Victoria….the capital city of British Columbia. Named for Queen Victoria, the city is one of the oldest in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843. The city has retained a large number of its historic buildings…..the Parliament Buildings (finished in 1897) and the Empress hotel, which opened in 1908, are two great examples. The city’s Chinatown is the second oldest in North America…..San Francisco has the oldest. Victoria is a city whose British heritage and colonial past can be seen clearly in its architecture, gardens, museums, urban squares, place names and English-style pubs.
If arriving by cruise ship, your ship will dock at the Ogden Point Cruise Terminal in the Outer Harbor area of Victoria, which is located just over 1 mile from the Inner Harbor and downtown areas. Tour operators will be waiting just outside the terminal. The walk into downtown and the Inner Harbor is very easy. It will take you about 30 minutes to reach the Empress Hotel, which is directly on the Inner Harbor. Of course, if you don’t want to walk, there are other options available. Pedicabs and horse-drawn carriages are common and definitely a fun way to see Victoria!
Don’t forget to take your sea pass card and credit cards with you. There is no need to take your passport on shore, as the ship provides that information to the port authorities.
Most ships are only in port for a few hours….usually evenings. What can you do with limited time?
One of the most popular shore excursions in Victoria is Butchart Gardens. https://www.butchartgardens.com Located in Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island, the gardens receive over a million visitors each year and have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Travel time to the gardens is about 30 minutes from the cruise port. You can book through the cruise line or independently. Taxis will cost approx. $55 one-way. Be sure to allow plenty of time to return to the ship if booking yourself….traffic on the island can be heavy.
Downtown is centered on the lively Inner Harbor. It is crisscrossed by tiny ferries, seaplanes and whale-watching boats. Facing the water, the elegant 1908 Empress hotel is famed for its afternoon tea. Unfortunately, tea service ends at 4pm, but you can purchase the tea in the hotel and enjoy it at home! You can also purchase Bee Well honey (hives are located on the rooftop!) and the Empress 1908 Gin…inspired by the hotel and made by Victoria Distillery. The shops at the Empress are definitely worth visiting!
If you are hungry, there are many seafood eateries and traditional pubs clustered around Wharf Street and Bastion Square. Boutiques fill colorful buildings on Johnson Street and an elaborate red-and-gold gate marks the entrance to Chinatown, the second oldest in North America.
Want to do something other than walk around and shop? How about a wine, beer or distillery tour? Most cruise lines offer organized tours. You can also arrange your own tour with companies based in Victoria. http://Canadiancrafttours , westcoastbrewerytours and http://therollingbarrel are a few examples. There are also many brewpubs and wine bars located in the downtown area though and are always a fun option.
Whale watching is a highlight of any visit to Victoria. This has always been a highlight of any trip we have made to Victoria. It is very rare to not see Orcas off the coast of Victoria. I suggest booking this through your cruise line, as many operators do not offer tours during the hours the ships are in port. Believe me, you won’t regret it!
If you have chosen to take it easy and explore downtown on your own, be sure to visit Fisherman’s Wharf. Located just around the corner from Victoria’s Inner Harbor, Fisherman’s Wharf is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. This unique marine destination offers food kiosks, unique shops and eco-tour adventures in a working harbor setting. You can wander down to the docks, buy seafood fresh off the boat, check out the unique array of commercial, pleasure vessel and float home moorage, watch the commercial fishing vessels unload their wares and view wild seals.
Victoria at night is beautiful. The buildings are aglow with thousands of lights and the weather is usually very comfortable. A light jacket is sometimes a good idea though. Whatever you decide to do, a stop in Victoria is a wonderful way to end your Alaska cruise!