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photo courtesy of PictureBC
Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, oozes charm amidst beautiful surroundings. Feeling more like a friendly town than a vibrant city, it offers something for everyone. It has gained a reputation for its "British" character due to its colonial history and still has a touch of quaintness usually lost in larger cities. Greater Victoria includes a busy downtown, small oceanside communities and quiet country areas all in a compact peninsula at the south-eastern end of Vancouver Island. Plan to stay a few days to enjoy its many attractions and activities while relaxing in its peaceful beauty. There are many Bed and Breakfast accommodations throughout the whole area.
Victoria, "The Garden City", has a moderate Mediterranean-like climate welcoming visitors year-round. Visitors arrive via Victoria International Airport or on ferry services from Vancouver BC or from Seattle and other Washington State centres. Immediately upon arrival you begin to feel the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of this lovely place and you will feel yourself begin to unwind.
In downtown Victoria walk through heritage architecture set around the picturesque Inner Harbour where pleasure craft and float planes create a hum of activity. You could take a harbour ferry; small tugboat-shaped passenger ferries which weave their way across the Inner Harbour, providing a different perspective of downtown Victoria. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride and tour the Parliament Buildings. Allow half a day for the Royal British Columbia Museum, one of the best in Canada, for its extensive displays of local and native history and its IMAX theatre.
Savor traditional afternoon tea in many different settings: in elegant grandeur, in outdoor gardens or cozy little tearooms. Victoria has the second highest number of restaurants per capita in North America so your choice for dining is very broad, from ethnic cuisine to fish and chips! Walk north along Government Street through downtown, exploring the interesting shops tucked in the side streets and select a gift or two. You will reach Chinatown which was once one of the largest on the continent. Enjoy "window shopping" or pick up a treasure by walking east along Antique Row (Fort Street) which extends to elegant Craigdarroch Castle, a family mansion of the 1890's.
Set on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria offers a wide variety of marine recreation. Whale-watching tours offer spectacular viewing of orcas in their natural setting. These tours respect the marine environment and provide a wealth of information on the many other marine animals you may see. Alternatively, there's fishing, sailing and kayaking, idyllic ways to enjoy the natural scenery. Activities on land include year-round golf on fifteen courses, horseback riding, strolling along ocean beaches or just sunbathing at a quiet lake. Hiking options vary from casual walks (like at Goldstream Park along a stream where salmon spawn in an old-growth forest) to serious hiking on the many trails in the parks and surrounding hills (such as the Juan de Fuca Trail on the west coast). Bike trails on the peninsula extending to Sooke offer scenic cycling on the Galloping Goose Trail and the Lochside Trail.
The deservedly famous Butchart Gardens on the Saanich Peninsula are just north of Victoria with 50 acres of display gardens which are beautiful at any time of year and illuminated in the evenings and at Christmas. In the peninsula's lovely countryside consider visiting farm fruit stands or tour wineries where you can sample and buy British Columbia estate wines. Other attractions here include the Butterfly Gardens (50 species), Glendale Gardens, the Centre of the Universe (the interpretative centre at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory) and Saanich Commonwealth Place, with its full-size pool, wave pool, sauna, steam room and extensively equipped gym. A pleasant way to drive to the rural parts of the peninsula from downtown is to go through Oak Bay to Cordova Bay via Mount Douglas Park which has good views of Victoria, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State and the Gulf Islands across to mainland BC. Further north, near the airport and BC Ferries terminal, lies the retiring town of Sidney, renowned for its many bookshops and pleasant marina area where you can take a short ferry hop to the island of Sidney Spit for a picnic.
Sooke is just 40 minutes west of Victoria with glorious beaches, parks and marine recreation opportunities in a quiet semi-rural setting. En route visit Hatley Castle which was built by the same family as Craigdarroch Castle, and enjoy the wonderful gardens. Then make a short detour to Fisgard Lighthouse, a classic old lighthouse, which now contains exhibits of the many past wrecks along this coast. Continuing west you pass through Metchosin and will shortly arrive at two British Columbia provincial parks which both have good trails: Sooke Potholes (a popular swimming spot) and East Sooke Provincial Park. Past the small town of Sooke this west coast road leads to solitude on the way to Port Renfrew, passing French Beach, China Beach and the Juan de Fuca Trail.
The charm of Greater Victoria extends to its many B&Bs. Victoria Bed and Breakfasts include accommodations at downtown heritage homes, oceanfront guest houses, contemporary homes, country manor houses and elegant inns. All include a full breakfast. Their hosts will be delighted to share local secrets and be your travel guide to help you make the most of your visit to Victoria British Columbia.