Victoria's natural setting "wows" at any time of year — Photo courtesy of Deddeda Stemler/Tourism Victoria
Victoria expertly blends old-world charm with a new-world buzz. This picturesque island destination, the capital of British Columbia, boasts countless superlatives ranging from the mildest climate in Canada to Canada's most romantic city (as ranked by Amazon.ca for the past four years).
In Victoria, a modern-day energy prevails, yet a sense of history remains. Visitors come for the heritage architecture, colorful gardens and enticing traditions like afternoon tea. (An estimated 500,000 cups are served annually at the regal Fairmont Empress Hotel.)
The Clipper proves an inviting, enjoyable way to cross the waters to Victoria — Photo courtesy of Clipper
Locals and visitors alike relish Victoria's treasures of the past, yet these days, major draws also include a favorable exchange rate plus plenty of opportunities for outdoors adventures, authentic culinary experiences as well as delicious cocktails and craft beers.
So how to spend 48 hours in this laid-back island town? Here are some ideas on how to unwind, learn and indulge, all the while soaking up those accented "O's" and friendly Canadian smiles.
Although the ferry runs from Port Angeles, we recommend taking a seaplane or boarding a Clipper (high-speed passenger ferry) from downtown Seattle. The 2.5- to 3-hour Clipper journey proves comfortable and scenic.
National Geographic magazine recognizes Vancouver Island as one of the best cold-water diving destinations in the world, and other water sports abound, too. The city boasts hundreds of kilometers of running and bike paths, including the Galloping Goose Regional Trail.
On The Pedaler’s bike tours, knowledgable guides lead cyclists to some of the city’s best finds (think hot coffee or cold brew at Fernwood and to-die-for ice cream sandwiches inside Cold Comfort‘s charming, vintage space). The 21-and-over crowd enjoys itineraries like the Hoppy Hour Ride and Eat.Drink.Pedal. itineraries.
Windsurfers relish the surf at Dallas Road Beach — Photo courtesy of Deddeda Stemler/Tourism Victoria
With 2,855 farms on Vancouver Island (991 of which are in Greater Victoria), "local" and "seasonal" are more than trendy terms around here.
Visit culinary Mecca Public Market at Hudson, where each local vendor’s stall seems tastier than the last. “Musts” include the Salt Spring Island Cheese and Silk Road tea spaces, as well as Sutra (for the lamb curry dog), Victoria Pie Co. and La Cocina de Mama Oli (try the tortilla soup, to start).
Brunches at Jam Café prove well worth the wait. Once settled below an antique Coke sign, mounted antlers and lazily-swirling fans, enjoy the eatery’s mellow feel and tasty dishes from biscuits ‘n gravy to The Turkey Lurkey sandwich, enhanced by sugar-cured bacon.
At nearby Mo:Le, tuck into a friendly, hippie vibe where exposed brick walls display local art and the yam wrap is a tasty order.
Pops of color enliven this town — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
Bodega (in Trounce Alley) proves a chill, pre-dinner spot where one's happy hour drink comes along with a complimentary pinxtos snack. Consider Fiamo for dinner, where the dark, sultry space features exposed brick walls, pops of red and delicious Italian food (like calamari, generous salads and pizzas drizzled with truffle oil).
At North 48, comfort food with a twist complements fun tiki cocktails; at nearby 10 Acres, savor the perfect-10 ambience and dishes showcasing the island's freshest meats, cheeses, seafood and seasonal produce coming straight from the restaurant’s own farm. Next to a fireplace in the heated garden courtyard, enjoy fried heirloom green tomatoes, quinoa fritters, Sooke trout, Salt Spring Island mussels and the steak and frites platter, featuring some of the best truffle fries you’ll likely ever encounter.
Music lovers get their fix from buskers (especially in the summertime) or at venues around town — Photo courtesy of Jesse Moore Photography/Tourism Victoria
The Royal BC Museum showcases fascinating exhibits and beautiful IMAX films, and Butchart Gardens is an exquisite alfresco wonder at any time of year. Lesser-known gems include the Bug Zoo and Miniature World–educational and delightfully modest mom-and-pop spaces. At the first venue, museum goers meet Dwayne the (flat) Rock Johnson, a large scorpion, hairy tarantulas and leaf insects that boggle the mind; at the other venue, 85-plus, meticulously-detailed dioramas reveal teeny scenes capturing everything from historic wars to fairytales. (Consider staying just around the corner from most of these activities at the Magnolia Hotel & Spa, boutique downtown accommodations that offer a pampered home base in the center of it all.)
The food and drink scenes thrive in this city — Photo courtesy of Deddeda Stemler/Tourism Victoria
Guests craving a little pampering take advantage of Victoria’s luxe five-star spas while in town. One popular option: soaking in steaming seaside mineral pools at the elegant Oak Bay Beach Hotel. Visitors also take advantage of the favorable exchange rate by shopping at popular spots like She She Bags, Violette (jewelry) and Paboom (kitchenware, textiles, gifts, etc.) Afterward, some enjoy tasty brews at The Guild and Swans Brewpub, while others chat up friendly Canadians while indulging in creative cocktails at Veneto Tapa Lounge.
The British connection can be spotted all around town — Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting
However you choose to spend your time in Victoria, it's guaranteed that you'll find something fun, rejuvenating and worthy of a return trip sometime soon.