I was always undecided about whether I would make it over to Vancouver Island. As someone who travels with the intention of gobbling up every place I can set foot on, I had to wonder why Victoria wasn’t screaming out to me. I mean, I didn’t not want to visit, and after all I’d had plenty of people tell me just how lovely it is, but I felt like if it got to October and I still hadn’t been there, then I’d shrug it off.
I think the real reason Vancouver Island hadn’t been calling my name is because of its sheer size. Sure, I could go to Victoria for a couple of days – but that’s all I’d be doing, and Vancouver Island is huge. I was amazed to learn that Tofino, a popular surfing town with stunning scenery, is four hours away from Victoria. If you were to drive from Victoria on the south coast to San Josef Bay on the north, it would take the same amount of time as driving from London to Glasgow. Or from New York City to Boston and back.
With so much to see, it seemed a waste to go all the way there only to see the main city and leave out all the rest.
But, obviously, I ended up going. Two of my Vancouver friends were up for going on their days off, so although it would be a short and sweet trip, it was the only time that I could fit in to go as well. We’re in prime tourist season now, so taking time off isn’t really an option, and nor is it fair on my work friends!
You could quite easily spend a week or more on Vancouver Island itself, but it turns out that two days in Victoria is pretty perfect. I would wager that you could do it in a day if it wasn’t four hours each way from Vancouver!
We decided to tack on some extra time to our trip by leaving on the Sunday evening. Unfortunately we had missed the sailing we had been aiming for, so we arrived in Victoria at almost 10pm, although we made up for it in drinks and hazily acquainting ourselves with the city.
By which I mean one of my friends was threatened by someone on the street, and then kicked out of McDonald’s because he was angry that they didn’t recycle. (and by angry, I don’t even mean aggressive, but apparently shouting “WHADDAYA MEAN YA DON’T RECYCLE?!” was enough for them to make a fake police call!!)
Victoria was already shaping up to be a weird place, because not only did McDonald’s have security guards on a Sunday night, but minutes later we walked into a 7/11 and had a guy run past us and throw himself towards a woman (in store), screaming at her to give back his money.
That was enough drama for one night, and we called it a night and headed back to our hostel.
I realise I’m not giving the best first impression of Victoria, but it really is a lovely city. Honestly. It was all up from there.
Our first port of call in the morning, after our free breakfast at the hostel (which only I enjoyed because the others were hungover), was Fan Tan Alley.
Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown, and in fact the second oldest in North America after San Francisco. One of the most picturesque spots is Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street.
It’s soooo pretty!
One of my favourite shops in the alley is the “umbrellatorium and canery” because let’s face it… even the name is amazing! There are lots of boutique stores and a great looking record store, too.
We also discovered something really strange about some of the doorways in the alley – can you see what it is?!
We ventured a short way down the road before my friends ducked into a café for their breakfast and more importantly, coffee. We also checked out this juice bar – it turned out to be really quirky with brick walls and red doorways!
After our surprise night-time viewing of the Parliament building all lit up, it was time to go and see it in all its day-time glory and it was a beautiful day for a walk along the harbour towards it.
The harbour in Victoria feels peaceful even when it’s bustling. We passed the iconic Fairmont as we made our way towards Parliament, and a little stand-up show was going on below us.
We also passed an orca hedge!
Parliament itself is stunning. I love buildings like this.
Here, we were met by a friend of Jeremy’s, so we didn’t end up going inside (I wasn’t sure if it was even free, but it turns out it is – whoops) and, after being cornered by a show about the history just outside the entrance, we instead walked back up the harbour into town.
We were hoping to eat at a lovely looking pub called “The Local”, which seemed ironic because I’m pretty sure it was full of tourists. It also had a patio in the sun, adorned with flower baskets all the way around, so it’s no surprise that it was busy.
Rather than take the 45 minute wait, we went next door to Darcy’s, another popular pub but the seats on the patio were in the shade.
Anyway, I don’t normally take photos of my food (worst blogger ever) and I don’t even know why I took a photo of my lunch here. But holy crap, if they weren’t some of the best wings I’ve tasted!! Really! I’m surprised, too.
We also managed to move to a table in the sun, yay!
Jeremy’s friend ended up taking us to a beach close to her house, which was really nice and we had perfect weather for it. It wasn’t the best beach ever, but it meant we could have a relaxing afternoon which is kind of what we came to Vancouver Island for.
