With its compact size, Victoria is a good place to explore all on your own. But if your time is limited, or you just want to see the city from an expert’s perspective, then these tours are a great way to go.
Probably the easiest way to get an overview of the city and its main attractions is to take one of the city’s bus tours. CVS Sightseeing (tel. 877/578-5552 or 250/386-8652; www.cvstours.com) and Gray Line Sightseeing Victoria (tel. 800/663-8390 or 250/388-6539; www.sightseeingvictoria.com) both offer regularly scheduled, fully narrated tours of Victoria and Butchart Gardens, including a Hop-On Hop-Off option in an open-air double-decker bus. Expect to pay around C$30 for an adult 1-day pass, C$40 for a 2-day pass, and about half that for kids.
Island Time Tours (tel. 866/477-3322 or 250/477-3322; www.islandtimetours.com) offers a variety of small, guided tours of Victoria, as well as tours that run all over Vancouver Island. Want to check out the West Coast Trail? Cowichan wine country? Saltspring Island? They’ve got a tour for you. In Victoria itself, they offer a private city tour (from C$75/hr. for group of 4; reservations essential), as well as regularly scheduled tours of the Villages of Victoria (C$39 all ages) and Butchart Gardens (C$69 adults, C$50 youth 13–17, C$25 children 5–12).
How much fun is this? Victoria Hippo Tours (tel. 855/884-4776 or 250/590-5290; www.victoriahippotours.com) lets you see the city from both land and sea. These amphibious vehicles travel around the city before splashing into the ocean for the grand finale. Their 90-minute tours run daily May through September, departing every hour 11am–5pm (C$43 adults, C$28 children 3–12).
One of the best ways to discover Victoria is by foot, and there are several companies that will help you do it.
At Discover the Past (tel. 250/384-6698; www.discoverthepast.com), local historian and raconteur John Adams leads groups on tours through Victoria’s history, including its most haunted locales and special Chinatown tours. Several different tours are available, and most of the time you don’t need to book ahead—just show up at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre in the Inner Harbour. Tours are about C$15 for adults, C$8 for children ages 6 to 11. Check the website for the latest schedule.
At Come See Victoria (tel. 778/676-0142; www.comeseevictoria.com), amateur historian and professional architecture expert Dave Mason leads tours of Victoria’s historical landmarks—including its best pubs. Tours leave from and return to the Visitor Centre, with several tours scheduled weekly. The history tour lasts 2 hours and costs C$15 for adults, C$12 seniors and students; the historic pub tour is 3 hours, costing C$25 (adults only of course), and includes beer samples.
The Old Cemetery Society of Victoria (tel. 250/598-8870; www.oldcem.bc.ca) runs regular cemetery tours throughout the year. Particularly popular are the historically focused tours of Ross Bay Cemetery every Sunday at 2pm and costing C$5. See the website for scheduled tours.
The name says it all for Walkabouts Historical Tours (tel. 250/592-9255; www.walkabouts.ca). Charming costumed guides lead tours of the Fairmont Empress, Victoria’s Chinatown, Antique Row, and Old Town Victoria, or will help you with your own itinerary. The Empress Tour costs C$12 and begins at 10am daily in the Empress Tea Lobby (11am in winter season). Other tours have different prices and starting points.
The Victoria Heritage Foundation (tel. 250/383-4546; www.victoriaheritagefoundation.ca) offers several excellent free pamphlets for self-guided walking tours of the city’s neighborhoods. They are available at the Visitor Centre.
A Scenic Walk: Dallas Road & Ogden Point Breakwater -- On any day, you can discover half the city of Victoria—and their dogs—strolling along this scenic 4km (2.5-mile) oceanfront walkway. If you start at Ross Bay, you’ll pass several parks, including Beacon Hill Park, as well as the famous “Mile 0” marker of the Trans-Canada Highway and the tallest totem in the world, and end at the stunning Ogden Point Breakwater next to the cruise ship terminal. Back when it was created in 1916, the breakwater was a remarkable engineering achievement that took more than a million tons of rock and 10,000 granite blocks. Even now, it’s an exhilarating experience to walk out on its 850m (1/2-mile) expanse as waves crash madly along its sides. For more info visit www.ogdenpoint.org.
Hosted by foodie expert Kathy McAree, Travel with Taste (tel. 250/385-1527; www.travelwithtaste.com) is an urban grazing experience—sample a Dutch pastry here or a truffle there, meet some of Victoria’s foodiest locals, and even take a sip or two of local wine. Four-hour excursions (June–Sept) are C$89 per person; call for reservations.
Off the Eaten Track (tel. 250/380-8121; www.offtheeatentracktours.ca) also offers foodie tours including a 2-hour brunch-tour of Oak Bay Village or a flavorful excursion along Fort Street. Oak Bay Brunch Tour C$55; Knife and Fort Culinary Tour C$45.
