During this difficult time, travel is not an option for us. I know this. But it doesn’t stop me imagining where I would go, if I could. I’m sure you feel the same, if you’re here. This post is simply a reflection of travels gone by, and aims to be inspiration for the travels to come.
With stunning landscapes, small town vibes, and mild weather year-round, Vancouver Island is just a hop, skip and a jump from Vancouver BC. In fact, it only takes a couple of hours to get there from downtown Vancouver. As per usual, we didn’t have much time to explore Vancouver Island proper, so settled on a few days in its capital: Victoria.
I would sum Victoria up as a quaint harbour town, with its heritage buildings, rugged coastline, and natural beauty. Although, step back from the harbour a bit, and you’ll find a bustling city with all the trappings of modern life.
It’s kind of like a little slice of Britain on the edge of Canada. What could be more perfect?
We took the BC Ferries Connector from downtown Vancouver, which includes bus and ferry transportation as part of your ticket. Totally worth it for the ferry ride itself. The views on the way are stunning!
The trip is split into three parts: first, there’s a bus to the Tsawwassen BC Ferry Terminal, then a ferry to Swartz Bay (via the gorgeous Gulf Islands), and finally a bus ride to Victoria. The bus driver is with you the whole way, and ours was really great at explaining the process when it came to getting on and off the ferry, to make sure noone was left behind.
We arrived in Victoria around lunchtime, and were basically dropped off just down the road from our accommodation. We decided to flash it up and stay at the Hotel Grand Pacific, which looks like a freakin palace from the outside. Because we were there in early January, it was super quiet, and often felt like we were the only guests in the hotel. We tried to play on this in order for a free upgrade, but alas it wasn’t to be!
But, our views of the harbour more than made up for it.
How to Spend a Winter Getaway in Victoria
You should know by now that we love a winter holiday. And, we also love a good walk. We never walk even half as much in our regular life as we do when we’re travelling. We really walk pretty much everywhere! Yes, even during the winter months. And often without looking at a map or having a destination in mind first.
Sometimes this gets us horribly lost, but for the most part, it allows us to find hidden nooks and crannies, feel like a local, and see and do things we likely wouldn’t have otherwise.
So yes, in all my ‘what to do’ lists, you’ll find walking in there. It’s a no brainer.
But also, in this post, you’ll find that all the locations and attractions are in walking distance from the bus terminal – so, quite possible to achieve one or more activities if you popped over for a day trip. See? That’s helpful!
Earlier, I likened Victoria to Britain, and here’s proof: it has its very own castle! The Craigdarroch Castle sits upon a hill in a beautiful but quiet neighbourhood in Victoria (about a 30-minute walk from the bus terminal).
Once home of the Dunsmuir family from Scotland, it is steeped in history, and simply fascinating to explore. During our visit, the castle was adorned with festive wreaths, fairy lights, and a magnificent Christmas tree, which made it feel even more like a home rather than a draughty castle, as you might expect.
Throughout the castle, you can find out about the Dunsmuir family, which I found truly captivating. Their story is filled with a rags-to-riches tale of scandal, loss, and family disputes. I will need to check up on my own family history, but I was shocked and interested to see that one of the Dunsmuir daughters married a Harvey. Related?
A coastal walk around James Bay (think: houseboats, breakwater, and parkland)
We decided to take a walk along the coast of James Bay, with no real idea of what we’d find. We had taken a quick look at the map and knew there were some points of interest along the way, so off we set!
If only we had visited during the warmer months, Fisherman’s Wharf would have been an amazing place to spend a couple of hours! With its floating piers and colourful houseboats – some home to eateries including a fish n chip shop and an ice cream parlour – I could just imagine enjoying an icy cold beverage in the sun, while seals played in the distance.
As it was, the area was still pretty neat to visit during winter. Unfortunately everything is closed, but you can still wander along the piers and appreciate the gorgeous houseboats. And, It’s only an 18-20 minute walk from the bus terminal.
Ogden Point Breakwater
Further along the coastline (around 10 minutes from Fisherman’s Wharf) you’ll find the Ogden Point Sundial and the Breakwater. The Indigenous murals along the breakwater are gorgeous, and it’s actually a nice little walk to the lighthouse.
Unfortunately for us, the wind had picked up during our walk, making it a little treacherous at times. It was cold and windy, and the sea crashed against the breakwater, casting waves across the walkway ahead of us. It was so much fun though, and we laughed the entire way as we got blown about trying to avoid getting soaked.
