Greater Victoria: The Enchanting Pearl of British Columbia

Parliament Buildings in Greater Victoria

One port of call aboard the Discovery Princess from Vancouver to Los Angeles was Greater Victoria. I have visited Victoria, BC, several times before. The city has fond memories for me. As a child, my family vacationed at Shawnigan Lake in British Columbia. The trip always included a stop in Victoria. In the early 1970s, we cruised on the Princess Italia to Alaska and stopped in Victoria. My father purchased a home in Greater Victoria in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which my husband and I occasionally visited.

Unfortunately, my recent visit was a rainy, overcast day, so we could only partake in a few activities available to the visitor. The city is still inspiring even in the rain. Even the bus ride from the ship to the town center takes you through the lovely parks and scenic views, including sculptures.

Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia and is known as the “Garden City” with all its lush landscaping. The city sits on the southern end of Vancouver Island. It is the oldest city in the Pacific Northwest, named after Queen Victoria, and reflects its British heritage, especially when it comes to high tea. Chinatown is the second oldest in North America. The architecture is very European, chiefly the Parliament Buildings and The Empress Hotel. They are both focal points of the city.

Fairmont Empress Hotel

A trip to Greater Victoria must include visiting the Fairmont Empress Hotel. This famed hotel is a fixture of Victoria. The city was built around the hotel, which lies on James Bay. Constructed in 1904, this iconic hotel is reminiscent of a Chateau in France. Initially designed by the architect Francis Rattenbury, the hotel has undergone several remodels, with the latest in 2017.

Fairmont Empress Hotel in Greater Victoria
Fairmont Empress Hotel in Greater Victoria

Like the city, the hotel’s name also references Queen Victoria and her role as the Empress of India at the time. The Empress Hotel received the National Historic Site of Canada designation in 1981.

The hotel is known for its afternoon tea. This ritual has been happening since 1908 and is the most popular activity at the Empress and in the city. It has been named one of the top 10 best places for tea.

Totem Pole at the Fairmont Empress Atrium
Totem Pole at the Fairmont Empress Atrium

Butchart Gardens

The other popular attraction in Greater Victoria is Butchart Gardens. The weather did not permit my visit to the gardens, but as a popular destination stop, I visited the gardens several times in the past. It is an idyllic place for natural lovers. As one who works in my garden weekly, I find a peaceful serenity meandering along the garden paths.

Butchart Gardens 1970 with Cori Solomon
Cori Solomon at the Butchart Gardens in 1970

A Glimpse of Greater Victoria

On a rainy day, the best way to view Greater Victoria is by taking the sightseeing tour bus with Gray Lin. The ride is just over an hour and a half, giving one a glimpse of the city and surrounding areas without stepping into inclement weather unless you want to. Enjoy fifteen stops throughout Victoria. Each stop allows you an hour to get off and catch the next bus. Discover Victoria from Fisherman’s Wharf to Chinatown, Old Town, the Craigdarroch Castle, and more. The scenery is vast and includes parks and beaches.

Fairmont Empress Hotel Gardens
Fairmont Empress Hotel Gardens

The charm of Greater Victoria comes through as you stroll through its parks, admire its architecture, or take in the coastal views of the Salish Sea surrounding the island.

Common to the wine industry, this writer received a complimentary sightseeing tour on Gray Line. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.