Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Victoria in British Columbia has long been a preferred destination for travelers, thanks to the city’s year-round mild temps, idyllic manicured gardens, abundant outdoor and nature-inspired activities, and rich history (including the oldest Chinatown in Canada!). Here, we’ve uncovered the best of the best places to go, see, and do in this flower-filled island town dubbed the City of Gardens.
Situated two blocks from the Inner Harbor, this stylish boutique hotel is a downtown refuge with 64 guestrooms designed by BBA Design Consultants (of Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler and The Wickaninnish in Tofino). The amenities include soaking tubs, two-poster beds, writing desks, and fireplaces in select rooms. At the onsite spa, book a relaxing massage, or borrow a Norco e-bike and pedal around town. For a self-guided tour of the city, pick up one of the hotel’s bespoke curated maps, which detail everything from craft breweries and top tapas eateries to walking tours that set off from the lobby’s front door
Built in 1927 by Major William Charles Mersten, this English Manor-style hotel was destroyed by just fire three years later and laboriously rebuilt on the same site. Today, the family-owned property surrounded by the Salish Sea has been completely restored with 100 rooms, and the highlights include paintings by local artists, bathrooms with heated tile floors, rain showers, soaking tubs, and balconies or decks. Take a stroll down Willows Beach or relax at the onsite spa, or take a dip in one of three heated outdoor mineral pools.
Opened in 1908, this beloved 431-room property has hosted the likes of dignitaries and celebrities including Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth, John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and Katharine Hepburn. Designated a National Historic Site 32 years ago, the hotel—originally designed by architect Francis Rattenbury, who also built the nearby British Columbia Parliament Buildings—underwent a massive multi-million-dollar renovation that included the addition of 22 Fairmont Gold suites replete with a lounge that offers complimentary breakfast, all-day snacks, and evening canapes. For the ultimate tea experience, don’t miss daily afternoon tea service in the lobby. The selection includes ethically sourced teas from Lot 35, honey extracted from onsite beehives, English cucumber sandwiches, and freshly baked raisin scones paired with housemade clotted cream and preserves made from local berries.
Poised right along the Inner Harbor and just a short walk to the Victoria Clipper Ferry Terminal, the hotel features 304 rooms with timeless furnishings, complimentary Wi-Fi, and flat panel HDTVs. Amenities include a West Coast-influenced restaurant, Fathom, and the Victoria Athletic Club, a full fitness facility with a squash court, sauna, hot tub, and a 25-meter indoor lap pool. For more space, guests can book a suite with a four-poster king bed, brass table lamps, fireplaces, a dining area for six, and private walk-out balconies.
For more than a century, the storied sanctuary has lured visitors across the globe to its 55 sprawling acres dotted with 900 plant varieties. The gardens, a designated National Historic Site of Canada, were born as a solution to a limestone quarry in the backyard of Jennie Butchart and her husband, Robert. Today, the grounds comprise five gardens ranging from the 21,780-acre Italian Garden (once the site of the family tennis court), to the one-acre Japanese Garden with 74 Japanese Maple trees and an impressive Torri gate.
French Beach Provincial Park
Located on the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the western end of the island, this park was established in 1974 and is a prime viewing spot for gray whales during the migration season in spring and summer, plus orcas and harbor seals. Pack a lunch and take a seat on one of several picnic tables on a grassy lawn area, take a hike, or go for a beach walk.
Suit up in gloves, a beanie, and a warm all-weather Mustang survival suit to embark on a guided whale-watching and marine life adventure. On the 12-passenger lemon-yellow zodiac, expect to feel the wind through your hair while zipping up to 35 miles per hour. You’ll view everything from bald eagles to sea lions and, if luck strikes, even a pod of killer whales. If you don’t see whales on the tour, don’t worry. The company will invite you back to join another day for free.
Beacon Hill Park
Stretching more than 62 acres, the idyllic Beacon Hill Park in downtown Victoria is a local favorite for quiet reflection, a picnic, or a workout on its numerous walking paths and trails. Dotted with lakes, footbridges, a petting zoo, sports fields, forests, and gardens, the outdoor oasis is also home to the 127-foot-tall hand-carved Story Totem, once the tallest totem pole in the world.
Tucked in the middle of seemingly nowhere, off a woodsy highway on the west coast of Vancouver Island, this storybook-like wooden A-frame eatery is the brainchild of Sheena Mercer, who singlehandedly opened it with a credit card. The teeny cafe, which has now amassed a loyal following with daily lines winding out the door, features a menu of made-from-scratch vegan muffins and scones, sandwiches, soups, salads, and a house signature: the pork and caramelized apple sausage roll. Grab a seat on a picnic table outside, comb the retail shop for handmade greeting cards (some designed by the staff), and mingle with locals while you wait.
Inspired by her experience making dumplings at home with her mother, Thailand–born Tarn Tayanunth launched this Chinatown dumpling shop in 2018, and has been serving up her handmade puffy, pinched dough balls ever since. The selection includes savory flavors such as shrimp and chives, spicy ginger beef, lemongrass chicken, and vegan triple mushroom. In a hurry? Pick up a bag or two to go. Just don’t forget a jar of to-die-for housemade chili oil.
