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Perched on the southern tip of beautiful Vancouver Island, Victoria is a classic Pacific Northwest maritime town brimming with charm and culture. Cruise ships, yachts, and sailboats glide through its ports; visitors roam the lively wharf; and offshore, it’s not uncommon to see whales putting on a show. Wander inland and you’ll find that British Columbia’s capital city is full of ornate Edwardian architecture, expansive public gardens, and ample bike paths. Among Victoria’s significant structures are its late-19th-century Parliament Buildings, whose grand facades glow with festive lights at night, and the genteel Empress Hotel, opened in 1908, where you can still take high tea. Victoria is also home to the oldest Chinatown in Canada, where you can find the country’s narrowest street, shopping corridor Fan Tan Alley. Add to this mix three colleges, world-class museums, picturesque rainforests, driftwood-dotted beaches, and stunning shoreline views, and Victoria is a perfect blend of urbane and outdoorsy.
Fly into Victoria International Airport (YYJ), located just outside the city. Once on the ground, there are public transportation, shuttle, taxi, and rental car options available to get you the rest of the way to your destination. You can easily skip the rental, though, as Victoria is an eminently walkable city with public transit. Distinctive double-decker BC Transit buses operate lines throughout town, and connect Victoria to the rest of British Columbia. BC Ferries connect the city to the communities of Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen. Taxis and bike rentals are also available. If you’re planning to hit Vancouver Island’s wilder natural areas, you’ll need to rent a car or reserve a guided coach tour.
Summers are balmy and mild in Victoria, perfect for strolling the city and enjoying seasonal festivities such as Canada Day on July 1 and the Symphony Splash, celebrated in August, when the Victoria Symphony performs on a barge in the harbor. Victoria gets less rainfall than other parts of Canada, and hardly any snow. Thanks to the city’s mild weather, visitors flow through it year round, but in winter the temperatures do dip considerably, and even in summer a coat is recommended for cool nights.
This sprawling waterfront green space is the heart of Victoria’s park system. Its lush environs include picturesque lily ponds and stands of majestic and rare Garry oak trees. You’ll also find an ornate totem pole carved by acclaimed artist and First Nations member Mungo Martin, and the Moss Lady, a large, whimsical sculpture of a giant taking a nap on the park floor.
Travel the globe in a few strides at this museum housing more than 85 teensy dioramas of places real and imagined. London, outer space, and Camelot are just a few of the locales painstakingly recreated in miniature and populated with residents no bigger than a thumbnail. These motorized exhibits include mini trains that zip around, and doll-sized carnival rides that spin and light up.
Known colloquially as a bonanza castle, this staggering temple to wealth sits on a hill overlooking Victoria. Built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir between 1887 and 1890, this imposing four-floor Victorian estate is replete with stained-glass windows, intricate wood carvings, and antique furnishings. Take a tour of its opulent rooms and ponder the cleaning routine.