This small Vancouver Island town punches way above its weight thanks to its status as British Columbia's capital and its location perched on the ocean. Its streets are dotted with locally owned cafés and restaurants, bohemian shops, and about a dozen craft breweries. Long, quiet stretches of beach rimmed with bike paths look across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Olympic Mountains and, for amblers, an array of city and private gardens earn Victoria the nickname "City of Gardens."
When to Go: An August floating concert, the Symphony Splash by the Victoria Symphony, packs the inner harbor with boats. Taste: Victoria's Festival of Food and Wine draws food lovers in July. January until May, the rhododendron woodland in Abkhazi Garden blazes with color, and the roses bloom June to September at Butchart Gardens, a national historic site of Canada. A five-minute drive away, take a walking tour inside the tropical confines of Victoria Butterfly Gardens, home to more than 3,000 free-flying butterflies.
How to Get Around: The harbor ferry zips you around the city harbor. Downtown and the shops of Government Street and Lower Johnson Street are easily walkable. Beacon Hill Park is right on the edge of downtown and the Dallas Road beaches are at the end of the park.
Where to Stay: The iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel is Victoria's 477-room grande dame on the Inner Harbor. Splurge for one of the 45 Fairmont Gold rooms or suites for the harbor views, private Concierge Lounge, and lavish breakfast buffet. Even if you don't stay at the Empress, reserve a table for afternoon tea, a tradition here since 1908. If you have kids in tow, they'll enjoy the wild ducks in the pond outside the Hotel Grand Pacific—and you'll appreciate the one-bedroom family suites with refrigerator, microwave, and an assortment of board games.
Where to Eat or Drink: The local fresh menu changes daily at Camille's in Bastion Square, but Qualicum Bay scallops and arctic char are regular mains, along with caribou and elk. Funky Red Fish Blue Fish (open February 1 to November 1) cooks up lightly battered fish and chips from a cargo container-turned-kitchen on an Inner Harbor pier. Rain-or-shine seating is on outdoor picnic tables.
Crumsby's Cupcake Café co-owner Maria Elwood didn't leave her early childhood background behind when designing her family's cupcake cafés in Estevan Village and Royal Oak. Both shops (Royal Oak's is in an old schoolhouse) have chalkboards, play spaces, and toys along with the made-from-scratch mini-cupcakes and CrumsPies personal pizzas.
Local resident Anna Russo recommends Fol Epi bakery at Dockside Green. "The owner makes the best croissants I have tasted outside of Paris," she says. "Maybe even including Paris, frankly."
What to Read Before You Go: American journalist and now Victoria resident Stanley Evans' mystery/crime fiction Seaweed series is set in the capital city and offers a window into the region's Aboriginal culture and mythology. For a totally different perspective, prize-winning Canadian poet Marilyn Bowering's novel To All Appearances a Lady (Viking Adult, 1990) recalls the early days of the city and its Chinese population.
What to Buy: Stroll between the brightly painted storefronts on Lower Johnson Street, or LoJo, to shop for kitschy gifts like Bacon Magnetic Poetry at Oscar & Libby's and the "sinfully good chocolate" at Oh Sugar, a family-owned candy store stocking sweets from 45 countries. From the Inner Harbor, it's a quick three-block walk to Hill's Native Art and the city's widest collection of First Nations products, including Cowichan sheep wool sweaters, sweetgrass baskets, and limited edition silkscreen prints.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Helpful Link: Tourism Victoria
Fun Fact: At Victoria's Maritime Museum of British Columbia, you can ride the oldest operating birdcage elevator in North America. Installed in 1899, the gilded car with its lacy grillwork was designed for second Chief Justice Theodore Davie who, sadly, died before the elevator was ready.