Upon glancing through “Victoria: Secrets of the City,” a funky, well-written, succinct manual on modern-day Victoria, B.C., many memories came flooding back into my mind from my time in Victoria, from 2001 to 2005. I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Music at UVic and I thoroughly enjoyed both the University itself, and Victoria as a city. My four years attending UVic ignited a life-long love affair with the city, and, even after living “on the mainland” (Vancouver) for many years now, much of my heart still belongs to the island, and I’d like to share with you some of the excellent museums and tourist attractions Victoria has to offer.
In terms of museums, there are three must-see’s, and two lesser known places. The Royal B.C. Museum is the huge cement-like building taking up much of Belleville St. in downtown. It is definitely worth seeing as there are so many different genres of artefacts to be seen. There is also the IMAX theatre, which is always entertaining, and often they have art/special exhibits featured (for example, the Titanic two years ago). In the same neck of the woods, there is also The Undersea Gardens (especially entertaining for kids) where you can see real fish and crustaceans through glass, underwater, and watch an entertaining show with a diver and a lobster. This museum is right across from Madam Tussaud’s right in the heart of the Quay/Inner Harbour. Madam Tussaud’s is also worth the $6/$13 (at least that’s what it was a couple of years ago!) to see. There are many, many wax figures of important historical figures, and also Disney characters! Again, this is perfect for the whole family (however, you may not want to bring your kids into the chamber of horrors, where there are many wax examples of ancient torture methods). There is also the Ashton Garrison Museum, located at 724 Vanalman Ave. “Located in an industrial area in Saanich, this museum houses the largest collection of women’s wartime memorabilia in Canada. Among the swords, bayonets, and guns in the museum are items such as regulation hair tongs and medals for bravery. Most of the materials were donated by the families of veterans of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps.” The Victoria Police Museum is at 850 Caledonia St. “Located in a corner of the main police station, the tiny Victoria Police Museum is a collection of materials from the oldest force west of the Great Lakes (dating from 1858). Among the batons, handcuffs, and medals, are charge books that date back to the turn of the century and a display of Victoria parking meters from the last six decades. The museum also includes a souvenir section where you can purchase hats, t-shirts, and toy police cars.”
There are two beautiful, famous places in Victoria that are worth seeing, especially in the summertime. The Empress Hotel is Victoria’s biggest, most famous Victorian hotel in the inner harbour. While I think that going there for tea, which some do, is a little over-priced for what it is, the rose garden in the back of the hotel is absolutely stunning, and if you are there in summer, worth sauntering through.
Butchart Gardens are also one of Victoria’s most famous tourist spots. They are closer to B.C. Ferries than inland Victoria. The one thing I must say about Butchart’s, is you must go in summer. I went in Spring once, and there were no plants or flowers in bloom! While it was still a lovely walk, the flowers themselves (every different type) are the most impressive aspect of Butchart’s. The cost for entrance is about $20 per person, and possibly more in peak season, but if you are a lover of horticulture, this is the place for you. Even if you’re not a big flower person, it is a visually stunning experience, and if you stay when it gets dark, the gardens are lit up, and a beautiful, lit water fall illuminates itself over the little lake. Often in the summer you can catch evening entertainment and sometimes fireworks in its outdoor amphitheatre.
These are my top recommendations, and while there are tons of other options, it’s always worth it to do a bit of research to custom your sightseeing to what you are most interested in. However, you can’t go wrong with these ones, and all in all, sauntering through downtown Victoria on a nice day is an experience in itself. It’s relaxing, scenic, friendly, funky and eclectic all at once. There really is a different vibe in the breeze than on the mainland, and the island truly is its own state of mind. Go and discover for yourself!