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Location & Attractions

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Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is this city’s premier art venue and is considered one of the better “little” galleries in North America. Sited in an historic mansion, this historically-oriented gallery has more than 10,000 pieces in its permanent collection. Although the exhibition rooms show everything from the finest contemporary Canadian art to, say, travelling exhibitions of medieval manuscripts, the AGGV is most famed for its outstanding holdings of Asian art – the Japanese collection is, quite simply, the best in the country. (And after taking the indoor tour, don’t overlook the Japanese garden, the centrepiece of which is the only Shinto shrine outside Japan.) And by no means miss admiring the gallery devoted to the Victoria-born Emily Carr, an icon of Canadian painting who was a friend of the Group of Seven and is considered one of the country’s greatest and most innovative painters. Carr was heavily influenced by both Aboriginal art and the natural world. The gift shop is also worth a visit.

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Beacon Hill Park

Named for a double set of beacon fires that were lit as a navigational aid many decades ago, Beacon Hill Park provides one of Victoria’s most pleasant outings. This 184-acre charmer combines cultivated beauty with untended indigenous plantings and an extended section of waterfront. The many gardens boast 30,000 annuals planted yearly, while the duck ponds and rustic stone bridges evoke a pastoral feeling. Roses are a big thing here, and the two best displays are near the cricket pitch pitch on the east side. Peacocks wander freely, blue herons nest in the trees, and the swans have a right to seem snooty – they are descendants of originals from England’s royal swannery. The petting zoo is worth a visit, especially just after it opens in the morning when they have the “running of the goats” and a couple of dozen cute baby goats and their moms are chased down from the barn to the display area where your kids meet their kids. There are benches offering great sea views – and which are a front row seat to the occasional shows put on by hang-gliders catching the updrafts from the steep Dallas Road cliffs. Paths lead down to the pebbly, log-strewn oceanfront that offers a fine beachcombing stroll. This place is truly an oasis of calm and pleasure!

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Butchart Gardens

Now here’s an attraction that genuinely merits the over-used term “world class.” A family operation for several generations, the Butchart Gardens has the taste and resources to do everything to perfection. In the “city of gardens,” this is the one to see. These 20 Eden-like hectares had their beginnings in 1904 when Jenny Butchart, the wife of a cement manufacturer, resolved to beautify an abandoned limestone quarry behind the family home at Tod Inlet on the Saanich Peninsula. She was a woman of tremendous energy – during the initial stages she had herself lowered over the quarry cliffs in a bosun’s chair to stuff ivy cuttings into any available crevice. Today, the Sunken Garden, with its rich palette of flowers and graceful, curving paths, has become as much a Victoria icon as the Empress Hotel or the Parliament Buildings.

The Rose Garden, at its best in July, delights the senses of sight and smell with its hundreds of varieties, all carefully labeled. The exquisite, tree-shaded Japanese Garden, appropriately serene, provides an oasis of delicate green foliage. The symmetrical Italian Garden, with its lily-dotted reflecting pool, brings you back to the entrance. But wait. No visit is complete without a second tour by night. From June to September, thousands of subtly placed lights transform the entire garden into a nocturnal wonderland quite different from its daytime counterpart. Trees seem to glow from within, and spotlights create a striking floral chiaroscuro. Most breathtaking of all is the celebrated Ross Fountain, whose endlessly changing sequence of water jets and lights produces a hypnotically beautiful effect. (And during the entire month of December, there is a stunning evening “light up” that celebrates Christmas like you’ve never seen – attractions include a skating rink, a brass band and carolers, and a dozen elaborately whimsical tableaux depicting the 12 days of Christmas.)

To help bridge the gap between day and night hours during summer months, the Gardens presents an incredible array of musical talent on their big outdoor stage. But the razzle-dazzle on stage is just a warmup for the real show, every Saturday night, when the Gardens shoots off a fortune in fireworks that are marvelously choreographed to a program of light classical music. Not-to-be-missed Butcharts is considered possibly the very best tourist attraction in the entire province.

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Butterfly Gardens

Many hundreds of free-flying butterflies are the draw at this dreamily charming oasis of colour and calm. Sited in a large tropical greenhouse, the multi-hued stars flutter amidst lush foliage – and will likely indulge any camera close-ups that you have in mind. Alongside the butterflies are lots of other colourful critters to catch your eye, including Caribbean flamingos wading through streams, a couple of massive tortoises, koi swimming gracefully in ponds, and a jungle’s worth of exotic plants. Definitely worth a visit if you like the wild world.

