The first, and so far only, time I have been to Canada was on the second half of the Seattle trip that I blogged about last week when I decided to take a few days to explore Victoria, capital of British Columbia, and a sea-centric city on Vancouver Island. And it was gorrrrrrgeous. A relatively inexpensive 3 hour Catamaran ride on the Victoria Clipper was the transportation mode of choice and went from Seattle city center to the center of Victoria. The weather was generously sunny in August and everything was green and vibrant and blooming. The plan was to stay for two nights and just wander about, take in the sites, explore the cultural and historic sea city, and drink tea, because, British. Here’s a quick history of Victoria for my buffs out there.
Visiting Victoria was like walking into a storybook. Everything was so clean…and well taken care of, and picturesque. The water was idyllic, the sea planes were a joy to watch taking off through the morning mist, the landmark structures of downtown and in general showcased a well-preserved history. And high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel featured fragrant, strong tea (with milk and sugar for me!) and tasty bite sized sandwiches, scones and desserts. And for the adventurous, the hotel Q Bar also featured a very unique alcoholic beverage made with their signature Empress tea called the CLASSIC 1908 (house made Empress tea vodka, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, house bitters). I wouldn’t order a second one, but it was worth a try for the novelty of it!
From a pure – heaven standpoint, this island had so much worth seeing, and definitely worth going back for. Here are a few things I recommend:
- Even if you don’t stay at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, definitely go there for High Tea, and a beautiful view of the harbor. Both are worth the hype.
- Stay somewhere with a water view. I really feel like you get the most out of Victoria when you can watch the gulls and sea planes duke it out over mostly quiet vistas, and once the sound of the air battles fades, you can be lured under by the sound of boats biding their time tied up in calm waters.
- Tour the Parliament Building. It was built in 1898 and has some incredible history, as well as being a fairly impressive structure. It lights up at night in the most romantic way, string lights glittering against starry skies. Also, there’s a free tour. So, why not?
- Definitely go to the Butchart Gardens. It’s probably the most popular attraction in Victoria, but if you love flowers it’s a not-to-miss. Heck, even if you only kind of like flowers, you’ll be impressed. I don’t think I have ever seen so much blooming in one space. I think I posted about 15 flower photos below, because each was more gorgeous than the last. Their website boasts (rightly so) the numbers: 55 acres of gardens, 900 bedding plant varieties, 26 greenhouses and 50 full time gardeners. But they also indicate 1 million visitors per year. And yes, August is high season. Get there early to beat crowds, and heat.
- Take a walk along the water to Fisherman’s Wharf. This super-cute almost hidden spot has little food shacks, house boats where people do actually live, and Sea Lions swimming close by waiting for handouts.
- Get lost in a museum. The Royal BC Museum is so well thought out and so full of interactive and informative exhibits. I barely even scratched the surface but what I did see left me wishing I had more time to explore. I’ve been to a lot of museums, but this is one of the more memorable.
- Find Chinatown (yes, really). I don’t know about you, but there’s something incongruous about a Chinatown in Canada. But sure enough, the oldest Chinatown (meaning, yes, there’s more than one in Canada) is in Victoria, and it’s also one of the oldest apparently in North America. And folks, let me tell you, it also gets the award for cleanest Chinatown. At least compared to those I have been to in NYC, San Francisco, China (which, ok, is redundant), Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and Los Angeles. I’ll be checking out London and Chicago this summer, so I’ll keep you posted : ) For a fun read on the world’s best Chinatowns according to CNN travel, click here.
- Stay up late. There’s tons of nighttime activity along the water in the summer, including live entertainment, jugglers, street vendors and comedic performers. Definitely a fun way to pass a few hours!
- Get thee to church. I know you know I love churches, both for history and for architecture, and of course for a gentle nod to my Catholic upbringing. I stumbled upon a very small Catholic church called Our Lady Queen of Peace and it happens to be the first Catholic Church and Cathedral in British Columbia, est. 1858 but I somehow missed Christ Church Cathedral which appears to be simply stunning. Guess I’ll have to go back!
- Visit charming downtown Victoria and then stop in Bard and Banker (a 2008 Publick House quartered in an 1885 Bank Building) for a Pint. Again, simply storybook setting. Shop, stroll, eat, repeat.