by Lilit Marcus, Condé Nast Traveler
Victoria isn't as crowded or busy as its nearby cousin Vancouver, which means you won't have to wait in line to take in its many attractions, from a world-class science and natural history museum to a public park where peacocks roam freely.
1. British Columbia Parliament Buildings
Victoria has a not-entirely-undeserved reputation as the most British town in Canada: most restaurants and hotels offer proper high teas, and you can find British candy and mini-Union Jacks in many shops. Nowhere is that regal British sensibility better displayed than in the British Columbia Parliament Buildings. There are free tours every half-hour during the week led by guides wearing period attire--and yes, "Queen Victoria" has been known to make occasional cameos.
2. Abkhazi Gardens
While the Butchart Gardens in nearby Brentwood Bay get the hard sell, fewer tourists know about the Abkhazi Gardens, which are located in Victoria and absolutely free to visit. A Georgian prince and princess found their way to Canada, where they settled in Victoria and spent the bulk of their lives on their "child," the gardens. Be on the lookout not just for gorgeous trees, rock formations, and flowers, but also animals--there are usually cute turtles sunning themselves on nice days.
3. Fairmont Empress
The ivy-covered Fairmont Empress isn't simply a hotel: It was named to the Canadian National Register of Historic Places in 1981. The 477-room behemoth looms gorgeously over the downtown Victoria harbor area. Opt for a corner room with views of the harbor or the hotel's manicured lawn, and don't leave without sampling the curry buffet at their Bengal Lounge, whose decor nods to the British colonial period in India.
4. Royal BC Museum
The jewel in the crown of Victoria's museum and gallery scene is the Royal BC Museum, which covers the region's natural and cultural history. Be on the lookout for selfie-takers lining up in front of the very realistic looking woolly mammoth, then check out rooms full of fossils, First Nations objects (like the totem poles around the building, some of which are pictured here), and even an exhibit about the British Columbia wine-making industry. If you're looking for a souvenir, local tea purveyors Silk Road made a custom Earl Grey blend that you can only get in the Royal BC's restaurant and gift shop.
5. Clover Point and Dallas Street Waterfront
Victorians rarely pass up an opportunity to spend time outside. For a pleasant walk with guaranteed gorgeous scenery, hit the Dallas Street Waterfront (also known as mile zero of the Trans-Canada Highway), which runs along Victoria's rocky blue-gray southern shore. It juts out into the water at Clover Point, where--bonus!--you can usually get American cell phone reception.
6. Venus Sophia
You won't have any trouble finding an afternoon tea in Victoria, but Venus Sophia's version has a local spin, incorporating homegrown Canadian flavors and work from local bakers. All of their sandwiches and sweets at this Chinatown spot are vegetarian, and there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Try the strawberry mascarpone sandwich, chocolate-chip scones with orange champagne marmalade, and the house-made macarons in flavors like lime and rose. The fact that the whole room seems to have been made out of lace and fringe adds an opulent feel.
7. Beacon Hill Park
If you're indecisive about making plans, head to Beacon Hill Park, where there's a little bit of everything: a petting zoo and kids' farm, biking and walking trails, birdwatching, flower gardens, and even a competitive lawn bowling club. If you hear a high-pitched noise, though, be on the lookout for the friendly peacocks who wander through the park.
8. Hotel Zed
While most visitors to Victoria stay in one of the hotels clustered around the bay, to get a fuller sense of the city, head slightly north to the fun, eclectic Hotel Zed, which opened in 2014. New owners took the former fleabag motel and gave it a fun retro remodel, with typewriters and record players in the lobby and rotary phones in the rooms. The hotel lends out bikes or will give guests rides into town in their custom tricked-out Volkswagen bus.
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