Victoria British Columbia

Best Victoria British Columbia Attractions

Victoria is a great walking city with different neighborhoods offering different pleasures. Plus world class gardens, historic castles, and First National history and art.

Distinctive Neighborhoods

Lower Johnson Street combines colorfully painted historic buildings with local shopping, restaurants. Nearly all estimated 40 businesses are locally owned.

The Inner Harbour is the premier strolling area of the city. It's home to the Parliament Buildings, the Fairmont Empress Hotel, and places to enjoy the activities of the harbor. On Wharf Street at 1208 by the Harbor, stop in at Catawampus Fudge and Funk -- the motto is What woman doesn't like chocolate and bling.

Head to Government Street for more shopping and dining. If military memorabilia is your thing, Command Post of Militaria & Antiques at 1306 will delight you. Also on Government Street visit Munro's Books for the gorgeous 1900s neo-classical architecture, the lovely banners by artist Carole Sabiston, and their huge and eclectic collection of books. Of course, there is tea, chocolate, and pastries to be enjoyed throughout the city.

Kids may not be interested in shops, but they might enjoy the Victoria Bug Zoo.

At the other end of town, stop by Chinatown. It's small, but offers Fan Tan Alley -- the narrowest street in Canada -- as well as Dragon Alley.

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Craigdarroch Castle

The dream of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, Craigdarroch (which means "rocky oak place" in Gaelic) was completed in 1890 and filled with stained glass, intricate woodwork, and plush Victorian-era furniture. Subsequently it functioned as a military hospital, a college and now the Craigdarroch Castle Historic House Museum.

There's a good mix of historical photos of the lives of the different family members and their lives and history. Sadly, Robert died in 1889 before the house was completed. The sons finished the construction and his widow Joan and several family members moved in. Family squabbles broke out. After Joan died, the castle and land changed hands. .

There was also whiffs of scandal. Dola Cavendish was the granddaughter of Robert Dunsmuir, and daughter of James Dunsmuir. She was a fan/follower of the flamboyant actress Tallulah Bankhead and became either her lifelong friend, or her lover, or a bit of both. The family history fascinates.

Explore History and First Nations Art

The Royal BC Museum offers an introduction to the richness of the history of British Columbia. Guided tours of First People, Natural History, and Modern History tours, or join the Highlights Tour with a taste of each. Admission to the IMAX Theatre is extra. Don't miss the third floor history gallery and First Peoples Gallery. Be certain to walk through their impressive outdoor totem pole collection towering over Thunderbird Park, and the kids will love it, too. If you should get hungry, the Museum Cafe serves the delicious dishes of Willie's Bakery.

For art you can purchase, head to Alcheringa for contemporary fine native art. The gallery focuses on native artists from the Northwest Coast of Canada, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. Hill's Native Art also features First Nations art.

Butchart Gardens

Located on Vancouver Island about equidistant from Victoria and Vancouver, no visit to the area would be complete without spending the day enjoying Butchart Gardens -- easily one of the finest on the North American continent.

Oddly enough, much of the topographical interest of the gardens comes from its origin as a limestone quarry. Robert Butchart made his fortune in part by quarrying the limestone in the area and in manufacturing Portland cement. When the area was exhausted, there was a humongous crater in the ground that was spectacular for its ugliness. Jennie Butchart may have known nothing about gardening, but she knew beauty. When the family settled in the area she began to create gardens surrounding the house. The exhausted quarry represented both a challenge, and a spectacular opportunity.

The result was the WOW-view that is now the Sunken Garden. A particularly deep section of the quarry became a lake, complete with a stream and waterfall. Ivy covered the naked rock walls. Over the years a children's pavilion and the Rose Carousel were added. Additional gardens expanded Butchart Gardens into a horticultural masterpiece - art created by flowering plants, trees, and shrubs.

Organized Exploration

Take a Self-Guided Heritage Walk
The compact size of the city makes it perfect for walking tours. In fact, the city of Victoria offers self-guided walks which you can download from Secrets of the City. Explore Canada's first Chinatown, Gold Rush era, stories of criminals and Victoria's lawmen, and haunted Victoria.

Try the Hop-On-Hop-Off tours and Big Bus Sightseeing offering a combination of 90 minute narrated tour with the ability to get on and off at any of the 23 stops along the way. Tickets are good for two days making it an efficient way to see the city.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: October 16, 2016

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