North America

Victoria is much more than the “City of Gardens”

Victoria's parliament buildings | Photo credit: Travel and Beyond

If you have never been to Victoria in “BBC” (Beautiful British Columbia), then you had best look up the meaning of the word idyllic. That may be the choice description you’ll use when describing your visit to this picturesque city. Cozy and lively are words that are also often used to describe this beautiful city situated along the coastline of Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island region is a large, sparsely populated area, encompassing Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, as well as a portion of the mainland. Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s 2009 Readers’ Choice Awards ranked Vancouver Island second in the “Top Islands of North America” category. The island has one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems: rainforests, marshes, meadows, beaches, mountains, oceans, rivers and lakes create habitats for multitudes of wildlife species. In fact, the region is one of the world’s premier locations for whale watching, birding, as well as salmon and trout fishing.

Not to be confused with any other famous Victoria (Australia or the falls in Africa) Victoria, BC is the capital of the province of British Columbia, Canada, and is situated about 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Vancouver, BC’s largest city.

To get to Victoria from Vancouver you can either fly or take a BC Ferry. BC Ferries use large passenger ferries with room for 2000 passengers as well as 470 vehicles. The ride time is normally about 1 hour and 30 minutes, and very pleasant.

Victoria enjoys some of the province’s most exhilarating scenery: there’s an ocean, mountain or parkland within glancing range, and the city’s flower gardens are famous the world over.

Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom and the Dominion of Canada, is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, when the British began settling the area beginning in 1841. The city has retained a large number of its historic buildings, in particular its two most famous landmarks, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings (finished in 1897 and home of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia) and the Empress hotel (opened in 1908).

Victoria’s British ancestry is apparent in the double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, formal gardens and tearooms. But the city is now a cosmopolitan centre with a lively entertainment scene and a diversity of attractions.

The cozy Inner Harbour provides visitors an intimate setting, and the scale of the city is manageable. You can walk the downtown core in about fifteen minutes and there really are no skyscrapers.

The Inner Harbour is the lively centre of the city. The harbour bustles with seaplanes, ferries, yachts and even kayaks and row boats. During the summer, hanging flower baskets spruce up the lamp posts, and you’re sure to see outdoor entertainers trying to catch your eye.

There are double-decker buses reminiscent of London to help you get around, or you can take a horse drawn carriage ride around the harbour, through Beacon Hill Park and past historic homes and landmark buildings.

Explore the First Nations culture. The city has lots of galleries with art made by members of the First Nation whose art and traditions are alive and well.

Butchart Gardens | Photo credit: Tourism BC/James O'Mara

But be sure to visit the world famous and renowned Butchart Gardens. The Butchart Gardens is one of the world’s premier floral show gardens. Jennie Butchart began to shape this magnificent landscape in 1904. Through successive generations of the Butchart family, The Gardens has retained much of its original design, and continues the Victorian tradition of seasonally changing the outstanding floral displays.

If you are an outdoors type and enjoy near perfect weather, you can take advantage of both the climate and magnificent natural resources the island offers.

Victoria is a great hub for a golfing or fishing getaway. There is an excellent collection of courses to choose from and the salmon and halibut fishing in the surrounding waters – especially in Strait of Juan de Fuca – is excellent. You can golf at several courses but Bear Mountain’s two Nicklaus-designed courses and Olympic View Golf Club are two exceptional and picturesque golf courses that you will not want to miss. Fishing enthusiasts regard the waters off Victoria as one of the best catch zones in the world. You can board any number of comfortable chartered vessels and, in just minutes, have a hook in the water. Chinook (King) salmon, the largest of the salmon species, are what you are after. However, halibut, lingcod and rockfish can also be snagged.

You will also want to ensure that you go whale watching. You may see an unusual variety of species that habitat the waters of the shores of Vancouver Island; Orcas, Pacific Greys, humpback whales and other species of marine wildlife. In 2010, Travel + Leisure magazine named Vancouver Island one of North America’s Best Whale Watching Spots.

Year after year, Victoria keeps winning well deserved awards and accolades. And once you have visited, you may return numerous times. It’s no small feat and measure that Victoria has earned these prestigious awards, as thousands of visitors who either fly or ferrie here will attest to.

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