Explore Victoria the way the locals do—on two wheels. The Pedaler Cycling Tours (tel. 778/265-7433; www.thepedaler.ca) offers a variety of guided bicycle tours of the city, some focusing on food-and-drink cultures, others exploring its trails, and still others meandering through the scenic spots and historic neighborhoods. The Pedaler also offers bike rentals if you’d rather explore on your own. There are several tours each day, including the “Beans & Bites” coffee culture tour, and the “Hoppy Hour” tour of craft brews. Tours vary in length and cost, ranging from C$42 to C$139 per person; check the schedule online for more details.
Victoria Harbour Ferries (tel. 250/708-0201; www.victoriaharbourferry.com) offers a terrific 45-minute harbor tour aboard the adorable, fully enclosed 12-passenger ferries—and yes, every seat is a window seat. Harbor tours depart from seven stops around the Inner Harbour every 15 or 20 minutes daily 10am to 4pm (longer hours May–Sept). You can also take a 60-minute tour to the Gorge opposite the Johnson Street Bridge, where tidal falls reverse with each change of the tide, or do both tours in one trip. Harbor tours C$22 for adults, C$20 children 12 and under; Gorge tours C$26 adults, C$14 children; combination tours C$44 adults, C$21 children. Private charters available.
Seaquest Explorations (tel. 250/370-7500; www.seaquestexplorations.ca) offers catamaran tours of the Inner Harbour with a special glimpse of what’s under water. The Seaquest Explorer features a huge touch tank teeming with sea life, including anemones, tube worms, and Dungeness crab. Little kids will love playing with the critters; big kids will be delighted to know that beer and wine are available to sip while drinking in the scenery. Tours depart every afternoon, C$65 per adult, C$50 children 2 to 12.
Sidecar Victoria (tel. 250/891-3646; www.sidecarvictoria.com) lets you take in the city’s most scenic locales from the seat of a vintage Ural motorbike and sidecar. Professional drivers are behind the wheel of these sturdy Russian bikes—all you have to do is watch the view. Seriously fun! Several regular tours are available, or you can customize your own tour. The City Loop will take you to Victoria’s most iconic locations for C$65 per passenger, or you can take the longer Butchart Gardens Tour for C$119 per passenger.
No doubt one of the most romantic ways to see Victoria is from the seat of a horse-drawn carriage. You’ll find these dainty vehicles and their friendly steeds gathered near the Parliament Buildings in the Inner Harbour, and though you can often simply climb aboard, it’s always best to reserve your spot, especially in the busy summer months. There are two main companies: Tally-Ho Carriage Tours (tel. 866/383-5067 or 250/383-5067; www.tallyhotours.com) and Victoria Carriage Tours (tel. 877/663-2207 or 250/383-2207; www.victoriacarriage.com). They offer a variety of different carriage rides and tours, so check the websites for details. But you can expect to pay about C$100 for a 30-minute waterfront tour (that’s for the whole carriage, maximum six passengers).
To get a bird’s-eye view of Victoria, take wing with Harbour Air Seaplanes (tel. 800/665-0212 or 250/384-2215; www.harbourair.com) and soar over the city’s main attractions. The 20-minute Panorama flight is C$104 for adults, C$52 for children; or you can take the “Fly ‘n Dine” excursion to the Butchart Gardens’ private dock, with admission, dinner, and limousine ride back to Victoria included in the C$272 price (for adults; C$136 for children). Hyack Air (tel. 250/384-2411; www.hyackair.ca) offer similar excursions, as well as an hour-long Gulf Islands tour, C$299 per person, C$100 extra if you stop for a wine tasting at Saturna Island Vineyards.
Just off Victoria’s shores, the ocean waters are filled with marine life—sea lions, seals, porpoises, and, of course, whales, including gray, humpback, minke, and the most striking local resident, the black-and-white orca or killer whale. Getting up close and personal with these magnificent creatures is an unforgettable experience, so it’s little wonder that whale-watching excursions have become such a popular activity around Victoria.
Several highly qualified tour operators offer daily trips from spring through fall in everything from open-air Zodiacs to covered expedition cruisers.
The longest-running of them is Prince of Whales Whale Watching (tel. 888/383-4884 or 250/383-4884; www.princeofwhales.com), which runs both wild-and-wet Zodiac excursions and slightly more sedate trips in its distinctive cruiser, the bright yellow Ocean Magic II. A 3-hour whale-watching journey will cost C$80 to C$110; if you take the longer trip that includes a visit to Butchart Gardens, it’s C$100 to C$145.
Other companies that offer similar excursions include Eagle Wing Whale Watching Tours (tel. 800/708-9488 or 250/384-8008; www.eaglewingtours.com), which has a myriad of options available, including romantic sunset tours and wildlife tours in the winter months, as well as Orca Spirit Adventures (tel. 888/672-6722 or 250/383-8411; www.orcaspirit.com) and Surfside Adventure Tours (tel. 250/891-7792; www.surfsidetours.com).
Yet another option is the 2-hour wilderness cruise that departs from the marina and eco-adventure center at Brentwood Bay Resort & Spa (tel. 888/544-2079 or 250/544-2079; www.brentwoodbayresort.com. It provides an enjoyably informative exploration of Finlayson Inlet, a deep fjord with a fascinating history and plentiful wildlife, including eagles, seals, and sometimes whales. June to September; C$69 per person. Reservations highly recommended.
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.