Even though Vancouver Island is not located in a tropical climate, it is frequently cited as a top 25-island destination. British Columbia’s capitol, Victoria, is likewise widely regarded as an exceptional city. With the mildest climate in Canada and a diverse terrain filled with wildlife, it’s not surprising that international visitors flock to Vancouver Island and spend at least a day in Victoria.

In 72 hours, travelers can get a small sampling of Victoria’s prime sites and restaurants and also explore a few places in the southern and central regions of B.C. A more intensive adventure will require additional days.

Travelers can fly nonstop into Victoria International Airport from more than 40 North American major cities or fly directly from nearby Vancouver. Another option is to come by sea from Seattle, Port Angeles, Anacortes Washington or Vancouver.


Image via Sandy Bornstein

Victoria’s Parliament Building. Image via Sandy Bornstein.

Visitors can easily walk around Victoria’s downtown area as well as its pristine shoreline. Boat lovers oftentimes opt for one of the coastline tours, a wildlife or whale eco-tourism adventure, or head to a nearby island. However, with only a day in metro Victoria, most will choose to explore Victoria by foot. Here are 5 recommendations:

Inner Harbour, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Coast Line

One of the best ways to remember the overall beauty of this capital city is to stroll along the coastline. Fisherman’s Wharf, the Inner Harbour area, as well as the pathways bordering the shoreline provide wonderful photo opportunities. Watch out for unleashed dogs on the path near Dallas Road between Douglas Street and Clover Point.

British Columbia Parliament Buildings and Fairmont Empress

These two landmarks can be found in the Inner Harbour area. The British Columbia Parliament Buildings have a more impressive interior than the nearby Fairmont Empress. The government website provides an informative self-directed guidebook. History buffs can sit in the public gallery when the Legislative Assembly is in session. If time and money are limited, the pricey afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress should be skipped.

Royal British Columbia Museum

The permanent collection showcases natural history, modern history, and British Columbia’s First Peoples. Check the website for the featured seasonal exhibits. If you meander through these extraordinary interactive exhibits, there may not be enough time to fit in a movie in the IMAX theatre or check out the outdoor exhibits. Most notable are the totem poles in Thunderbird Park. The museum’s convenient Inner Harbour location is a bonus.

Craigdarroch Castle (Short drive or leisure walk from Inner Harbour)

To encounter 19th-century affluent life in Victoria, walk through this 25,572 square foot mansion and admire its 17 fireplaces, intricate woodwork, stained glass windows, elaborate furnishings and a lovely view of Victoria’s skyline. Keep in mind that this attraction can be crowded on rainy days.

Government Street and Chinatown (a few blocks from the Inner Harbour)

Ready to shop or eat?

Both sides of Government Street offer a diverse selection of stores and restaurants that are located in historic buildings. If you’re a chocoholic, look for Roger’s Chocolates. Stroll down to Fisgard Street to see Chinatown. In its heyday, this National Historic Site was home to Canada’s largest Chinese settlement. Blink and you might miss Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street and former gambling district.



Calm surf and rocks at East Sooke. Image via Sandy Bornstein.

Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse National Historic Sites (Approximately 8 miles from downtown Victoria)

On the way to the west coast, consider making a brief stop at this well maintained historical site. A small exhibit showcases women in the military. History buffs will rejoice at the opportunity to walk through one of Victoria’s former coastal fortifications while others will enjoy walking inside and taking pictures of Canada’s first lighthouse on the west coast.

East Sooke Regional Park (Approximately 1 hour from downtown Victoria)

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the park’s 30+ miles of forest and rocky shoreline trails covering 3,512 acres. There are a few parking lots that connect to the marked trails. Consider walking down to the beach so that you can hike briefly along the rocky shoreline and see the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains. Keep in mind that the Coast Trail is an extremely challenging 6+mile trek that takes experienced hikers 6-8 hours to complete.

