This June, we partnered with AMA Travel and Tourism Victoria to properly explore the beautiful city of Victoria for the very first time (I know, I can’t believe we haven’t spent more time out here either!). Vancouver Island is known for its laidback lifestyle, coastal views, delicious seafood and abundance of wildlife and we couldn’t wait to cram it all into a quick 3-day trip to BC’s Capital City.
Although Victoria is absolutely packed with amazing restaurants and bars, it’s also a city on the edge of some of the most spectacular flora and fauna in the world. It really presents an amazing balance of culture and nature, which was perfect for us, as we love interacting with wildlife and learning about local species on our adventures.
This city is an amazing example of juxtaposition. Turn one way out of your hotel and you’ll find coffee shops, rooftop patios, bakeries and breweries. Turn the other way and you’ll almost literally bump straight into a family of harbour seals or river otters. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such a cosmopolitan city that’s so immersed in nature.
It’s what makes Victoria and Vancouver Island stand out as a top destination on the West Coast. There just isn’t anywhere else like it and we were excited to test the waters!
Victoria, Day 1: Afternoon Tea and some beautiful gardens
Travelling from Alberta, it probably would have made sense to fly straight into Victoria Airport. Flights leave daily from Calgary International Airport (YYC) and land in Victoria International Airport (YYJ). The flight is only about 1 hour 30 min and with the time change, you only land 30 minutes after you leave! It’s about as quick and easy as trips get.
That being said, we opted to drive and take the ferry this time around. The drive from Banff (where we live) to Victoria is absolutely stunning and we don’t get to do it enough. Taking our time to get to the Island meant we got to fully appreciate just how beautiful and diverse BC really is. We also love the ferry crossing and have even seen a pod of dolphins follow alongside the ship before. Plus, we had our fur baby, Dice, with us and love bringing him along on road trips – and it’s not possible if we fly!
The Ferry to Victoria leaves from several different ports, including Port Angeles in the US, but ours left from Tsawwassan Ferry Terminal just south of Vancouver. It’s only about an hour on the boat, and the views once you reach the Vancouver Island coast are spectacular (only to be topped by float plane, like Harbour Air).
The ferry is a great way to bring a pet to Vancouver island, and Dice quietly snoozed in the car as we chugged across the sea. Top tip; if you’re traveling with a pet, make sure you mention it at check-in and try to get a spot on the Upper Deck. Reservations are highly recommended as those with reservations are more likely to obtain a spot on the coveted Upper Deck. This way, you don’t have to leave and can stay in your vehicle with your pet. All other passengers must leave their vehicle during sailing and are then relegated to the small “Pet Area”, which is just a small room with kennels and benches.
Stop 1: The Butchart Gardens
We’d taken an early ferry to Victoria and arrived in town around lunchtime. It was too early to check into our hotel so we went off to check out The Butchart Gardens instead.
The Butchart Gardens are the private home and gardens of the Butchart family, who have owned the land since it was first settled at the turn of the 20th century. The land was originally purchased as a limestone quarry, which was extracted for the family cement business.
The site of the quarry was absolutely perfect for mining. It was within metres of the shore and full of rich deposits, so naturally it was extremely successful.
Jennie Butchart developed quite a green thumb, and gradually poured her time into developing the grounds into a breathtaking garden and serving afternoon tea to her guests.
Eventually, the quarry was exhausted and decommissioned and was developed into a sunken garden. An incredible amount of work must have gone into these gardens, and we were told that many of the flower beds are changed out 4 times per year. There is a lot to take in, including a rose garden with dozens of different varieties, a Japanese garden, a carousel, an orchard and an outdoor theatre.
It’s well worth exploring, especially if, like us, you’re from somewhere where growing different varieties of flowers can be challenging.
Probably my favourite aspect of the gardens is that, unlike a botanical garden, the Butchart Gardens are a display garden only. This means that it’s not there to educate you about different breeds and types of plants, it’s simply meant to be enjoyed. There are no guided tours and plants aren’t labelled. You simply have to go in, and (literally) smell the roses.
