There’s no more spectacular way to herald your arrival into Victoria than to splash down on a Harbour Air Seaplane.
The unstoppably scenic 30min flight from Vancouver is a visual delight, aloft over the Salish Sea’s jewel-like collection of islets fanning out from Vancouver Island.
Ogling these pint-sized planes steeply banking and touching down on their watery runway, is a riveting spectator pastime, best enjoyed from Laurel Point Park or Delta Ocean Pointe.
It’s like water ballet, in addition to the frolicking bustle of iconic yellow and black striped water taxis, ferries, water skiers and fishing boats. The inner-harbour waterfront, liberally wreathed in candy cotton-pink geraniums and carpeted in blazing flower beds, is an irresistible visual symphony.
Add to that the 1040 hanging baskets draping downtown Victoria, each containing 24 plants. Two men are employed full-time to water them.
Victoria walks the talk on being Canada’s Garden City. Prized waterfront landmarks compete for your attention at every turn, as does the trove of sublime artworks, like the heart-tugging Homecoming statue, dedicated in honour of Victoria’s sons and daughters who served in the military.
Also fronting the inner harbour is the Royal BC Museum, a remarkable storehouse of history which regularly scoops accolades as being Canada’s most impressive museum. Tracing British Columbian history in compellingly comprehensible fashion, highlights include the First Peoples Gallery and the Natural History Gallery – one of the few places in the world where you can get right up close to a woolly mammoth, albeit stuffed.
The museum also features a replica of Captain Vancouver’s HMS Discovery which rocks and creaks rather convincingly, and a beautifully re-created frontier town with cobbled streets and detailed store fronts.
After admiring the statue of Captain Cook on the waterfront, surveying the horizon in front of the Empress, I was staggered by one particular relic on display in the museum – the actual dagger that claimed his life in Hawaii. Who knew?
Within the museum, an IMAX theatre presents films on a six-storey-tall screen. Playing several times a day, don’t miss a screening of Rocky Mountain Express. It’s an historical account of the epic and arduous struggles to build the trans-continental railway track, literally uniting Canada. You don’t have to be a trainspotter to enjoy it, lustily featuring the dramatic topography, saw-toothed peaks and woodsy grandeur of the Canadian Rockies.
Tucked into the side of the Empress Hotel, an old-school secluded gem called Miniature World, a tour de force of intricate model-making. Thronging with dozens of sprawling diorama settings, with plenty of push-button action, this gob-stopping world of miniatures, spanning childhood fairytales and epic moments in history, is engrossing.
More people walk to work in Victoria than any other Canadian city, hardly surprising given its photogenic vistas. A great stroll is to take the waterfront trail down Belleville St, into Laurel Park and around to Fisherman’s Wharf.
I adored the cheerily coloured float homes moored at the wharf, alongside pleasure boats that also berth at the facility. Maybe they’re a glimpse of how many of our sea rise-prone coastal communities may look in the future.
The 33 mobile float homes have been constructed on old wooden barges, cement bases, or metal pontoons. They’d have to be Victoria’s tiniest homes, in spite of ranging in size from multi-storied complexes to life-sized gingerbread houses. The last one sold for $340,000 after being listed for just 24 hours.
Fisherman’s Wharf is also a great place to get your fill of fresh fish and seafood. The heart of town is studded with some flavourful hoods like LoJo, Lower Johnson St between Wharf and Government St. Thickly flanked in colourful heritage buildings, the retail offerings are fresh and hip, giving rise to the neighbourhood’s buzz word “HeritEdge.”
Storefronts predominantly feature locally designed fashions, naturally-made products, cosmetics, hair salons and coffee houses. It’s an example of how an unmistakably bohemian vibe is changing up this most English of Canadian cities.
Pint-sized Chinatown is Canada’s oldest, once heaving with opium dens and gambling halls at the height of the gold rush and construction of the Canadian Pacific railway.
Don’t miss Fan Tan Alley – the narrowest street in Canada.