Lesson : The Beautiful Port City of Victoria


When my wife told me she wanted to visit Victoria, I was taken aback. I thought perhaps Victoria was in England, and I really did not want to go on such a long journey right now. But unbeknownst to me, Victoria is the capital city of British Columbia, on the west coast of Canada. After a few minutes of online investigation, I was all in.

So, we decided to sandwich a quick Victoria excursion between visits to our friends in Sequim and Quilcene in Washington state.

We drove over to Port Angeles from Sequim, and parked our spiffy BMW rental car in a garage not far from the ferry terminal. The Black Ball Ferry Line runs a ferry four times a day between Port Angeles and Victoria. 

After an uneventful ride on the ferry that took roughly an hour and a half, we arrived at the ferry terminal in the Inner Harbor at James Bay.  A panoramic view of the city awaited us as we docked at the ferry terminal, with some of Victoria's most iconic buildings in full view. Two in particular will catch your eye immediately; The Fairmont Empress Hotel and the British Columbia Parliament Buildings.

The Empress was built in 1908 by the Canadian Pacific Railroad Company. The impressive chateauesque-style building is one of Victoria’s most recognizable landmarks.  The hotel was designed by Sir Francis Rattenbury, who was one of British Columbia’s most famous and celebrated architects. Inside on the main floor you'll find afternoon tea served every day in the summer.

Situated "catty-corner" across the harbor from the Empress are the majestic British Columbia Parliament Buildings. This building complex is where the provincial politicians convene and conduct their business. Rattenbury designed the Legislature buildings years before the Empress when he was only 25 years old. Free tours are conducted daily.

By happenstance, there was a car show in the city on the day we arrived featuring the famous "deuce coupe", a 1932 era Ford hot rod that became wildly popular in the 1960's. Deuce coupes of all types and colors lined the streets of the Victoria port district, some prowling the streets with the distinctive roar of their custom V-8 engines. We noticed some deuce coupes exiting from the ferry from the USA, so it was truly an international affair.

Our hotel, the Hotel Grand Pacific, was within walking distance of the ferry terminal. We were quickly checked in, dropped our bags off so we could gallivant about the city. It was Sunday, and with the car show brought quite a crowd to the streets surrounding James Bay. We walked up Government Street towards Chinatown. There, we ate dinner at the Little Yunnan restaurant on Fisgard Street. If you want extremely authentic Chinese cuisine, this is a great place to try.

The next day we visited The Butchart Gardens, which is situated north of Victoria. We decided to take a local bus to get there, which cost only $2.50 each. What a bargain! 

The Gardens offer a handful of inspired landscaped areas within its 55 acres, including the Rose Garden, the Sunken Garden, and a few others, in addition to water falls, ponds, and totem poles.

July is one of the best times of year to visit the gardens because everything is in full bloom. The rose garden was teeming with color, with many varieties of roses on display. The sunken garden was an awesome bit of landscaping that will amaze you. We walked around for a couple of hours, soaking in the magnificent beauty surrounding us. 

For lunch, by some miracle we were able to get a table at the restaurant inside the gardens. Actually, we did not have lunch per se, but rather "afternoon tea." If you have ever had afternoon tea in England or Australia, you will know what it is like. We ordered a pot of tea for each of us, and with that a set menu of sandwiches, sweets, and scones were brought on a three-tier tray. After tea, we went back into the gardens, and made our way to the Japanese Garden and the Italian Garden. 

Upon our return to the hotel, we really regretted that we did not plan for one more day in Victoria. There was so much more to see, but two days was not enough. Before catching the ferry back to Port Angeles the next day, we decided to take a "hop-on hop-off" bus tour of the city. The bus stops in roughly 25 locations throughout Victoria, and you can listen to overviews of each stop. We did hop off for lunch at Oak Bay, which is due east of downtown Victoria. The Penny Farthing Public House was the perfect spot for lunch and a little relaxation before our journey back to the US.

So what did we miss?  We did not get a chance to see any of the castles that Victoria is famous for. Craigdarroch Castle is the closest one to downtown Victoria, but unfortunately it was closed while we were there. Hatley Castle is another very popular attraction. We'll make a point to visit them next time.

The Empress Hotel