Stop 2: Afternoon Tea at the Dining Room in the Butchart Gardens
After our quick tour of the Gardens, it was time for Afternoon Tea.
We’ve had quite a few afternoon teas in our time, and this was hands down one of my favourites. Normally, afternoon teas are quite heavy on the desserts, but this one had plenty of savoury options to balance it out. The more finger sandwiches, the better!
Obviously, if you visit Victoria, the obvious choice might be to go to the Fairmont Empress for afternoon tea (as this is what they’re famous for), but this is a fantastic and reasonably priced alternative.
Stop 3: Dinner at Agrius Restaurant
Our first dinner was at a restaurant called Agrius, in the heart of the downtown Victoria area. It started out as a bakery, but a restaurant was a natural next step for them once they brought charcuterie and pizza onto the menu.
We’re usually pretty adventurous eaters but I have to be honest that there were plenty of ingredients on the menu that I’d never seen before. We decided to try some new things and were absolutely blown away by the food. Our favourite menu items were: the rhubarb mille feuille, asparagus pizza, octopus, morel mushrooms, tuna crudo with rhubarb, and the lamb tartare. Apparently, the menu changes quite frequently, so you might have an entirely different experience!
We should also mention that Agrius is an organic restaurant that predominantly sources its ingredients from local producers (of which there are many on Vancouver Island!).
Stop 4: Drinks at Superflux
After dinner, we decided to wander around the downtown core and find a local watering hole. We’d heard good things about Superflux, a local brewery, and seeing as it was only a couple of blocks away, we decided to give it a try.
If you’re the kind of person that likes interesting beers, this place has some great options. My beer genuinely tasted like fuzzy peaches – what’s not to love!
Victoria, Day 2: Wild 4 Whales
With only 1 full day in Victoria, we knew we had to use our time wisely. Day 2 was packed with food, fun… and more food! We started early and had big plans to check out everything Victoria had to offer on both land and at sea. Again, I will warn you that there was a LOT of food involved on our second day, so it’s likely you won’t repeat this itinerary exactly.
Breakfast: LURE Restaurant & Bar (at Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort)
We’ll get to where we were staying a bit further down, but our first stop of the day was at LURE Restaurant in the Delta Marriott Ocean Pointe Resort.
The views of the harbour truly don’t get much better than this! We could have sat and watched the sea planes land all morning.
Amazing waterfront views and probably the most aesthetic bowl of granola I’ve ever seen (no photos because it disappeared far too quickly). This was the perfect spot to fuel up for our big day of activities.
Stop 1: The Pedaler Cycling Tour
Our first activity of the day in Victoria was a guided e-bike tour of the city hosted by The Pedaler Cycling Tours.
I have to say, an e-bike tour is the perfect way to explore Victoria if you have limited time… and it’s easy on the legs too.
We covered much more ground on our e-bikes than I imagine we would have just biking normally. It gave us a chance to stop and ask questions, as well as hear tons of interesting stories and facts about Victoria, the history, and the area. It lets you focus on actually enjoying the scenery and listening to the guide, rather than grinding away on the pedals. Of course, you can adjust your settings to make it harder or easier, if you’re craving a little bit of a workout.
We took the Coastal E-bike Tour which took us all along the sea wall to Beacon Hill Park and all around the peninsula to some beautiful viewpoints. It was such a clear day that we could quite easily make out the US coast and the mountain ranges in the distance.
In total, we biked around 25km, which on a regular bike might have been a little exhausting, but on the e-bike it was an absolute breeze.
Our guide was fantastic and we really enjoyed cruising around the various neighbourhoods, marvelling at the oceanfront properties and soaking in the sun and sea breeze. The weather was in our favour as well!
Lunch: Sherwood Cafe
Sherwood Cafe is a great place to grab a quick lunch in Victoria. The vibe and decor is on point, and the coffee is *chef’s kiss*, just great. I ordered the gochujang chicken burger and it was delightful.
