Victoria, BC has always been one of my favorite vacation spots, so when the opportunity to escape the summer heat and spend a few days there, I was elated. We traded our Vacation Internationale (VI) points on a 1 bedroom unit right on Government Street downtown. The location was ideal and we were happy we opted NOT to rent a car! Parking in Victoria is very tight and expensive. We could walk to every site on our list except The Butchart Gardens and the Airport and we already formulated a plan for both.
We flew from Las Vegas through Seattle to Victoria International Airport (YYJ) on Alaska Air. The Victoria airport is about an hour ride to Downtown. The most convenient transportation to Downtown from the airport is YYJ Airport Shuttle, which costs about $25/pp each way. They do drop off at or near most hotels, but they stop at many other hotels along the way. We opted for the public bus system. There was a bus stop just outside the arrival terminal that took us to the transfer point. The cost for a bus ride is $2.50 for each adult, but an all day pass is only $5.00 per person and you need a fare for each portion of the trip (exact change).
The connector bus dropped us two blocks from our hotel downtown in approximately 1 hour and 5 minutes and we enjoyed the sites along the way. We had a large suitcase, so we did not take advantage of the double decker 2nd level. We found the bus drivers friendly and helpful, but some busses are very crowded so you could end up standing or waiting for a less crowded bus. The buses are timely and seem to arrive about every 20 minutes with the schedule posted at each stop. Just don’t forget to have the driver notify you of your approaching stop or ring the “call button” prior to your stop or you will zoom right past your stop! Drivers only stop if someone rings the call button or if their is someone waiting to board. Google Maps is extremely helpful since it provides the Bus Stop location, the bus number, approximate time of pickup and length of trip.
Now before I go on and on about the beauty and enchantment in store for you in Victoria, let me tell you about the seagulls. Evidently it is also a highly popular destination for the seagull community and at times we saw more seagulls per capita than anything else. The city is unfortunately decorated with seagull droppings and even the ritzy hotels can barely keep up with the problem. Fortunately, we only saw one person bombed by seagull poop and it was not me! That is the ONLY negative for us about Victoria, unless you are there on an excessively hot summer day and require air conditioning. If you are sensitive to heat, you may want to check with your hotel. We were told that it was extraordinarily warm during our visit in July, but being dessert rats we were fine with just a fan.
No doubt your first impression of the city will be the abundance of flowers. There are colorful hanging baskets lining every street. The lawns are manicured meticulously with flower gardens of every color. But don’t let that keep you from booking a side trip to the pinnacle of all flower gardens, The Butchart Gardens!! For Day #1 we had arranged our transportation on Big Bus Victoria through Groupon, so we got our transportation and entrance fee at half price with the added bonus of riding the Big Bus around the city before and after. In retrospect, I should have scheduled the Big Bus Tour separately from the Buschart Garden excursion, because it only allowed us 2 hours in the Gardens. At night the gardens come alive with lighting effects and on summer Saturdays there is a fireworks show.
I had been to Butchart Gardens previously when the roses were in full bloom and the impact of the fragrances and color was unforgettable. In July, the rose archways had already dwindled and faded in color, buy by no means was I disappointed with the Sunken Gardens, the Japanese Gardens and the other beautiful areas. I would definitely add this to anyone’s MUST-SEE list!
On Day #2 we had arranged a 3-hour whale-watching trip with Springtide Whale Watching (also purchased at a discount through Travelzoo). I was prepared to see a pod of Orcas, which is the norm rather than the exception. However, we were thrilled instead by four humpback whale sightings and we were very close. The crew furnished hot chocolate, coffee and water and the naturalists on board educated us and kept us up to date on potential sightings. They even had a few extra jackets to dole out to those who had not heeded the warnings of potential cool foggy temperatures. Also, the waters were relatively calm and no one experienced sea sickness. There was an option to take the Zodiac trip and again I think we chose wisely. The lack of bathrooms and the bulky rain gear being provided to Zodiac passengers was not enticing. Following our adventure, we walked the streets and wandered through the arts and crafts displayed Thursdays through Sundays in Bastion Square.
