Victoria is accessible via ferry from Vancouver or from select areas in the state of Washington. Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. It is a very quaint city. It also has among the more mild climates in Canada, and often times when the rest of Canada is covered with snow, Victoria is still free of snow.
The ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria takes about 2 hours. It is a beautiful ride especially in the summer months and on a clear day. The ferry to Victoria is extremely large and has a very big cargo for cars and trailers which you initially drive on board. I recommend getting to the ferry departure points quite early as there tends to be a long line of cars backed up waiting for the next ferry (especially in summer) . If you arrive at the departure point too late you may miss the ferry and will end up waiting for the next one. The scenery along the ferry route from Vancouver to Victoria is very scenic. There are several islands that you will pass. If you pay attention you will see several ferries traveling back, carrying passengers from Victoria to Vancouver. Victoria has many old buildings and quaint walkways. Make sure to visit the Parliament Buildings. You will most surely see these as your ferry sails into the harbor. These are quite dramatic. They were first opened in 1898. They are also quite beautiful at night as they are outlined by numerous lights. Also be sure to walk into the buildings and look at the architecture and other historical sites.
Victoria also has some excellent shopping especially on the side streets away from the major attractions. I found it quite pleasurable to stroll down these streets window shopping or stopping to people watch, or to listen to the local street musicians. For the sites and attractions listed below it is a good idea to call ahead for open times and prices.
A must visit is the Empress Hotel (www.fairmont.com) located near the Parliament Buildings at 721 Government Street. Over 100,000 people walk through her doors annually. This is an extremely fancy hotel. I find the best ways to get an overview of a city that I am not familiar with, is to take the elevator to the highest accessible floors of hotels or tall business buildings.
This hotel provides an excellent opportunity for this type of quick sight seeing. From the top story you can see the harbor and all that is Victoria. From the top you can easily see which streets you may want to walk or drive down in order to reach certain attractions.
There are some great photo opportunities in front of the Empress Hotel. The city hangs flower pots from quaint looking street lamps. In mid summer these flowers pots are a blaze of reds, orange, and purples. These lamps can be used to frame the Parliament buildings in your photographs.
The Empress Hotel is also home to “Miniature World”. This exhibit features over 60 small attractions. These “attractions” are miniature displays of history’s greatest moments. Miniature World also features a large miniature railway.
Another must see especially if you like art is the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (www.aggv.bc.ca) located at 1040 Moss Street. This gallery is considered by many to be among the finest art galleries in all of Canada. It is the home to nationally recognized Oriental and European art from the 15th to the 20th century. They also display Canadian artists as well as Indian art.
Royal London Wax Museum (www.waxmuseum.bc.ca) is located at 470 Belleville Street. This museum houses the likenesses of many famous people, in fact there are over 200 people exhibited. Don’t miss the “Chamber of Horror” which seems to be present in every wax museum that I have ever visited. This Chamber isn’t much different than others I’ve seen. It exhibits some thrilling sinister horror scenes. Some of the displays are actually quite grotesque and chilling.
Pacific Undersea Gardens (www.pacificunderseagardens.com) are located adjacent to the wax museum mentioned above. This is an underwater theatre and displays life on the ocean floor. The displays include detailed narration and scuba divers.
Helmcken House (www.heritage.gov.bc.ca/helmcken.htm) is British Columbia’s oldest house that is still open to the public. J.S. Helmcken a pioneer doctor and the first Speaker in the Vancouver legislature used to call this place his home. Today the home is filled with relics and memorabilia relating to his career. One item of interest in this house is a medical collection from the nineteenth century.
Another house worth seeing is the Carr House . This site is located only several blocks from the above mentioned Helmcken House. This house is the birthplace of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most famous artists. There is a gift shop here and also reproductions of Emily Carr’s works. It is open from June 16 to September 26, Thursday to Monday from 11am until 5pm.
Lastly, although not in the city of Victoria, the Butchard Gardens (www.butchartgardens.com) deserve a special mention. Signs for this unique horticultural wonder begin appearing in Northern California and continue up the major roads in the great Pacific Northwest. A woman by the name of Jenny Butchart in 1904 decided to change her husbands limestone quarry into a beautiful garden. The gardens have grown tremendously in size and in variety from Mrs. Butchart’s original plans. Now they are open every day of the year, and feature spectacular botanical displays such as the Italian Garden, a Rose Garden, a Japanese Garden, a Sunken Garden, The Star Pond, several fancy fountains, and a greenhouse full of an eclectic variety of plants and flowers.