Victoria

Mt. Baker over Victoria by CC user stewart on Flickr

Introduction

Given the size and reputation of its much larger cousin Vancouver, it comes as a surprise to many that quaint, low-key Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia. However, during this cities’ not so distant past, it was one of the first settlements founded by Europeans in the Pacific Northwest, with the first buildings being erected here in 1843.

Becoming a staging point for gold rushes in the area in the decades that followed, and the Pacific base for Her Majesty’s Navy only added to its significance in those days, tipping the scales in its favour when the time came to name a capital for the newly formed colony of Vancouver Island and British Columbia, and then shortly after, the Canadian province of British Columbia.

These days, its known by winter weary Canadians as the location of this nation’s best overall climate. With average annual temperatures even warmer than Vancouver, and its fortuitous location within the rainshadow of the Olympic Mountains in nearby Washington State limiting what would be downpours on the mainland to gentle, infrequent showers in the Victoria area, it is well sought out by retirees seeking a refuge from shovelling snow.

This blissful weather situation allows all matter of flora to flourish, making your February walk through Victoria’s many parks all the more satisfying when other parts of the country are buried under multiple feet of snow. While this fact alone makes a trip here worthwhile, its short but intriguing history will make this place worth hanging around for at least 2 to 3 days.

So enjoy that drink on one of this cities’ numerous outdoor patios while we throw on another sweater and prepare to scrape ice off the car for the billionth time this year … we’re not jealous of you … not in the least.

Royal BC Museum by CC user andymsmith on Flickr

Cultural Experiences

While the most talked about attraction in the Greater Victoria Area is also the most expensive (more than $30 admission in high season), the intense display of floral life at the Butchart Gardens makes the price you pay to get in here well worth the cash it costs you. Of all the gardens that are planted here (there are Rose, Mediterranean and Italian style gardens), the two gardens you won’t want to miss, and are worth the price of admission alone, are the Japanese and Sunken Gardens.

The former was the original earthen work of art created on the Butchart residence in the early 1900’s, with the latter coming into existence once Robert Butchart’s cement business had finished excavating limestone from a quarry behind their residence. His wife Jennie spearheaded the creation of what was to become of the world’s most epic gardens in the hole in the ground left by the mining operation.

While turning up here in the peak of spring and summer will produce the best pictures, any time of year will find this sprawling estate with some significant level of coverage by amazing flowers.

Art aficionados will want to drop by Emily Carr House, the childhood home of one of Canada’s best known artists. Located close to downtown on Government Street, this charming house has been lovingly restored as close to its original state it was in when she was alive and living here. Art exhibitions are held regularly here, and if you love cats like Emily did, you’re in luck – a pair of cats prowl the property, receiving plenty of attention from visitors.

Being the capital of British Columbia has granted it with more than its share of cultural institutions like the Royal British Columbia Museum, which tells the story of a young but important part of the world. Starting with the innumerable millennia that the First Nations people occupied these lands, and continuing through the era of colonization by Europeans and its ensuing human and natural history of one of the most geographically wayward provinces in Confederation, this world class attraction will educate you on one of the most fascinating places in the world in the present day.

Craigdarroch Castle by CC user frostnova on Flickr

Other Attractions

Those looking to find the social centre of the city of Victoria need only head towards the waterfront when downtown, as the Inner Harbour contains many restaurants, bars, hotels, shops, in addition to the uber popular concrete harbour walk.

Along this promenade, many live entertainers, food vendors, and musicians will compete for your attention during the summer, while those looking for something a little more classy will find it at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, where afternoon High Tea is a celebrated tradition, serving up haughty blends from around the world with delectable finger foods both sweet and savoury. Stick around this part of town until after sunset, when all 13,000 lights make the BC Legislature Building into one of the more stunning government structures around … don’t forget your camera!

After becoming fabulously rich after buying up tonnes of valuable real estate on Vancouver Island and owning many productive mines in the area, coal magnate Robert Dunsmuir set out to build a home worthy of his success. The result was Craigdarroch Castle, a large but stately mansion that will impress lovers of extravagant grandeur, but will also win over culture fans, as this atmospheric home hosts regular events such as theatre productions.

Finally, if you are a fan of the offbeat, then taking a look at Miniature World will thrill your inner nerd. Found at the back of the Empress Hotel, this curious place contains 85 dioramas of things ranging from miniature cities to railways. There is even a scale model of a tiny sawmill … and it even works as it would at normal size! As bizarre as this attraction sounds, you will not leave Miniature World without being simultaneously amused and astounded.

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