2 oat milk lattes later and we were ready for our next stop… more food, as promised!
Off the Eaten Track Food Tour of Victoria
After lunch, it was straight onto a food tour of Victoria with “Off the Eaten Track” Tours.
We’ve done food tours before, but I could tell this was going to be good. 7 stops, 7 different cuisines, it was exactly what a food tour should be. I really did feel like I was getting a mini tour of the world in terms of variety!
We adored this tour – it was the perfect mix of walking, eating and drinking. The tour took us around downtown Victoria, was suitable for most abilities, and there was a hugely eclectic range of foods to try.
Without wanting to release any spoilers, we got to sample Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Mexican, French Macarons, BC wines and more. It was the perfect mix of cuisines and flavours; each one left us wanting more and excited for what was in store.
Aside from the food, the tour and our guide, Bonnie (who is also the owner of Off the Eaten Track!) was delightful, engaging and knowledgeable as well. I feel like I learned a lot about Victoria’s history, and it was great to hear some unusual stories and anecdotes that added a bit of spice to our experience.
We would highly recommend this tour to any foodies coming to experience Victoria and not sure where to start – why not sign up for the highlight reel!
Barb’s Fish and Chips/Fisherman’s Wharf
Now at this point, a normal person might decide to skip dinner after having eaten so many meals in one day… but we didn’t want to risk being hungry later and decided to stop in at Barb’s Fish and Chips while we waited for our sunset whale watching tour to begin.
The fish and chips were absolutely perfect! As Albertans, there aren’t many places to get quality seafood, let alone authentic fish and chips, so we were thrilled by this find. The line-up was enormous, but well worth the wait.
Barb’s is located at Fisherman’s Wharf, a really cool part of the city that vaguely reminded me of the Monterrey Pier in California. Lots of colourful floating homes and house boats selling food, drinks, ice cream and tours. It’s clearly the place to be, especially around dinner time. The pier was bustling and full of people!
Definitely a good spot to go for a quick, casual dinner, especially if you’re waiting for a whale watching tour.
If you’re driving there, it’s good to know that parking can be kind of tricky. Don’t expect to be able to park nearby, as the main parking lot fill up very quickly!
Sunset Whale Watching Tour with Eagle Wing Tours (at Fisherman’s Wharf)
For me, this was the absolute highlight of the entire trip. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high, but all of my expectations were far exceeded by the Wild 4 Whales sunset whale watching tour, hosted by Eagle Wing Tours.
On our particular tour, we boarded one of Eagle Wing’s catamarans, aptly named “Wild 4 Whales”, which were custom built for the job and gave us a huge radius to explore in the 3 short hours we had.
We spent about 2 of the 3 hours zooming along the water, with all of us squinting at the distance, trying to catch any small movements that might be a whale. Turns out, when you actually see a whale, it’s pretty unmistakeable.
We could just tell that the crew had found something, when they started quickly moving around the boat, grabbing their binoculars, and the best sign of all – slowing the engines. Success! We were super lucky to catch up to an entire family/pod of killer whales that was cruising around the bay.
The pod we followed (at a distance) had a couple of babies, about 3 females, and one enormous male. His dorsal fin was about 6ft tall, and at one point he decided to come right up to our boat, after we cut the engines and were just drifting!
We weren’t sure if this was common, but our guides were absolutely ecstatic about it. They told us, “if we’re excited, you definitely should be!” So I guess we hit the jackpot!
It was a magical experience with Eagle Wing Tours, made even better by fantastic weather and a wonderful golden sunset that went on for ages.
Victoria, Day 3: Making New Friends on Seal Island
Breakfast: Hey Happy!
The next morning, it was time to find a new breakfast spot, so we visited “Hey Happy” – about a 2 minute walk from our hotel, a very trendy spot with a tasty looking menu and bright, colourful decor that put us in a great morning mood.
I ordered the breakfast sandwich, and it was without a doubt one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve had in my life. Also, two big thumbs up for the Coconut Milk Iced Latte – perked me right up.
