As I watched a bald eagle swoop through the air, I was quickly reminded why British Columbia is so special. I was eager to return to this part of Canada, this time to experience the city of Victoria for the first time.
Victoria, British Columbia seems to have it all — the wildlife, incredible cuisine, a warm welcome, and those landscapes you can’t get enough of. With four nights, I was ready to dive into everything that this vibrant city on Vancouver Island has to offer. Surrounded by the Salish Sea, the culture of Victoria has a lighthearted tempo to it, you are on an island after all. Between exploring the harbour and its wonderful restaurants and history, to getting outside for sea kayaking and whale watching, the time was the perfect blend of the outdoors and city. It’s something truly unique to Victoria — the ability to experience otherworldly landscapes and then enjoy world-class cuisine right afterwards. If you’re looking for an escape with the best of both worlds, take a look at just what I loved while visiting Victoria.
[This blog post is sponsored by Destination Greater Victoria. As always, all opinions are own.]
The Ultimate Travel Guide to Victoria, British Columbia
Getting to Victoria / Transportation in Victoria
With daily flights offered into Victoria, you can easily arrive at Victoria International Airport from any major airport (some flights may require a layover in Vancouver). If you’re arriving from nearby destinations, a ferry into the harbour is also an option.
Upon arrival, depending on if you plan to explore more of the island, a rental car could be considered. If you are planning on exploring Victoria itself and plan to stay near the Inner Harbor, then there is no need for a car. You can book transportation into the city with YYJ Airport transfer and the service will bring you from the airport to most hotels in Victoria. Once in the center, most of everything is within walking distance. There are also local taxis for longer distances. (Note: Uber is not available.)
Where to Stay in Victoria
Oak Bay Beach Hotel: Located in the quiet community of Oak Bay, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel is the hotel for those looking to be right on the ocean’s edge. It is a peaceful escape from the city center and only a ten-minute drive from the center. The hotel offers complimentary shuttle service so you could still access the city and enjoy the retreat. At the hotel, each of the rooms is well appointed and provide a cozy space. One highlight of a stay at Oak Bay Beach Hotel is their spa. Right on the water, the spa features heated mineral pools (open late) and rooms for treatments.
The Magnolia Hotel & Spa: In the heart of the Inner Harbour, this boutique hotel is a charming place to stay. The rooms have fresh décor, each outfitted with amenities needed for a well-rounded stay. The hotel also has complimentary bikes to use while staying, making for a great adventure around the city (be sure to check out the personalized bike routes!). The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is footsteps from everything you’ll want to visit in Victoria and provides the perfect location for those looking to explore the downtown.
Where to Eat in Victoria
Marina Restaurant: Located in Oak Bay Marina, this is an elevated restaurant that focuses on seafood. With local produce and seafood, their menu offers a great take on what’s in season. I would book a table for sunset and enjoy the view of the ocean.
Vis-à-vis: In the Oak Bay Village is Vis-à-vis, a charming brasserie-style restaurant. Their menu has all of the classics you could wish for from a French restaurant — from French onion soup to moules, it’s a quaint dining experience.
Nourish Kitchen & Café: With brunch being one of the top meals in the city, Nourish is the place to go. Situated in an 1888 heritage home, their multi-level space has plenty of rooms to dine in. Their seasonal menu serves locally sourced ingredients and they even have their own garden. One of my favorite dishes was the “Sleeping Beauty Pancakes!” You can even stop in to grab a coffee to go at their coffee counter.
The Courtney Room: Inside the Magnolia Hotel & Spa, this newer, fine dining restaurant has received recognition for its creative menu and cocktails. The fresh take on brasserie food meets British Columbia ingredients finds dishes that are equally innovative as delicious. On the weekends, The Courtney Room also features a delicious brunch that you can reserve for as well.
Q at the Empress: Inside the Fairmont Empress is this upscale restaurant that services one of the best meals in town. Their extensive menu and wine list showcase the best of British Columbia. I’d come in for happy hour at the bar to soak in the harbour views and then enjoy dinner in the dining room afterward.
Superbaba: A casual restaurant in the heart of the city center, I loved their Mediterranean menu that featured everything from hummus plates to falafel bowls.
Tacofino: A favorite from Vancouver opened up a restaurant in Victoria. Their modern take on tacos and other classic Mexican dishes are delicious.
The Fish Store: If you’re down in the wharf and want to get fish & chips or fresh seafood, head here.
Grab a coffee: Hey Happy, Habit Coffee, Discovery Coffee (multiple locations), Saint Cecilia, and Shatterbox Coffee.
Things to Do in Victoria
Brewery Hop: As a key player in the microbrewery scene in Canada, Victoria has an incredible range of breweries to experience. You could spend a week there and not try them all. You could try out a brewery biking tour with the Pedaler or do a self-guided beer hopping tour. My favorites include Phillips Brewing & Malting Co., The Drake Eatery, Vancouver Island Brewing, and Ile Sauvage. Check out the BC Ale trail for more locations.
Kayak on the Salish Sea with Ocean River Sports: What I loved about my time in Victoria was being so close to nature. One way to experience it is on a guided kayaking tour that takes you out onto the sea. We got to see so much wildlife up close from bald eagles to seals all while learning about the important eco-system that supports this part of Victoria.
Explore the Royal BC Museum: I loved popping into this museum for a couple of hours and exploring the natural history room. The Royal BC Museum does a great job of exploring the local ecosystems and explaining the importance of conservation.
Go Whale Watching with Eagle Wing Whale & Wildlife Watching Tours: A highlight while visiting Victoria was an opportunity to go whale watching. On my four-hour tour, we had a chance to get up close (safely) to killer whales — we even saw one breach. It’s hard to put into words just how special it is to see whales in their natural habit and would highly recommend this tour. Going with Eagle Wing Whales is a great choice as they are the first carbon-neutral tour company and make a strong effort towards conservation for the whales. When going out on their tour, they often will stay out a little late if it means a better experience to see the whales, so you don’t feel rushed out. Truly an incredible adventure in Victoria.
Enjoy a spa day at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel: If you’re looking for a relaxing spa experience, then I would book a treatment at the spa at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel. With their mineral pools that overlook the sea, It’s the perfect city escape and not far from downtown. One standout treatment that I tried was the “Ocean Elements Body Ritual” which used local seaweed and other minerals to decompress and relax.
Experience Canada’s oldest Chinatown: One area of Victoria worth a visit is the Chinatown and a walk-through Fan Tan Alley. It’s colorful buildings and shops are so fun to explore and get a taste of local culture.
See the Butchart Gardens: Though I didn’t make it out to the gardens this trip, it is one of the top things to do in Victoria. It’s well worth a visit as these iconic gardens are stunning.
Tour the Craigdorrach Castle: Who would have thought there is a castle in the heart of Victoria? I did the self-guided tour through the well-preserved castle and enjoyed exploring the neighborhood afterward. This part of Victoria is stunning and great for an afternoon stroll.