Popular Victoria Attractions: Victoria Castles and Architecture
The four-year construction of the spectacular Craigdarroch Castle in the Rockland area was completed in 1890. The residence-cum-museum is well worth the visit, if only to see how the wealthy elite lived during early Victoria years. Built by Scottish born Robert Dunsmuir, a wealthy coal baron with two sons and eight daughters, the castle has had a number of different owners in the intervening years. Towering granite fireplaces, arches columns and four floors of exotic hardwoods greet you during a tour of this architectural gem, now a museum. Open year-round, you can self-tour the castle and I-Spy activities are available to keep children on the run. Plan for an hour to tour the residence.
Carrying on the family tradition of enormous residences, Hatley Park Castle in Colwood was the home of Coal Baron James Dunsmuir, son of Robert Dunsmuir who commissioned Craigdarroch Castle. The Castle and grounds have been used in over thirty-three TV and film productions including the Luthor Mansion in Smallville and Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters in the X-Men film series. Tours of the Castle are available, and the grounds and gardens are a beautiful area to explore.
Other popular Victoria attractions include Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia along with the gardens that cover the grounds.. The residence sits on the original site of the first Government House built in 1869 called Cary Castle, that burned to the ground in 1899. A new residence designed by Francis Rattenbury and Samuel Maclure succumbed to fire in 1957. The present-day house was completed in 1959, and though it is not generally open to the public, the structure is impressive and the free gardens are beautiful throughout the year.
The Provincial Legislature, known as the Parliament Buildings, is BC’s seat of government and sits overlooking the Inner Harbour. Daily tours are available of the inside — both guided and self-guided. Outside, the Knowledge Totem and Centennial Fountain, as well as the fifty-one meter flagpole made from a single Douglas fir tree are picture worthy.
Popular Victoria Attractions: Coffee & Tea in Victoria
No trip to Victoria would be complete without a visit to the Empress Hotel, built during the grand years of steamship travel between 1904 and 1908 as a terminus hotel for the Canadian Pacific’s steamship line. Start with a walk through the grand interior and finish with tea in the tea lobby or perhaps curry in the Bengal lounge; modeled after Colonial India.
Other excellent choices for tea include Murchie’s Tea & Coffee, downtown on Government Street and in business since 1894, White Heather Tea Room in Oak Bay, or Historic Point Ellice House on the Gorge Waterway.
Popular Victoria Attractions: Victoria Museums
The Royal BC Museum is a highly rated North American museum with a mandate to preserve and share the record and stories of British Columbia’s natural and human history. Three permanent exhibits plus IMAX and regular visiting exhibits make this a must see attraction that kids will love.
Nautical types will appreciate the Maritime Museum in Bastion Square. Loaded with everything nautical on three floors of displays, the museum features North America’s oldest birdcage elevator. The elevator ride alone could be worth the price of admission and it even ranked #2 in National Geographic’s book Journeys of a Lifetime, in the section Top 10 Elevator Rides.
Popular Victoria Attractions: Victoria’s Chinatown
Small but with a storied history, Victoria’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America behind San Francisco. Undergoing an extensive revitalization including the impressive Gate of Harmonious Interest, there are murals to find and treasures to uncover. Guided historical tours designed to get you off the beaten path and into the murky world of secret societies, opium houses and brothels, as well as arts, medicine and festivals are available with Hidden Dragon Tours.
Popular Victoria Attractions: Victoria and Area Wine Tasting & Tours
Visiting a winery is the perfect way to enjoy the scenic pastoral areas that dominate the Saanich Peninsula, Sooke and the Cowichan Valley. Almost fifty wineries plus several distilleries dot the Island from Victoria to Comox, plus the Gulf Islands. Producing everything from the usual reds and whites, to fruit wines, mead, vodka and whiskey, the Island is on the map as the second largest wine producing region in BC and growing. See our guide to wine tasting and wineries for details.
Popular Victoria Attractions: Victoria’s Inner Harbour Walkway and Harbour Ferries
Make sure to spend time at the Inner Harbour along the walkway in front of the Empress Hotel. During the summer months, the area is bustling with street entertainers and vendors of all descriptions from Native art to on-the-spot portraits. The Harbour is a continual mix of floatplanes and marine tours coming and going, along with the occasional event such as the Tall Ship Festival, making for a great spot to relax and take in the action.
The Victoria Harbour Ferry is a fun way to see the Harbour with both scheduled trips and tours that explore the Gorge Waterway and the Inner Harbour. Locals refer to these quaint 12 passenger boats as the Pickle Boats.