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How to Spend ONE Day in Victoria, BC: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

How to Spend ONE Day in Victoria, BC: An Ideal 1-Day Itinerary

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One day in Victoria, BC is just enough time to scratch the surface of this stunning coastal city. You’ll be able to visit Victoria’s top attractions like the Legislative Building and Butchart Gardens, and squeeze in a sunset whale-watching tour! 

Having lived in Vancouver, we’ve visited Victoria a handful of times, as it’s just a quick ferry ride away. Hopefully, one day in Victoria is the start of a Vancouver Island road trip! If you have time in your itinerary to add a few days, you can check out some of my favorite spots in British Columbia, like Tofino.

So, strap yourself in for a jam-packed 24 hours in Victoria. This exciting itinerary will have you checking out Victoria’s most popular sights, but we’ve also made room for you to experience some hidden gems too!

Don’t have time to read the full article? If you only have one day in Victoria, you’ll need to maximize your time! Therefore, your itinerary should include a tour of the colorful Butchart Gardens, a free guided tour of the Legislative Building, and ending the day on a high note with a sunset whale-watching tour.

How to Spend One Day in Victoria

Morning – Visit the Butchart Gardens

Stairs leading up to a viewpoint at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria BC
Honestly, the gardens are mesmerizing!
The Butchart Gardens on Vancouver, Island
Just stunning!

Start your day in Victoria, surrounded by color, at the famed Butchart Gardens. It’s a must-see in the city and one of the best places to visit in all of Vancouver Island. These world-famous gardens are spread across 55 acres (22 hectares) and are home to over 900 different types of plants. And you can visit on your own or as part of one of these fantastic tours to Butchart Gardens from Victoria.

Butchart Gardens is a designated National Historic Site of Canada, and there’s truly a garden for everyone. Yup, there are five different gardens here, so allow enough time to stroll through each one. We loved the Italian and Mediterranean Gardens, but there’s also the Rose Garden, Sunken Garden, and Japanese Garden. It’s no wonder visiting these vibrant gardens is considered one of the best things to do in BC!

The gardens have been around since 1906, and they’re still owned and operated by the same family. Jennie Butchart was this masterpiece’s founding mother, and she started by transforming a former limestone quarry into a sunken garden. The gardens have passed through the generations, and each has added its personal touch. Today, as well as the colorful gardens, you’ll find a Single Jet Pond and a Carousel.

This morning, you have two options for exploring these eye-catching gardens – book an early morning tour like this one, which departs at 8 am, or make your way there when the gates open at 9 am. That way, you have a couple of hours to explore each of the 5 gardens and check out the ponds and fountains before lunch. 

If you plan to DIY it, you can purchase tickets online here or when you arrive. The ticket prices vary by season, but they range from $22.90-$41.50 CAD per person.

Or go with this private half-day tour that gets you your own private tour guide and driver. You’ll start with time to stroll through the flower-lined paths of Butchart Gardens before driving around to see the city’s best sights, such as Fisherman’s Wharf, the Parliament Buildings, the Empress Hotel, Beacon Hill Park, and Craigdarroch Castle. 

While this tour is a “luxury” option, you sure get a lot of bang for your buck. And when you think about it, it’s actually more affordable if you’re traveling as a group, as it’s $438 CAD for a group of up to 6 people. It’s one of the most popular guided tours in Victoria, and for good reason – it’s got a 5-star rating on Viator. And what’s great too is it offers free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance!

Worth noting is that because it’s a private tour, you can pick your own departure time, but because you’ve got a jam-packed day ahead, we suggest selecting the earliest time, which is 8 am. You can check availability and book this well-rated tour here!

If you’re visiting Victoria in the summer, you should plan to come back here in the evening as the gardens host evening concerts throughout July and August. And entrance to the concerts is included with your admission to the garden. Or if you’re visiting Vancouver during the Christmas season, pop over to Victoria and you’ll be in for a treat as the gardens are decked out with colorful light displays. 

Related Read: Many tourists visit the stunning Butchart Gardens from Vancouver, and you can check out the best tours from Vancouver to the Butchart Gardens here!

Why We Book Tours with Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

Lunch – Eat at the Parliamentary Dining Room

Daniel at the Parliamentary Dining Room with his meal in Victoria BC
Ready to dig in!
Pasta dish from the Parliamentary Dining Room in Victoria, BC
Yum!

