Take a Day Trip to Victoria, B.C. via the Port Angeles Ferry near Olympic National Park
Anglophiles, hop over to Canada and spend the day at this charming harbor city across the strait from the Olympic Peninsula.
Grab your passport, because you’re headed to Canada. On a clear day you can see the stunning city of Victoria, British Columbia from Port Angeles, Washington, gateway to Olympic National Park. Just 22 miles across the Strait of San Juan de Fuca on Vancouver Island, the capital of British Columbia is a stark departure from the sleepy towns of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. A quick hour-and-a-half ferry journey will bring you across the water to explore a city that will remind you that Canada is part of the British Commonwealth. Victoria is a gorgeous harbor city filled with stunning architecture, bountiful gardens and great dining and shopping. Whether you have a day, a weekend or want to make an island-hopping road trip out of it, a visit to Victoria is a must when coming to Olympic National Park.
Do You Need a Car in Victoria, BC?
The Black Ball Ferry Line runs the M.V. Coho on two to four roundtrip journeys across the strait per day, depending on the time of year. In summer, ferries leave Port Angeles at 8:20 a.m., 12:45 p.m., 5:15 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. From Victoria, ferries leave at 6:10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. While these ferries can accommodate your car, it’s more affordable (and easy) to take the ferry as a foot passenger and explore the very walkable Victoria vehicle-free. A large lot in Port Angeles makes leaving your car behind easy. On board, you’ll find covered and open-air seating, a gift shop, coffee shop, bathrooms and free Wi-Fi. There’s even a tour desk so you can plan your day as you sail. Remember, you’ll have to go through customs on both ends of the journey so bring your passport and allow yourself extra time on both ends. Tickets can be bought at the port if there’s room left on the ferry, but it’s a good idea to purchase in advance, especially if you’re bringing your car as vehicle space is limited. Reserve at www.cohoferry.com.
Once you depart the ferry, you’ll find yourself in Victoria’s inner harbor. The journey might have taken less than two hours, but you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported across the Atlantic to Europe. The stately Fairmont Empress hotel and the British Columbia Parliament House dominate the view, with plentiful trees and flowers decorating the shore and sailboats bobbing in the harbor.
Things to Do in Victoria, BC
From the ferry dock head left to Canada’s oldest Chinatown. At the intersection of Government and Fisgard streets you’ll find an ornate red and gold gate welcoming you to this small district that’s home to incredible history and remains a cultural bastion of the city today. Victoria’s Chinatown is a great place to shop, eat and learn. For a classic experience, head to Don Mee which has been around since 1923 and serves appetizers like barbecue pork buns and shrimp dumplings on push carts that meander through the circular tables. Don’t miss Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest street which is just 35 inches wide in places. You’ll find shops and the Chinese Canadian Museum here, which is worth a visit when it’s open Thursdays through Sundays.
British Columbia’s capital was named after Queen Victoria and has held its commonwealth roots tight over the years. It’s by far the most British city in Canada and there’s no place like the Fairmont Empress to truly feel like you’ve hopped across the pond. The stunning hotel holds court over the harbor and is impossible to miss. A stay in the opulent hotel is the ultimate indulgence, but if you’re looking for a quicker way to feel like royalty, make a reservation for afternoon tea at the Empress. This tradition has been taking place for 115 years in the Lobby Lounge which is straight out of the turn of the century. From 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. you can dine on finger sandwiches, scones, cakes and other desserts while sipping tea or champagne. Your tea will be served in royal china, which was a gift from Queen Elizabeth. There’s also a kids’ offering dubbed the “Prince and Princess Tea.”
Keep strolling down the shore and you’ll come to the majestic Parliament Buildings. Enjoy the grounds or step inside with a free guided tour.
At the far western side of the inner harbor is Fisherman’s Wharf. Stroll through a neighborhood of floating houses with shops and restaurants. You can grab an ice cream cone and watch the boats bob in the water, or even buy fresh seafood directly off of fishing vessels. Keep your eyes on the water as resident harbor seals often can be seen swimming around.
If you brought your car, there’s tons more to explore as you head inland on Vancouver Island. Even if you’re traveling on foot, many tour operators offer excursions to the more popular inland attractions.
Butchart Gardens is a favorite for visitors and locals alike. The 55-acre paradise is filled with blooms, greenery, fountains and winding paths to enjoy, 30 minutes from the harbor. Formally a quarry, the gardens were transformed by Jennie Butchart 119 years ago and still remain independently owned today. Stroll through the incredible park and enjoy coffee, gelato or lunch.
The Malahat Skywalk is a stunning attraction that provides incredible views of the island, coast and surrounding mountains, 40 minutes from the harbor. The skywalk is designed as a spiral giving you 360-degree views as you climb above the trees and into the sky, 10 stories to the top. You can hop on board a daily shuttle from downtown Victoria, making it easy to access if you’re traveling vehicle-free.
The beautiful, lush scenery from Olympic National Park continues north to Vancouver Island. If you’re looking for hiking opportunities, several regional parks a short drive from Victoria offer beautiful trails and even rainforest experiences.
What is the best time of year to visit Victoria BC?
Like most of the Pacific Northwest, Victoria’s weather stays cool year round. Temperatures rarely get above the low 70s and rain is common in every month. Most visitors prefer the summer months where rain lets up some and temperatures warm. If you’re planning a trip to the Olympic Peninsula alongside Victoria, learn what to expect in every season here.