Beyond the beautiful gardens and historic architecture of Victoria, a wonderland of wildlife-spotting opportunities, natural wonders and food and wine trails await on Vancouver Island. Separated from the mainland by the Strait of Georgia and the scenic Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island has carved a unique identity for itself that separates it from other Canadian destinations.
Visitors who make the trip to the island will be amazed by the capital city of Victoria, where the English influence is still alive in the horse-drawn carriages that parade the streets. Those who venture beyond the city will find colourful fishing villages, top breweries and rainforests filled with Canada's unique wildlife. The easiest way to explore the island is to pick up a rental car from Victoria and start exploring.
There is a reason Victoria is the capital and cultural centre of British Columbia. Although smaller than Vancouver, the city packs just as much culture, art and baroque architecture into its colourful streets as any of its larger neighbours. It's an interesting mix of architecture, from old colonial buildings to the picture-perfect Fairmont Empress Hotel on the waterfront. This is an idyllic city that should not be left off any Canadian travel itinerary.
Start your exploration in the heart of the city. You'll experience the true vibrant atmosphere of Victoria just by wandering the waterfront. Not far from the harbour you'll come across the huge galleries of the Royal BC Museum. Detailing both the natural history of British Columbia as well as the stories of its citizens over the years, the museum is a great way to introduce yourself to the province. If all that exploring has made you peckish, head to Fisherman's Wharf to grab some fish and chips while you enjoy a view of the busy harbour.
Wake up early to state your second day exploring Victoria and its surrounds. Want to see an example of Victorian architecture? Visit Craigdarroch Castle, where you can explore the wonderful gardens and see preserved antiques on display. On your way back to the city, follow the city's most scenic route, Dallas Road. Not only will you get unparalleled ocean views, but you will be able to see all the way to the Olympic Mountains in Washington across the water.
When night falls, the city shines. There is nothing like the sight of Victoria's Parliament Buildings decorated with thousands of lights. It seems appropriate that you can tour the area via horse-drawn carriage and appreciate the influence of England.
The Parliament Buildings are the official residence for the parliament of British Columbia. Dating back to 1893, the buildings are an iconic feature of Downtown Victoria. Guided tours are available for visitors who wish to see the elaborate interior of the parliament where important laws are passed.
The road along the west coast to Port Renfrew will take you past some beautiful, secluded beaches. Some of the highlights include China Beach, French Beach and Mystic Beach. There is also a beautiful stretch of coastline within Botanical Beach Provincial Park.
The town of Sooke is a worthwhile stop en-route. Visitors can take a swim in the Sooke Potholes, and visit the Regional Museum. In East Sooke Park there are some beautiful hiking trails through the forest, and if you are feeling particularly adventurous you can even zipline through the trees at Adrena LINE Zipline Adventures.
Stay the night in Port Renfrew so you have plenty of time to explore the unique rock pools for which the area is known. You also can't visit the area without seeing the cinematic Avatar Grove. Giant cedar trees and endless greenery are bountiful, all just fifteen minutes from the centre of town.
On your way back to the east coast, spend some time in Chemainus, a truly unique place with a taste for the arts. See giant murals and visit some of the local galleries, all in a beautiful country setting. Don't forget to stop by Lake Cowichan along the way.
In Duncan, you can take a tour to see all the totems, while just north of the town you can visit Canada's only tea farm. Continue along the highway to Nanaimo, where there is an abundance of activities to keep you busy. Spend some time on the water with a kayak, or just take a dip at the beach. It's the perfect destination to spend the night.
After your long day driving, stretch your legs at Maffeo Sutton Park which overlooks the city's beautiful harbour. If you're travelling with family, there is also a playground and plenty of open space to run around. If you're craving coffee, Regard Coffee is popular among the locals, and is centrally located. Need some more ideas on things to do in Nanaimo? Stop by the Visitor Centre on Northfield Road.
Visit the four major breweries in Nanaimo as part of Vancouver Island's famed Ale Trail. Not only does the route take in some of the island's top breweries, it also encompasses beautiful coastal scenery. Just north of Nanaimo, see the tidal pools at Parksville's Rathtrevor Beach. The wonderous Horne Lake Caves are also nearby.
Make your way south toward Victoria, taking a short detour to Sidney on the scenic Saanich Peninsula. Whether you want to explore the Gulf Islands by kayak or take a whale watching cruise, Sidney is the place to be. As with many towns on the island, Sidney has an artistic flair. You can follow the Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk or search for a unique souvenir at the markets. Galleries, murals and museums.
The town has a fascinating history, and a Historic Downtown Walking tour will teach you all you need to know about the maritime history of Sidney. The real way to see Sidney is on the water though. By ferry, you can reach the Sidney Spit, a paradise for bird-watchers. You can visit the Merridale Cidery for a meal on your way back to Victoria.
For your last meal in the city, head to Spinnakers, the oldest craft brewery in the city that has partnered with local farmers to produce some of the best food. Vancouver Island is famous for its breweries, and this is definitely the perfect way to finish off the Ale Trail!
Although your time in Victoria has come to an end, there is no reason you can't extend your journey to visit other parts of Canada. The country is home to amazing scenery, and world-class cities.