Tips For Visiting Victoria BC – What to See, How to Get Around & more!

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Tips on Visiting Victoria BC

Tips for Visiting Victoria BC

I’ve been sharing about Victoria, BC all week long (make sure to check out all of the Victoria posts I’ve shared) and today’s post is a wrap-up post about some of the different options of things to see in Victoria, along with a few general tips about visiting Victoria and what you should know before you go.

My husband and I recently had a one-night getaway to Victoria, BC during the Christmas season. You can read all about the fun Christmas activities that they offered in Victoria as well as the Butchart Gardens Christmas lights.

Victoria is one of those places which is an awesome place to visit any time of year.  Whether it’s in the spring or summer when they have their gorgeous, huge flower baskets on every street corner or around Christmas when twinkly Christmas lights line the streets and the buildings. Those are the two times I’ve been, but I’m sure every season is beautiful in this English city by the sea. You definitely feel like you’re transported over to England, with  proper afternoon tea offered at the Empress or double-decker buses driving by.

Things to Do at Any time in Victoria::

If you’re looking for a great resource on things to do in Victoria, the Clipper Vacations blog has an excellent resource on a number of different activities to do anytime of year in Victoria. There really are so many different things you can do at little to no cost, mainly just walking around & enjoying the beautiful sights at any time of year. My husband and I loved taking walks around the Inner Harbor, the grounds of the Empress and the Parliament buildings & all around downtown.

Here are some activities to check out:

The Empress Hotel in Victoria BC

Fairmont Empress Hotel – A must-see when you visit Victoria is to visit the Fairmont Empress. This is the site of the famous afternoon High Tea, which you could try as well (this is pricey at $50 – $63/person – depending on the seasons) for tea & pastries/scones/sweets & tea sandwiches, but it’s on my bucket list to try it – someday! The view is spectacular from the tea room of the harbor (it’s right at the top of the steps in my picture above)

Shopping – This is one of my favorite past-times in Victoria! I love all the fun stores along Government Street as well as all around downtown Victoria. They also have a mall area right in downtown as well. Here’s a good resource about some of the shopping areas – everything from tourist areas to artisan shops to fashion boutiques. {This page is just showing shops that are members of the tourism board, but there are a lot of other options as well, but it’s just to get you started.} Market Square is another fun option as well as Bastion Square’s outdoor markets in the summertime.

Chinatown Victoria BC

Chinatown – Victoria’s Chinatown is the oldest in Canada & 2nd only to San Francisco’s Chinatown. We just did a very quick trip into Chinatown as we were running low on time, but it looked like a fun area to explore. They have a cool gate into Chinatown and Fan Tan Alley is a narrow little walkway between shops (I’m not sure if we saw the whole thing as I saw only a few shops which was a bit disappointing but there may be more to it than what we saw).

Museums – Victoria has several great museums from what we’ve heard although we have not checked them out yet. You can learn about the history of BC at the Royal BC Museum (there’s also an IMAX movie theater there), learn about Victoria’s maritime history at the Maritime Museum & more.  Let us know if you’ve been to any of the museums in Victoria & what you thought.  {Update: After another trip to Victoria, we heard from several folks, including an independent tour guide that the Royal BC Museum.

Victoria Bug Zoo Victoria BC

Victoria Bug Zoo – This was very close to the Empress Hotel that we saw walking by & thought it might be a fun one for kids. Prices are $7 for kids up to $10/adults – we have not been to know if this is worth the cost of admission but if you have a child who loves bugs it might be one to look into. We’d love to hear your opinion if you’ve been to this before with your kids.

Miniature World Victoria BC

Miniature World – We spotted this place while walking around & thought it looked like somewhere kids would be interested in. It’s on the side of the Empress hotel. Prices are spendy at $8 – $15/ticket, but it says they offer AAA discounts or discounts for a family of 4. I’ve never been here, though, to know if it’s worth those prices or not, so let us know if you’ve been here before.

Craigdarroch Castle – This is also in downtown but it’s a bit more of a walk or you can hop on a bus. I went on a tour of this years ago & it was cool to visit the castle. The prices are spendier on this now – $5 for kids 6-12 up to $13.95 for adults (kids 5 & under are free), but I saw that this was included in some Victoria tour packages so that might be something to consider if you love castles.

Butchart Gardens – We recently headed to Butchart Gardens at night for their Christmas display which was incredible – I *highly* recommend it – make sure to read my review of our experience & see all the pictures! When I’ve visited in the summer, Butchart Gardens is one of my favorite places in Victoria as the flower gardens are just simply incredible! This is not a frugal place to visit (check out my post for information on how much it costs, ways to save & how to get there as it is about 20-30 minutes outside the city), but I think it’s a must-see for Victoria visitors!

How to Get Around Victoria:

As I’ve mentioned in previous Victoria posts, Victoria is a city which is very easy to walk around even with kids, so as long as you stay close to downtown, you should be able to access most everything by walking (with the exception of Butchart Gardens). {Don’t forget to check out my post about the best ways to travel to Victoria and how to save on your travel coming to/from Victoria, too.}

If you want to have more flexibility & explore Vancouver Island more or be able to get to Butchart Gardens & other attractions outside of town or are staying further out of town, here are some ways to get around Victoria::

Bus Line

Your most frugal option to travel around Victoria & Vancouver Island is to take the BC Transit bus line, which is what my husband and I did on our trip in December. There are many bus stops right in Victoria and it was only $2.50 each way for us to take the bus to Butchart Gardens where we went ($5/total roundtrip). Or you could pay $5/day to ride the bus (kids 5 & under are free).  We even got to ride a double decker bus on the way home – so cool! Unfortunately it was so dark & quick to get on the bus, so I didn’t get a picture – I wish I did! And of course, we rode in the top! You have to do that if you ride a double-decker bus!

