Why go?

The provincial capital of British Columbia is one of Canada’s most charming small cities, a mountain-backed, waterfront gem with a quaint old centre and a medley of worthwhile sights and attractions that are easily seen by cruise visitors with a morning or more to spare.

Cruise port location

Cruise ships dock at the modest Ogden Point Cruise Terminal, less than a mile (1.4km) southwest of the Inner Harbour, the heart of central Victoria. Taxis and shuttles are available, but it is a pleasant 15-minute walk to the sights through a leafy residential neighbourhood. Turn right (east) on Dallas Road from the terminal and then fourth left on Oswego Street to Belleville Street.

Can I walk to places of interest?

Once you have reached the Inner Harbour everything you want to see is easily seen on foot with the exception of the Butchart Gardens (see below). Allow 30 minutes to walk to two minor historic Victoria-era houses – Craigdarroch Castle and Point Ellice House and Gardens.

Getting around

Use public buses if you don’t want to walk to Craigdarroch Castle and jump aboard one of the tiny H20 Taxi boats run by Victoria Harbour Ferry for Point Ellice House and 12 other points around the Inner harbour. BC Transit buses 75 and 31 link to the Butchart Gardens, but a change of bus is generally required, so if time is short it pays to take an expensive shuttle that usually includes admission to the gardens.

What to see and do

Victoria is the sort of place where it’s a pleasure simply to wander the picturesque streets, but in the Royal British Columbia Museum it boasts one of North America’s finest museums.

Horticulture fans should make a stop at Butchart Gardens

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If you have more time, consider a whale-watching excursion or a trip out of the city to the celebrated – but busy – Butchart Gardens.

What can I do in four hours or less?

Walk from the cruise terminal to the Inner Harbour, admire the grand 19th-century Parliament Buildings and then visit the neighbouring Royal British Columbia Museum, which contains superb displays on the history, natural history, indigenous peoples and many other aspects of British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.

This will leave you around two hours, which you should devote to exploring the small historic centre of the city, bounded by Fisgard Street to the north and Blanshard Street to the east. The independent shops and cafés of Market Square off Johnson Street and the Maritime Museum and adjoining Bastion Square make good targets.

Book ahead for afternoon tea at the grand Empress Hotel

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Afternoon tea is a popular Victoria ritual, with the elegant lounges of the historic Empress Hotel the most genteel – and most expensive – place to indulge. Booking is recommended. Allow an hour.

Alternatively, jump aboard one of the tiny boats run by Victoria Harbour Ferry for water-based sightseeing of the Inner Harbour and the city beyond. The boats run as ferries between 13 points but the company also offers tours.

What can I do in eight hours or less?

Eight hours will allow you to combine much of the above – the RBC Museum and city centre exploration are the key attractions – with one of either a whale-watching trip or an excursion to the Butchart Gardens.

If time allows, a zodiac boat trip can bring passengers up close to orcas

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Numerous operators offer near-identical whale-watching trips, typically three-hour excursions by Zodiac from around C$110. Two of the longest-established operators are Five Star Charters and Orca Spirit. The region has resident pods of around 100 orcas, plus minke, greys and humpbacks, with sightings of porpoises, seals and sea lions also possible.

The Butchart Gardens date from 1904 and occupy a former quarry 15 miles (24km) north of the Inner Harbour. Getting there under your own steam can be time-consuming so consider one of several ticket-coach shuttle combinations (see above).

The gardens are some Canada’s most celebrated, comprising rose, Japanese and Italianate gardens, and over 700 species and a million individual plants, shrubs and trees. It’s as well to note, however, they are extremely popular – over 500,000 visitors a year – so be prepared for crowds and book shuttle services well in advance.

Market Square is a good spot to grab a bite to eat

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Eat and drink

Victoria has a range of excellent restaurants, with an emphasis on fish and seafood but also on the Asian-inspired fusion popular across much of western Canada. Visit Market Square for lighter meals and snacks, and look out for craft beers from the Driftwood, Vancouver Island and Philips breweries. Fish and chips and afternoon tea are also local staples.

Don’t leave without…

Victoria plays up to its British heritage with plenty of appropriately themed souvenirs, but you’ll find more interesting local arts and crafts, including work from the indigenous peoples of Vancouver Island, in the many galleries and speciality shops dotted around the backstreets of the downtown core.

Need to know

Flight time

If you are joining one of the many Alaskan cruises that start and finish in Vancouver, then Victoria is an easy day-trip by air from the city before or after your cruise. Regular seaplane departures link Vancouver’s downtown waterfront with Victoria’s Inner Harbour in 30 minutes.

Craigdarroch Castle

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Safety

Victoria is a safe city and you can be confident about exploring independently.

Best time to go

Victoria has a mild climate by Canadian standards, but it can be rainy outside the summer months. July and August have the best weather, but also see the most visitors.

Closures

Many sights close or have restricted opening hours from early September to mid-May.

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