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Some might wonder how the city of Victoria, while breathtakingly beautiful, could trump the gleaming metropolis of Vancouver as the Province of British Columbia's capital...
Well, sometimes, little brother is just more popular than big brother.
Situated on the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island, Greater Victoria (which encompasses the municipality of Saanich and its suburbs) is an extremely gorgeous city of over 350 thousand that sees over 3.5 million tourists yearly. Easily accessible by plane, seaplane, ferry or high-speed-hydrofoil, this international destination is only a few hours away from the Canadian city of Vancouver and the American city of Seattle in Washington State.
Victoria is a young, vibrant city even in the Autumn and Winter, not only due to its temperate climate but also to its status as a university town. Royal Roads University, University Canada West, Camosun College and the University of Victoria all call it home. But come Summer, the busiest part of town is the Port of Victoria. Over 20 cruise ships make 200 calls yearly to the Ogden Point Terminal, depositing thousands of vacationers on the southernmost shores of Vancouver Island. From its astonishing harbor skyline featuring the magnificent, domed Legislative Buildings to its myriad of attractions, a vacation here always feels a little short, no matter how long the stay.
Apart from obvious attractions such as the Royal British Columbia Museum, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, the submersed wonder of the Undersea Gardens or the 6-story high screen of the National Geographic IMAX theatre, Victoria also has some singularly unique ways of impressing.
All summer long, kids and adults alike can enjoy the Beacon Hill Children's Farm in the city's downtown park, featuring a hands-on frolic with baby goats. Into Old Victoria? One of the city's prominent landmarks, Craigdarroch Castle is a 30-room 1880's mansion built by the Province's first millionaire. A tour here is as close to time-travel as you'll get. And if you're more about hysteria than history, check out Nightmares, a subterranean experience below Trounce Alley that specializes in macabre tours guaranteed to keep the staunchest soul up at night. But 'up at night' is a good thing in this town…
Victoria has one of the highest bar and restaurants per-capita ratings in North America. Enjoy culinary offerings from all four corners of the world with many establishments featuring heated patios, romantic views or both. Enjoy authentic Italian at Olde Town's Il Terrazzo or the breathtaking aerial panoramas from Vista 18. Nightclubs and bars abound too, favourites being The Bard and Banker and The Irish Times on Government Street and Smiths Pub, just around the corner on Courtney.
Events are almost a nightly occurrence in Victoria. Between the Royal Theatre, The MacPherson Theatre and the Save On Foods Memorial Centre, there's always something, whether it be rock-show, ballet, symphony, or hockey. That's right! In grand Canadian tradition, Victoria is home to the Salmon Kings, an uber-popular ECHL hockey franchise.
Some of the best shopping on the West Coast starts here on trendy Lower Johnston Street, the city's colourful bohemian centre. Enjoy the charm of indie clothing shops, restaurants and the historic Market Square before strolling past the retail shops, art galleries and patio restaurants of world famous Government Street. 'Quaint' doesn't do justice to the European-style gift-shops and boutiques of Trounce Alley or the Tudor-style collectibles stores and curiosity shops of Antique Row.
But it's the culture of this amazing destination that has won it the title, Best City in the Americas twice since the year 2000. Victoria's cultural flavor comes from a rich heritage of British immigration. From the Saanich suburbs to the naval base at CFB Esquimalt. And while the 'Ghost of Colonialism Past' haunts the numerous pubs, snugs and alleys of this distinctly 'ex-pat' city, nowhere emulates Old Blighty better than the municipality of Oak Bay. Those who (as the locals say) live "Behind the Tweed Curtain", agree that Oak Bay is almost more English than England! One of Victoria's oldest neighbourhoods, Oak Bay possesses an unrivalled magic and majesty due in part to the Gary Oaks that line its streets. Oak Bay Avenue plays home to the Village, a 5 block stretch of restaurants, pubs and boutique shops leading to Willows Beach, a popular public seaside destination with an esplanade, picnic area and oceanfront teahouse. Laze the day away on the sand, gazing across to the mainland at the stunning beauty of Mount Baker in the American Rockies. Less inclined to beach activities? Spend an afternoon in the Village where favourite destinations include the Blethering Place Tearoom and The PennyFarthing Pub. And a leisurely Sunday stroll into Windsor Park will usually provide you with all the soccer, rugby and cricket you could desire. Oak Bay in three words? Jolly good, mate.
This is Victoria. It's okay, Vancouver. Sibling rivalry is a part of life.