Over a million people visit The Butchart Gardens near Victoria BC every year. Four of those are my wife and I who make two visits annually: spring or summer and, our favorite, a winter visit in the Christmas season.
Since the summer months offer a dazzling array of colourful floral displays, concerts, fireworks and evening lights why should a winter visit appeal so much? Let’s take a look at what the Butchart Gardens offers year-round for visitors to Vancouver Island: what they call the 5 Seasons.
Massed tulips herald spring at the Gardens as Victoria’s mild climate does its work. A million bedding plants from their greenhouses come to life. It’s as if nature is smiling again.
Sooo much to see and do. Each themed garden is bursting with colour. Enjoy evening concerts followed by the summer illuminations. Saturday Fireworks sharpen the senses and afternoon high tea soothes them.
Autumnal colours are best appreciated in the Japanese gardens in Victoria. The Japanese maples here are the centrepieces, in yellows, oranges, reds and browns.
The gardens rest a little and quiet descends; a peaceful time to visit. Then there’s the Spring Prelude Indoor Garden and the Historical Display in the Benvenuto house.
The Magic of Christmas is that 5th season, a winter wonderland where millions of lights take the place of the flowers. The Twelve Days of Christmas displays take us through the gardens in December and early January.
There are many other gardens of Victoria to explore but if you want to be dazzled year-round the Butchart Gardens will be sure to delight.
The Gardens at HCP is not the most appealing of names but don’t let impressions fool you. “HCP” is the Horticulture Centre of the Pacific which sounds even worse unless you are an avid gardener. Its former name of Glendale Gardens is preferable in my view but whats in a name? as Shakespeare pondered… they are a peaceful charming place to visit. Here you can wander through nine acres just north of Victoria, away from the crowds, among 10,000 varieties of plants in over 30 themed gardens.
These gardens often overlooked as people flock to its big brother neighbour on the Saanich Peninsula, The Butchart Gardens. One of many gardens in Victoria open to the public, I appreciate its relaxed, low-key approach (you have to ask to pay the admission fee!). It is unquestionably worth visiting just to enjoy the Takata Gardens: Japanese gardens surrounding a stream which flows past the new Bonsai Garden down to a Zen Garden.
Special events at The Gardens at HCP include Arts and Music in the Gardens held on a mid-August weekend each year with 40 Vancouver Island artists scattered around the many themed gardens. These sections present Mediterranean plants, herbs, heathers, rhododendrons and hostas, lilies, winter, succulents, grasses, fuschias, and more. Special events apart, its a quiet place to wander through at leisure.
Summer Festivals in Victoria BC add spice to a visit to Vancouver Island. It’s a pleasant surprise to stumble upon a festival but better to plan a visit to coincide with one of your choice. Here’s a summary of the major varied summer festivals in Victoria BC.
Victoria Highland Games and Celtic Festival – over 150 years of fun and muscle.
Swiftsure International Yacht Race – four races contested by 200 yachts as the Inner Harbour gets thoroughly nautical.
Victoria International JazzFest – over 300 musicians in many styles.
Victoria International Buskers Festival – remarkable street performers give free shows throughout downtown.
Moss Street Paint-In – outdoor art created by 160 of Vancouver Islands leading artists. 30 years on.
Symphony Splash – join 40,000 people in Victoria’s Inner Harbour on the first Sunday in August. Ends with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and fireworks.
Victoria Dragon Boat Festival – 90 dragon boats with 2,500 paddlers race in the Inner Harbour.
Victoria Fringe Theatre Festival – 50 shows at eleven venues downtown.
Saanich Fall Fair – our agricultural show on the Saanich Peninsula since 1868.
Victoria Classic Boat Festival – 40 years of admiration of these craft.
Victoria International Chalk Art Festival – stumble across street art unfolding before your eyes.
Click on the above weblinks for full details about these Vancouver Island events and spectacles.
One of the joys of running a Victoria bed and breakfast is to recommend places to visit, usually during breakfast table chit-chat, and then, at the end of the day, to encounter smiling guests full of the joys of their days experiences. One of those often recommended places is Matticks Farm at Cordova Bay, Victoria.
Bill Mattick grew flowers and vegetables from the 1940s at Matticks Farm at Cordova Bay on the eastern side of the Saanich Peninsula just north of Victoria. Then he created a tea garden and a golf course, the embryonic form of Mattick’s Farm as we know it today.
Today it is a charming place to wander around. Its 15 fine stores include boutiques, a garden centre, farm market, wine shop and, of course, the tea garden. Right next door, among the trees, is a mini golf course to be enjoyed before holes-in-one are celebrated with an ice cream. Nearby Cordova Bay Golf Course offers the real thing, on 9 or 18 hole courses.
Special events at Mattick’s Farm and the neighbouring area include Cordova Bay Days in June, and Summer Music in the Square at Mattick’s Farm during July and August afternoons.
