Victoria, BC in Canada is an Amazing Place to Visit!
Visiting Victoria, B.C.
Our three days spent in this sparkling jewel of a city Victoria was an amazing journey filled with widely varied impressions that only whet our appetite to return sometime in the future and explore some more of British Columbia in Canada.
My mother, niece and I had just come from the portion of our vacation where we had spent five days in Vancouver on the mainland of Canada. We had taken in various sites and activities which included the following:
- Queen Elizabeth Park & Bloedel Conservatory
- Capilano Suspension Bridge & Park
- Historic neighborhood of Gastown
- Van Dusen Botanical Gardens
- Vancouver AquariumStanley Park and our "room with a view"
- Boat-steam-train day trip from Vancouver to Squamish and back
Posts have been written about each of these experiences and it would be hard to choose a favorite.
Our journey to Victoria started with the BC ferries cruise from Vancouver to Victoria. This was an experience in itself in driving aboard the ship with our rental car, enjoying the seafaring transport to the Island of Vancouver and disembarking at the Tsawwassen B.C. Ferries dock at Swartz Bay.
We of course had enjoyed viewing the water filled with playful porpoises following in the wake of the ferry, the islands and the sunny day in general. This trip all by itself is pleasurable as you can see from the video.
BC Ferry ride to Vancouver Island
Day 1 on Vancouver Island!
After disembarking from the B.C. Ferry we drove the short distance from Swartz Bay to the City of Victoria which is located on the very southern tip of Vancouver Island.
Prior to even checking into our Royal Scot Motor Inn we decided to make a stop and do some sightseeing at the famous Butchart Gardens. We had heard about these beautiful gardens for years from many other people who had visited them and couldn't wait to see them for ourselves. They do not disappoint!
My mother, niece and I spent several hours roaming through the breathtaking vistas of different themed gardens and gorgeous plantings in what used to be a 50-acre limestone quarry. We left for a short time to check in to our reserved room at the Royal Scot and then returned to Butchart Gardens to dine in one of their restaurants and enjoy the nighttime show and fireworks.
From leaving Vancouver to soaking up the fresh sea air on the B.C. Ferry to walking in Butchart Gardens both in the daytime and at night, we were ready for a good night's sleep that first day that we spent in Victoria.
Our Grayline Tour of Victoria on Day 2
When we travel and are new to an area we generally sign up for a tour where we can learn a bit more about an area from local guides who are trained and knowledgeable about that locale.
We secured seats on Grayline for their Tour 1 B-C which included the Craigdarrouch Castle & Grand City Drive. The time spent on the tour was 2 1/2 hours.
We were dropped off at the Craigdarrouch Castle and had just enough time in the 1 1/2 hours to be able to walk through the 20,000 square foot mansion with its 39 rooms adorned with 18 fireplaces. The spectacular grand staircase was hand carved out of solid oak. Curved stained glass art nouveau windows have to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. Woods such as walnut, spruce, cedar, mahogany and others panel many of the rooms and the parquet flooring uses even more exotic woods.
The exterior was built using Vancouver Island sandstone and brick. Slate was utilized for the roof. The overall design of the building is Victorian but has elements of other influences such as Roman arches, a French Gothic roof-line, Elizabethan chimneys and some Jacobean and Scottish Baronial designs mixed in for good measure. The overall effect of this stunning structure both inside and out is amazing.
Craigdarrouch Castle was the culmination of design and building efforts commissioned by wealthy industrialist Robert Dunsmuir who was a Scottish immigrant. He made his fortune primarily from Vancouver Island coal. He also had associates with whom he worked to build the Esquirmalt and Nanaimo Railway. Robert Dunsmuir was also a political figure in British Columbia. This helped further his various business interests.
Mr. Dunsmuir died prior to Craigdarrouch Castle being finished but his wife Joan lived there for 18 years before her death in 1908.
The grounds of the mansion are located on a little over 28 acres with terraced gardens, ponds, meadows and streams adding to the beauty of this setting.
This building and grounds of Craigdarrouch Castle have existed for most of its history as a public site. In the past it has served various purposes including a soldier's hospital, a college and a music conservatory. It is now owned by the City of Victoria and operated by the Castle Preservation Society.
It is certainly of historic interest to anyone visiting Victoria to see the beautiful Craigdarrouch Castle. Few people ever get to lead their lives surrounded by such luxurious circumstances. For the price of a ticket (or included in our Grayline tour price) we got to enjoy this moment in time shared with the aristocracy of the past.
We had actually boarded our Grayline double-decker bus in front of the impressive Empress Hotel which sits right on the waterfront in Victoria. We walked through the lobby and public rooms of this landmark hotel.
High teas are served in the afternoons for those who have the time to sit back and enjoy this special kind of pampering. Our time was limited so we did not take advantage of that but certainly enjoyed catching a glimpse of the distinctive ambiance that could be enjoyed there.
Our bus driver and tour guide drove us through the best of Victoria's homes and gardens and historic points of interest including the Craigdarrouch Castle described above in this narrative.
