The Best Way to Spend One Day in Victoria, BC: A Quick Canadian Escape

one day in victoria bc
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Canada’s charming town of Victoria is one of those places that just sticks with you, and I’ve found myself here time and time again, drawn back by its magnetic charm. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or just a quick hop over to spend one day in Victoria, BC, there’s always something new to discover in this coastal city. Plus, there’s just something fun about being able to visit a foreign country just for the day!

I’ve been to Victoria many times, the first being when I was little with my family, and at least a dozen times since. My friends used to live on Vancouver Island, so my husband and I often took the Clipper up to explore the area with them for the weekend. I’ve also taken a day trip to Victoria, BC, often over the years, whether with my friends who want to get some amazing seafood or with my own kids who love all the parks and places to visit.

So, what’s the magic of Victoria? Is it the scenic beauty, the vibrant culture, or the memories I’ve built here? Maybe it’s a mix of them all, but whatever it is, I’m excited to guide you through a day of my favorite spots and experiences in this fun city. I took my experience of visiting here so many times to create an article showing you the best things to do and included an itinerary for a day trip in Victoria, BC, to make it that much easier to plan your trip.

10 Things to Do in Victoria in One Day

The “City of Gardens” has many fun ways to spend the day exploring this quaint British colonial town. The options are endless, from navigating the outdoor attractions to scouting the exceptional culinary scene.

Here are the top 10 things to do during a one-day Victoria, BC, trip.

1. Explore the Harbor

One of the things I love most about Victoria is how walkable it is. You can easily visit the city’s most popular attractions within close proximity of each other. The first port of call is the Inner Harbour, and we always take time to just walk around after being on the ferry for a few hours.

Besides taking leisurely walks on the waterfront, expect to find a plethora of activities to participate in. These include music shows, festivals, charming eateries, and lively local entertainment from eccentric street artists.

The Harbor is also a prime location for whale-watching if you enjoy spotting marine life (that rivals some of Seattle’s whale-watching tours). You could also pop into the Parliament Buildings. They offer free guided tours and a chance to see one of the city’s most prestigious and stately architectural structures up close.

Feel like seeing some whales? Jump on this whale-watching cruise!

2. Visit Butchart Gardens

The enchanting Butchart Gardens have provided the city with a stunning natural wonderland for over 100 years. Venture north of Victoria to Brentwood Bay during your one day in Victoria to visit this picturesque retreat and Canadian National Historic Site.

I’ll be honest: it actually took me a while to be convinced to come here, but we finally decided to when my first kid was a baby, and I absolutely loved walking around these gardens. Also, a fun fact: my son took his first steps here, so it now holds very special memories for me.

There are five spectacular gardens across 55 acres. Meander around the Rose, Italian, Mediterranean, Sunken, and Japanese Gardens. The gardens are a nature lover’s dream destination, with many beautiful plant varieties and greenhouses.

If you’re in Victoria between June and September, be sure to catch a fireworks show, which is hosted every Saturday night. There are also live music performances on the weekends that can be enjoyed on the concert lawns.

Book a Butchart Gardens tour and experience this landscape in all its glory.

3. Learn About Local History at the Royal BC Museum

kids in victoria royal bc museum

For an enriching history lesson on British Columbia on your Victoria day trip, the Royal BC Museum is where it’s at. This diverse cultural space holds the province’s oldest tales. Delve into the story behind the region’s rich heritage by exploring various archives and artifacts.

The museum’s vast exhibitions and displays cover human and natural history. One of my most memorable experiences was exploring the indigenous collections. They detail important repatriation stories and the history of the First Nations, which I always appreciate learning about when I travel.

Other museum highlights include Thunderbird Park, with its mystical and fascinating totem pole display, and the profound First People’s Gallery. This is the perfect place to appreciate British Columbia’s past in a fun, interactive way.

Want to learn more about the area’s history? Join the Victoria history and food walking tour!

