What To Do in Victoria

Coming to Vancouver Island is an unforgetable experience packed with options and activities for all ages.

I am covering and highlighting only a very few and the most popular here, but as this website develops and grows more will be added. You are welcome to share stories of your experiences and discoveries as you explore this wounderful province.


Parliament Building
If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to stand in front of our Legislative building after dark, then you will know the feeling of spellbinding awe, 3300 light bulbs outline the grandeur of its architecture – on a warm sunny day, the perfectly manicured lawns provide a charming place to picnic, stretch out with a good book, catch a quick nap, take photos or watch the passers-by. Between May and Labour Day long-weekends, visitors can tour this 19th century building.

Parliament Buildings at night

Magnificent view of the lights of the Inner Harbour and Parliament building

The building is an ideal backdrop for that family photograph and anyone you meet will be happy to snap it for you so that no-one is excluded from your photo.

BC Royal Museum

British Columbia’s Royal BC Museum, is a place where the past, present and future are alive. With a collection of more than seven million unique objects and documents, there’s something incredible to see and do every time you visit. The Museum is a place of discovery; its unique galleries showcase the human and natural history of British Columbia and temporary exhibits from other cultures and countries. Genuine artifacts and specimens are displayed in highly lifelike settings, giving visitors the experience of another time and place.

2012 will see three international exhibitions at the museum:

  • North American premiere of Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Dinosaurs
  • Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries & Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton
  • A Diamond Jubilee Celebration.

The Fairmont Empress Hotel

Fairmont Empress Hotel and Inner Harbour

In the fall the building is covered in red ivy and looks completely different

Built in 1908, this grand Edwardian style hotel has been one of the most photographed landmarks in the inner harbour. Home to the famous afternoon tea – this tradition has served England’s most beloved ritual to the likes of royalty, celebrities, dignitaries and anyone wanting to partake of its elegance, for over a century.

Some interesting Tea Trivia:

  • During the centennial restoration in 2008, the Tea Lobby floor was replaced and the wood was transformed into delicate tea-tables – you could say,  you’re eating off the floor
  • Nearly 200 000 guests are serves tea annually, with an estimated 500 000 cups of tea
  • Most recent royals to enjoy afternoon tea at the Empress were the Emperor and Empress of Japan (no pun intended)
  • High tea is generally taken at 4:00pm and is more of a working man’s dinner, which included hot savoury items – Afternoon tea is served with sweet pastries and cakes, and High tea is thought to include champagne or sparkling wine, but this should actually be called Royal tea.

The Fairmont Empress hotel hosts the annual festival of trees; a tradition started 20 years ago to raise funds for the BC Childrens’ Hospital Foundation. The festival brings together the generous business community of Victoria in what has become the Tree decorating tradition of the Christmas Season.

The public participates by buying ballots and casting votes for their favourite, from among the 75 plus trees– each vote goes into a draw for the Peoples’ Choice Award Citizen Prize. In 2010 this event raised over $100 000 and attracted thousands of visitors and photographers.

Undersea Gardens

Undersea gardens
A different view of the Inner Harbour - What's under the water?

Jutting out into the Inner habour is the Undersea Gardens, offering visitors to this vessel an opportunity to view more than 5000 species living in the aquariums around the vessel.  The display area which descends 5 meters (15ft) beneath the ocean allows you to look right into the underwater world of the Pacific Northwest.

Visitors can watch a variety of marine plants and animals. There is a specially designed tidal pond which is a great experience for all ages and allows you to even handle some of the sea life.

At the far end of the 150 foot floating exhibition is a theatre area. Seating provides everyone a great view from any seat. A guide welcomes you into the world beneath the surface of the ocean and introduces you to one of the divers. Able to interact with onlookers by communicating through a full-face mask, the diver encourages you to ask questions and responds to them and takes you on a narrated journey into the deep.

Some of the creatures you are likely to see are crabs starfish, anemones, salmon, rockfish, perch, wolf eels, and ‘Armstrong’ the giant Pacific octopus. The total tour is about 45 – 60 minutes, but you’re welcome to go back through the viewing areas after the show and upstairs to the Treasure Cove gift shop.

Miniature Town

Known locally as “The greatest little Show on earth”

Miniature World - The greatest Little show in the World

You have to visit this intriguing place if you come to Victoria with children

This is an attraction not to be missed if you visit Victoria with children; actually, it’s a delight for adults and children alike.

With over 80 different attractions, from two of the world’s Largest Doll houses to one of the world’s largest model railways, you’ll find that time will pass far too quickly.

From the time you enter till the time you are ready to leave, you will experience many different exhibits for example; the city of London, the Enchanted valley of Castles, Circus World, Swiss family Robinson, Space 2201, Fields of glory depicting the better remembered wars, and so much more.

You can find Miniature World located on the north side of the Empress Hotel in Victoria.