While touring on the Big Bus City Tour (Day 1), we opted to “hop-off” and walk the streets of Oak Bay Village. It was obviously a very classy, wealthy area and there were signs advertising the Collectible Car Show that would take place there on Sunday. Since we had no plans for Day #3 we took a bus back to Oak Bay Village that morning and since I am married to a car buff, it turned out to be a trip highlight. These were not just restored ’57 chevys! There were cars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars…Bentleys, Rolls Royces, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Maseratis from early years to brand new models. Sure there were also some amazing restorations of Cadilacs, Fords, Chevrolets, and even a Studebaker, plus cars from the 20s and 30s that could have won prizes at Concourse events, but this was the crème de la crème of exotics! The people-watching and dog-watching was also quite entertaining. Our visit was topped off by lunch at the Penny Farthing Pub, which displayed an authentic Penny Farthing in the center. The pub’s décor was rich oak and shiny brass with lots of two-wheel bicycle memorabilia. Lunch was tasty and they even had our favorite beer, Kilkenny Cream Ale on tap. It was just one of those “spur of the moment” perfect days.
What could we find to do on Day #4 that would keep the fun going? After an amazing breakfast at Jams, we decided to stroll through the Empress Hotel. Although “High Tea” at the Empress is for some a bucket list item, at $90+ per person, it neither fit into my bucket or budget. However, just walking through the manicured grounds and public areas of the Empress was fun. As we exited the property near the harbor, we heard an announcement that the “world famous water taxi ballet” would commence at 10:45 AM. I questioned whether we had heard the announcement correctly and indeed we had. Very soon, there were five water taxi captains in red shirts gathered at the harbor to strategize their moves. Not long after, they boarded their taxis and in very tight formation, began to motor in lines, circles, and pendulums to dance before the rather sparse crowds that had gathered on shore. While it may not be a recommended highlight, it was certainly unusual! From there we hopped a bus to Fisherman’s Wharf. We could have taken a water taxi, but we had decided to buy an all day pass so that we could also visit Spinnaker’s for dinner later. Fisherman’s Wharf also met the “unusual” theme of the day, but it was ever so fascinating. For those who love fresh fish, it is a great spot for lunch or dinner. What we had not expected was the amazing display of color and quirkiness of the 33 floating homes. These were private residences with throngs of people wandering down their front sidewalk, which was the pier. I could not begin to describe the variety, so I will have to demonstrate with photos!
On Day #5, we had decided to sleep in so that we could stay up late enough to see Parliament at Night. Now that may not seem a huge feat, but in July the sun does not set until about 9 PM, so complete darkness does not happen until around 10 PM (don’t laugh, we are early risers and we are old). It was worth the effort and we snapped a few of those iconic Victoria photos of the lighted outline of Parliament overlooking the Harbor lights below. And for the romantics among you, there is the opportunity to hire a horse-drawn white carriage to top off the perfect evening. Earlier that day, we had taken advantage of the free tours of Parliament, which are guided by some rather astute historians. Just prior to each tour, the crowds gather on the steps of Parliament for a 10 minute skit by one of the many “ghosts” of the pasts (aka actors) dressed in period clothing. The actors also wander through the building during tours interjecting their own humor and perspective on how it was when they were alive. Quite interesting and entertaining.
While I have only briefly mentioned eating in any of the 5 day scenarios, I could write an entire blog on all of the amazing restaurants in Victoria from which to choose. We had previously been to Spinnakers on a cruise stop and vowed to go again on this trip. It not only has great atmosphere, great food, a great beer selection, but they make their own chocolate. And if you like dark chocolate as much as we do, you may want to immediately book your stay in Victoria. We would have gone back several times during our visit, but there were so many other great places to try and retry! We did not discover Bard & Banker until our last night, but certainly it will be on our list for the next trip. The Irish Times was another fun pub with great food AND Kilkenny Cream Ale! The outside seating is along Bastion Square where the people watching is a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. I’ve already mentioned Jams, a great breakfast spot that is all the rave on TripAdvisor — for good reason. Oh, there were many more restaurants worth honorable mention, but those were our favorites. Suffice it to say that you are not inundated with franchise names on every corner. While we indulged in our share of desserts and libations, if you are prone to a healthy lifestyle the Vegan and Vegetarian options abound. The weather? Victoria is a temperate climate with less rain and humidity than the surrounding areas and more sunshine. Therefore, most of the restaurants provide outdoor seating where you can gather in the sights and smells of a very enchanting city!