Exploring Victoria, B.C. – Victorian city surrounded by natural beauty

Victoria's Inner HarbourNot that long ago, Victoria, British Columbia was Canada’s wild western frontier. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, northwest of Seattle, Victoria was established as a trading post for the Hudson Bay Company in the 1840s. Victoria saw its population explode from around 300 to more than 5,000 in a matter of weeks when the discovery of gold brought thousands of hopeful miners to the area. A couple of decades later, Victoria became the provincial capital of British Columbia, and the city has never looked back.

Getting to Victoria
Victoria is accessible only by sea and air, which means that getting there is half the fun. You can take a direct commercial flight from several cities to Victoria International Airport, located about 20 minutes north of the city, but arriving by boat or float plane is an adventure!

We flew into Seattle and got up before dawn the next day to take the early morning trip on the high-speed Victoria Clipper, a walk-on ferry. The weather gods were with us, and we got to enjoy the sun rise behind the Seattle skyline and watch as it lit up peaks in the Cascade and Olympic ranges. Because the weather was near-perfect, we passed the time on the three-hour trip enjoying spectacular views of islands and sea life along the way. As we rounded the point and headed for the ferry terminal in Victoria Harbor (or harbour, as the Canadians spell it), we heard the buzz of a small plane and watched a floatplane circle the harbour, land, and cruise up to its floating dock immediately in front of the city’s showplace, the spectacular Empress Hotel. We’ll arrive in Victoria that way next time!

Seeing Victoria
Modern Victoria, home to 80,000 in the city and more than 300,000 in the metro area, spreads out north and west from the Inner Harbour, where the city’s heart has been since 1897, when the impressive Parliament Buildings opened, and 1908, when the beautiful, chateau-styled Empress Hotel first welcomed guests. Victoria is known for its parks and gardens and is a very walkable city filled with Victorian architecture and style.Victoria's Parliament Building at Night

Residents of Victoria are proud to be described as “more English than the English” and if you’ve come to experience the full British Empire experience, you won’t be disappointed. High Tea at the Empress is on many people’s bucket lists. We lingered over tea and scones at Murchie’s (offering more than 100 varieties of tea since 1894), spent a pleasant evening in the famous Bengal Lounge at the Empress, and had great fun at the Irish Times Pub in downtown Victoria, enjoying the food, locally brewed beers, and live Irish Traditional music.

Tea TimeThere is much to see and do in the city— fabulous restaurants and shops (including Munro’s Books), exhibits at the Royal British Columbia Museum (across the street from the Empress), a vibrant “Chinatown,” tours of the Parliament Buildings, and beautifully landscaped gardens and trails in Beacon Hill Park—but rugged nature and wildlife is just a short drive away. Vancouver Island is bisected by rugged mountains, including several peaks over 7,000 feet, so there is varying terrain (and weather) for just about any type of outdoors pursuit: sea kayaking, rock climbing, and zip lines through rain forests. Just 30 minutes outside the city, we hiked in Goldstream Provincial Park and were lucky enough to catch the annual salmon run to see thousands of fish struggling upstream to spawn.

Victoria is Special
The combination of cosmopolitan city and unspoiled natural surroundings makes for a unique destination. We have made plans to return, and this time, to enjoy more of the great outdoors. Already on our list are plans to kayak with harbour seals in the Inner Harbour and a guided hike through the rain forests of the west coast with West Coast Trekking.Salmon Stream

For more information about the Victoria Clipper, including hotel packages in Seattle or Victoria, visit www.clippervacations.com. Get information and book passage on the float plane with Kenmore Air, at www.kenmoreair.com. For information on the city, visit www.tourismvictoria.com

Credit for all photos: Tom and D. Fran Morley

D. Fran MorleyD. Fran Morley, a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, and her husband, Tom, a professional violinist, live in Fairhope, Alabama on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. She fills her days writing feature articles for numerous regional and national trade magazines and with work as Content Editor for the Association of Personal Historians. He spends his time performing, leading workshops, and teaching students of all ages how to play violin and fiddle. He is the author of the recently published book, Learn to Play Irish Trad Fiddle. They both enjoy sharing stories and photos from their travels.