transit Route 70 or 72 marked Swartz to 5th and Beacon in Sidney). Discover the underwater world of the Pacific Ocean without getting wet! The Ocean Discovery Centre in Sidney, just 25 minutes from Victoria, is Vancouver Island’s newest way to learn about ocean ecology and explore British Columbia’s unique sea life. Floor to ceiling viewing panels highlight the breathtaking array of local marine life, interactive games and displays discovery streams mirroring complex mini-ecosystems and hands on tidal pools. Visitors will engage in an aqueous experience that will transport them to the ocean depths. An integral part of the Centre is promoting environmental awareness and conservation of the ocean environment.
Visitors with disabilities who require wheelchairs will enjoy the following two attractions which are wheelchair accessible:
- Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary swanlake.bc.ca (BC Transit Route 72 or 75 to Top Bay Highway and McKenzie Interchange). Just minutes from downtown Victoria in the District of Saanich, Swan Lake is a nature lover’s paradise! You can watch and photograph waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, raptors, native wildflowers, turtles, garter snakes and butterflies. Walk the 45 minute Swan Lake trail (which is made of gravel and flat, though there are three short sections not wheelchair accessible due to rocky outcroppings) or the 45 minute trail up to the summit of Christmas Hill. The 15 minute Boardwalk Trail is also wheelchair or stroller accessible. The Nature House offers educational displays, live animals, a snuggle-corner for toddlers and a reading room for families. Bring a picnic lunch or peruse the great little gift shop with local crafts.
- Goldstream Provincial Park env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/goldstream/. (To get to Goldstream Provincial Park year round using BC Transit, take the 50 Langford Bus (which arrives downtown every 10 minutes) until you reach the Langford Exchange. At Langford Exchange, switch to the 58 Langford Meadows bus which runs hourly. Get off at Ma Miller’s Pub, which is just a stone’s throw from the park entrance.). Massive trees, majestic waterfalls, a meandering river that meets the sea, flowers, birds and fascinating fish are just some of the attractions that draw people to Goldstream Provincial Park – a mere 16 km from downtown Victoria. Trails range from easy, wheelchair accessible walks to strenuous hikes, through forested uplands and past abandoned gold diggings from the days of the Gold Rush. More adventurous hikers can climb to one of the highest points in Greater Victoria, Mount Finlayson, or to the stunning Niagara Falls, which cascades down 47.5 meters. Don’t forget to stop in at the Goldstream Park Visitor Centre for educational wildlife displays and programs for the whole family.
- Willows Beach (BC Transit 2A to Johnson and Douglas). If you need a peaceful break from all the action in downtown Victoria, check out beautiful Willows Beach. Just a few minutes by car or bus from the city centre, Willows is a long, broad stretch of powdery white sand that is a local favourite. Its shallow, protected waters are a safe and ideal place for kids to burn off energy while Mom and Dad relax and take in the glorious views of Discovery Island and Mount Baker. When the kids have had enough sun, there’s a well-equipped and shaded playground adjacent to the beach.
BC Transit recommends this additional outdoor attraction:
- Sooke Potholes. https://www.crd.bc.ca/parks-recreation-culture/parks-trails/find-park-trail/sooke-potholes. Sooke Potholes Regional Park, located on the banks of the spectacular Sooke River, is a popular place to visit. Enjoy the views, explore the trails, camp under the stars, or enjoy the stunning vistas from one of several viewpoints. You may see black-tailed deer, red squirrels or bald eagles riding the breezes overhead. The “potholes” are unique geological formations – deep pools in the river rock – that offer some of the best freshwater swimming in the region. From downtown, take BC Route 61 to the intersection of Sooke Road and Sooke River Road. Then follow the trail along the water. There are some beautiful waterfalls here. (At one time, these waterfalls were so powerful that they created potholes. That’s how this area became known as Sooke Potholes.)
Here is an idea for a special treat:
- Prince and Princess Tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel Fairmont.com/empress (a short walk from downtown Victoria). When the British immigrated to Victoria, they brought the practice of afternoon tea with them and it has been an honoured tradition ever since. The Fairmont Empress Hotel, the iconic destination to experience afternoon tea, welcomes its young guests with a special Prince and Princess Tea for children. Children receive beverage of their choice, fresh fruit and whip cream, jello and their own tiered plate of sandwiches and sweets. The experience is completed with the presentation of a Prince or Princess certificate in the child’s name.