Now the issue with the bus is that it does take a lot longer to get places (for example, it took about an hour to get to Butchart Gardens & would have probably taken half the time in a car). There was also only 1 bus an hour out to Butchart Gardens (Bus #75), so we had to do more planning around the schedule. This was during the winter time, though – I’m sure there’s more buses in the summer. Because there was only 1 bus & it was a popular Saturday night when we went to Butchart Gardens during the Christmas season, the bus was quite crowded both directions & many had to stand the whole drive.

We got on the bus fairly close behind the Empress Hotel, though, & that turned out to be near the start of the line so we were able to get a seat, but it did fill up as we moved through the downtown area. This would be my hesitation with kids as it would be harder, especially with young kids, to be on the bus that long & have to stand or have room for strollers, etc. So, just something to consider if you are debating about what kind of transportation you want. If you want to ride the bus, just consider how busy it will be & try to get on the bus at one of the earlier stops.

By Car

Bringing your car to Victoria may be the easiest if you have kids (especially young kids) and you do want to either head to Butchart Gardens or get out and explore around the island besides just staying in the city. You will want to inquire about parking rates for your vehicle at your hotel (I did see that many packages offered free parking in addition to reduced rates, especially packages from the ferries, so make sure to look into that). And you will be paying more on the ferry if you bring a car, which is why many opt to not bring a car to keep the costs down. Bringing a car does mean you’re limited to the WA State Ferry, Coho Ferry or BC Ferry (you can’t take the Clipper out of Seattle with a car as it’s passenger only), so make sure to check out my post on the ways to travel to Victoria as those locations may mean an extra hotel night if you don’t want to get up super early for some of the travel times.

Rent a Car

Another option if you want to be save money & not bring your car on the ferry or be able to take the Victoria Clipper, is to rent a car just for the day if you do want to head to Butchart Gardens or explore outside the city with kids. If we go with our kids, I think that might be the option we do instead of the bus if it’s during a busy time and to maximize our time as the bus does take a lot longer. I found rates on Kayak.com as low as $27/night to rent a car for 24 hrs.  By taking the bus for a family of four, we’d pay $5/ea to ride the bus for a day (Butchart Gardens & back), which is $20, so that is just a few dollars more & then we have the flexibility to travel when we want to, have a relaxing car ride and much shorter timeframe.

By Taxi

We looked into a taxi from our hotel in downtown Victoria to Butchart Gardens and it was going to be around $60 one way so that was not a good option for us.  If you had a number of people sharing a cab, then it might be a possibility, but I think a rental car would still be a better bet.

Inclusive Packages if you want to go to Butchart Gardens

Here are some different inclusive packages to consider to see which one fits your situation the best & will give you the most savings if you’re wanting to head to Butchart Gardens (I mention Butchart as that is the main reason people would need transportation out of the city since it’s such a popular place to visit when you head to Victoria).

  • Coho Ferry Package – If you take the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles, they have packages as low as $85/person, which includes ferry admission (with no car) & admission/transportation to Butchart Gardens. Since the ferry is about $35 & then it’s $25.50 for admission to the Gardens, that works out to around $25 for the transportation.
  • Clipper Vacations – They have several Butchart Gardens packages to choose from. There are several different options depending on which hotel you’re interested in. Make sure to read my review of the Victoria Clipper to learn more about it & the packages they offer.
  • Gray Line Bus Tours – They have tours starting as low as $52 which includes transportation and admission to the gardens, which makes the transportation around $25 as well
  • CVS Tours – These tours start at $58 which include transportation & admission to Butchart Gardens

If I were you, I’d also contact the hotel which you will be staying at to find out if they have any shuttle buses to Butchart Gardens or any other locations around town if your hotel is further away from downtown.  That might be a great option as well to look into & it may be free so you won’t have to worry about these other options.

Tips for Visiting Victoria:

Identification for Canada – You will need either a Passport or an Enhanced Driver’s License.  If you have a passport, that’s great, bring it along. But no worries if you don’t have a passport – you can just use an Enhanced Driver’s License which you can get at the DMV. If you already have a Driver’s License, you will just pay $3/year until your driver’s license is renewed to update it.  {If you travel by air to Victoria, then you would need a passport, but not by sea}

Kids Identification for Canada Kids will need their birth certificate. At this time, Canada does not require passports but your kids will need their birth certificate, so make sure to bring that along with you to show at Customs both going to Victoria & entering the US from Victoria.

Pack Lightly – If you don’t bring a car & walk onto the ferry or Victoria Clipper, pack as lightly as possible especially with kids. Wherever you stay, you will most likely need to walk to your hotel or you could get a taxi, so it’s best to have luggage that is easy to carry like a backpack for each person or a small rolling suitcase or two. We just brought a rolling suitcase this time as our hotel was less than a block from the Clipper’s dock, but when I’ve gone in the past & ridden on one of the ferries, I just brought a backpack to be able to carry easily on the bus & walking around.

What are your favorite tips for visiting Victoria? Do you have any favorite places to visit that we’ve missed? 

Check out more posts about Victoria, BC & other popular Northwest Travel destinations::

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