Turns out I was right. I was enthralled by the bookstores, shops, gastropubs and cafes in the downtown core. It’s also a green paradise – plant life and flower beds burst with colour on the streets. The city air is crisp and clean, smelling like cedar. No wonder Victoria is one of the most walkable cities in Canada.
If you’re headed to Vancouver Island, don’t miss out on a visit to Victoria. Here’s our guide to visiting this happening city:
WHERE TO STAY
You can’t beat the rose gardens, crackling fireplace, and freshly baked cookies at Abbeymoore Manor. This gorgeous B&B is located in a leafy neighbourhood near the Governor’s House, just a short walk from downtown.
I stayed in the Primrose Room, which had a king size bed, a full bathroom, and a cozy sitting area for reading. Guests are invited to help themselves to a robust supply of snacks and port in the kitchen. If you want to stay in an intimate, luxurious place with a gourmet breakfast each morning, go with this upscale B&B.
WHAT TO SEE:
Fairmont Empress Hotel: Take a guided tour of the Empress to learn about its gorgeous architecture and some quirky facts about this historic hotel. Did you know that there are beehives in the Centenary Gardens, which the hotel’s Executive Chef uses to make honey beer? Or that, as a guest, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill smuggled whiskey into his teapot during the Prohibition years? You’ll have all the inside scoop by the end of the tour.
Royal BC Museum: Get an education on Vancouver Island history and culture at the Royal BC Museum. I took a guided tour to learn about nature and First Peoples BC. Did you know that there are five types of forest on the BC Coast, one being rainforest? The museum also does a decent job at showing how First Peoples thrived before contact, the harsh impact of colonization on communities, and the resilience of the indigenous peoples today.
WHAT TO DO
WHAT TO DO
Kayak: Ocean River Sports offers a guided 3-hour urban kayaking trip, with a chance to spot wildlife and learn about waterway’s history. We paddled out to snap photos of the Olympic Mountains in Washington, seaplanes, and the harbour.
Beer & Biking: Embark on a study of craft beer…while riding a bike. The Pedaler just launched their Hoppy Hour Tour – a half day guided excursion to craft breweries within biking distance. This isn’t your average pub crawl – it’s a real opportunity to explore West Coast beer culture in Victoria.Over three hours, we biked to several local breweries for tastings and quickly learned why locals choose craft beer over big box breweries. It’s a fresher and more authentic style of beer without chemicals and preservatives. Our visit to Spinnakers Brewery included a pairing of beer with chocolate truffles. This tour was a great way to spend an afternoon, plus get some exercise to work off the beer-drinking.
Hike: I went on a guided hike with Rainforest Tours to East Sooke Park, just 45 minutes outside of Victoria. This moderately challenging walk involves hiking across white sand beaches, rainforest, and giant boulders. Although the backdrop of Olympic Mountains was captivating, the wildlife stole the show on this hike.
Our expert guide, Toni, flipped over rocks and showed us just how much wildlife thrives in the nooks and crannies of the earth. In just a few hours, we spotted a marten, poison plants, jellyfish, starfish, crabs, eels, seals, and one badass bald eagle. We stopped to view the ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) and eat our gourmet lunch in the park.
WHAT TO EAT
Don’t miss a visit to Rogers’ Chocolates. Rumour has it that the Queen of England lusts over these sweets. After an ice cream bar and a Victoria cream square, I could understand why.
After a very full day, relax with a cocktail at the stylish Bengal Lounge at the Empress (above). There’s live jazz music on Fridays and Saturdays.
There are tons of dinner options, but I recommend Café Brio, a popular restaurant that lives up to its reputation for serving seafood with flare. Another option is Zambri’s – a trendy downtown restaurant that serves fresh pasta and wood-fired oven pizzas. Neither will disappoint.
-- Lisa Jackson is a freelance writer and blogs at Eat Drink Travel Magazine. Find her online @eatdrinktravels.