My Favorite Canadian City
Canada is an immense country with much to offer visitors. The world’s second largest country by area is the ninth least populated, which provides for abundant room. Canada also boasts the longest shoreline of any country at over 151,000 miles of ocean front property. While the bigger cities of Montreal Ontario, Toronto, Quebec, and Vancouver usually get the lion’s share of tourism, I prefer the smaller, quainter city of Victoria.
The city of Victoria sits on the Inner Harbor of James Bay at the tip of Vancouver Island. It is the capital of British Columbia, one of Canada’s ten provinces. Victoria was once one of the busiest ports on the west coast of North America, but fell in stature to the much larger city of Vancouver on the mainland when the Canadian Pacific Railroad decided to terminate there. Fortunately, the city has maintained many of its elegant historical buildings, which give it a feeling of stepping back in time to a more civilized era.
The two most common ways to get to Victoria are both by boat, naturally. The Victoria Clipper runs daily year round from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle, Washington. The trip takes 2 hours and 30 minutes. The Clipper is a high-speed jet boat with airline type seating. On board, you can relax in comfort with a bite to eat or drink while amazing scenery passes by. You may even see a whale! However the Clipper is expensive at $117.00 per person round-trip. Also, reservations are required. Be advised, during the summer, the Clipper can sell out quickly so plan in advance. The clipper does provide for your Canadian purchases to come back to the U.S. My wife put this to the test by bringing a leather couch back!
The other boat is the M.V. Coho. It leaves daily from Port Angeles, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. Although the Coho gets you to Victoria in 1 hour and 30 minutes, the drive from Seattle to Port Angeles is 3 hours. However, the drive is very spectacular. The Coho is also much cheaper at $21.00 per person round trip. The other advantage of the Coho is that it is a far larger vessel and allows cars, whereas the Clipper does not. For us dog people, the Coho permits animals in the cabin. The Clipper requires animals to be booked in advance, charges an additional $20.00 each way, and requires all animals to make the trip in a confined animal carrier. Albie much prefers traveling with us on the Coho. (If you read my post on the Calais, France, to Dover, England, crossing you would understand why.) One disadvantage to the Coho is that it does not make the run from mid-January to the first of June.
In addition to the Clipper and the Coho, you can take a Canadian ferry from Vancouver to Victoria for about $5.00. The crossing takes about 30 minutes. If you do not like boats or are just in a hurry, you can fly to Victoria from several airports in Washington. Depending on when and where you fly, the flights usually range from $50.00 to $150.00 per person round-trip. No matter which method you choose, you will marvel in the beauty of the area.
Once on land in Victoria you can begin exploring this fabulous city right away. Immediately in front of you when you disembark the vessel is the Fairmont Empress Hotel. Built in 1908, the hotel is an iconic symbol of the city. The Bengal Ballroom is decorated in a Victorian Era Colonial India style from when Queen Victoria was the Empress of India. It was a favorite destination of author Rudyard Kipling of The Jungle Book fame. Today, you can have tea in nostalgic Victorian splendor (cost about $60.00 per person, but worth it).
Our boys’ favorite attraction in Victoria is Miniature World. I have to admit, this is a favorite of mine too. Self-billed as “The greatest little show on Earth,” it boasts 85 different miniature recreations s of various places. On display is the Battle of Waterloo, The Battle of Berlin, a complete circus with surrounding city, part of the Canadian Pacific Railway, a space colony, and much more. All of the displays are working lighted little worlds meticulously made in exquisite detail. The kid in me wishes to build one in our home, but my wife has so far halted my plans (so far).
No trip to Victoria is complete without a tour of the beautiful Butchart Gardens. Portland Cement tycoon Robert Pim Butchart moved to Victoria in 1904 to establish a limestone quarry for their cement company. His wife, Jennie, turned their home estate into one of the most famous and world-renowned private gardens. After the quarry was depleted, she incorporated it into her massive and ever-expanding garden too. Today, it is a show-piece for all to enjoy. My green-thumbed wife could spend all day strolling the grounds and taking pictures. Some travel advice, this is the only major attraction outside the city, so you will need to plan for a bus or taxi to take you there. Since the gardens take some time to fully enjoy, plan to leave in the morning.
We all highly recommend the Royal British Columbia Museum. The museum show-cases numerous artifacts that span the history of the area, from 20,000 years ago to today. The ultra-realistic life-size dioramas of life in British Columbia over the ages really are impressive and give you a sense of what life was like back in the day. We easily spend 2 to 3 hours looking around the museum.
There are many other things to see and do in Victoria. Each season has a special feel to it. During the summer, the gardens are in bloom and the weather is perfect. In winter, the city is transformed into a Christmas wonderland of lights and decorations. We love to go each time. For our top 10 things to see in Victoria, please see our “Top 10” lists above.