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Trying to figure out what to do if you only have one day in Victoria BC? Well, I’m here to help with this travel guide, as I recently spent 24 hours in Victoria.
Visiting Victoria (British Columbia’s capital) on Vancouver Island had been on my bucket list since I arrived in Canada four years ago. But for some reason, I’ve never made a trip work. Nevertheless, two weeks before my impending departure, I ticked Victoria off the list. If you’re wondering what to do with only one day in Victoria BC, keep reading. I break down exactly what we did with only 24 hours in Victoria and include some additional suggestions.
My guide to one day in Victoria BC
First things first – the ferry crossing to Vancouver Island
We got the 8 am ferry from Tsawwassen in Vancouver to the Swartz Bay Terminal in Victoria. We actually arrived in time for the 7 am one, but it was already full. I definitely recommend making a reservation so you’re guaranteed a car space. There’s also a ferry connecting Victoria to Port Angeles in Washington State or you can fly into Victoria International Airport.
The BC Ferry is enormous, unlike any I’ve taken in Australia. There are several decks, a retail store and food options. People told me the food wasn’t worthwhile to eat, so we grabbed a snack at Starbucks before we left. This satisfied us before we reached Victoria and treated ourselves to brunch.
The other positive thing about taking an early morning ferry is the golden hour photo opportunities. The island views are very British Columbian and pretty as you make your way to Vancouver Island. The journey takes between 1.5 and two hours.
Start with brunch in Victoria
The ferry terminal is about a 30-minute drive from Victoria, so it was definitely brunch time when we arrived. We drove past Jam Cafe, which is one of the most popular brunch spots in downtown Vancouver. However, like its mainland counterpart, the line outside was a little crazy. We decided to wake up early the next day and beat the line.
Instead, we went to West Coast Waffles, which I had read about while doing my research. The waffles were reasonably priced at $12 and we tried both a sweet and savoury option. I did like the Nutella waffle, as it was piled on and very rich. But our savoury option wasn’t the best. There was too much salsa and the eggs didn’t taste like they were freshly made. It wasn’t the best meal to start our trip, but fortunately, it only got better.
Side note: After some post-research, it seems Willie’s Cafe & Bakery and Blue Fox Cafe are two other popular options. My friend also parked his car in Chinatown, which cost $10 for the day. Not bad for inner-city parking!
A walking tour of Victoria
There’s a lot to see and do within walking distance in Victoria. Follow Government Street and check out Chinatown first, which is Canada’s oldest Chinatown. It’s home to Fan Tan Alley, which is also Canada’s narrowest street.
Next head to Lower Johnson Street and its colourful buildings. The architecture in Victoria is pristine. It seems every building is historic and well-maintained. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the buildings and the colourful floral baskets hanging everywhere.
We stopped at a few shops along Government Street and took a detour through the Bay Centre. Then we made it to Wharf Street and the Inner Harbour. This beautiful waterfront area is where you’ll find the Fairmont Empress Hotel and the British Columbia Parliament Building, which is home to the province’s Legislative Assembly.
I have to admit that visiting here during the day wasn’t the best for photos, but we remedied that by returning at night. The buildings are architecturally beautiful. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is built in an Edwardian, Châteauesque-style (yep, that’s a word) and the Legislature though is in the Baroque revival style. I took photos of the buildings from practically every angle.
Next, head to Fisherman’s Wharf
From here we continued along the waterfront and headed towards Fisherman’s Wharf. We ended up following the road around to this area, but apparently, there is a waterfront path you can follow too. Fisherman’s Wharf is a collection of brightly-coloured floating homes (or houseboats). But seeing as most places in Victoria are tourist attractions, it also includes different eateries (Mexican, sushi, ice cream and fish and chips included), a gift shop and tours.
We wandered around the dock and then got the small Victoria Harbour Ferry boat directly to our next stop. At $6 each, it was a little overpriced, but hey, we were in tourist central. Nevertheless, it allowed our feet a rest and I always love seeing a city from the water.
With only one day in Victoria BC, have lunch at Red Fish Blue Fish
We docked at Red Fish Blue Fish, which is perhaps the most popular fish and chips eatery in Victoria. They operate out of a shipping container on the waterfront and you can expect a bit of a wait time for your food. It took us a little over 40 minutes to pay for and receive our food at around 2:30/3 pm, but the fish and chips were most certainly worth it. I got two massive pieces of cod, as well as a healthy serving of crispy chips. My friend tried the tacos and chowder, which was his favourite. There’s seating all around the water here but beware of the bees. They would not leave us alone, but this could be a seasonal thing.
Choose between a fun-filled or chill afternoon
We decided to head to our hotel and check in next. Because we only booked our one-day trip to Victoria BC a couple of weeks in advance, there weren’t a lot of accommodation options left. There’s only one hostel (Ocean Island Inn), which was booked, and limited Airbnbs.
So we decided on the Howard Johnson Inn, which is located just outside of the city. Our room had everything we needed, including a double bed each. I would definitely stay there again if I ever do return to Victoria. We decided on taking a break as we wanted to head back into the city for sunset and nighttime photos.
If you don’t want to have an afternoon rest, I suggest checking out one of Victoria’s attractions I didn’t see. This includes the award-winning Butchart Garden, the Royal BC Museum, Beacon Hill Park, Craigdarroch Castle and the cool-looking Miniature World. There was also a neighbourhood called Cook Street Village, which looked interesting.
Nighttime in Victoria BC
We headed to the Ogden Point Breakwater along Dallas Road in James Bay to hopefully capture an amazing sunset, but unfortunately, there were too many clouds. So once the sun had set, we headed back to Inner Harbour. The Parliament Building is even more stunning at night – if that’s even possible.
We wandered around and took a few photos of the buildings at night before heading to Whole Foods to pick up something small for a late dinner, which we ate while watching Easy A in our room (Emma Stone is the best). But if you’re hungry after devouring Red Fish Blue Fish, Victoria is absolutely full of cute pubs. It feels like there’s one on every corner.
Brunch, take ✌🏻
We decided to wake up early again, so we could get to Jam Cafe when it opened at 8 am to avoid the horror lines. This was an excellent decision. I had the Charlie Bowl after hearing it’s one of the most popular dishes. It did not disappoint. My friend had the pork belly eggs benedict, which was also a hit.
A final downtown stroll through Victoria
After finishing brunch, we quickly went for a final walk through downtown Victoria to wrap up our one day in Victoria BC. On the drive out of the city, we stopped at the Christ Church Cathedral and Breakwater again for some final photo opportunities.
If you have time during your one day in Victoria BC, I highly recommend visiting Hatley Castle. The National Historic Site is located on the Royal Roads University campus and is very impressive. We wandered around its entire perimeter, taking photos from all angles once again. Its manicured gardens were full of vibrant flowers and they were actually setting up for a wedding during our visit.
That’s a wrap on 24 hours in Victoria BC
After the castle, we got on the highway and headed to Nanaimo via the Cowichan Valley. From Nanaimo, you can get a BC Ferry to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. I absolutely loved every alley, building and flower we saw in Victoria. It’s a beautiful place. I highly recommend hopping over when visiting Vancouver. Speaking of my home away from home, here are some top Vancouver posts: where to stay, the best things to do at night, where to photograph the skyline and all the free things to do.