China Beach (Approximately 1 hour and 30-minute drive from downtown Victoria)

As you drive further up the west coast along Highway 14/West Coast Road, adventure seekers can stop at several points along the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. This strenuous 30-mile hike goes from China Beach to Botanical Beach. Day visitors can get a small taste of this unique trail by pulling off at designated spots — China Beach, Sombrio Beach, Parkinson Creek and Botanical Beach. It’s a lovely 15-20 minute walk to the China Beach.

Botanical Beach (Approximately 2-hour drive from downtown Victoria)

Follow the Botanical Loop Trail down to the beach. At the end of the short walk, the dramatic ridges of shale and quartz will impress hikers. Wildlife is best viewed during low tide when the tide pools are aren’t being pelted by intense waves.

Note: A rental car or prearranged tour is required. It is advisable to use a GPS device because there is limited signage and it’s easy to get lost.


Verdant tree pathway leading to China Beach. Image via Sandy Bornstein.


MacMillan Provincial Park (Approximately 2 1/4 hour drive from downtown Victoria)

With trails on either side of Highway 4,  MacMillan Provincial Park offers access to old growth coastal rain forests. Take the Cathedral Trail on the south side to see Douglas fir trees over 800 years old. The north side has a trail that weaves through a grove of moss covered Western red cedar trees and passes by Cameron Lake. It is a magical place that is filled with a palate of green and an earthy mossy aroma. It is on the way to Tofino, but definitely worth driving for a day trip.

Little Qualcum Waterfall and Englishman River Falls Provincial Parks

The Little Qualcum Waterfalls are approximately 10 minutes from the Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park. It’s necessary to take a slight detour to reach the Englishman River Falls. Both parks include child safety chain linked barriers and well-marked trails with multiple viewpoints of the moderate sized waterfalls. If beaches instead of waterfalls are your priority, visit an eastern coastal town such as Parksville (Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park) or Nanaimo.

The calming magic of MacMillan Provincial Park. Image via Sandy Bornstein.

The calming magic of MacMillan Provincial Park. Image via Sandy Bornstein.

Cowichan (approximately 24 miles from downtown Victoria)

On the way back from the central part of the island, stop at one or more east coast communities. One recommendation is Cowichan. The Cowichan valley lies between the mountains on one side and the Salish Sea on the other. It’s the natural place for vintners, craft brewers, distillers, cider makers, and cheese makers to hone their craft. Road signs point the way for a self-guided tour that includes small establishments that only sell locally. We recommend visiting the award-winning Rocky Creek Winery and nibbling on organic goodies at True Grain Bread.

A Few Victoria Restaurant Options…

A farm to table experience can be enjoyed at one of 10 Acres’ restaurants— Bistro, Kitchen, or the Commons. If you’re looking for an innovative menu with local ingredients, try Olo. The Steamship Grill & Bar provides fresh seafood with a stellar view of the Inner Harbour. For Mediterranean cuisine consider one of Victoria’s newer restaurants, Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar. It has longer hours compared to the majority of Victoria’s restaurants.

Staying a bit longer? Consider…

Nature lovers can plan for additional days in the Tofino/Ucluelet area. This rural location has coastal temperate rainforests, rivers, lakes and beaches and is near the Pacific Rim National Park.

A second option is to take a few extra days to explore the rugged wilderness near Strathcona Provincial Park and Campbell River. Strathcona Provincial Park, the oldest provincial park in British Columbia, has the only glaciers on the island.

Another option is to visit one of the nearby small islands, especially during the summer. City lovers could stay longer in Victoria.


Quaint harbor scene in Cowichan. Image via Sandy Bornstein.

A Few Final Tips…

  • Time management is crucial. Be aware that logging trucks and other slow-moving vehicles may affect your speed. On the second day, it might be easier to drive directly to Port Renfrew and then stop at a several places on the way back to Victoria.
  • Wildlife is plentiful and tides are unpredictable. Be mindful of your surroundings.
    For safety reasons, avoid going to MacMillan Provincial Park on a windy day.
    Don’t forget to pack hiking shoes for the rocky terrain along the west coast and the super muddy paths in the rainforest.

If you’ve been to Vancouver Island, what’s your favorite Victoria restaurant and where did you take the best photos?


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About The Author

Sandy Bornstein

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at www.sandrabornstein.com.