Victoria is a perfect getaway. It is truly one of Canada’s premier travel destinations (it was ranked 16th in a list of the world’s top 100 destinations by 2008 Trip Advisor Traveler’s Choice Awards).
It is an ideal city to explore on a long weekend because it is easy to get to and it has so much to offer.
From the Calgary airport to Victoria takes just over an hour. A taxi to the downtown area will cost about $50 and a shuttle that stops at most of the hotels is $17. If you have lots of time and are on a budget, you can even catch a city bus and be in the downtown area for under $3. You really don’t need to rent a car — you can get anywhere in the downtown area by foot.
Victoria has the mildest climate of any place in Canada, making it a great place to pursue any number of outdoor activities. If you enjoy walking, running, biking, hiking, kayaking, tennis or golf, Victoria is your city. You can also go whale watching, fishing or sailing. All of these activities can be accessed from the downtown area.
Victoria is also teeming with interesting and unique restaurants.
I am sure it has the most coffee houses per capita of any city I have visited.
There seems to be one on every corner.
I read once that Victoria is more English than the English. For sure, the British who settled here have certainly left their mark, evident not only by the horse drawn carriages and double decker buses, but also by tea rooms and many beautiful formal gardens. If you love gardens, you shouldn’t miss taking a trip to the Buchart Gardens — one million visitors a year can’t be wrong. Even if you are not into gardening, you can’t help but notice the interesting landscaping and varied and beautiful gardens in the many neighbourhoods throughout Victoria. Even the downtown streets are filled with the scent of the flowers that spill over from their hanging baskets.
The real essence of Victoria can be only found at the inner harbour. It is the anchor to Victoria’s beauty.
A favourite spot for me to enjoy the harbor is a little café/pub right on the water called the Flying Otter Grill (950 Wharf Street). From here I can see the float planes land and take off, the little touristy tub-shaped water taxis, the whale watching boats come and go and kayakers rowing by. Once in a while a cute seal or even an otter will poke its nose up from the water looking for a handout.
The harbour is guarded by equally beautiful buildings, including, of course, the famous legislative buildings, the Royal B.C. Museum and the ivy-covered Fairmont Empress Hotel. No wonder many of the most famous people in the world have docked their yachts in Victoria’s inner harbour.
Walk along the inner harbour, stroll and shop Government Street, bike the Galloping Goose, eat fish and chips by the water and take time to smell the flowers along the way. Here are a few places to stay, dine and shop, as well as other things to do in Victoria.
There is no shortage of places to stay in Victoria. From chain hotels, boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts or hostels there will be something to fit your budget and your taste. I love the boutique hotels and two of the best are the Magnolia Hotel and Spa and Oswego. Room rates may be a bit expensive but they scream of luxury.
• Oswego boasts a contemporary West Coast design and there are outfitted with full gourmet kitchens in each suite. Oswego provides very reasonable one-week packages as well as deals on longer stays. It is two blocks from the inner harbor at 500 Oswego street (877-767-9346).
• The Magnolia Hotel has been rated one of the top three hotels in Canada and from the minute you enter the mahogany-lined lobby you’ll know you are somewhere special. Some rooms feature gas fireplaces and beautiful downtown views through floor-to-ceiling windows. Rates include a continental breakfast for guests. Magnolia Hotel is at the corner of Courtney and Gordon and rooms start at $179 (877-624-6654 toll free).
You can also go to their websites to look for specials.
• For an appetizer, I love the Oyster, which is located on Humboldt Street, just across from the Empress Hotel. Go here for, you guessed it, oysters. They have an oyster happy hour where you can choose from fresh oysters of the day for a buck an oyster. If you are an inexperienced oyster eater, the friendly staff is more than willing to help out. I suggest raw oysters on the half shell. Your oysters will arrive at your table in a platter of ice accompanied by four tasty sauces. Pair your oysters with a beer or wine from the bar’s extensive menu. Happy hour runs from 4:30 to 6 p.m. every day.
• For great sea food, check out Pescatore’s Fish House (614 Humboldt St.), next door to the Oyster Bar. It is an upscale restaurant so expect to pay premium prices. They use fresh and local food so expect B.C. wines, local microbrews and sea food from the West Coast.
For more casual dining, try Pagliacci’s, which is located on Broad Street. There is almost always a lineup, but it is worth the wait. If the lineup is too long you may be treated to a little coffee mug of wine while you wait. The menu is Italian based with all kinds of pasta specials with weird names like Hemingway’s Short Story, Sid Caesar and Casablanca. Half orders are large enough.
• The Blue Fox Café (No. 101 919 Fort St.) is the place for breakfast. Expect a lineup here, especially on the weekend. Orders are huge and the food is excellent.
• You shouldn’t leave Victoria without a take out from a fish and chip shop. There are many to choose from, including Barb’s Place on Fisherman’s Wharf and Red Fish, Blue Fish on Wharf Street. (It is worth the trip to Fisherman’s Wharf just to take a look at some of unique floating houses that are moored there.)
Two shops that are unique to Victoria are right next to one another on Government Street, between Fort and View Streets. Munros Bookstore and Murchies are places you shouldn’t miss. Spend time browsing through the books at Munros and have dessert and coffee at Murchies. I never tire of either experience.
Government and Douglas Streets are lined with unique shops and also well-known stores such as Eddie Bauer and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Check out Capital Iron (1900 Store St.), a unique harbour front store that has everything from kitchen equipment to tools.
Things to do
• Don’t leave Victoria without a walk or run on cliffy shoreline along Dallas Road. Start at Ogden Point and walk south along the paved path winding along the jagged shoreline. You’ll be treated to views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic mountains. If you’re lucky, you’ll witness hang gliders hovering just off the cliffs over the Pacific Ocean and wind surfers playing in the waves. For sure, you will see a wide assortment of people, many of them out walking their wide assortment of dogs.
• When you get to Cook Street, take a detour to the left and walk along the border of Beacon Hill Park. If you have time, stop to watch the lawn bowlers. In the Cook Street Village, you’ll find an assortment of grocery stores, coffee shops and cafes. It is a great place to hang out. My favourite coffee spot along Cook Street is the Moka House. It serves great coffee, has comfortable chairs both inside and on the patio as well as free wi fi.
•Rent a bike for the day and check out the Galloping Goose Trail. This is a multiuse trail that was built on an old railway line. It is 55 km long and links to many of the parks in the Victoria area. Rent a bicycle from any number of the downtown shops such as Cycle BC Rentals (707 Douglas St., $24 per day) and travel over the Johnson Bridge towards West Victoria. As soon as you cross the bridge, take a right onto the trail. You’ll bike by waterways, pasture land, giant fir trees, marshes and residences. You can get maps of the Galloping Goose from tourist information booths and from bike shops.
Another great bike route is to head to the southeast periphery of Victoria along Dallas Road and take the scenic ocean drive. You will be treated to wonderful views of the choppy Pacific Ocean as you travel beside the wind swept cliffs and beaches. Take time for a coffee or glass of wine at the many cafes and restaurants that can be found along the way.
• Try kayaking along the Gorge Waterway. Ocean River Sports in the upper harbour rents double kayaks for two hours for $42.
I have always heard that Victoria was a place for the newly wed and nearly dead. They may be there too, but so is everyone else. Many come for a visit and stay for a lifetime. If you go once, you’ll go again and again. With so much to enjoy, a weekend is just not enough time to get your fill of this delightful city.
Mona Knudslien is a recently-retired Red Deer teacher and school administrator. Her column appears on Saturdays.