On the walk there, we passed a couple of cool places – and encountered more angry people! What is up with you, Victoria? This time, it was a guy slamming on someone’s car window and shouting “CAN’T YOU REEEEEEEEEAD?! IT SAYS NO *PARKING*!!” You know, rather than tapping on their window and kindly asking them to move. Oh no, there’s no subtlety in this town.
But – look at this cute cottage!!!!! You guys!!!
And this Adventure Time art!
The beach itself was small and not much of an actual beach, but it was nice, especially in the hot weather. We could even see Olympic National Park in the USA while we sunbathed! Lovely. I managed to get myself really dirty and had to wash off in the sea, and it was so cold even in the height of summer.
That night, we had a much more relaxed night on the town. There was no yelling. No getting kicked out or having security called on us. We didn’t even drink much, although we did try to do karaoke in a gay club and it seemed like one big group of people had put their names down for the rest of the night. After what seemed like an hour of waiting, we gave up. Boooo! For the record, I was gonna do Shania Twain – Man! I Feel Like A Woman, and it would have been awesome.
However, we did discover a bar that I love!
Welcome to the Strathcona Hotel – Big Bad John’s Bar! Complete with peanut shells all over the floor and more bras than I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s great! It reminded me of the pub I worked in in Australia with stuff everywhere.
After a quieter night and a hangover-free morning, we started off the next day with a hearty breakfast at Willie’s Bakery. I had the omelette which was a great choice. It seems like Willy’s is a bit of an institution in Victoria too, having been open since 1887 – it’s BC’s oldest bakery!
We were in for another relaxed day – rather than doing any more sightseeing (I felt like we had seen all we wanted to see), our friend was meeting us again to take us out to a lake just outside the city.
It turned out to be a bit of a hike, and any small spots hiding on the edge of the lake were already taken by people. So we walked for aaaages to the beach at the end, and as we approached spotted some cars. Lots of cars. An entire car park, which we could have parked at instead of carrying an inflatable doughnut for miles!
It was also really busy, being the summer holidays, so not quite the serene, relaxing day we had been expecting, but it was still nice. I finally got my tan on!
I know most people who go to Victoria for two days don’t have beaches and lakes on their itinerary, but it was a perfect couple of days for us! The only thing I feel like I missed was Craigdarroch Castle, and let’s face it – we have plenty of those back home!
The thing I enjoyed most about Victoria was wandering the streets in the city centre, hanging out at the harbour, and discovering the gorgeous colonial buildings and stumbling across beautiful churches or buildings like the city hall.
One of my favourite discoveries: this totally inconspicuous statue! It’s called the Homecoming Statue and depicts a father returning home with his daughter and dog running towards him. It’s so heartwarming!
I also loved that – despite the weird dramas that we encountered – Victoria is so relaxed. The city centre is only really about five blocks so it was easy to familiarise ourselves with it all quickly.
I’m really glad I managed to make it there. It is really lovely, and Jeremy kept commenting that it’s actually very reminiscent of what Vancouver used to be, which is interesting. It was like going back in time (or at least back to Europe!).
Victoria definitely worth a visit, even if you don’t manage to make it anywhere else on Vancouver Island.
Practical info: we took the ferry from Tsawwassen in south Vancouver to Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. The ferry takes an hour and a half, but the train from downtown Vancouver to Bridgeport and then the bus to the terminal can take almost the same amount of time! We actually ended up getting a lift there, which took 45 minutes from downtown. The connecting bus into Victoria then takes almost an hour – on the way back, we got really unlucky and had the wrong schedule, so we missed the express bus and had to take the slow one which takes over an hour. It was awful. 1/10, do not recommend.
For bus schedules to Victoria, click here (and try to avoid the 72!). From Vancouver, Canada Line trains run to Bridgeport every few minutes; you can get up-to-date times on the Translink app. Info on the connecting bus (620) to the ferry terminal is here. Ferries run every hour and do not need to be booked unless you’re taking a car. It’s $17.20 each way and all the info you need is on the BC Ferries site.
We stayed in two hostels – we spent the first night in Ocean Island Inn and had a room to ourselves. It was a little more expensive than the HI but included a good, free breakfast and even free dinner and a drink (we missed the dinner, unfortunately!!! But I have been told it’s good). We stayed in HI Victoria the second night, which has bigger dorms but the location is unbeatable and it’s cheaper.
Please note: The hostel links are affiliate links, so I will earn a small amount of commission if you choose to book through my links, which helps greatly with the running costs of the site. As always, opinions are completely my own.
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