Victoria, British Columbia, a small Canadian city on the Pacific coast of North America, has spent the first two decades of the 21st century molding itself into a diverse regional tourism district offering a wide array of the exciting activities that today’s travelers demand.
The region stretches from the truly rugged Pacific Coast of Vancouver Island on the city’s western flank to the tranquil Gulf Islands bobbing charmingly along the eastern shoreline and accessible by ferry, floatplane or recreational yacht. It includes 13 adjoining towns and municipal districts with nearly 400,000 residents across the southern end of Vancouver Island.
Tourism in Victoria performs a fine balancing act between urban and wild, active and educational, challenging and relaxing, with a menu of memorable experiences for every age demographic. No need to wander far to find scenic walking, hiking, cycling, whale-watching, surfing, and sea- kayaking adventures ranging from a few hours to a whole day, or even multi-day tours. Thanks to the mild year-round weather and active, outdoor mindset of its population, as well as large investments in safe biking routes and trail networks, Victoria was declared the most bike-friendly city in Canada for 2019. Bike rental shops offer full- and half-day guided tours for small groups, as well as self-guided tours with maps or simply bike rentals to go it on your own.
Around the almost circular Inner Harbour during spring, summer, and fall, musicians of different ethnic backgrounds and genres perform, and there are dozens of fine artists at work, many of whom are First Nations (indigenous Canadians). A few minutes’ walk from the harbor is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, 150 years and still vibrant with authentic flavors and oriental fragrances emanating from every shop and narrow alleyway.
Never may I be accused of underrating the remarkable 55 acres that make up the year-round floral masterpiece that is The Butchart Gardens (butchartgardens. com). It is a 40-minute car or bus ride from downtown and worthy of a minimum half-day visit. Or combine a seaplane flightseeing tour with a spectacular inlet landing at the Butchart dock, followed by a sumptuous afternoon tea in the garden dining room.
Southern Vancouver Island offers the perfect climate to transform a wide range of grape varietals into impressive wines at owner-operated boutique wineries. Two local cideries offer tours of their farms, with hundreds of apple trees of different historic lineage and a sample “flight” of different ciders made there. There is also a well-established meadery (alcoholic honey) and several craft spirits distilleries, all receiving international recognition.
Much earlier out the “spirits” gate, the Fairmont Empress Hotel (fairmont.com/ empress-victoria) launched its famous blue artisanal Empress 1908 gin, still a unique request from many visitors and a perfect Victoria souvenir.
Not surprisingly, Victoria annually garners recognition in prestigious publications. When Victoria made the Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice list of “10 Friendliest Cities in the World” — now, that brought a smile to the face of this resident of nearly 30 years. It is fine to boast about the mild climate, manicured gardens and world-class museums, the mix of awesome nature, the arts, culinary adventures, and the shopping, but when visitors notice that Victoria is among the world’s most friendly cities, that moves my hometown to a whole new level.