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Craigdarroch Castle

Without a doubt the grandest and most picturesque private home ever built in western Canada, Craigdarroch Castle looks like it has just dropped in from a fairy tale. This mult-turreted marvel, with its steep red tile roof and seven towering chimneys, was completed in 1890, the gift of coal baron Robert Dunsmuir to his wife, Joan. Built in the Scottish Baronial style, the castle has had a varied career as a military hospital, a college campus, and a conservatory of music. Now owned by the city, the castle has gradually been restored to its glory days, and is filled with many of the Dunsmuir family’s original furnishings and possessions. This place makes for a great tour. Indeed, it’s worth it just to see the amazing stain glass windows, which are rated as some of the best secular examples in all of North America. And don’t miss climbing the 87 steps to the north turret, there to see one of the finest views of the city.

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Downtown Victoria

Downtown Victoria really merits its own little guidebook. It is safe and very pedestrian friendly, and not enough visitors explore it as fully as they might. Celebrated shops like Munro’s Books and Rogers’ Chocolates deserve your attention, but so do a hundred others. Whether you are hunting for antiques or the latest fashions, locally designed jewelry or one-of-a-kind artwork, there is an amazing array of shopping to be found in the attractive downtown area. And just a five blocks up from the Fairmont Empress is our small but vibrant Chinatown – the oldest in Canada. There are dozens of fine restaurants, from Thai to Italian, Tibetan to Japanese. And we also have a fair share of funky bistros and rollicking brewpubs where the atmosphere is casual but the food and the brews are exceptional. And if, at the end of the day, you find that your feet are sore and you have too many bags in hand, hail a pedicab and let someone else’s strong legs face the challenge of wheeling you home!

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Fisherman's Wharf

Less than 10 minutes stroll from Heathergate is Fisherman’s Wharf, one of the area’s most vibrant destinations. Friendly seals poke their heads above the water hoping to get fed (you can buy fish scraps from nearby seafood vendors), and the dozen exotic float homes moored here deservedly have their picture taken all the time. Aside from being an active marina, it is thronged with visitors lined up for a serving of Barb’s Fish & Chips – they’re so busy now that customers are given “pagers” that buzz when their order is ready. There’s also a nearby playground if you hanker to toss a Frisbee or loaf on the grass.

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Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse

Fort Rodd Hill’s three gun batteries were constructed in the late 1890s to protect what was then a Royal Navy base on Esquimalt Harbour. Until coastal artillery defences were declared obsolete in 1956, the fort was part of an extensive network of gun batteries, searchlights, and observation points in the Victoria-Esquimalt area. But you needn’t be a military buff to enjoy this beautiful 18-hectare waterfront park and its spectacular views. Families often stay for half a day: aside from the well-signed fortifications there are beaches, tidepools, and forest trails to explore. And if you’re lucky, some of the park’s Columbian blacktail deer may come out to graze.

Near the fort, a causeway leads to Fisgard Lighthouse, built in 1860 as the first permanent light on the B.C. coast. Displays inside the former keeper’s house include maps, models, a variety of lamps and lenses, and period photos of lighthouses and shipwrecks.

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Maritime Museum of B.C.

Bordered by the sea on three sides, and home to a major naval base for nearly 150 years, Victoria has an important maritime history. The Maritime Museum, located in the former Provincial Court House, relates the story of the region’s merchant and naval shipping, from the time of the early explorers to the present day. The large ground-floor gallery houses Trekka, a six-metre ketch sailed around the world solo in the 1950s, and Tilikum, an odd conversion of an eleven-metre First Nations dugout canoe, which made a two-year passage from Victoria to England at the turn of last century.
Nearby you’ll find models and paintings of “tall ships,” a whaling display, and a selection of sailors’ art, including fancy rope braiding, decorated ostrich eggs, and, of course, ships in bottles. On the second floor can be found a history of Captain Cook’s voyages (with some superb eighteenth-century globes), models and memorabilia of the elegant Canadian Pacific Empress and Princess ships, and naval artifacts, uniforms, and photos.

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Ogden Point

Just a few minutes walk from Heathergate is one of the most interesting strolls in all of Victoria: the 762-metre breakwater at lively and picturesque Ogden Point. From May into September, this is one of the busiest cruise-ship ports in Canada. This is also one of the region’s best spots for scuba diving, while many anglers cast for fish off the lower lip of the causeway. And after admiring all that gorgeous marine scenery, grab a coffee and croissant at the nearby Breakwater Café & Bistro.

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Royal BC Museum

Considered one of the 10 best general museums in the world, the Royal BC Museum offers super exhibits that portray the province’s natural and human history. Working from a brilliant design, the museum’s curators and technicians have created unforgettable displays that bring the outdoors inside, breath life into prehistoric animals, and conjure up the sights, sounds, and smells of times past.