It’s a 25-kilometer (15.5 miles) drive from Butchart Gardens to your lunch spot today – the Parliamentary Dining Room, which is tucked away in the basement of the super-famous Legislative Building. So, ensure you allow enough time to get here. We suggest booking lunch for 12:30 pm, so that means you’ll need to finish up in the Butchart Gardens at 11:30 am.

You may not believe this, but the Parliamentary Dining Room is mostly unknown to tourists! Which we thought was crazy, considering it’s inside one of the most famous buildings in Victoria. Sure, politicians come here regularly to grab a bite to eat, but it’s a bit of a hidden gem to non-locals. 

This cozy eatery offers not-for-profit fine dining, a unique concept and one that we’ve not come across before. But it’s a brilliant idea because you can enjoy a fine dining experience for just $15-$20 CAD per person. 

The menu is seasonal, so you can expect to see mouth-watering dishes like harissa salmon and roasted lamb, depending on the time of year you visit. On our visit, we got two soups, seafood linguine, peppercorn steak, and a pot of tea, and our bill came to the very reasonable sum of $40 CAD for both of us. An absolute bargain! 

Even though most tourists aren’t “‘in the loop” about this incredible restaurant, locals LOVE it. So, as you can imagine, it books up pretty quickly. This is why you must book your table in advance – you can check out the details on their website.

Getting to the Parliamentary Dining Room from the Butchart Gardens is easy. If you have a rental car, the drive here will take just under an hour. Or, you can catch the #75 bus from the gardens to the Fairmont Empress Hotel on Government Street and walk 3 minutes to the restaurant. 

Early afternoon – Check out the Legislative Building

Bailey walks in front of the Legislative Building in Victoria BC
The architecture is so beautiful in Victoria!

It makes sense that your next activity today is a tour of the Legislative Building since you’ve already seen part of the building while eating lunch! This grand structure is one of Victoria’s most popular tourist attractions, and we say it’s an essential inclusion on every Victoria itinerary. 

It’s located right at the harbor, meaning this grand building is likely one of the first things you saw when you arrived in Victoria! I mean it’s hard to miss the impressive structure with its central dome, along with the fountains and gardens surrounding it. Construction began in 1893 and what I found interesting is that local materials were used both inside and out as much as possible so you’ll see maple, cedar, granite, and slate that are all from BC!

While it’s beautiful from the outside, the inside is just as impressive. We recommend joining a free guided tour of the building. There are typically a few tours available daily, but they can’t be booked in advance and tour start times vary day by day. FYI, the schedule for the following week is posted on the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia website every Friday. 

If the times of the tours don’t work for you, you can take a self-guided tour. Free tour books are available at the information desk, or you can download them beforehand.

Mid-afternoon – Wander Government Street and get a meal

Irish Times Pub on Government Street
Daniel on Government Street in Victoria BC

It’s a hop, skip, and jump to your next stop – Government Street. It’s one of the city’s most beautiful and historic streets, and spending an hour or two admiring the landmark buildings here, such as the Royal BC Museum and the Fairmont Empress Hotel, is a great way to pass the time.

If you’re starting to feel hungry, this is a great place to grab an early dinner, as you’ll find numerous high-profile pubs here. Our suggestion is to grab a bite to eat and a pint at the Irish Times Pub. It’s one of the most popular pubs in the city, and as a matter of fact, it was awarded the best Irish pub in North America! 

There’s live music daily and a happy hour from 3-5 pm, which should align perfectly with today’s schedule. And as for food, we highly recommend the stew. 

Some other pubs we loved on Government Street include Bard and Banker, which is said to be the oldest pub in all of British Columbia, and Garrick’s Head Pub in Bastion Square.

Related Read: If you can extend your stay in British Columbia’s capital city (we highly recommend doing so!) a walking tour of Victoria is a great way to get a feel for the city.

Sunset  – Go whale watching

A whale watching tour in British Columbia follows an Orca on a tour
The experience is surreal!

Have we saved the best ’til last? Well, we can’t think of a better way to end your day in Victoria than a sunset whale-watching tour like this one, which handily offers free cancellation up to 24 hours before the tour begins.

The waters surrounding Victoria are abundant with orca, humpback, gray, killer, and minke whales. But it’s not only these giants of the sea that you can expect to see on a tour here. You’ll also likely encounter seals, sea lions, and dolphins.