Imax Theatre

I love the immersive feeling of the IMAX film experience. The clear vivid images and penetrating surround sound that make you feel as if you are part of the movie. The building is 6 stories high and 81ft wide attracting 4 million people locally and billions around the world. Victoria’s IMAX is located in the Royal BC Museum close to the inner habour. It is a great family outing and appeals to all ages. They offer annual passes at a good price.

Sight-seeing (horse & carriage)

Sightseeing along Victoria's Inner Harbour

Cinderella Style horse and Carriage

If you want to feel like royalty,, you could make believe you are by taking a 45 minute tour in your own horse-drawn Cinderella carriage. The tour travels through historical James Bay, along Victoria's pictureque waterfront, into the oldest part of the city and Beacon Hill Park. Your private tour guide will point out many of the sights - best enjoyed at this relaxed pace, yucked under a warm blanket.

Your relaxing trip transports you past the prominent Empress Hotel, the Church of Our Lord - one of the oldest churches in Victoria, established in 1874, and past St. Anne's Academy; a rambling convent that was renovated in the 1990s.

 Pedi-cabs

Also run by the Tour Victoria company, your custom designed pedicabs’ size and quietness allow you special access to gorgeous neighbourhood streets and garden paths, with several dismounting breaks that other tour vehicles cannot offer. Smell the flowers and photograph spectacular panoramas (or have your well-informed guide take photos for you!)  Locals will approach you with their usual friendliness, instead of the frequent scowls reserved for noisy and smelly overcrowded diesel tour buses.

Thunderbird Park

Thunderbird Park is one of downtown Victoria’s most extraordinary landmarks; the park’s imposing display of totem poles and big houses has made it a tourist attraction for nearly 60 years. View totem poles carved and painted by first-nations artists in the Kwakwaka’wakw big house during the summer months.

Beacon Hill Park 

Cherry-blossoms in the Spring

Beacon Hill Park is a restful garden filled with wonderful blooms

2 blocks from the inner harbour is Beacon Hill Park, home to many species of birds including ducks, peacocks and blue heron as well as predators such as bald eagles. These birds congregate near the Goodacre and Fountain lakes. Paths and bridges lead you through the 200 acre park, past playing fields, picnic areas, viewing benches and wonderfully shady areas ideal to spread a blanket and wait for that perfect camera shot.

Since 1882 the park has often been a retreat for many Victorians, because of the close proximity to downtown; the gardens offer a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of life, a perfect background for taking photographs; which has made it a popular spot for - wedding photographs, and family photo-shoots.

Dragon Boat Race

Dragonboat Racing

Dragonboat Racing

The Victoria Dragon Boat Festival has been a favourite event for paddlers and visitors from across North America. Our city and dedicated volunteers welcome you to Victoria’s Inner Habour for an un-rivaled summer experience of festival excitement and camaraderie. This is a colourful event that definitely presents a great photo opportunity and should appear on every photographer’s bucket-list.

Whale watching

There is no sea going experience quite like watching, close-up, a sleek whale weighing thousands of pounds cavorting in its natural habitat. Up and down the coast of Vancouver Island, from Victoria to Port Hardy and the BC Gulf Islands, Orcas (killer whales), Gray whales and Humpback whales ply the waters and perform their watery rituals. Whale-watching at its best!Whatever else you do on Vancouver Island, don't miss the whale watching trip - you'll have a whale of a tale to tell and the pictures to prove it.

Shopping

Heritage Buildings in Johnston St

A variety of shops line the streets to entice visitors

Now I know that shopping doesn’t have anything to do with photography, unless you are buying new equipment, but what is a trip without scouring the shops? And Victoria is fabulous, whether you are just browsing quaint shops, window shopping or on a major spree, you’ll find everything from antiques to wares made by local artisans to the trendiest designs; all this within easy strolling distance from the inner habour.

 

Shopping along the Quay

Souvinirs and all manner of gifts to take home - on offer

Downtown Victoria’s layout encourages and beckons one to explore its many side streets at an easy pace. If you are like me, you’ll enjoy capturing busy street activities, and shop displays, even though it sometimes has to be done surreptitiously.

One of the main tourist shopping areas is along the picturesque cobblestoned Government Street, with souvenir vendors, old world vintage delights, selling bone china, woollen garments tartans from Scotland and Irish lace. Stop and sample homemade chocolates, the perfect tea or coffee, Italian ice-cream, or admire Native Art, jewellery, and clothing. Victoria also boasts a Christmas shop dedicated to all things Christmassy… one of my favorite places.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA - street scene

Shopping is easy in Victoria

To the right, four blocks along Government Street, you’ll come across Trounce Alley, one of Victoria’s best kept secrets.  European fashion and quaint gift shops will tease the money from your wallets. And if these don’t, just saunter across the street into Bastion Square; once the site of Victoria’s Court House, Law Chambers, a brothel and several hangings. It is now the home of shops and restaurants as well as the Maritime Museum. In the summer you will see the Bastion Square Festival of Arts and a bustling flee market crowded with shutterbugs pointing and shooting in every direction. Don’t be surprised to have local residents offer to take a photograph of your group for you. That’s just the way we do it in this friendly welcoming city.

