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Places to see and things to do in Victoria and Vancouver Island

Ocean sunsets and surfing? Check. Balmy summers? Check. Add Victoria's blend of hipster-cool and natural beauty and you can see why Vancouver Island is the Canadian holiday paradise.

You can easily fly from many major cities to Victoria, or access the city via a scenic ferry ride from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. You might even spot a humpback whale or an orca en route if you’re lucky! If you’re feeling really fancy, you could take a seaplane from Vancouver right into Victoria’s inner harbour.

What to do in and around Victoria

Start with a stroll around downtown Victoria. This is British Columbia’s capital city, located in the south of Vancouver Island. Spanning three major streets, it’s compact, cozy, and packed with sights. Walk down Government Street’s cobblestone roads and wander through the nostalgic stores (and don’t forget to check out Roger’s Chocolates).

The fireworks show at Butchart Gardens is also a Victoria must-see. Visit during the day to catch the equally dazzling daytime colours of the floral displays. Butchart Gardens brings in around a million visitors every year and is a National Historic Site of Canada.

Victoria: Best Food and Beyond

Make your way to the old town and its colourful façades. From there, you should check out Canada’s oldest (and North America’s second oldest) Chinatown, and home to Canada’s narrowest street, Fan Tan Alley. Only 35 inches wide at its tightest, it’s impressive how a barber shop, a café and an art gallery all manage to squeeze in here. Victoria is also home to the highest number of restaurants per person in the country. It’s a foodie’s delight!

In the afternoon, treat yourself like royalty at The Fairmont Empress Hotel. One of the city’s icons, this ivy-covered Edwardian chateau once hosted Queen Elizabeth II herself. Its afternoon tea service is exquisite, and making a reservation far in advance is recommended. You don’t want to miss out on sandwiches and sweets in the historic lounge which offers excellent views of the harbour.

Make your way down to Dallas Road and Beacon Hill Park. Here you can gaze across the calming waters of the strait and, on a good day, see the Olympic Mountains over the border in Washington. The hill here used to be a First Nations burial site, and its symbolic value has been honoured with an awe-inspiring, 127-foot tall totem pole. It’s the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole.

Things to do in Victoria and Vancouver Island | Orcas around Vancouver Island
Things to do in Victoria and Vancouver Island

Discover the Best of Vancouver Island

In the north of the island is the Cowichan Valley Region. This fertile valley is blessed with mild weather courtesy of the mountains that shield it – the very word Cowichan literally means “land warmed by the sun” in Coast Salish First Nation language. It’s a rising star in the culinary world, thanks to fresh local ingredients from juicy wine grapes to fresh Pacific seafood. And nature here is ideal for outdoor adventurers. Make your way across the majestic Kinsol Trestle, a wooden bridge over the Koksilah River. Hike around Lake Cowichan,  and explore Honeymoon Bay.

Duncan, the capital of the Cowichan region, is home to a rich First Nations culture. Visit the Quw’utsun’ Cultural & Conference Centre, and take a guided Totem tour. Duncan also offers a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with a falcon. The largest hockey stick in the world can also be found in Duncan. You should also visit Chemainus to see the open-air murals that cover the whole town.

Get Outdoors 

The Pacific Rim National Reserve is a large national park split into three distinct regions. The first, Western Trail, is a backpacker’s dream – with opportunities for bear watching, whale watching, kayaking, long hikes along the coast or through the rainforest.

Vancouver Island’s superstar, Tofino, is one of the world’s premier surfing destinations. It’s also a great place to unwind and spend some time on the endless sands. Long Beach, the final stretch of the Pacific Rim Reserve, is especially great for incredible photos and serene strolls. Tofino has its own airport, but can also be reached by car from Victoria in around five hours.

Best of Vancouver Island | Mackenzie Beach, Tofino
Image courtesy of: Aaron Carlson

More on Vancouver Island

Next, it’s off to Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest provincial park in B.C., for the ultimate outdoor adventure. Covering 250,000 hectares of mountainous forests and dotted with white peaks and lakes, it offers incredible views from numerous hiking trails. Della Falls, with its 440 m drop, is one of Canada’s tallest waterfalls.

Finally, you should visit one of the calm Gulf Islands. We would recommend Salt Spring Island. It can be reached with a direct ferry from Schwartz Bay in Victoria. This is a hippie heaven in all senses, from VW vans to its the Saturday Farmer’s Market. It’s a warm and welcoming place with smiling locals, and a booming local arts and crafts scene. This little island encompasses the soul of Vancouver Island.