For a city that has so tenaciously hung on to its historic charms, Victoria is a surprisingly young and funky place. Yes, it has its sedate British traditions and plenty of heritage buildings to anchor it to the past, but it also has a bright, youthful, hippie-ish culture and a cheerful DIY sensibility. At the same time, Victoria is the seat of provincial government and an important business center, so it’s not all silk-screened hemp frocks and organic homemade bitters. It’s the mix of those ingredients that makes this city utterly unique.

For a visitor, the city’s great appeal has to be its beautiful waterfront setting. The historic city center, which dates back to the 1840s, embraces the Inner Harbour, a picturesque, rocky-shored inlet that’s busy with floatplanes, fishing boats, pleasure craft, whale-watching cruisers, and bustling water taxis. It’s where you will find the most iconic of the city sights—including the provincial Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Empress Hotel—and it’s where any visitor should start their exploration of the city.

The harbor itself is a busy commercial port, lively with fishing boats, ferries, floatplanes, and pleasure craft. This is where most of the whale-watching adventures board and where the ferries from Washington State dock. The 12-passenger Victoria Harbour Ferries offer great tours of the harbor, including one to some of the area’s best pubs. On land, walking around the harbor is a favorite activity for both locals and visitors. It’s where you’ll find the city’s most famous landmarks, the B.C. Parliament Buildings and the Fairmont Hotel Empress, as well as historic warehouses, fish-and-chips stands, and, in summer, buskers, artists, souvenir sellers, and plenty of action.

Although Victoria is an important city, it’s a small one, which means that most of the sights you’ll want to see are in a pretty compact area. You can cover the main attractions easily by foot, with just a couple of forays further afield. Most of the museums, galleries, and historic sites are in the Inner Harbour or the downtown area just a few steps away.

Downtown is the business center of the city. Here you will discover boutiques and restaurants, many of them in brightly painted century-old buildings, especially in the trendy new-old neighborhood called “Lo-Jo,” for Lower Johnson Street.

Wharf Street, which runs along the waterfront, is lined with old warehouses that date back to the 19th century, when wealthy Victoria supplied prospectors heading off to the gold rushes in the Fraser Canyon or the Klondike. Government Street is where you’ll find the biggest concentrations of souvenir shops and a few can’t-miss boutiques. A bit further out, you’ll come across the city’s small but venerable Chinatown.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.