11 Best Things to Do in Victoria, British Columbia

World Travel

Victoria, British Columbia, named after Queen Victoria, is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. As the capital of British Columbia, it is a historic town sitting at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, about 60 miles south-southwest of Vancouver. At the time, the city became British Columbia’s capital it was the largest city in the province. Today, Vancouver is larger.

Those who enjoy nature won’t want to miss whale watching and the Royal BC Museum. Victoria, nicknamed the Garden City, features many opportunities to stroll through various gardens, where you can enjoy even more nature. Art lovers won’t want to miss the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. History and culture enthusiasts won’t want to miss Craigdarroch Castle and high tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Here are the 11 best things to do in Victoria, BC, presented in no particular order.

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Located 20 minutes from downtown Victoria, the art gallery features a setting reminiscent of a park. With nearly 20,000 works of art, the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria features the most extensive public collection in British Columbia and one of the most important in Canada. Their collection includes contemporary art and Asian art, including an authentic Shinto shrine, which is one of the only authentic ones outside of Japan. Local artists display their craft in the Gallery gift shop, where you’ll find jewelry, pottery, scarves, and other art. The gallery is open year-round.

Piper’s Pro Planning: I like to start exploring any new city with a hop-on, hop-off tour on a city’s double-decker buses. Then, I know where to stop and get a closer look. Sightseeing Victoria’s Hop On, Hop Off Bus Tour provides a quick city overview. If you have time, ride the entire route first and then use the bus as a taxi to hop off and explore.

Tea at the Fairmont Empress
Tea at the Fairmont Empress
Photo Courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria

Fairmont Empress Hotel

The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Fairmont Empress Hotel to accommodate a growing number of visitors to Victoria arriving by railway and steamship. The hotel opened on January 20, 1908.

The Fairmont Empress in downtown Victoria stands out with its château-style features and dome. The hotel offers 431 luxury rooms with views of the Inner Harbor. This is my style of hotel with their luxury accommodations. If you’re on a cruise ship like I was and aren’t staying in town overnight, take time to experience their elegant two-hour afternoon tea. Reservations for high tea require a credit card guarantee.

Piper’s Pro Planning: Alternatively, the Pendray Inn & Tea House also offers afternoon tea.

Gardens and Parks

Victoria’s weather is the mildest in Canada. The climate helps the capital of British Columbia develop stunning gardens, and the city has become known as Garden City.

Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens
Photo Courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria

Butchart Gardens

Butchart Gardens, named a National Historic Site of Canada for its 100th birthday in 2004, is a 55-acre garden in Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. It takes almost an hour to reach these gardens from Victoria, but you’ll want to take the time. I took a tour of the gardens, where they offered a narrated history. I don’t know how others rate it, but I bet it’s one of North America’s most beautiful gardens.

While I often wonder why I have such difficulty making my much smaller yard look well-manicured, I must remember they have 50 full-time gardeners on staff for their 55 acres. With over 26 greenhouses and 900 varieties of bedding plants, plan to spend between 3 and 4 hours at Butchart Gardens.

Roses bloom in the Rose Garden from June through August. What I liked about the Rose Garden is the “stop and smell the roses” designated areas. That was undoubtedly a luxury. Also, the Rose Arch was an ideal place for photo opportunities.

The Japanese Garden featured Japanese landscaping techniques with a West Coast influence. You’ll find the quintessential Japanese footbridge surrounded by lush greenery.

Piper’s Pro Planning: You’ll find a lot to do at Butchart Gardens, so take a few minutes to review the map before you go and decide on your must-do activities.

Gardens at Hatley Park

Located just 25 minutes from downtown Victoria is Hatley Park, a National Historic Landmark of Canada home to Royal Road University. You’ll find Hatley Castle on the lush garden grounds. From the Esquialt Lagoon, you see the Olympic Mountains in the background.

The gardens are open from 10 a.m. until dusk. The Rose Garden is a favorite spot for photographers during the summer months. A Rose Garden focus is the pathway of concentric circles around the sundial. While you’ll find a variety of roses around the garden, one type from the original garden remains—the American Pillar, a hardy, deep-pink rambler.

Isaburo Kishida designed the Japanese Garden, which started in the 1910s. Streams flow through the garden, and a lake creates a border on one side. You’ll find flowering cherries imported from Yokohama and Japanese maples.

Piper’s Pro Planning: Tours of the Hatley Castle are only allowed as a guided tour.

Goldstream Provincial Park

Goldstream Provincial Park, less than 10 miles from downtown Victoria, is a great place to find bald eagles from November to January. They’re also famous for their annual salmon run, which you can see from late October through November.

With over 21 hiking and biking trails, five of which the whole family will enjoy, choose one with a waterfall to add a purpose to your hike.

Piper’s Pro Planning: Stop by the Visitors’ Center, open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for information to guide your visit.

Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park is a 200-acre park located in the Fairfield neighborhood of Victoria. The park not only features manicured gardens and natural areas, you’ll also find walking paths and sports facilities. Those interested in paragliding, sailboarding, and kiting can also take advantage of the open space across the Strait of Juan De Fuca.

In addition to the typical park activities, the park offers Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a great place to take the kids for some animal fun.

Fun Fact: Beacon Hill Park is Mile 0 at the western end of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Piper’s Pro Planning: You’ll work up an appetite with all the activities. Pack a lunch and have a picnic at the picnic shelter.

Exploring Craigdarroch Castle is one of the best things to do in Victoria British Columbia
Craigdarroch Castle
Photo Courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria

Craigdarroch Castle

Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish immigrant and wealthy coal baron, built Craigdarroch Castle to showcase his wealth as the richest man in Western Canada. Today the castle is a National Historic Site of Canada and a magnificent example of Victorian architecture. For great views of Victoria, climb the 87 steps up the grand oak staircase. Take it to the tower, one of the best places to view the city, and it will reward you. Antique furnishings and stained-glass windows add to the castle’s appeal.

Piper’s Pro Planning: The castle’s self-guided walking tour takes approximately an hour. Staff are on-site to answer questions.

Whale Watching on Pacific Marine Circle Route
Whales as Viewed from a Whale Watching Tour
Photo Courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria

Whale Watching, One of the Best Things to Do in Victoria

Humpback and Orca, the black and white whales, also known as killer whales, are frequently seen on whale-watching tours from Victoria. The Orca Spirit Adventures offers a three-hour tour in covered boats and open zodiacs. They even guarantee that if you don’t see a whale during your tour, they’ll invite you back for another try. They also offer wildlife tours to see otters, sea lions, seals, and other marine species.

Piper’s Pro Planning: April through October is the best time of year to go whale watching.

While you’re in British Columbian, check out the “5 Best Restaurants in Surrey, British Columbia.”

Royal BC Museum

The Royal BC Museum is a natural history museum featuring natural and human history collections. The museum’s natural history section features flora and fauna. Dinosaurs are one aspect of the natural section of exhibits. Under the human history area, you’ll find indigenous exhibits and BC archaeology. Save time to visit the IMAX at the museum, as it’s the largest cinematic experience in British Columbia.

Piper’s Pro Planning: I recommend buying your tickets online since it’s the best way to know they have tickets available when you plan to visit. It also eliminates the need to wait in line.

Inner Harbour

While exploring Victoria’s Inner Harbour, take some time to tour the Parliament Building, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.

Piper’s Pro Planning: The Inner Harbor is the perfect place to explore on one of the guided boat tours.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf
Photo Courtesy of Destination Greater Victoria

Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a hidden treasure, with easy access from Victoria’s Inner Harbor. This unique marine destination is a great place to do some shopping. The area offers shops, food kiosks, and eco-tour excursions. I took a relatively small boat tour of the working harbor. You can wander the docks with your lunch and see moored vessels and floating homes. Watch fishing vessels unload their wares and buy fresh seafood off the boat.

If You Go

Getting There

The first time, I arrived at Vancouver Island by ferry, and the second time, I came by cruise ship. Victoria is a frequent stop on cruises from the Pacific Northwest. You can also arrive at Victoria International Airport via plane or helicopter.

Getting Around

Victoria is a walkable city. Victoria was Travel Awaits 2023 readers’ choice for the most walkable city. Bluebird Cabs Limited and Yellow Cab of Victoria are reliable for calling or hailing a cab if you need a taxi.

If you’re going farther afield, the Capital Region features an easy-to-navigate BC Transit system that can take you from the town of Sooke to the Canadian city of Sidney.

Amy Piper
Amy Piper

While Piper is a lifelong Michigander, she’s had adventures worldwide. Bomb-sniffing dogs chased her in the middle of the night in Bogota (working late), gate agents refused her boarding to Paraguay (wrong visa), and US Marshals announced her seat number on a plane while looking for a murder suspect (she’d traded seats). It’s always an adventure! She even finds exciting activities in her home state of Michigan, where she lives in Lansing with her husband, Ross Dingman, her daughter, Alexis, and two granddaughters.


Let’s get something on the calendar! Here are some of Piper’s Pro Planning links to help you book your trip.

Plan your flight and book your airline ticket with these links:

Plan your overnight accommodations anywhere from national chains to private homes with:

Plan to save on all of your activities, from tours to attractions. These links will help:

Visit my resources page for more planning help.


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1 Comment


    My mother used to talk about visiting Victoria, and now I must go there myself.


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Welcome to Follow the Piper! Discover interesting destinations, and practical planning tips for packing more travel into your everyday life.

Our founder and author, Amy Piper, is a freelance travel writer, blogger, photographer, and author specializing in luxury and multi-generational travel. She is a native Michigander who travels through the lens of a food lover and has been to 41 countries and 45 states.


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