After our family’s Canadian adventure last fall, I must admit that I am in love with Victoria, British Columbia. The natural scenery is absolutely beautiful and the weather is perfect for sightseeing. All in all — I didn’t want this family vacation to end. Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, can be found on the southern tip of Vancouver Island right off Canada’s Pacific Coast. It has this really lovely British vibe which added to the family adventure. You can see a ton in two days, but I would definitely recommend longer if you can swing it!
We took the Clipper Ferry from Seattle to Victoria, so we got to take in the seaside views upon arrival. I highly recommend this mode of arrival, but no matter how you get there you will have a blast.
Victoria is a family-friendly, easy to walk city with a charming downtown, and historic neighborhoods to explore – many with amazing water views. There are a couple of cool sights outside of the city’s walking limits, but transportation to those sites. For example, the famous Butchart Gardens and Butterfly Gardens are an easy ride via hired car if you don’t have your own wheels.
Here is my top 10 list of items for when you plan to visit Victoria with kids.
1) Horse Drawn Carriages
Ride like the royals to explore the Downtown, the Harbor, and the backstreets off Victoria with your own personal tour guide in a charming horse drawn carriage. As an animal lover I was happy to learn that they take good care of their horses. Their policy is to keep the animals fed, groomed, rested, rewarded and offered the best farrier and veterinarian care available. I think they looked pretty happy during our visit.
2) Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel
Catering to the tiniest travelers, this famous tea lobby has a traditional tea service, including fresh strawberries and cream, croissants, sandwiches, scones and other sweet treats. Reservations are recommended but walk-ins may be available.
3) Bug Zoo
I must admit we were a little skeptical about this attraction. Bugs? Gross! But, we sang a different tune after spending more than an hour looking at creepy, crawly, yet cool insects! The staff is extremely knowledge and tours are ongoing. The small zoo has over 50 species of insects, arachnids and other bugs. Not only was the tour educational for the entire family, we had a hands on experience with many of the the zoo’s residents! We held gigantic walking sticks, praying mantis (my daughter’s favorite). My husband and I held a tarantula (which was surprisingly light and soft) and a scorpion (these are available for folks 18+). The Zoo also has the largest ant colony in Canada! Pretty impressive. Guides explained the jobs of these social bugs. and the queen bee hasn’t been seen in a few years.
4) Beacon Hill Park
The largest park in Victoria is a great place to walk. We were here in the late afternoon and ended up
catching the sun setting at Beacon Hill. We made our way down to the waterfront and took in the views from the beach. We came across wildlife (including black squirrels which were new to me) and beautiful plants. There’s also a seasonal petting zoo, children’s play area, ponds. Fantastic place for the kids to release some energy. Located behind the Royal BC museum, the Park is walking distance from Downtown. In the summer month, cool off at the sprinklers. In the fall, the park’s foliage is breathtaking, especially for this East Coast girl who has been living in SoCal for many years. To add the excitement and color, there are lots of peacocks roaming around.
A short walk down several staircases will lead you to the cliffs, and at the bottom, you’ll find yourself on a rocky beach overlooking the Juan de Fuca Strait. Unlike Downtown Victoria’s Inner Harbor, this waterfront is a place where you can stare out into the sea and watch cruise ships and whale watch boats off in the distance. Across the Strait is the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state and the mountains you see are a part of Olympic National Park.
5) The Royal British Columbia Museum
Founded in 1886, this Museum is one of the country’s greatest cultural treasures. You can plan a trip for the entire family easily with their guided and self-guided programs. Looking to do something different? Plan your trip to coincide with one the Museum’s family sleepover nights. Cozy up with the dinosaurs and penguins to star gaze and watch late night IMAX movies with your entire crew. To recover from the night of excitement, the Museum staff plans a morning filled with yoga and pancakes.
No bad museum cafeteria food here, my family dove into some delicious BBQ and Mexican lunch options at the food truck festival set up in the Museum’s back courtyard. Really yummy!
6) Look for the totem poles throughout the city & stop at Thunderbird Park
Make it a Where’s Waldo-type game with the family to spot totem poles in Victoria. Trust me it will keep everyone occupied – there are many! And then plan a stop at Thunderbird Park located right next to Royal BC Museum. Here you will find a huge selection of poles. It’s free, and the kids will also have a blast seeing all the different animals. Parents and older kids will enjoy learning the history of the Canadian Indian heritage on the continent. Great spots of photography and get up close to the art (FYI, these are replicas — originals are in the museum). Great place to sit on park benches and enjoy a snack.
7) Miniature World
According to the brochure, this is the Greatest Little Show on Earth! As far as little shows go, we didn’t have much experience to compare it to but it is pretty cool. With more than 85 miniature dioramas and displays your family will have fun noticing all the little details of each scene. Easy to find, the building is on the north side of the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
8) Butchart Gardens
As one of the top attractions in the area, the gardens located in Brentwood Bay attract close to a million visitors annually. The Gardens are an amazing array of floral display gardens and it is truly an eye candy experience. My daughter loved the color and blooms and took lots of photos. It’s hard to put into words, but it is a truly breathtaking visual experience. The gardens provide Family Discovery Walking Sheets to help you find your way around all the different gardens and they even welcome the family dogs. Make sure not to miss the Sunken Garden – you will not walk to walk away. It’s gorgeous. While you are at the Gardens stop to enjoy tea time and take a ride on the carousel.
9) Victoria Butterfly Gardens (Note: we recommend stopping here before visiting Butchart Gardens)
This 12,000 square foot garden gives visitors, young and old, the opportunity to experience a tropical jungle. It serves as the home to a variety of rescued tropical animals, including ducks, flamingos, tropical birds, poison dart frogs, tortoises, turtles, giant koi fish and thousands of tropical free flying butterflies. Walk down the winding paths and spot organic vanilla beans growing on the vine, papaya trees, pineapple, coffee beans, ginger and many other foods of the world growing. The sweet smells of the fruits attract the butterflies to feed giving visitors a free show. And the Garden’s jungle experts will teach you all about the tropical plants and the thousands of rare and endangered varieties.
10) Craigdarroch Castle
Step back in time to the 1890’s while you tour this fully restored castle, and imagine how coal baron Robert Dunsmuir and his family lived. Residing in the ‘home’ during the reign of Queen Victoria, this privileged family and their staff had some colorful stories that the guides and maps will reveal as you explore the Castle. Make sure to pick up a “What Do You See” brochure, so the kids can keep busy spotting a list of special items in the Castle, such as stained glass and carved initials. They are very strict about kids being mindful not to touch things or run on the property. We walked to the castle from our hotel and enjoyed the adjacent residential neighborhoods and the delightful Antique Row area.
* We were invited by Butchart Gardens as media to visit their attraction for review purposes. Opinions are solely our own.