British Columbia's capital city is just a short trip from Vancouver, and if your next Victoria visit needs a little shaking up, consider taking a fresh approach.
Sure, you can ride in a horse-drawn carriage around the inner harbour, savour afternoon tea at the storied Empress, bask in the wonders of the Royal B.C. Museum, or roam Butchart Gardens. Or you can veer just a bit off the beaten path and embrace the colourful, quirky, creative Victoria you might not have tapped into before.
If you time your travel right, you can also check out any of the incredible annual events in Victoria. From marketplaces to marathons, Rifflandia to retreats, there's something for everyone all year long; Tourism Victoria has an ongoing list of events worth noting--and even planning your next trip around.
Here's how to spend a wild and wonderful weekend off the beaten path in beautiful Victoria, B.C.
Where to stay
It doesn't get more quirky than Hotel Zed. Situated conveniently in Victoria's uptown neighbourhood, this converted motel comes with some unique trimmings. There are a slew of amenities with a definite cool factor available in the central gathering area, including vintage records, ping pong, board games, and typewriters for sending postcards home--you'll for sure want to type "Wish you were here!" There's a heated pool onsite that has the Zedinator--a big waterslide for kids and grownups. You can request rides in the colourful Hotel Zed van, or use roller skates or longboards on loan from the front desk.
The rooms are bright and basic, and you can get as unique as a stay in a converted Airstream (that's the Zedstream, of course!) or stick to a simple single or suite (with a mini kitchenette). It's no frills, but lots of fun, and works for families, friends, or couples. And if your travel plans have you headed east to Kelowna, Zed's working their magic with a property there, too, all with the same "Rebels Against the Ordinary" vibe.
What to see
There's a lot to see and do in Victoria, that's for sure. A few stand out spots might not exactly be secrets, but they definitely pack the fun.
Beacon Hill Park is considered the "crown jewel" of the city's park system, and it's easy to see why. You can keep it simple with a wander around the 200 acres of park land, but you'll want to time it so you don't miss the daily "Running of the Goats" at the Beacon Hill Children's Farm. These "goat stampedes" are the cutest thing ever, and happen at 10:10 am and 4:10 pm. Then stick around to play with the goats--just be careful, they like to climb on people.
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria is a smaller venue, but there's plenty to see inside and out, including the incredible adjacent Victorian-era Spencer Mansion, the Japanese garden, and of course the exhibitions.
If you're brave enough, head into downtown to the Victoria Bug Zoo to get up close and personal with some real creepy characters. Free tours get you deep inside a bug's life, and the chance to interact with a few critters.
Toronto might have Casa Loma, but Victoria has Craigdarroch Castle. Once home to the Dunsmuir family, the beautifully restored property has been used in the past as a military hospital, college, and music conservatory. Self-guided tours send visitors on a trip back in time (and make sure the kids in your group get the scavenger hunt paper to keep their little eyes busy).
One of Victoria's most surprising gems is Abkhazi Garden. This property is tucked in a lovely residential neighbourhood, and entry is by donation. Prince and Princess Abkhazi began creating their garden in 1946, and lovingly tended to it for 40 years. Nearly 20 years ago, The Land Conservancy purchased the site to prevent it from turning into townhouses, and now they operate the teahouse in the former residence, and the gorgeous gardens.
Where to eat
Victoria is home to plenty of incredible food options, including some familiar names for Vancouverites, like the original Jam Cafe, a Tacofino outpost, and now a Milano cafe. If you're down in the Inner Harbour (it's hard to resist an evening stroll in the picturesque spot) you can pop into The Flying Otter to enjoy casual pub-style fare and drinks with a prime viewing spot for harbour activity, like float planes and ferry boats coming and going. PS: They are known for their Fried Cheesecake from the dessert menu--that's something you don't see every day!
Wake up and taste some awesome at The Ruby, which has two Victoria locations, including at Hotel Zed; their signature breakfast item is their fun riff on chicken and waffles, made with their rotisserie chicken and served with gravy and syrup.
There are treats galore to be found around town, from the cheeky Empire Donuts (who also have a fried chicken operation), to Kid Sister for ice cream (sadly a seasonal situation). Get wicked good baked goods at Ruth & Dean, where they also serve daily lunch and weekend brunch in their cozy downtown cafe.
Taking the ferry? Skip the on board offerings (sorry, B.C. Ferries) on your way back to the mainland and make a pit stop at a Red Barn Market and head to their sandwich bar to get a wrap or sammie to go.
Victoria is accessible from the Lower Mainland of B.C. via ferry (B.C. Ferries and V2V) and air (i.e. Harbour Air). Want to ditch the car altogether? Here's how to make the trip entirely on public transit.