The more experience I have in travel blogging, and therefore travel planning, the more jam-packed our trips seem to be. We always make it a goal to sit and enjoy meals and try to absorb the local culture. Seeing the sights, however, is part of the joy of traveling and my job as a blogger! We had three busy days in Victoria, including that wonderful bike tour, and while I was ready for bed every night, I can’t imagine skipping a single moment of the fun. So if you find yourself on Vancouver Island, here’s your Victoria Travel Guide…
What to Wear in Victoria in September
First things first – the climate. We visited in early September and experienced spectacular weather. It was high 60s with some of the most beautiful blue skies I’ve ever seen. Jeans and a few interchangeable layers were perfect. I wore button down shirts for a comfortable, chic look and these comfortable boots almost every day.
Whale Watching in Victoria
We knew we wanted to visit The Butchart Gardens (more below), which is an absolute must on Vancouver Island. When we learned about the Prince of Whales Whale Watching Boat Tour to The Butchart Gardens, we just about fell out of our seats. And it turned out to be everything we imagined!
Before our lunchtime departure, we wandered around the shops on Government Street before grabbing a sandwich to enjoy on the boat. You’re on the tour for about 3 hours, so be sure to dress warmly as the breezes can really pick up. I could just tell you about the whales we saw – orcas and humpbacks, but that doesn’t give the whole experience due credit…
Our tour had two guides to help us spot the whales but also to teach us about these beautiful animals. The guides are all marine biology students or graduates, so they know and love marine wildlife. After following this group of orcas for a while, we started asking questions, learning that each orca has a white patch behind its dorsal fin, but no two white patches are the same. Some are very defined, others more hazy, and they have different shapes – that’s how we can tell individuals apart!
The humpback whales were harder to get a photo of and they stay underwater for longer periods of time, but I got a few shots of their tails just before they disappeared back into the water again!
Besides the whales, we also saw a bald eagle (I had to go to Canada to see our national bird!), ducks, geese, and seals – all pointed out by our guides. This guy was hilarious. He was obviously having a fabulous afternoon on his own personal buoy. And I think he was waving to us!
The Butchart Gardens
After a few hours on the boat and seeing so much wildlife, we were dropped off on the back side of The Butchart Gardens at the private dock. There were tons of jellyfish floating around the boat and dock, so be on the lookout!
The Butchart Gardens are absolutely stunning and actually quite interesting even if you aren’t a flower lover. The site was formerly a limestone quarry and Jennie Butchart, the wife of the couple who owned the quarry, was disgusted with the massive hole left after the quarry shut down, so she slowly turned it into a garden that has been expanded since and is meticulously maintained.
This was the exhausted quarry. Can you see the tower from the cement plant in the background? You can read more of The Butchart Gardens story here.
After a visit to the gardens that was way too short, we caught the tour bus back to Victoria. The whale watching, gardens, and the ride back to the city are all included in the Prince of Whales ticket cost!
Enjoying so much delicious food (see where we ate), we walked around the harbor each night. Beautifully lit at night, the Parliament Building is not to miss during your stay.
Victoria has the largest Chinatown in Canada, but sadly it’s now just one small section in town. You can easily walk to it from The Magnolia Hotel. Habit Coffee, our favorite java stop in the city, is just on the outside of Chinatown. And don’t miss Fan Tan Alley – a famous, narrow alley of a few small shops where many visitors snap photos!
Day Trip for Wine Tasting on Vancouver Island
The sommelier at The Kitchen (where we ate dinner the first night) suggested we take a trip up Vancouver Island to Unsworth Vineyard for wine tasting and lunch. Enjoying the local wines thus far, we decided to do it. You know how much we love road trips!
The winery is about an hour and a half outside of Victoria. The helpful front desk associates at The Magnolia Hotel helped us rent a car and got us all set up with maps and lunch reservations. There’s often traffic in The Malahat, included in the 1.5 hours, but check before you head out. And when you see signs for the vista points heading north – DO IT! We missed the first one but caught the second. You get breathtaking views of the Saannich Peninsula and Gulf Islands – see it just above this photo.
While we weren’t ready for wine tasting, we were absolutely ready for lunch and a delicious glass of wine. Our sommelier recommended the sauvignette and his recommendation was spot on! And lunch was nothing short of amazing itself. We tried the vegetable tart, polenta fries, steak, and salad. All amazing!
After lunch we wandered the grounds of the winery, spotting chickens walking around their coops in vineyards.
On our way back, we meandered off the highway to Royal Roads University. The beauty was absolutely worth the detour, but I have to warn you, you won’t really understand what everyone is talking about until you get down to Hatley Castle. This beautiful castle and adjoining gardens were stunning and the locations of some famous movie shoots! Do watch out for geese and a couple of peacocks as you roam the grounds!
So, those three fabulous days in Victoria, British Columbia? A day of wandering around Government Street, whale watching, and The Butchart Gardens. A day doing the bike tour around the city with afternoon tea and sites to see. And a day trip up Vancouver Island for a delightful lunch at Unsworth Winery. Add in all the delicious food and you’ll be a very happy Canada camper!