Just beyond Bastion Square turn left off Douglas Street, onto Yates or Johnston Streets, meander through tastefully restored heritage buildings with exclusive boutiques, in an old-town ambience.  Be sure to find your way to Market Square where you can experience specialty shops, eateries, and the charming Victorian hospitality of the local business owners.

Antique Row is another name for Fort Street, a one way street heading out of downtown Victoria which is devoted to antiques and collectables – shop after shop lure the collector away from the core to a world of rare china, silver vintage jewellery, toys furniture, and other treasures.

Victoria’s shopping extends beyond the city center where modern shopping malls cater to every need.

China Town

 

Taken after dark without a flash

Gates of Harmonious Interest - leading to ChinaTown

Canada’s oldest Chinatown was founded in Victoria in1858. Although it still covers about 6 blocks, it is estimated that during the Gold Rush, Chinatown accounted for about half of Victoria's entire population and was included of over 150 shops, three schools, five temples, two churches and a hospital. Today's Chinatown is much smaller, but it has retained much of its distinct cultural flavour.

At the corner of Government and Fisgard St. stands the ‘Gate of Harmonious Interest’ which is the gateway to Victoria's Chinatown and was installed in 1981; and modeled after those built in China. Its theme is one of Yin & Yang with a Golden Dragon and Red Phoenix featured prominently. Two engravings "To work together with one heart" and "To help each other achieve harmony" alludes to the fact that both Chinese and non-Chinese locals worked together to make this gate possible.

The Chinese Public School located at 636 Fisgard Street was constructed in 1909 and still offers classes in Chinese languages, history and culture.

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum in Victoria is the oldest in Western Canada. It is located at its present position in an 1889 heritage building in Bastion Square. Originally a naval museum located on Signal Hill, outside the gates of HMC Dockyard, the maritime museum, had outgrown the premises by 1965, and moved to its current premises in the Provincial Courthouse.  This non-profit society known as the Maritime Museum was established in 1954 and offers a wide array of informative public, educational and outreach programs. Experience yesterday today, as you travel back in time to the days of pirates, shipwrecks, exploration and discovery. Meet great characters such as Captains James Cook and George Vancouver, observe the territorial see-saw between Russia, the United States and British Canada, and discover the many mysteries of this coast. See ‘Tilikum’, a dugout canoe that sailed from Victoria to England.

Parasailing & windsurfing

"For once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you long to return."
- Leonardo da Vinci

Clover Point has been a major destination for people in cars since 1956, when the loop road was “hard-surfaced and landscaped as a viewpoint parking area.” Parking for 100 cars was announced at that time. In spite of several proposals to eliminate the roadway and create a safer pedestrian-only area, asphalt continues to cover a large portion of the Point and car traffic is heavy.

The grassy centre of the loop and the area west of the Point are popular kite-flying areas. People and their dogs walk the path and the beach. Para-gliders fly along the edge of the bluff to the west while windsurfers and kite-boarders frequent the beach below.

Large crowds gather on Clover Point and nearby bluffs each May for the annual Swiftsure Yacht Race. The starting line is just off the Point and sailboats line up close to shore.

Victoria boasts two Beautiful Castles

 Another must see sight this Castle is a great photographic subject

Really worth visiting and photographing

Craigdarroch Castle was built between 1887-1890 for Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant who made his fortune from Vancouver Island coal. This Victorian mansion, overlooking the City of Victoria  announced to the world that Robert Dunsmuir was the richest and most important man in Western Canada.

Once you've entered the circular room at the main entrance and paid your admission fee, your self-guided tour starts. You will be shown 39 rooms, most furnished lavishly in the 1890s-1900s style, enjoy the ambiance as you climb the 87 stairs to the tower. There you'll see fabulous views of Victoria, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Olympic Mountains. With over 20,000 square feet of interior space, the house and gardens are being restored to the original state; offering a great vacation and photographic experience.

Now privately owned and operated by the Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society, Victoria's legendary landmark is almost totally funded by its 140,000 annual visitors. We also receive support from businesses and individuals who generously sponsor some of the special events.

Hatley Castle showing the supposedly haunted turret

Hatley Castle now the administration building of RRU

Hatley Castle overlooking Esquimalt Lagoon, the Straits of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State – also houses a museum and is the site of the Japanese Gardens. Hatley park is a photographers dream, especially on a late summer afternoon.

On the grounds of Hatley Park now home to Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, stands the stately Hatley Castle which was completed in 1908.

From 1941 until 1943 when Grant Block was completed, the Castle served as dormitory and mess hall for cadets and staff officers at Royal Roads Military College.

It is now the administrative centre of Royal Roads University. Built by James Dunsmuir, brother of Robert Dunsmuir in 1904  its impressive exterior is matched only by the luxury of the interior; oak and rosewood panelled rooms, baronial fireplace, teak floors, and specially made lighting fixtures. The building is 200 feet long and 86 feet wide; the turret is 82 feet high. The wall surrounding the estate, also built of local hand-hewn stone

 



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