Victoria International Marina (VIM) Victoria Middle Harbor
The only dedicated superyacht marina in Canada or on the West Coast of the Americas. Floating concrete docks accommodate yachts up to 240 feet, max draft 10-16 feet. Wi-Fi/fiber, water, pump out, crew lounge, 50/100 amp single and three-phase power, concierge service, secure underground parking, luxury showers, gym, and event space. Boom+Baton full-service restaurant and coffee shop on site. A 10-minute waterfront walk into downtown. Fuel and customs immediately across the harbor at CSBA Raymur Point dock.vimarina.ca
Wharf Street Marina Victoria Inner Harbour
Floating concrete docks accommodate yachts up to 150 feet. WiFi, 30/50/100 amp power, fuel at Victoria Marine Fuels Fisherman’s Wharf in the harbor. Washrooms, showers, laundry next to the marina. Steps from downtown eateries, attractions, and amenities. Mandatory online reservations. Customs at CBSA Raymur Point dock in the harbor. gvha.ca/marinas-facilities/wharf-st
Ship Point Marina Victoria Inner Harbour
Floating concrete docks accommodate yachts up
to 150 feet. WiFi, 30/50 amp power plus 100 amp three-phase 208 volt and 100 amp three-phase
480 volt, fuel at Victoria Marine Fuels Fisherman’s
Wharf in the harbor. Steps from downtown
eateries, attractions, and amenities. Mandatory
online reservations. Customs at CBSA Raymur Point dock in the harbor. gvha.ca/marinas-facilities/causeway-inner-harbour
Port Sidney Marina One-hour cruise from Victoria harbor
Floating concrete docks accommodate yachts up to 140 feet, max draft 12 feet. Wifi, 15/30/50 amp power, pump out, water, laundry, 40×50-foot event tent for special events, retail clothing, chandlery, yacht sales and charters, marine supply store. CBSA customs clearance at the marina. portsidney.com
Mill Bay Marina One-hour 45-minute cruise north of Victoria Harbour
Floating docks accommodate yachts up to 300 feet. Wifi, 30 and 50 amp power, pump out, water, fuel, washroom, shower, laundry facilities, on-site Oceanfront Bistro, close walking distance to groceries and amenities. Nearest customs clearance at Port Sidney Marina, Sidney, BC. millbaymarina.ca
AIRPORTS & AIR SERVICES
Victoria International Airport (YYJ)7,400-foot runway, customs available. victoriaairport.com
Harbour Air Seaplanes
Daily departures between Victoria’s Inner Harbour and seven British Columbia coastal destinations. harbourair.com
Scheduled Vancouver Harbour Heliport and Victoria Harbour Heliport near downtown Victoria. helijet.com
ATTRACTIONS & ACTIVITIES
Ttwo-hour walking and tasting tour around Chinatown, Victoria’s oldest quarter. One of “Canada’s Top 10 Experiences” on TripAdvisor and the No. 1-rated food tour in the country for two years running! atasteofvictoriafoodtours.com
Four-hour guided tour by luxury minivan featuring tastings at the award-winning boutique wineries, cideries and distilleries of the picturesque Saanich Peninsula. arcadiatours.ca
Bike rentals or guided tours. The 6.5-mile “Eat.Drink. Pedal” tour is a foodie’s delight, and the 6-mile “Hoppy Hour Ride” features tastings at the finest breweries. thepedaler.ca
With his 40 years of fresh and saltwater fishing experience and a vast knowledge of the indigenous species, Capt. Kingsley Grant offers guests an unparalleled adventure catching halibut, salmon, rockfish or lingcod on a spacious 33-foot vessel. fishoakbay.com
Twofiveo Tour Co.
Tours of internationally-awarded wineries, cideries, and breweries in the Cowichan Valley, an hour north of Victoria. twofiveotourco.com
Harbour Air Seaplanes
Harbour Air offers a “Classic Panorama” flight tour over Greater Victoria, as well as “Soar ‘n Sip,” which includes a stop at The Butchart Gardens for tea and a stroll. harbourair.com
A 2,000-foot TreeWalk through an arbutus forest leading to a spectacular spiral ramp that entices guests up
105 feet to a lookout with views of Finlayson Arm, the Saanich Peninsula, Mount Baker volcano, and the Coast Mountains. malahatskywalk.com
Rent a fleet vehicle to test your skills on a half-day “Taste of the Circuit” or choose a guide-led tour of this country road region while sampling different luxury brand vehicles from behind the wheel. islandmotorsportcircuit.com
VICTORIA-BASED ALISON GARDNER IS A TRAVEL WRITER AND EDITOR OF TRAVELWITHACHALLENGE.COM, AN ONLINE MAGAZINE FOR MATURE TRAVELERS FEATURING ECOLOGICAL, EDUCATIONAL, CULTURAL, AND VOLUNTEER VACATIONS WORLDWIDE.