Among other things we saw the following:
- Lieutenant - Governor's Mansion
- The Royal Victoria Golf Club
- The Oak Bay Residential areas
- The Rockland area which has an English flavor
- The City Center
- Views of the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Olympic Mountains
- And Beacon Hill Park.
One area was prettier than the next and we were happy to have had this introduction to parts of Victoria that we might not have gotten to see had we been left to our own devices.
The second stop on the tour where we disembarked the bus and got to walk around was at Cattle Point.
As the sign explains, cattle used to be driven off of transport ships and would swim to shore in this area of Vancouver Island and then be rounded up by cowboys. Many of us on the bus scrambled over the rocky shoreline enjoying the view and thinking about this area being used as a cattle landing area in the past.
What we saw of Beacon Hill Park made us want to go back for another more leisurely look and we not only did that after our tour was finished but I wrote a specific post about it if you would like to read more and see the numerous photos that I took of it.
In short it is a spectacular and naturally beautiful unspoiled by commercialism park that is a joy to explore. We strolled though Beacon Hill Park for several hours after our tour enjoying the gardens, lakes, ducks, etc.
After all of this walking in Beacon Hill Park my mother decided to rest in our room at the Royal Scot while my niece and I walked over to the Royal London Wax Museum and took in the sights.
The Royal London Wax Museum sits on a strip of land in the center of Victoria's picturesque Inner Harbour. The Parliament Buildings which house the seat of government form a magnificent backdrop. The Empress Hotel and other buildings help create the most spectacular views surrounding the Inner Harbour.
When my niece and I had finished wandering through the wax museum and were walking back to our lodging to rejoin my mother it was approaching dusk and the lighting on the Parliament buildings at night is a sight to behold! The reflections in the water add to the sparkling view.
This ended our second day of sightseeing in Victoria and we only had one more day to enjoy this beautiful City of Victoria.
Day Three in Victoria
The Royal British Columbia Museum was an amazing experience! The three of us spent several hours of the morning in this huge museum located on Victoria's Inner Harbour and returned to spend additional time in the afternoon.
One could literally spend many days in this museum with its vast collections of items portraying the natural history of this area. It is without a doubt the best natural history museum this author has ever seen.
- When we were in the part of the museum showing the Forests of the Coast with the native flora and fauna we actually felt as though we were in a real forest! There were the sounds of birds in the forest and it was dark as it would actually be if one were wandering through a tall stand of trees in a forest. This diorama included black tailed deer, a cougar, Roosevelt Elk and a grizzly bear to give you an example of animals found in this realistic forested area.
- The First Peoples area is located on two floors of the museum and concerns the native Indian people of this part of British Columbia. How they interacted with the environment was stressed and we saw full sized examples of a Pithouse, a Kwakiutl Indian Bighouse, a great area filled with totem poles and wonderful areas displaying basketry and weaving done by the Indians.
- Exploration: SEA was an area in the Royal British Columbia Museum that showed a cobblestone street scene with the ship the H.M.S. Discovery which was a 100 foot long vessel used by Captain George Vancouver when he was exploring the Pacific Northwest. There was an interior cabin scene and the Maritime Gallery contained all sorts of items relating to maritime history.
- The Modern History part of the museum brings one back in time to when the first European explorers met with the native people of British Columbia. Artifacts showing gold mining to industrialization and urbanization are included here among other things.
- Thunderbird Park on the museum's grounds showcase more totem poles. The Royal British Columbia Museum should be put on everyone's list of things to see when in Victoria.
Chinatown in Victoria
Our next focus was Chinatown. Several hours were spent walking the streets and ducking into several shops. We enjoyed a delicious lunch in one restaurant.
The landmark "Gate of Harmonious Interest" was built in 1981 as part of a revitalization effort to vitalize one of the most historic places in Victoria. The Stone Lions were a gift from Victoria's Sister City of Suchow, China.
At one time Victoria's Chinatown was the largest one outside of San Francisco. Many Chinese men were lured to Victoria to make a living by working in the coal mines, building railways and prospecting for gold.
The area has now shrunk in size to a two block area where the businesses are located but it is a colorful and interesting addition to everything else Victoria has to offer by way of unique sites in which to visit and spend some time.
We were to return to the United States the following day by taking a ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles.
Relinquishing our rental car as instructed by 8 PM the night before leaving we did a final walk through the beautiful Inner Harbour of Victoria where we had taken in some of the highlights but by no means did we have time to fully appreciate everything that this wonderful and scenic city has to offer.
Five days of sightseeing in Vancouver was not enough and three days of sightseeing on the Island of Vancouver with our base in Victoria was also not enough time. We were busy and did as much as we could.
If you are reading this and wish to follow in our footsteps all I would suggest doing is to carve out more time for sightseeing and enjoying this wonderful island paradise. Hopefully we can return someday to enjoy things that we missed seeing on this particular vacation.
Victoria, British Columbia in Canada will always remain in our memories as an absolutely amazing and wonderful place to visit.
© 2009 Peggy Woods