Port guide: Victoria, Canada
As the capital and oldest city of the west coast province of British Columbia, Victoria shows British influences and maintains carefully preserved heritage buildings and historic sites within and near this city. Over 150 years old, this city first grew because of the gold rush, as it was a main port of entry to this area.
The port of Victoria sits at the southwestern tip of Canada on Vancouver Island, a large island, 290 miles long, located off the coast of British Columbia. Next to Vancouver, the port of Victoria is another Canadian gateway for cruising Alaska.
When arriving at Ogden Point Pier, cruise passengers are warmly greeted by locals dressed in Victorian costumes, waving and ringing bells in anticipation of the ship’s arrival. Lampposts with large hanging flower baskets adorn the pier, a taste of what downtown Victoria is like. This city is well known for its flowers and gardens and hosts a light-hearted annual flower count where local residents keep track of their early spring blooms and buds, while the remainder of the country is still seeing snow and cold weather.
- Exploring Victoria
This beautiful Victorian city offers year round activities and experiences. Although it can get colder in the winter months and even sometimes snow, the cruise ships arrive in Victoria in about April and last until November giving the passengers the overall best weather.
One of the highlights of Victoria is the enchanting Butchart Gardens, open all year round boasting colourful flowers in the spring and summer as well as being just as capturing in the winter with frost and snow covered trees. Whale watching excursions in summer and autumn months feature Humpback whales migrating to Alaska with their young as well as Orca whales, porpoises and sealions.
A fun place to explore is Chinatown, nestled in the city centre with its narrow alleyways, quirky signs and hidden shops. Antique Row is another interesting attraction for some; a section of a street, lasting several blocks long, nicknamed for its many antiques shops. In the city centre is the Royal B.C. Museum filled with natural history and continually changing exhibits from around the world.
The historic core of this city has a Victorian feel with British influences seen throughout. The Parliament buildings and majestic Empress Hotel look onto the Inner Harbour and just beyond you will find charming streets filled with shops, cafes and markets throughout the town as well as a shopping centre and larger stores and restaurants. You can easily spend a day exploring this city, as there seems to always be something new to discover.
- Getting around
If you are not on an organized ship tour and would like to explore the city on your own, one of the best ways to start your tour is by a horse-drawn carriage ride to get the ultimate Victorian feel of this beautiful place. When arriving at the pier you will find carriages awaiting that carry up to four persons for a leisurely ride along the sea front and into town. The drivers offer explanations along the way and answer your questions so it makes for a personal short tour while taking you into the heart of the city.
Taxis are readily available to take you anywhere and fares are regulated. Victoria has a great city bus system and can be found on the main street outside the pier.
Walking into town is another option and will take approximately 20 minutes through friendly residential neighbourhoods with modern and traditional houses inter-mixed along the route with parks. Once at the city, the best way to see the sights is by walking its relatively flat streets.
- Beyond the port
The city of Victoria holds most of its attractions in the city centre, with a few exceptions such as Butchart Gardens which is a short drive away. On Vancouver Island north of Victoria, there are a few cities and many seaside towns and fishing villages. A ferry ride lasting 1.5 hours on a large passenger and vehicle ferry, can take you to the mainland for the city of Vancouver.
With smaller drive-on ferries out of Victoria, you can visit the quaint area of the Gulf Islands; a collection of islands each with small populations removed from the bustle of city life. Accessible only by boat or ferry, they have nice accommodations like B&B’s, charming towns and friendly people living a laid-back lifestyle. Beautiful sea views surround you from all islands and hiking, kayaking or walking allow you to take in the surreal beauty.
Approximately 200 miles inland past Vancouver is the only Canadian desert region of the Okanagan Valley. Known for its award-winning wines and multitude of wineries it is an exceptional place to visit in summer for its lake and boating season or in winter for its world-class skiing.
- Popular shore excursions
Cruise lines that visit here offer the following shore excursions. Please check with your cruise line to see if they offer them and remember some excursions may be seasonal only!
Explore the Butchart gardens
The exquisite Butchart gardens, visited by thousands of people each year are open all year round showcasing colourful flowers, trees, shrubs and water features. The gardens, covering 55 hectares is ideal for stroll through and appreciate their beauty. Areas are dedicated to certain themes such as the Japanese or rose gardens and if you are able to stay past sunset, it can truly be a breath taking experience as the trees and water features are lit up.
Historical city tours
A guided city walk is a great way to not only see the city of Victoria but also learn about its history and secrets. Ghost tours are offered for the brave-hearted and walking pub tours capture the British essence while tasting local draft and hearing folklore. At the beginning of town sits the majestic Empress Hotel, worth at least a look inside its lobby or stay for the world-renowned afternoon tea service in ultimate British style.
Dive Ogden Point
The west coast and in particular, Vancouver Island, is known to have some of the best cold-water scuba diving in the world. A dive shop sits conveniently at the pier and one of the best dives is off the Ogden Point Breakwater, the protective barrier built for the cruise harbour. As you enter the water you are in a bull kelp forest full of life and you can expect to see wolf eels, giant pacific octopus, large lingcod and colourful anemones on your dive.
- Local cuisine
Pubs and taverns are common in Victoria with a variety of British and Irish pubs for casual fare and imported beers on tap. With cultural diversity there are also various fusion restaurants and cuisines including Italian, Chinese or Japanese. Located oceanside, Victoria offers some excellent seafood restaurant choices from reasonable to upscale dining. Local breweries create natural beers and can be found on the menu of most restaurants, as can Canadian wines from local wineries.
- Where you are docked
When your ship arrives at the only cruise terminal in Victoria, Ogden Point Pier, a short walk through the terminal building puts you in the main outdoor area where tour buses and other means of transportation such as taxis and horse drawn carriages await. Accommodating up to three large cruise vessels this pier most often used as a port of call, rather than a disembarkation port. The terminal building is small and has toilet facilities and a giftshop.
- Regional weather
Victoria has a pleasant temperate climate, with generally snow-free winters and sun filled spring/ summer months. July and August are the hottest months and January the coolest month of the year.