4. Take a Tour of Fisherman’s Wharf

fishermans wharf victoria bc

Fisherman’s Wharf is one of the city’s most unique attractions that you’ll want to add to your Victoria day trip itinerary. This floating pier is decorated with colorful houses, shops, and food stalls. If you adore being near the water and immersing yourself in a flurry of activity, spend a couple of hours on the Wharf embracing this eclectic community.

Watch the fishing vessels go about their daily marine missions and enjoy the sights of the residents aboard their floating homes. You’re likely to spot some wild seals that, comically enough, are just as curious as the Wharf’s human visitors.

For the freshest seafood in town, stop at Barb’s Fish & Chips to sample tasty dishes. I’ve been here the last two times I visited for a Victoria, BC, day trip because their fish is just that good. Afterward, dessert aficionados can enjoy sugary delights at Sweets and Jackson’s Ice Cream.

Visiting in the winter? Check out all the winter things to do in Vancouver nearby.

5. Enjoy a Walk or Picnic at Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park is the city’s most treasured park and is worth a stop during your one day in Victoria. A marvelous 185 acres of expansive land are dotted with lovely footpaths, abundant greenery, vivid flower beds, and an array of sports facilities.

Beacon Hill Park is the place to do it if you’d like to squeeze in a quiet walk or a romantic picnic during your Victoria visit. The area draws a lot of kite flyers; you might even witness brave paragliders soaring above the park.

Nature buffs will relish one of the park’s most prominent features, the Garry Oak Ecosystem, which sprinkles much-appreciated biodiversity into the region. Have kids? You’ll appreciate the playgrounds, spray parks, and a rose garden.

Treat yourself to a horse-drawn carriage tour of the park and surrounding area.

6. Go Shopping at Victoria Chinatown

chinatown victoria

One of the most entertaining things you can do when visiting a historically rich city as Victoria is to spend a few hours in Chinatown. Although modest in size, Victoria is home to the country’s oldest one, so you’ll want to see it on your Victoria, BC, one day trip.

Navigate your way through the downtown area and find Fisgard Street, where Chinatown is located. It’s bursting with sights, sounds, and smells from busy little restaurants and boutique shops that display the city’s culture. I took my bike tour through here and loved seeing it for the first time.

My favorite part of Chinatown and a must-see spot is Fan Tan Alley. This narrow yet striking street is filled with peculiar and delightful stalls where you can buy many gifts and trinkets, not to mention the delectable food.

Remember to snap a few pictures at the traditional Chinese arch (Paifang), also known as the Gate of Harmonious Interest. This authentic landmark is perfect for capturing your time in Chinatown.

7. Savor Victoria’s Culinary Scene

flying otter grill victoria

Avid travelers know that discovering a destination’s cuisine is one of the not-so-secret keys to unlocking any of its greatest (and most delicious) treasures. Luckily for you, Victoria has no shortage of restaurants, and I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad meal here when I explore downtown Victoria.

For breakfast, check out the rustic Jam Café. This is your go-to for the most mouth-watering brunch options in the city. They also serve yummy all-day breakfasts. The Jam Café is ideal for kicking off your day before starting on your Victoria adventures.

Another culinary banger is Flying Otter Grill, a seafood restaurant famous for its fish and chips and chowder. You’ll find the restaurant on the Fisherman’s Wharf docks in what used to be a shipping container. This is one of the best things to do in the winter on Vancouver Island to stay warm.

My husband and I love this place so much that we come here for lunch almost every time we visit on a Victoria, BC, day trip from Seattle. Besides the flavorful dishes, this is a wonderful place to enjoy views of the waterfront.

Want more food? Join this downtown Victoria food tour to try even more local items.

8. Taste the Best Beers in British Columbia

downtown victoria irish times pub

In addition to the city’s winning cuisine, you’re doing your vacation right when you can sip on something divine between activities on your one day in Victoria. You might need a cold one to temper all the Victoria exploration excitement.

That’s why a visit to any of the city’s craft breweries will hit the sweet spot when it’s time to quench your thirst. For beer lovers, all roads lead to the Irish Times Pub.

