Sep
21
2010

The Beginner’s Guide to Victoria

New to Victoria? Get the skinny on British Columbia’s capital, including the many ways to spend time in the great outdoors, where to find delicious eats and brews and how to soak up the area’s rich history.  

It’s named for a 19th century British queen, but has the second oldest Chinatown in North America. It’s been dubbed the city of ‘the newly wed and the nearly dead.’ It’s on Canada’s ‘wet’ coast but it’s drier than Montreal, Halifax or Vancouver.



Yes, Victoria is a city of contradictions, which means it’s fun to explore.



It’s also easy to get out and sightsee BC’s capital year-round; you might need an umbrella in the winter months, but you won’t need snow boots or a down jacket. If you get chilled, you can find a hot cuppa tea no problem (a hangover from our British roots).



The moderate year-round temperatures explain why Victoria has so many retirees from other parts of Canada. In fact, the region has the highest proportion of residents over the age of 80 of any city in Canada.



Just 345,000 people live in the Greater Victoria region, so it still has a small-town feel.



You’ll find the locals are friendly. Tourism is an important part of our economy—we get about 3.5 million visitors a year—and we want to keep them happy!

Get Outside

Located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria is pretty much surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it’s only natural that locals spend a lot of time on the water. You can too.



Rent a kayak and explore the Inner Harbour or jump on one of those cute green harbour ferries and get off where you fancy. There’s a ferry every 15 minutes in the summer months with 18 stops along the Inner and Outer Harbours and up the Gorge waterway.



For something more adventurous, go whale watching, salmon fishing or sailing on a tall ship in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.



If your stomach can’t handle a boat, walk along Dallas Road and enjoy boats from afar. The path along Dallas Road is a good place to view the annual Swiftsure International Yacht Race.



Or hop on a bike, and cycle the 60 km Galloping Goose Trail or 29 km Lochside Trail, old railway tracks that have been converted for recreation. Victoria is Canada’s cycling capital with more cyclists per capita than anywhere in the country.



Victorians are so crazy about the outdoors that our symphony stages an annual show—the Symphony Splash—from a barge in the Inner Harbour during the August long weekend.

Replenish your energy

Spending time outdoors works up an appetite, so it’s good to know that Victoria boasts some really fantastic food.



Seafood is the star, of course, and there’s always something in season:

• Halibut fishing begins in March

• Spot prawns in May

• Sockeye salmon in June

• Oysters, crabs, prawns and mussels are fresh year-round.

And even though seafood can be pricey if you’re sitting down at a sleek spot like Aura in the Inn at Laurel Point, you can find budget-friendly fare at Red Fish Blue Fish, locally famous for their fish ‘tacones’ (fish taco cones) or Ferris’ Oyster Bar and Grill.



But chefs in Victoria don’t limit themselves to seafood. Not when the warm fertile farmlands of the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley are within an hour’s drive. This could be the home of the 100-mile diet (in fact, the book’s authors sourced Red Fife wheat from a farm on the Saanich Peninsula).



Chefs here are a talented bunch and menus are as diverse as they are. One Vancouver restaurant critic recently wrote that Victoria’s Pizzeria Prima Strata makes the best pizza he’s eaten in all of Canada!

Drink up

Food and drink normally go together, but in Victoria, beer (not tea!) deserves its own category. Brewers here take their craft seriously.



We have the oldest brewpub in Canada—Spinnakers—which pioneered the renaissance of handcrafted brewing in North America.



Grains and hops are imported, but local ingredients, such as raspberries, make each batch of beer one of a kind. It doesn’t hurt that the food at Spinnakers is as fresh and wholesome as the beer, so it’s popular even with the staunchest teetotalers.



Half a dozen or so other microbreweries and brewpubs have since sprung up offering their own unique brews. No wonder Victoria is home to the annual Great Canadian Beer Festival, which attracts beer connoisseurs from around the world.

Soak up some history on the Inner Harbour

Our two most famous landmarks are the BC Legislature and the Fairmont Empress hotel, both on the Inner Harbour.



They were also both designed by architect Francis Rattenbury, renowned for his designs and his scandalous personal life. (He left his first wife for another woman and was later murdered by his second wife’s lover!)



In between those two stately buildings is the Royal BC Museum and Thunderbird Park, home to aboriginal totem poles and big houses.



Inside the museum the First People’s Gallery displays authentic ceremonial masks carved by Kwakwaka'wakw master carver Mungo Martin, who was instrumental in keeping Northwest Coast art alive.

Take time to smell the roses

Above all, Victoria is known for its gardens and one in particular; Butchart Gardens. When Jennie Butchart created a sunken garden in 1912 from the hole in the ground where her husband had quarried limestone rock, she began a gardening project that is still growing today.



The latest addition is the Rose Carousel, a menagerie of hand-carved wooden animals, including an orca and a replica of the current owner’s dog.

At 55 acres, Butchart Gardens may be the biggest in Victoria, but it’s not the only one worth visiting. Abkhazi Garden is a one-acre wonder, and the University of Victoria’s Finnerty Gardens has one of Canada’s best collections of rhododendrons.

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Suzanne Morphet

Suzanne Morphet lives in Victoria, B.C. She's the co-author of the local bestseller, The Vancouver Island Book of Everything. Check out her blog, Secrets From My Suitcase, to read more about her travels.

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