Things to Do in Victoria
It’s hard to believe that this opulent Scottish-Gothic fairy-tale castle was built as a family home. Now open to the public, take a tour and pretend you’re in Bonny Scotland.
The four-story turreted castle was built in the late 1880s for Scottish coal millionaire Robert Dunsmuir. He died before the home with its 39 rooms was completed, but his family lived there until 1908.
A self-guided tour of this incredible property reveals its stained-glass and carved balustrades, rooms furnished with period details, and the lookout tower with fabulous views over the city.
Built overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbor, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings form an impressive architectural and historical landmark within a few steps of downtown. When the provincial legislature outgrew its former home, the provincial government hosted an architectural competition to build the new legislative buildings. Francis Rattenbury, a then 25-year-old recent arrival from England, won with his three-building neo-baroque style plans, but construction didn’t go without its woes; the project soared beyond its original budget, but the new British Columbia Parliament Buildings did open their doors in 1898.
The white marble, massive central dome, and lengthy façade combined to make an innovative and impressive monument for what, at the time, was a relatively young Canadian province. The building remains equally impressive, today, and a few new landmarks exist on its property.
Even if you normally give museums a miss, you won’t want to leave Victoria without dropping into the highly acclaimed Royal British Columbia Museum. From big-screen IMAX movies to the re-created First Peoples village, this imaginative and creatively curated museum will have you thinking and engaging with the past.
The First Peoples Gallery provides insights into life before the arrival of Europeans, while the Modern History Gallery vividly re-creates colonial life. In the Natural History Gallery, seals, grizzly bears and seabirds fill dioramas re-creating the region’s ecosystems. Big-screen films are screened in the on-site IMAX cinema.
The grand lady of Victoria, the Fairmont Empress Hotel was built in over-the-top French chateau style by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, opening in 1908.
Victoria’s first hotel is still the grandest, and one of the most highly awarded hotels in the country. Over the last 100 years, all manner of famous people have stayed here, including Edward Prince of Wales, Queen Elizabeth and Shirley Temple.
Taking afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is an experience not to be missed, complete with Edwardian style service, clotted cream, scones and pots of tea. Bookings are essential.
The style is more subcontinental colonial in the Bengal Lounge restaurant, where the menu features a curry buffet.
More Things to Do in Victoria
The Emily Carr House was the childhood home of Canadian painter and author Emily Carr and had a long-lasting impression on much of her work. Today, it is an Interpretive Centre for Carr’s artwork, writing, and life.
Emily Carr’s work reads like an adventure. It carried her from remote native settlements throughout British Columbia to major cities like San Francisco, London, and Paris. But her childhood home continually appeared throughout all of her work, especially her writing. The house itself was built in 1863 and Carr called it home from her birth, in 1871, until she left to pursue artist training overseas. Her father’s death triggered ownership changes and, after years of passing through the Carr Family, the house was sold off. Although it was once scheduled for demolition, the house made its way back to the Emily Carr Foundation before being purchased by the provincial government and restored.
Chalk artists, buskers, horse-and-carriage rides, and walking tours: Victoria’s Old Town has enough attractions to keep the curious visitor occupied for an entire day. With many side streets and small squares to duck into, Old Town offers plenty of big shops and restaurants as well as smaller, independently owned boutiques and eye-catching street art. Old Town’s cobblestone streets wind together through alleyways where some of B.C.’s oldest and grandest architecture can be found. Curious pedestrians can begin at the Empress Hotel (Insider’s tip: For a truly spectacular experience, indulge in afternoon tea at the hotel, which offers a full English high tea.) and head down the Victoria Inner Harbour Walkway toward Government Street. When the weather’s nice, Government Street is lined with musicians and performers, in addition to the cafes, specialty shops, gift shops, and numerous pubs for the thirsty traveler.