Kudos to Hey Happy for passing the vibe check and making us a super delicious breakfast!
Stop 1: Harbour Tour with Victoria Kayak
When I first heard that we were doing a kayak tour of Victoria Harbour, I was a little skeptical. I figured, how good can it be if we’re just paddling around the boats and yachts and dodging sea planes.
What I hadn’t gotten a chance to see, but I would very quickly discover, was just how closely nature and city are intertwined in Victoria.
We probably spent about 45 minutes casually paddling around the harbour, gradually working our way out around the coast. And in that time, we saw a starfish, a mink, a river otter, crabs, sea stars, and several deer. Even so close to the city, it was still like going on a safari.
Then we rounded the peninsula and happened to come across a group of snoozing seals. It was what we were both hoping to see and the sleepy little creatures did not disappoint. One even waved at us as we paddled by!
Note: we were very careful to maintain our distance whenever wildlife was in sight, as well as make sure that we were as quiet and respectful of their homes as possible.
Victoria Kayak has a fantastic crew of super knowledgeable guides that are fun, relaxed and clearly love what they do. Their passion for the outdoors and wildlife was apparent from the moment we first met.
I would highly recommend this tour, as it’s suitable for pretty much all ages and abilities.
Stop 2: The Roost Farm Bakery & Vineyard Bistro
The last stop on our adventure was to the Roost Farm Bakery and Vineyard Bistro. We decided to stop in there on our way to the ferry to try some of their locally sourced food, grab some supplies for the ferry and to check out the farm.
We took a quick tour of the vineyard where they make their own wine, and even stopped into the greenhouses. They are growing some serious peppers and zucchinis! Seeing the crops with my own eyes, I just had to opt for the Veggie Wrap and it did not disappoint at all.
Roost is also a vineyard, so make sure you pick up a bottle of their delicious Rose as a little souvenir from your trip to the Island. Ours certainly didn’t last long!
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Victoria
We stayed at the Delta Hotels by Marriott Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort, which is located right on the waterfront at Victoria Harbour (the perfect location). It’s easily walkable to downtown Victoria and to all the activities we did over the 3 days (except Butchart Gardens, which would require a bike or car).
The hotel has amazing views of the sea planes and ferries coming into the city, and perhaps more importantly, is pet friendly (including cats!) for a small fee of $25 per night.
The food is great and there are numerous facilities including a pool and tennis court. We’ll definitely be aiming to stay here again next time.
If you don’t stay at the Delta in Victoria, I would highly recommend trying to find something close to the harbour. It will definitely make your life a lot easier if you’re planning to do any of the excursions we mentioned above, and might even allow you to ditch the car!
Getting to Victoria: Which Method is Best
There are essentially 3 ways to get to Victoria, with pros and cons for each. All of these are great options, you will just have to choose the method that works best for you and your family!
Flying to Victoria International Airport (YYJ)- PROS: Quick and easy. CONS: You won’t have a vehicle and will be relying on public transit or a rental car to get around.
Arriving via ferry to Swartz Bay- PROS: You will have a vehicle to explore the Island with, can bring small furry family members with you. CONS: Not the most direct or fastest method.
Arriving via seaplane- PROS: Stunningly beautiful views, quick/easy trip from Downtown Vancouver. CONS: Sea planes can be a bit of a bumpier ride, flights are cancelled or postponed often due to inclement weather.
What to Pack for Victoria
Here’s what we packed in our luggage for our June trip to Victoria:
- Rain jacket (while it didn’t rain on us, the Island can be very wet in the Spring and supposedly, we just dodged the rain by a few days!)
- Waterproof shoes or rubber boots (if you’re boating, kayaking or whale watching, waterproof shoes are a great idea)
- Good walking shoes or runners (Victoria is very much a walking city, especially if you sign up for a food tour)
- Warm clothes/layers (if you’re on the water, you will get cold – it’s highly recommended that you bundle up for the whale watching tours)
- A picnic blanket (The lawn in front of the parliament building is the perfect place for an afternoon picnic!)