If you’re planning an adventure from downtown Vancouver BC, to the charming downtown Victoria BC, there’s not many options than a ferry ride via the iconic BC Ferries! These routes not only provide transportation from the mainland to Vancouver Island but also offer breathtaking views and onboard amenities to make your trip a smooth sailing! Before you start planning your trip, you’ll want to know a little more about the sailing, how to book and all the other tips and tricks that only a local can provide!
The History of BC Ferries
The BC Ferries system boasts a rich and storied history that spans over a century. In the late 1800s, the first steamships started connecting these vibrant coastal cities, fostering a network of maritime connections. These early routes paved the way for the modern BC Ferries, offering a reliable and efficient means of transportation that’s now an integral part of British Columbia’s identity and the life of Vancouver Islanders.
Boarding Options & Reservations
The most convenient way to travel between Victoria to Vancouver on the ferries is with a vehicle. Each ferry is equipped to handle a large number of vehicles, and many people choose to dive onto the ferry for the trip. The potential downside to bringing a vehicle is that you’ll want to book your ferry ticket ahead or potentially wait one or more sailings on busier days if you choose not to book ahead.
Travelers on foot will generally find that they have far more flexibility in terms of sailings. Most BC Ferries can accommodate a large number of foot passengers and many people who opt out of taking a vehicle can skip the reservation process entirely. However, the downside of choosing to walk-on the ferry is that you’ll have to either get dropped off or rely on public transit which can add travel time to your day.
Cyclists can enjoy the same flexibility as foot passengers on the ferries–the only difference is where you’ll board! Unlike foot passengers who board at their designated berth, cyclists board the ferries via a walkway on the vehicle ramp. On the vehicle decks, you can find bike racks to lock your bicycle to so you can enjoy all the amenities on board without worrying about your bicycle!
Passengers with Pets
If you’re bringing your furry family members with you on your trip to Victoria, you’ll be happy to know that pets are welcome on BC Ferries! However, they must stay in your vehicle or in the designated pet area on the lower vehicle decks.
Booking ahead is always a great idea–especially if you’re driving! If you’re driving onto the ferry, during peak seasons, holidays, and long weekends the ferries are incredibly busy so you’ll want to go to BC Ferries online booking system and reserve your booking in advance. The reservation fees are nominal ranging from $10 – $20 CAD and are worth it to ensure a spot for your vehicle and a hassle-free experience, just make sure to check-in at least 30 minutes before your departure time! If you’re a foot passenger or a cyclist, booking ahead isn’t necessary but abut us a good idea during peak seasons, holidays, and long weekends. Be sure to check the BC Ferries website for up-to-date information about all their services and fees!
Checking Current Conditions
Sometimes things happen and ferries are delayed or cancelled. If you have a reservation and your ferry is cancelled, you will be refunded your payment and you’ll have to reschedule your trip. No matter what the scenario, it’s advised that you always check the current conditions on the BC Ferries website for up-to-date information on all sailings.
Weather: Coastal waters can be unpredictable, especially in the winter so check the weather forecast and the current conditions before your trip. High winds or heavy fog can occasionally lead to delays or changes in the ferry schedule.
Boat Repairs & Staff Shortages: While BC Ferries always strives to minimize disruptions, occasional maintenance work or staffing issues may affect certain sailings. For the most part BC Ferries will work around any disruptions but if there are cancellations, you’ll find them under current conditions and be refunded your booking payment.
A Detailed Overview of the Route
The ferry crossing from Vancouver to Victoria is more than just a unique mode of transportation; it is a scenic sightseeing trip that allows you to enjoy the natural beauty of the region!
What You Can See En Route
Gulf Islands: The Vancouver to Victoria ferry route takes you through the Gulf Islands archipelago, a collection of lush, forested islands. As you sail, feast your eyes on rugged coastlines, dense forests, and pristine beaches that define the Gulf Islands.
Marine Wildlife: While the ferry crossing isn’t a substitute for a whale watching excursion, you’ll want to keep your camera ready as orcas, porpoises, and seals are frequently seen in these waters. The surrounding seas teem with life, providing a perfect opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts.
Birdwatching: Birdwatchers will be delighted by the variety of marine birds, including seagulls, cormorants, and even the occasional eagle!
Cafeteria: Satisfy your hunger with a delicious White Spot dish or choose from a variety of cold sandwiches, salads, and bakery items. You can also find plenty of beverages from coffee and tea to juices, pop, beer and wine!
Kid-Friendly Zone: Keep the little ones entertained in the marine-themed play area designed especially for children aged 5 and under.
Lounge Seating: There is plenty of comfortable lounge seating throughout allowing you to take in the breathtaking views through large windows all year round.
Sun Decks: During the warmer months, passengers can enjoy the fresh ocean air and stunning, panoramic views from the sun decks.
Coffee Kiosk: Grab a quick cup of coffee or a light snack at the onboard coffee kiosk.
Getting From Downtown Victoria to Downtown Vancouver
To seamlessly connect from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria you’ll want to use the BC Ferries Connector service. This comfortable bus service takes passengers from Pacific Central Station in Vancouver to Victoria’s Inner Harbour. With this service you can enjoy a hassle-free trip without worrying about public transit or arranging a pick-up and drop-off.
If you’re not travelling by vehicle, or coach, public transit options are available. Take the Canada Line skytrain from Waterfront Station to Bridgeport Station, where you can take the 620 bus to Tsawwassen ferry terminal.
Once you arrive at Swartz Bay, you can take the number 70 Victoria bus all the way to downtown Victoria. From downtown, you can find buses to take you to other parts of Victoria, Langford and beyond! Make sure you have exact change for the buses in Victoria as they don’t yet have transit cards nor take credit cards.
Taxis, Rideshares & Car Services:
You can hail or book a taxi or rideshare to take you to Tsawwassen ferry terminal but it can be expensive–expect to spend between $80 – $120+ CAD on a taxi from downtown Vancouver to Taswwassen terminal. You can book a car service if you prefer and can expect to spend between $100 – $200+ CAD.
If you prefer to have your own vehicle for your stay in Victoria, you can easily arrange to pick up a rental car when you arrive in Swartz Bay. Neither the ferry nor the terminal has a rental car desk so you’ll have to pre-arrange your rental to arrive at Swartz Bay.
Alternative Routes from the Mainland to Vancouver Island
BC Ferry Service from Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay in Nanaimo
Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay:
Horseshoe Bay is a stunning terminal that offers passengers a little seaside village, playground and walking trail to enjoy while you wait for your ferry to arrive. Similar to the crossing between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, this route provides passengers with unforgettable views of the west coast and lots of opportunities to see marine life! Once you arrive in Nanaimo, you’ll want to make sure you have a vehicle so that you can easily discover this incredible region. Unlike Victoria, Nanaimo has a less extensive public transportation system so to make the most of your stay, you’ll want to have access to a car.
Harbour Air Seaplane
If you prefer, you can also opt for a Harbour Air seaplane flight between Vancouver and Victoria and Nanaimo. This offers an exciting and time-saving alternative for travellers who want to see this gorgeous region from the air! Travellers can use this service to enjoy a day-trip on Vancouver Island but if you’re staying, you will want to make sure to book a rental car upon arrival so you can explore this incredible area!
Whether you’re travelling from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria or taking a ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay, these journeys promise incredible sights, memorable experiences, and easy connections to a wide range of attractions. So, plan your trip, make your reservations, and set out on a journey of discovery along the beautiful coast of British Columbia!