This traditional bar downtown brings a bit of Ireland to Canada with quintessential pub grub (hello, fish and chips, or Shepherd’s pie). Grab a draft beer (or a whiskey if you prefer stronger beverages) while you listen to some live music. We took our baby here on a Friday night and had a blast rocking out to a traditional Irish band.

Phillips Brewing & Malting is also worth a visit if you want a memorable tasting room experience while still taking it easy in a relaxed pub atmosphere on your Victoria one-day trip.

Go behind the scenes on this street art and craft beer tour of the city.

9. Learn About History at Craigdarroch Castle

craigdarroch castle victoria

Craigdarroch Castle isn’t just another fancy building in Victoria; it’s a trip back in time! If you’re into history and some beautiful architecture, you’ll want to add this spot to your list. I first visited this when I did a bike tour of the city, and I was so surprised to see this castle pop up in the neighborhood we were in.

I loved it so much that the next time I was in Victoria for a weekend, I made sure to go back and take the time to go inside to find out more about it. Only about a 10-minute drive from downtown, this grand old mansion is packed with stunning stained glass, some seriously detailed woodwork, and rooms that’ll make you feel like you’ve stepped into a Victorian movie set on your 1 day in Victoria, BC.

What makes a visit to Craigdarroch even cooler? It’s all about the stories of the Dunsmuir family. Wandering around this place, you’ll get lost in the tales and charm of the old days. If you’ve got a couple of hours to spare, pop in and soak up some of that old-world vibe!

Join the same bike tour I did to see this castle and more while zipping around the city.

10. Frolic on the Beach

Willow Beach Victoria

Everyone relishes a little sun, sea, and sand when on holiday, right? While this depends on temperatures, the general vacation mood when weather conditions permit is to hit the beach. Victoria’s gem is Oak Bay’s Willows Beach, which is one of the best warm weather things to do in Victoria for one day.

These are shallow, calm waters that are perfect for paddling and a refreshing dip. You can mingle with the locals and enjoy some fun and games with a few rounds of beach volleyball.

For traveling groups, consider a beach barbecue as an opportunity to socialize with your pals. After your beach escapades, make your way to Willows Park and Oak Bay Avenue. There, you can enjoy shopping and dining experiences at whimsical shops and eateries.

Want to get in the water? I highly recommend this kayaking tour of the harbor.

One Day in Victoria, BC Itinerary

victoria fairmont

You can pick and choose from any of the items on this list, but here’s my suggested one day Victoria itinerary:

Morning: Harbor and Museum

Begin your day with the sights and sounds of Victoria’s Harbor. This bustling hub sets the tone with beautiful ocean vistas, bobbing boats, and perhaps a few enthusiastic street performers.

As you let the harbor’s ambiance soak in, maybe with a fresh cup of coffee from a waterside cafe, make your way to the nearby Royal BC Museum. This immersive space offers captivating insights into British Columbia’s layered history, taking visitors on a journey through nature and time.

Lunch: Seafood

As midday approaches, hunger surely follows. You’re in luck because Victoria boasts two lunch spots that are absolute must-trys. Flying Otter Grill gives you a waterfront dining experience with dishes that are a testament to the city’s coastal bounty.

If you’re leaning towards something more casual but equally iconic, Red Fish Blue Fish is an outdoor seafood eatery that’s become a Victoria staple, offering mouth-watering eats straight from the sea.

Need an extra activity? You’ll love this thrilling 20-minute seaplane tour of Victoria.

Afternoon: Park and Wharf

Post-lunch, take a leisurely walk through Beacon Hill Park. This sprawling green space serves as an oasis in the heart of the city, sprinkled with peaceful ponds, chirping birds, and vibrant flora.

Once you’ve had your fill of nature, head over to the whimsical Fisherman’s Wharf. From its unique floating houses to delightful local treats, it promises a unique experience at every turn.

As the afternoon goes on, step back in time with a visit to Craigdarroch Castle. Every corner of this Victorian-era mansion is steeped in history and tales of yesteryear, and many visitors come here after a 2 day Vancouver itinerary.