Peak whale watching season in Victoria typically runs from April to November. During this time, tour operators boast a 95% success rate of whale sightings. But even if you’re visiting outside of these months, the success rate is still high at 79%. Getting a glimpse of these magnificent creatures will truly be a highlight of your trip to Victoria! 

The boat leaves from the dock in downtown Victoria between 4-6 pm, depending on the month – they want to time it right for sunset! There are three different viewing decks to watch for whales and enjoy watching the golden colors of sunset over the Salish Sea. The $200 CAD tour also includes a free photo package and a whale sighting guarantee. So, that means they will offer you another tour completely free if you’re unlucky enough not to see any whales this evening.

This is one of the larger tour boats in Victoria, which means that you can stay dry inside if you wish. And there are lots of windows if the deck feels a bit too chilly for you. Coffee, tea, and restroom facilities are also offered on the catamaran. 

To put it plainly, this sunset whale-watching tour is the perfect way to end this amazing one-day trip to Victoria. It’s got a 5-star rating on Viator and is one of the very best whale-watching experiences in Victoria. Since it’s popular, it’s known to fill up quickly during the busy months – so don’t miss out and book your tour in advance here!

Related Read: If you’re planning to explore more of Vancouver Island, then check out our pre-planned 7-day itinerary. It includes stops at all the best places on the island!

Where to Stay in Victoria

Outside of the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria BC
Outside of the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria

Victoria is a popular place to stay. So we suggest booking a hotel in Victoria well in advance to secure your favorite spot! If you’re not sure where to book, check out our full guide on where to stay in Victoria or our top picks below!

Fairmont Empress Hotel – $$$

This Fairmont Empress Hotel is a gorgeous location and a stay here is truly an experience in and of itself! One of the famously grand railway hotels built across Canada, it looks more like a castle than a hotel. With elegance and luxury found around every corner, it’s easy to see why royalty chooses to stay here when visiting Victoria. Immerse yourself in a soothing spa treatment, enjoy a tasty afternoon tea, or simply wander around the gardens.

Rooms at the Fairmont Empress start at around $315-$400 CAD per night, and you can secure your room at Booking.com.

The Embassy Inn – $$

The Embassy Inn is located right in Victoria’s Harbor, making it very convenient for those traveling to Victoria by ferry. Many top sights are only a stone’s throw away, yet the hotel itself feels super quiet and relaxing. Rooms are spacious and all come with balconies to feel the fresh air and take in the view. They start from $170 CAD a night and you can check availability and book online here.

Helm’s Inn – $

Who said you can’t enjoy spacious accommodations on a budget? Helm’s Inn is an all-suite hotel including kitchenettes – perfect for saving some money by making a to-go lunch. This hotel is also really close to some of the best sights in the city, such as Beacon Hill Park (across the street), as well as the Legislature and Royal BC Museum. Rooms here start at around $150 CAD, but we recommend booking ahead online to get the best deal!

Ocean Island Backpackers – $

Ocean Island Backpackers Inn is a budget hostel in downtown Victoria, within walking distance of the harbor and lots of bars and restaurants. What’s more, breakfast, dinner, and one free drink at the pub downstairs are all included in your stay! A bunk here costs around $44 CAD per night, with private rooms starting at $130 CAD. If you’re backpacking across BC on a budget, you’ll definitely want to stay here by booking on either Hostelworld.com or Booking.com!

Renting a Car in British Columbia

A rural road with Mt Currie in the background
Road trips are the best way to explore Canada!

If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.

Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. Read my honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie from the fisherman's wharf in Victoria
Thanks for reading!

Allowing yourself just one day in Victoria is sufficient to see the city’s top attractions, but seeing as we LOVE this coastal city so much – we say, the longer here the better! However, we know that not everyone has time on their side, which is why we put together the above unbeatable (we think so!) one day in the Victoria itinerary. We hope you enjoyed reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

If you’re traveling through more of the country, check out our other blogs all about Canada. I’m a local and love writing and sharing about all the great destinations. Below, I’ve chosen some articles that will come in handy when visiting Victoria. Thanks for reading and safe travels!

18 BEST Stops on the Drive from Victoria to Tofino

5 BEST Tours to Victoria from Vancouver – Chosen by a Local!

10 BEST Stops on the Drive from Nanaimo to Victoria

How to Get from Vancouver to Victoria