Holland Point Park
If you care to walk another 10 or so minutes along the coast, you’ll find yourself at Holland Point Park. It was here that I realised just how much Victoria reminded me of the UK. I felt like I was walking along in the Scottish Highlands or something.
The park is lush and green, covered in trees, and the views are stunning. Especially on such a wild and stormy looking day as we had. Had the weather been better, I would have been quite content to sit for a picnic and just stare out at the sea.
Beacon Hill Park
And if you’ve come this far, you might as well keep going until you make it to Beacon Hill Park (another 10 minutes down the road, or you can take a 14 minute walk directly from the bus terminal).
If the rest of Victoria reminded me of Britain, Beacon Hill Park hit me right in my childhood. It felt like I had stepped back in time, and was exploring Queen’s Park in my hometown of Invercargill (New Zealand) rather than on the other side of the world in Canada.
The park was just glorious – and so big! It was lovely to wander along the different paths, going wherever the mood took us. We found an abundance of local wildlife, including a few peacocks who looked like they were in the middle of something important.
From here, it was a short walk back to our accommodation, making this walk a wonderful round trip where we got to enjoy the local flora and fauna Victoria has to offer.
Royal BC Museum
We’re not usually ones for visiting museums wherever we go, but while browsing a cute stationery store in town, I overheard one of the staff saying that it was the last day the museum were offering gold coin donation entry (usually it would cost CAD $18). I can’t remember why this was, but I looked it up and sure enough she was right!
So, with nothing better to do, we decided to check it out. And I am so glad we did.
The Royal BC Museum is incredible! Filled with a seemingly never-ending collection of exhibitions, every room we entered offered something completely different.
From fossils and natural history, to Indigenous artefacts, the museum really has something for everyone. I especially loved the modern history exhibitions, which felt like we were stepping back in time. Each exhibition offered a snapshot into a different era, and we could have easily spent all day walking through the past.
On our last day in Victoria, we decided to check out Miniature World. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much (a lot of times these kinds of attractions tend to wow you in the entrance hall and then leave you deflated once you get inside), so we were pleasantly surprised to discover how amazing it really is!
The attention to detail in each of the exhibits is incredible. And the more you look, the more you shall find.
From the Wild West to the German countryside and everything in between and beyond, it was particularly cool to see places we have actually been to before, and point out the things that we recognised.
I especially loved the old doll houses, which had been created to perfection. Unfortunately they were difficult to photograph with any justice, but just know that I stood for a good long time marvelling at them.
What’s for Eating?
The majority of our meals in Victoria were sourced from a local supermarket. There was a really good Thrify Foods about a 10-minute walk from our hotel, so we went there a couple of times to stock up on food. Honestly though, we are always amazed at the range of food available at supermarkets in Canada and the US. They’re like an attraction to us. Seriously, we’d probably pay an entrance fee if it were demanded.
We can spend hours perusing the shelves, buying more than we can eat, and trying all the things until we end up in a food-induced coma. That’s just how we roll.
But, we did try a couple of local eateries, so I can recommend these ones…
Frankie’s Modern Diner
A cute diner with a mix of old school style and modern décor, Frankie’s Modern Diner was the perfect choice for a late pancake lunch. I love a good pancake at any time of the day, and these ones were delicious.
We were really craving a hearty Irish stew for some reason, so hit up the Irish Times. And look, it wasn’t the best stew I’ve ever had. The place was pretty packed, we were tucked in an awkward corner right near the server’s entry, and the food was just okay, from memory. I think we’ll always be comparing Irish stew to the most incredible one we had during our Wicklow Mountains tour in Ireland, though.
Hey Happy Coffee
I’m always on the look-out for trendy coffee spots during our travels, and stumbled upon Hey Happy during a final wander of the city on our last day. I opted for a Honey Latte, and wow. One of the best coffees I’ve had outside of Melbourne. You can taste that the baristas take care in making each cup. It was simply divine.
Final thoughts on Victoria
Overall, Victoria is a lovely harbour town, packed with history and a wide range of things to see and do. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring, and would love to come back during the warmer months to spend more time outdoors and take that coastal walk again, see how different it is during the summertime.
Have you visited Vancouver Island before?
Let me know what other places we should visit next time!