Evening: Chinatown and Nightlife

victora night

The vibrant energy of Victoria’s Chinatown is perfect for the evening. Delve into the cultural richness of the area, shop to your heart’s content, and make sure to wander through Fan Tan Alley, a narrow, history-filled pathway boasting unique shops and trinkets.

Head over to Irish Times Pub, known for its lively ambiance and a fine selection of local brews. If you’re in the mood to brewery hop, Phillips Brewing & Malting Co. is another local favorite, renowned for its innovative craft beers. As you sip on BC’s finest, reflect on your day and the myriad memories Victoria has etched in your heart.

Note: Butchart Gardens is undoubtedly a gem of Victoria; however, given that it’s a bit outside of the city and it takes several hours to tour the gardens, it’s best to have this be the only thing you do either in the morning or afternoon.

How to Get to Victoria, BC

day trip from seattle to victoria

For a day trip to Victoria, you’ll want the convenience of seamless, stress-free travel options. Planning to come in from Seattle or Vancouver? These are the most popular options for getting to Victoria.

Taking a Day Trip to Victoria From Seattle

There are three main ways to get to Victoria from Seattle. Read below to get the details on each travel option.

Ferry

Taking the ferry is the best way to get to Victoria when you go on a day trip from Seattle to Victoria. Not only is this a direct travel route, but you also get the bonus of enjoying a scenic water ride. The trip will take just under three hours and is a great way to glimpse the local marine life.

The Victoria Clipper provides the most well-known and reliable ferry service. I’ve taken the Clipper at least half a dozen times because it is so convenient – not having to worry about driving on a ferry and finding parking in a new city is always preferred, in my opinion. This passenger-only ferry takes you from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle to the Belleville Terminal in downtown Victoria’s Inner Harbour.

Tip: Park in the Bell Street parking garage in Seattle, as the Clipper will validate it for you, and you can leave your car there for the entire time for only $10. You won’t find that anywhere else!

Keep in mind that because your trip from Seattle to Victoria is considered international travel (crossing borders from one country to another), you will need a passport. Get all the travel information you need here.

For an easy cruise experience, book a ferry trip aboard the Victoria Clipper.

Flying

You might be one of those jet-setters who enjoy their travel adventures best when they can zip in and out of their target destination on a flight. You’ll be glad to know that a few commercial flights between Seattle and Victoria will make your visit to British Columbia quick and easy for your one day trip to Victoria.

You can research and make comparisons online to choose the most convenient airline for you. Ideally, you should plan a direct flight from Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport to Victoria International Airport (YYJ).

Most flights take around an hour, giving you plenty of time to kick off your itinerary once you land in Victoria.

Car

Many travelers love tackling an international road trip from Seattle to Vancouver Island, which provides another fun-filled way to make it to Victoria. However, a trip like this is best conquered when you split it into a multi-day journey.

Although traveling by car is an alternative way to get to Victoria, I suggest reserving a road trip for a longer holiday stretch. This way, you have several days to spend visiting a few cities and ticking off fabulous vacation activities along the way.

The Seattle to Victoria car drive takes anywhere between 3.5 and 4.5 hours, depending on traffic and the time it takes to get through Border Control and Customs. You’ll cover about 162 miles when traveling along the US-101 route northbound toward the Canadian border. You could easily add this to a 4-day Seattle itinerary if you want a longer trip.

Taking a Day Trip to Victoria From Vancouver

The trip from Vancouver to Victoria is a relatively short one. Opt for a ferry ride or a float plane for smooth, hassle-free travel between the two locations.

Ferry

There’s nothing quite like the summer season in Vancouver. That’s why British Columbia locals and travelers from farther afield make Victoria a prime stop during their short weekend getaways from Vancouver or Vancouver Island drives.

A ferry ride from Vancouver to Victoria will ensure you get to revel in all the city’s splendor, especially when looking to make the most of a one-day visit. You could also put this at the end of your drive from Seattle to Vancouver to explore more of Canada.