Tips from a Local Resident
Mark Vukobrat is a local photographer and long-time resident who leads scenic hikes and tours in and around Victoria. He offers these suggestions for visitors who want to see Victoria on foot or by public transportation:
Two Neighborhoods worth Exploring
- James Bay is close to downtown and also a short walk to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which separates Vancouver Island from the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State. The vistas along the bluffs of Dallas Road are quite spectacular!
- Oak Bay Village is further from downtown – about a half an hour walk, but very charming with lots of shopping and parks nearby. Check out Oak Bay for a sunrise (a must do) and the Oak Bay Marina and their resident harbour seals (very entertaining!).
Mark’s Favorite Eating Places:
- 10 Acres Bistro – a very good “Farm to Table” establishment.
- Flying Otter Restaurant: The best burger in town is the “Big Bad Boy” at the Flying Otter Restaurant, at the float plane terminal in the harbour – lots of atmosphere here. You might even see a sea otter jump out of the water onto the dock where the float planes and whale watching boats are moored!
- Il Terrazzo Ristorante is one of the best fine dining restaurants in town. Be sure to make reservations!
- Red Fish Blue Fish offers great fish and chips in the harbour. Despite long lines, it’s worth the wait!
- Prima Strada and Famosa – Both of these places have great pizza.
All of the above eating places are within walking distance from the Harbour.
Don’t Miss These Downtown Attractions:
Mark suggests allowing time to visit the following attractions that are in or close to downtown:
- The Royal B.C. Museum is world class – don’t miss the replica of George Vancouver’s ship the Discovery – he’s the explorer whose statue is on top of the Parliament Building’s Rotunda.
- The inside of the Parliament Buildings are beautiful – there’s no charge to get in. (Here is a photograph that Mark took of the Parliament Buildings. This photo is used with the permission of Mark Vukobrat.)
- The Robert Bateman Centre is a gallery on the harbour across from the Parliament Buildings. Mr. Bateman is Canada’s quintessential wildlife artist and is among the world’s most successful commercial artists.
- Craigdarroch Castle is a 15 minute walk from downtown in Rockland – right in the middle of a residential neighborhood – a fascinating part of Victoria’s history. Close by is the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria and Government House – this area is charming – make a walking tour out of it!
A Self-Guided Walking Tour
Walk the entire harbour – from the Visitor Centre, you can do the north side of it to the West Bay Marina and then walk back. This is quite lovely – take a break and have a beer at Spinnakers Pub on the way.
If you don’t feel like walking back, take the Harbour Ferry from West Bay back to the Visitor Centre. The Harbour’s south side is also beautiful as you stroll by the hotels, watch the float planes land and the ferries come in from the U.S.
A Scenic Walk for the Entire Family: Take BC Transit’s Route 39 (from Shelbourne in downtown)—and bring a picnic lunch–to Mount Douglas Park – a wilderness park that’s in the city (Mount Doug for short). When you are in there, you won’t believe the city is anywhere close to you – you’re surrounded by towering douglas fir trees. You can walk to the top of Mount Douglas (about 1 mile) either on the road (closed to traffic until noon every day), or on one of the many trails. The top features 360 degree views – city, ocean, islands, mountains are everywhere!
Other Walks You Should Take While You Are Here
Here are some fun walks that Mark recommends:
- Ogden Point: An easy walk from downtown, or even shorter from James Bay, Ogden Point is a cement breakwater that goes out into the water about a half a mile or so. This is also where the cruise ships dock. Walk out to the Lighthouse and catch a sunset – gorgeous!
- Ross Bay Cemetery. The round trip walk from downtown is about 3.5 miles – take picnic lunch! Here are Mark’s suggestions for enjoying this walk: “From downtown, head south on Douglas Street towards the ocean – once you get to Dallas Road, walk left (east) along the bluffs to Clover Point. If you are very lucky you might see a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales like Free Willy!) along the shore – if not, you’ll just have to pay for a Whale Watching Tour (totally worth it!). “Continue east from Clover Point along the shoreline for about 400 yards until you get to a massive piece of driftwood – someone has done some excellent carvings – a First Nations face, a heart with wings, and an owl. “Just a little further east, cross the road and stroll into the Ross Bay Cemetery – a very cool place. Some famous British Columbians are buried there, including artist Emily Carr (her work is amazing!), and Billy Barker, the first prospector to find gold in the interior of B.C. (of course he squandered his fortune and died penniless!). “You can get back downtown by walking north on Memorial Crescent and then go left (west) on May Street – this neighborhood is very quaint.” “Just keep going on May and you will hit Cook Street – turn right (north) and you will shortly be in Cook Street Village with lots of shops, coffee houses, and restaurants.“Get back downtown by taking Southgate Street west back to Douglas Street.