A very short drive south on Cordova Bay Road takes you to beach access points to stroll along the beach and look across the Haro Strait to San Juan Island. Then a short drive south is Mount Douglas Park with its commanding views.
Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria BC is just a short walk from the Inner Harbour along an oceanside path with its intriguing colourful houseboats.
Years back the salmon fleet moored here, so the name is a valid one, though today only prawns and crabs are brought in by a few fishing boats. Nonetheless you can buy fresh fish or (definitely recommended) taste the battered variety at the fish and chip shop eating at communal tables: the person who passes you the salt may have come from just about anywhere in the world. Then wander around with ice cream in hand watching out for the friendly harbour seals looking for fishy handouts.
Fishermans Wharf in Victoria is a base for whale-watching and for kayaking too. If these explorations do not appeal then hop on one of the regularly passing harbour ferries which will take you back to the Inner Harbour, bobbing along with commentary from the skipper.
It’s a charming place where you just can not stop smiling and feeling relaxed. The houseboats seem to present a laid-back lifestyle (there might even be one for sale or rent) and the tourists are here to enjoy themselves.
Sidney BC – a place to relax just north of Victoria on the Saanich Peninsula. In fact, it’s difficult not to feel a little soporific here.
Close to Victoria International Airport, sits the quiet town of Sidney BC. Sometimes it seems the fastest activity is people dodging the electric scooters of the large number of seniors living here. It may be sleepy but this leads to a feeling of community.
When the township was registered in 1891 it took its name from nearby Sidney Island which had been named after a lieutenant in the Royal Navy’s Hydrographic Section in the 1850s. A year later the new town had a general store, hotel and post office. Today a population of about 12,000 people live here.
The key street is Beacon Avenue with every retail service the community might need as well as gift shops, coffee shops and restaurants. You’ll notice an unusually large number of specialist bookshops in this Booktown. All these lead you to the seafront where you can take the pleasant 2.5km (1.5 mile) long waterfront path which includes the Sidney Sculpture Walk with its distant views of Mount Baker over the Salish Sea. For the more energetic there’s Lochside Trail which passes by Sidney providing a good walking or cycling route to Victoria, connecting to the Galloping Goose Trail all the way to Sooke.
Explore the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre and tour the nearby Victoria Distillers. From the quay at the fish market you can hop on a ferry to wander around Sidney Spit, a quiet island protected in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve.
Sidney’s annual events range from the crazy Polar Bear Swim on New Year’s Day, to the thoroughly enjoyable Sidney BC summer street market, frivolous bed races along Beacon Avenue in August to gentler Summer Sounds at the bandshell in July and August. In September, sit down for the waterfront Shakespeare by the Sea festival. Our favourite is the bustling summer street market on summer Thursday evenings with crowds enjoying the thoroughly relaxing atmosphere among rows of artisans booths interspersed with local musicians and plenty of places to eat.
Craigdarroch Castle is one of the two “castles” in Victoria built by the Dunsmuir family. (The other is Hatley Castle, west of Victoria). Though only 100+ years old these Scottish baronial mansions are full of character.
Craigdarroch Castle was built in the late 1880s on a hilltop overlooking Victoria by Robert Dunsmuir who had acquired great wealth, albeit at the expense of his exploited employees, in his mining and railway empire. We find this unacceptable but we can not visit his baronial castle without some appreciation of the gem created for our pleasure. The sumptuous carved woodwork and 32 stained glass windows alone stun us.
The castle had a chequered history after the death of his family members but today The Craigdarroch Castle Historical Museum Society opens its door for us to enjoy the superb restorations. Now a National Historic Site of Canada. Allow at least an hour for a tour of its 39 rooms and do make use of the nineteen audio guides.
What to see, where to eat, what to do, where to stay and how to get there? All vital questions which this Victoria BC tourism map will help to answer.
The map shows Victoria and Saanich Peninsula attractions, recreational activities, restaurants, wineries and other tourism related businesses, and, of course, accommodations. (Victoria is on the southern end of the Saanich Peninsula, the area where you’ll be enjoying your vacation in this beautiful area.)
The map is part of an informative website about Victoria BC tourism. Click on these links to prepare for your visit:
- Attractions so often guests remark as they leave “We wish we were staying longer. Theres so much to do here”. This page has information and links to downtown attractions, Victoria area attractions, gardens, wineries, and recreation on land and on water.
- The Butchart Gardens – since this is the place you really should visit we’ve dedicated a web page to these magnificent gardens. Allow sufficient time to explore the varied gardens and enjoy its activities.
- There are videos about aspects of Victoria and Vancouver Island.
- Local tourism businesses are listed answering some of those What to see, Where to eat and What to do questions.
- and lastly, that Victoria BC tourism map. Zoom in and out, click on the icons for more information.
Our Greater Victoria bed and breakfasts are located conveniently for your explorations of Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula. We look forward to welcoming you to a memorable stay.