BC Ferries is your go-to for reliable and efficient travel. You’ll have to make your way to Tsawwassen Terminal (22 miles from downtown Vancouver) to board the ferry. It’ll take you to Swartz Bay in Victoria.

The ferry ride itself is about 1.5 hours. Don’t forget to make time allowances for your trip to Tsawwassen Terminal from downtown Vancouver. The journey from Swartz Bay to Victoria Center is also a time factor, making the entire trip from Vancouver to Victoria (just below 80 miles) about 3.5 hours, depending on how busy it is.

Don’t feel like driving? You’ll love the ease of this Vancouver to Victoria tour.

Floatplane

For a bit of a VIP travel experience between Vancouver and Victoria, why not jump on a floatplane? One of the best services is delivered courtesy of Harbour Air, which offers seaplane rides from Vancouver to all the surrounding areas.

The journey from Vancouver Harbor to Victoria Harbor takes about 40 minutes. This travel mode affords sensational views of the Gulf Islands, all while treating you to a comfortable, private flight experience. It’s fun to do this when spending 3 days in Vancouver.

Pro Tip: While services like BC Ferries allow vehicles, transporting your car to Victoria can be a bit of a bother, particularly if you’re only looking to enjoy a simple day trip. I recommend forgetting about your car and taking a walk-on ferry ride to Victoria. Once there, you’ll find exploring the city a piece of cake because it’s super walkable.

Arrive in style by taking a Vancouver to Victoria seaplane.

Where to Stay in Victoria, BC

marketas bed and breakfast victoria

While this article is about taking a day trip to Victoria, you might decide to extend your long day and stay the night so you won’t have to rush. If that’s the case, here are some places to stay in Victoria that I recommend:

  • Marketa’s Bed and Breakfast: Downtown Victoria is where all the action is. To be near the central buzz, stay at Marketa’s Bed and Breakfast in a quiet area that still affords peaceful nights. We stayed here in 2019 and loved how kind everyone was to our young family. The rooms are super comfy, with selected suites featuring a fireplace and a spa tub. Rates start at $139 per night.
  • Strathcona Hotel: This hotel is a complete steal for the price. If you prefer accommodations serving as their little entertainment hub, consider the Strathcona a superb choice. Besides the elegant, spacious rooms, you can also look forward to top-notch amenities. Enjoy the spoils of an on-site restaurant, bar, and clubhouse. There’s a nightclub and even a rooftop sand volleyball court for active travelers. Rates start at $135 per night.
  • Fairmont Empress Hotel: For vacationers who don’t mind splurging on superior comforts when on holiday, the much-talked-about Fairmont Empress Hotel won’t disappoint. This luxury hotel overlooks the Harbor and offers exquisite deluxe rooms and stellar service. Multiple restaurants, a spa, an indoor pool, and a gorgeous garden exist. The afternoon teas are always a hit (they put the British in British Columbia), and the Maritime Museum of BC is less than a mile away. Rates start at $243 per night.

Tips for Spending One Day in Victoria, BC

victoria sunset

To enjoy the ultimate one-day trip to Victoria, remember these tips so that your British Columbia adventure is as smooth as possible:

  • As I already mentioned above, Victoria is a walkable city. You’ll want to be as comfortable as possible for all your activities and sightseeing. That said, consider investing in good quality walking shoes that’ll allow pain-free meandering around the city.
  • Hiring a bike and doing a little self-directed exploration will be fun if you’d like to venture into the quieter neighborhoods and discover the less touristy locations.
  • Make sure to carry a form of identification and other important travel documentation with you. Even a one-day Victoria trip still falls into the category of international travel, making it essential to have the correct papers on you.
  • If possible, try to secure accommodations in the downtown area so you’re close to all the top attractions. You’ll be able to take full advantage of Victoria’s walkability if you’re centrally located and within close proximity of all the action.

Now that you know what to do in one day in Victoria, BC, it’s time to start planning your trip!

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