So enormous is the woolly mammoth looming at the entrance to the Living Land, Living Sea Gallery that nine musk ox hides had to be shipped from the Arctic to cover him. And it’s just about impossible to imagine dioramas any more convincing than this museum’s evocations of forest, seashore, and river delta. The trees, for instance, were cast in fiberglass in latex molds taken from living specimens, then painstakingly hand-painted. And children seem to love the Modern History Gallery, especially the uncannily realistic “Old Town.” Here, kids can sniff an apple pie cooking in the turn-of-the-century kitchen, giggle at Charlie Chaplin in the movie house, or hear – and almost feel – a night-time freight train thundering past the tiny station.

In the First People’s Gallery, displays of Aboriginal skills – fishing, whaling, blanket weaving, and woodworking – lead up to a magnificent scale model, five-years-in-the-making copy of the now-abandoned Haida village of Skedans, in Haida Gwai (once called the Queen Charlotte Islands). Most visitors find this gallery to be extremely moving and thought-provoking.

And aside from its regular displays, the museum often hosts amazing touring shows ranging from King Tut and the dinosaurs of China to The Titanic and the world’s best nature photography. They also have an IMAX theatre (with the province’s largest movie screen), restaurant facilities, and a great gift shop. To sum it up, this outstanding museum is truly a must-see – it’s one of the very best things Victoria has to offer.

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The Fairmont Empress

Named after Queen Victoria, the “Empress of India,” the Fairmont Empress was built in 1908 and is probably one of the six best Edwardian-style luxury hotels in North America. Add in its prime location on the Inner Harbour and this gorgeous hotel – handsomely restored at a cost of $40 million a couple of decades ago – is well worth a visit. Don’t miss the Palm Court, whose highlight is a stunning stain glass dome. A lot of people come for the legendary high tea – with its legendary high price tag. You may be better off strolling down to the atmospheric Bengal Lounge, complete with its sandalwood screens and tiger skin rugs, where the martinis are old school and the curries are among the best in the city. And the Empress transforms into a holiday winterland during the Christmas season.

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The Inner Harbour

Our picture-perfect Inner Harbour is the best free show in the city. From May through to September this scenic stroll comes alive with buskers, painters and carvers plying their trade, sketch artists, and various street performers. With the Fairmont Empress and the Parliament Buildings for a backdrop and lots of moored boats – to say nothing of those cute little harbour ferries – the Inner Harbour is typically thronged with tourists speaking a dozen languages. This is also the best place to catch a pedicab or a horse-drawn carriage. And if you’re timing is good you may catch either Busker Festival or the Chalk Art Festival, week-long free events that further enliven this great part of downtown.

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Thrifty Foods (grocery shopping)

Thrifty Foods is a full service supermarket located at the James Bay 5 corners neighbourhood shopping area. ~ just a 10 minute 5 block walk from Heathergate. Grab groceries to cook a delicious meal at home or provision for a picnic. Absolutely wonderful selection of "preprandial appies" or maybe just a quick snack on the go.

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Westsong Walkway

There are lots of great walks in Victoria, but one of our absolute favourites is the Westsong Walkway. Starting just across the Johnson Street bridge on the edge of the Songhees development, Westsong is a paved trail that follows the water’s edge for nearly three kilometres as it goes from Vic West to Esquimalt. Mostly level and wheel chair accessible, this meandering trail holds several surprises that range from installations of whimsical driftwood art to the possibility of seeing otters or seals at play.

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Whale Watching

A whale-watching excursion could well be the most exciting thing you do in Victoria. “It was the experience of a lifetime” is a common comment heard by the staff of tour companies. Three pods comprising nearly 85 killer whales make their home in the coastal waters off Victoria – thus making it the best place on earth to view Orcas in the wild. Along with killer whales - both resident and transient - you might also see Humpback, Grey and Minke whales too! Although whale sightings are not guaranteed the success rate is 95% during the peak season period June through September.

Even if those magnificent marine mammals don’t put in an appearance, your 3 hour tour tour will give you lots of stunning photo opportunities with seals, porpoises, sea lions, tugboats, log booms – in all, an unforgettable portrait of the West Coast.

[ View Website » ]

Whale Watching

A whale-watching excursion could well be the most exciting thing you do in Victoria. “It was the experience of a lifetime” is a common comment heard by the staff of tour companies. Three pods comprising nearly 85 killer whales make their home in the coastal waters off Victoria – thus making it the best place on earth to view Orcas in the wild. Along with killer whales - both resident and transient - you might also see Humpback, Grey and Minke whales too! Although whale sightings are not guaranteed the success rate is 95% during the peak season period June through September.

Even if those magnificent marine mammals don’t put in an appearance, your 3 hour tour tour will give you lots of stunning photo opportunities with seals, porpoises, sea lions, tugboats, log booms – in all, an unforgettable portrait of the West Coast.

[ View Website » ]

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