- Oak Bay Marina to Cattle Point “If you’re staying in or near Oak Bay, be sure to do the walk from the Oak Bay Marina to Cattle Point by walking northeast along the Beach Drive. On a clear day, the views of Mount Baker (the 11,000 foot dormant volcano on the mainland), are spectacular. If you can do this at low tide, it’s even better. During summer, there is an outdoor piano at Cattle Point – you just might be entertained by a virtuoso!”
Enjoy a Ferry Ride, and Take a Trip to Sidney
Here are two more of Mark’s suggestions for outings:
- There are ferries to many of the Gulf Islands, but the best one (and the biggest is Saltspring. A bus can get you to the ferry in Schwarz Bay, and the half hour ferry ride is gorgeous. Then, you will need to get a bus to Ganges on the other end as well. Ask the Visitor Centre for details. Going on a Saturday morning is best, as there is a fantastic market in Ganges. This is definitely an all-day outing.
- Walk (or bike) to the Selkirk Trestle Bridge over the Gorge Waterway. Start at the Visitor Centre along Wharf Street and head north – cross the Johnson Street Bridge and access Harbour Road, which is also the beginning of the Galloping Goose Trail as you go alongside the water until you get to the Selkirk Trestle Bridge. You can go all the way across and loop back via Jutland Road, Gorge Road and Government Street if you like. Take BC Transit Routes 70 or 72 to Sidney – a seaside town towards the Vancouver Ferry. Sidney is a lovely town with numerous restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries etc. The ocean stroll by the pier is special! While you are here, allow some time to visit the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre oceandiscovery.ca,
According to Mark, the best hike in the Victoria area is to the Top of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. There are spectacular views. If you want to enjoy a walking tour from your hotel to Top of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, go to http://www.hikevictoria.com/ (Mark will be your guide on this outing.) (The following picture is of the Top of Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, and is used with permission of Mark Vukobrat who took this photograph.
Mark’s Tips for Visiting Bicyclists
Victoria is a bike friendly city. The Transit Cycle Company will bring a rental bike to wherever you are staying. Perhaps the best ride in Victoria is to take Dallas Road east along the water – all the way to Cattle Point (via Crescent Road and Beach Drive). There are many stops along the way: Clover Point, the rock beach at Ross Bay, and great views from Gonzales Point.
- Kitty Islet at the eastern edge of McNeill Bay – a short ride from here is one of Victoria’s hidden gems,
- Anderson Hill Park (head east on Beach Drive, then left (north) on Newport Avenue. Take your first left. There are fantastic vantage points at Trial Island, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. Continue on to the Oak Bay Marina – catch the resident seals there. Oak Bay itself is absolutely gorgeous! Keep going along Beach Drive and you will run into Cattle Point – the coastline vistas here are stunning! Return downtown by going west on Oak Bay Avenue – right through the incredibly charming Oak Bay Village.
What to Do When the Sun Goes Down or on a Rainy Day
Visit Tourism Victoria’s site for entertainment: http://www.tourismvictoria.com/things-to-do/nightlife-entertainment/
Mark Vukobrat has these additional suggestions:
- Catch a show at the Royal Theatre, the McPherson Playhouse or some of the small neighborhood theatres including the Belfry in Fernwood, and Langham Court in Rockland. These are all either downtown or walkable from downtown.
- Enjoy summer concerts at Butchart Gardens – check their schedule for details – the price is just regular admission – go 3 or 4 hours before the concert and enjoy the gardens too!
- Hermann’s Jazz Club on View Street (in the downtown core) has been a fixture for jazz in Victoria for a very long time. You could easily stay here for a week or more. Unfortunately, most likely your vacation is drawing to a close and it’s time to return home.
For More Information
- For information about attractions, what to do, and what to stay: Visit http://www.tourismvictoria.com/ or call (toll free) (800) 663-3883, or (250) 953-2033 between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (Pacific Time)
- For information about public transportation schedules and fares, visit: http://bctransit.com/victoria/home, or call (250) 382-6161. Telephone customer service is available 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (All times listed here are Pacific Time.)
Steve Atlas welcomes your comments and suggestions. Do you have a favorite place that you want Car Free Journey to spotlight in a future column? Send your requests to E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org