Opened by chef and owner Corbin Mathany earlier this year in a once-neglected building in the heart of Chinatown, this fine dining restaurant—featuring exposed brick walls and black-and-white photography—offers tasting menus with four or seven courses (a la carte is also available) and a rotating menu using locally sourced and hand-foraged ingredients. Standout dishes include local manila clam chow mein with kimchi and salted egg yolk, and charcoal-grilled Parry Bay lamb paired with eggplant, Saanich carrots, and nouc cham.
Located in the lobby of the Magnolia Hotel & Spa, the European-inspired brasserie is lined with industrial modern pendant lamps, tufted leather banquettes, herringbone wood floor, and commissioned abstract artwork by local artist Blu Smith. The menu is a nod to Pacific Northwest cuisine with dinner selections including BC prawn bisque with kohlrabi, tomato, crème fraîche, chili, sumac cracker, and beef striploin with onion and spruce marmalade and topped with bordelaise sauce.
Husband-and-wife duo Jason and Alayne MacIsaac built this small-batch gin distillery out of their home garage in nearby Shirley. Now, the well-known brand has a permanent home in Langford with a massive facility and tasting room. Here, sample spirits including the Rhubarb gin made with locally grown rhubarb, lemon, and star anise, and the award-winning Seaside Gin made with an artful blend of juniper, rose, cardamom, coriander, citrus, and local, sustainably harvested winged kelp. For a taste of other spirits, try the distillery’s vodka or coffee liqueur made from local coffee beans from nearby coffee shop, The Stick In The Mud.
The historic emporium—housed in a former HBC department store building (dubbed the Hudson Bay Building) that dates to 1921—features all things food and drink under one roof. Prepare to spend at least an hour here, sampling everything from locally roasted coffee and handmade pretzels and bagels to homemade pies and made-to-order tacos.
Founded in 1885 when self-taught chocolatier Charles “Candy” Rogers first concocted confections in the back room of a grocery store he owned with wife, Leah, and later expanded to the current location on Government Street, this celebrated chocolate company has gained recognition worldwide for its decadent chocolates. The creations span Victoria creams filled with mint, raspberry, and maple, and bars in flavors such as butter caramel dark chocolate and honeycomb milk chocolate. Take home a 28-piece Heritage Tin with a historic black-and-white photo tracing the company’s roots, or a 15-piece art tin paying homage to local marine life with original artwork by local artist Misha Smart.
Owned by floral artist Erica Smolders, the 400-square-foot part floral studio, part lifestyle boutique, has become a city mainstay for locals and travelers alike. The airy shop houses a well-edited selection of handmade ceramic vessels by Vancouver–based ceramicist Caitlin Prince, natural cotton-wicked candles by Los Angeles–based brand Roen, a selection of dried flowers, and market tote bags.
Founded more than 40 years ago by Linda Quiring and now operated by her son, Gary, and his wife, Amber, this ecominded company is rooted in using organic and botanical ingredients for its handmade skincare products, essential oils, and apothecary goods. Located on famed Fan Tan Alley (the narrowest commercial street in North America), the clean-lined shop is stocked with concoctions all made on nearby Salt Spring Island, with varieties that range from rosemary mint room sprays and charcoal neroli facial bars to sparkling rhubarb foaming bath.
Hop aboard a retired WWII ship turned floating spa in the Inner Harbor for the ultimate thermal spa experience. Outfitted with three hand-built dry saunas, two cold pools, two hot tubs, outdoor showers, a relaxation cabin, a garden boutique, and a retail area, the completely refurbished modern oasis is clad with Knoll chaise lounges and salvaged cedar driftwood from Vancouver Island. And there’s no need to fret about getting seasick—the spa is permanently docked.
Dotted with canvas-tented picnic areas, apple trees, an rusty car turned greenhouse, and a sprawling lavender field, this husband-and-wife-owned farm (one of the original settlements in 1851 by the Hudson Bay Company) is the ideal spot for weddings, events, and picnics. Located in Sooke, approximately 20 minutes from Victoria, the woodsy property features an original farmhouse, a small cafè, and a farm shop featuring housemade culinary and homewares produced from lavender grown onsite, including wildflower honey, facial toning mist, lavender bath salts, and lavender hot chocolate.
Conceived by local foodie, entrepreneur, and tour guide Bonnie Todd, the guided culinary tours encompass multiple city stops tailored to dietary preferences. In a matter of hours, cover as much culinary ground as possible with tours ranging from the “Modern Chinatown Food & History” tour highlighting samplings from seven different establishments, to the newly launched “Fine Dining” tour, a progressive four-course meal at a crop of top city restaurants.
Founded in 1886, this museum is a trove for current exhibitions including Dinosaurs of BC with a model of “Buster” or Iron Lizard from the Sustut River in Northern British Columbia, and BC Archives on Display, featuring photographs of wilderness pioneer Yukon Joe. At the onsite gift shop, check out an edited mix of take-home items and gifts such as travel mugs depicting prints of famed Canadian artist Emily Carr’s paintings, or a ceramic bowl made by Indigenous artist Kelly Robinson.