Planning a Trip
Whether visiting Vancouver and Victoria for fun and frivolity, business or shopping, dining or dancing, skiing or snowboarding, beachcombing or backwoods trekking, here are some tips to help you plan your trip.
Traveling to British Columbia is easy, but there is one important thing to remember: If you are not a Canadian citizen, you will need a passport or appropriate travel document to enter Canada.
The Victoria International Airport (tel. 250/953-7500; www.victoriaairport.com) is near the Sidney ferry terminal, 22km (14 miles) north of Victoria off the Patricia Bay Highway (Hwy. 17).
Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262 or 800/661-3936; www.aircanada.com) and Horizon Air (tel. 800/547-9308; www.horizonair.com) offer direct connections from Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Canada's low-cost airline WestJet (tel. 888/WEST-JET; www.westjet.com) offers flights to Victoria from Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, and other destinations; WestJet service now extends to a few U.S. cities as well.
Delta Airlines (tel. 800/241-4141; www.delta.com) offers a direct flight to Victoria from Salt Lake City. Connecting flights from Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Miami are also available. The flights are operated by Delta Connection, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, and SkyWest.
Commuter airlines, including floatplanes that land in Victoria's Inner Harbour, provide service to Victoria from Vancouver and destinations within B.C. They include Air B.C. (reached through Air Canada at tel. 888/247-2262), Harbour Air Sea Planes (tel. 604/274-1277 in Vancouver, or 250/384-2215 in Victoria; www.harbour-air.com), and West Coast Air (tel. 800/347-2222; www.westcoastair.com).
Kenmore Air (tel. 800/543-9595; www.kenmoreair.com) and Helijet Airways (tel. 800/665-4354; www.helijet.com) offer flights between Vancouver and Victoria.
By Ship & Ferry
Car-carrying B.C. Ferries (tel. 888/223-3779 in B.C., or 250/386-3431; www.bcferries.com) has three routes from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and Victoria. In the summer, if you're driving, it's a good idea to reserve a space beforehand, especially on long weekends. Call B.C. Ferries reservations at tel. 888/724-5223 (in B.C. only) or 604/444-2890.
The most direct B.C. Ferries route is the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry, which operates daily between 7am and 9pm (10pm on Sun). Ferries run every hour with extra sailings on holidays and in peak travel season. The crossing takes 95 minutes, but schedule an extra 2 hours for travel to and from both ferry terminals, including waiting time at the docks. Driving distance from Vancouver to Tsawwassen is about 20km (12 miles). Take Hwy. 99 south to Hwy. 17 and follow the signs to the ferry terminal.
Pacific Coach Lines (tel. 604/662-8074; www.pacificcoach.com) provides regular bus service into Victoria for C$15 (£7.50) one-way, but you must book your seat on board the ferry and within the first 20 minutes of the ferry ride (a Pacific Coast Lines desk is on board the ferry). You can take Pacific Coach Lines all the way from Vancouver to Victoria for C$75 (£37) round-trip, which includes the ferry ride.
Exiting the Swartz Bay ferry terminal by car, you'll be on Hwy. 17 (there is no other option), which leads directly into downtown Victoria where it becomes Douglas Street.
The Vancouver-Nanaimo ferry operates between Tsawwassen and Duke Point, just south of Nanaimo, about 100km (62 miles) north of Victoria. The 2-hour crossing runs eight times daily between 5:15am and 10:45pm.
The Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo ferry has nine daily sailings, leaving Horseshoe Bay near West Vancouver (to reach Horseshoe Bay from Vancouver, take the Trans-Canada Highway/Hwy. 99 and Hwy. 1 west across the Lions Gate Bridge) and arriving 95 minutes later in Nanaimo. From the Nanaimo ferry terminal on Vancouver Island, passengers bound for Victoria board the E&N Railiner or drive south to Victoria via the Island Highway (Hwy. 1).
Three different U.S. ferry services offer daily, year-round connections between Port Angeles, Bellingham, or Seattle, Wash., and Victoria. All of these ferries dock at Victoria's Inner Harbour near the Empress Hotel and Parliament Buildings so you can walk right into town.
Black Ball Transport (tel. 250/386-2202 in Victoria, or 360/457-4491 in Port Angeles; www.cohoferry.com) operates between Port Angeles and Victoria. The crossing takes 1 1/2 hours. There are four crossings per day in the summer (mid-June to Sept), and usually two sailings a day throughout the rest of the year (with a short 2-week closure in Jan).
Victoria Clipper (tel. 800/288-2535; www.victoriaclipper.com) operates a high-speed catamaran between Seattle and Victoria, with some sailings stopping in the San Juan Islands. It's a passenger-only service; sailing time is approximately 3 hours with daily runs from downtown Seattle and Victoria.
May 12 through September, the passenger-only MV Victoria Star operated by Victoria San Juan Cruises (tel. 800/443-4552 or 360/738-8099; www.whales.com) departs the Fairhaven Terminal in Bellingham, Washington, at 9am and arrives in Victoria at 2pm. It departs Victoria at 5pm, arriving in Bellingham at 8pm. Regular round-trip adult fare is $129, which includes a salmon & chicken buffet dinner. This service offers special onboard salmon lunches and Victoria city tour add-ons and overnights.
Note: If you're riding the ferry between the U.S. and Canada, remember to bring your passport or passport card, as all passengers go through passport control and Customs on international ferry trips.
Travelers on the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo ferry can board VIA Rail's E&N Railiner train at Nanaimo and wind down Vancouver Island's Cowichan River valley through Goldstream Provincial Park and to Victoria. The trip takes 2 1/2 hours and ends at E&N Station, 450 Pandora Ave. (tel. 800/561-8630 in Canada), near the Johnson Street Bridge. For more information, contact Via Rail Canada (tel. 888/842-7245; www.viarail.com).
Pacific Coach Lines (tel. 604/662-8074; www.pacificcoach.com) provides service between Vancouver and Victoria with daily departures between 5:45am and 7:45pm. Pacific Coach Lines will pick up passengers from the Vancouver cruise-ship terminal and from most downtown hotels. For more information, call tel. 604/662-8074, or visit www.pacificcoach.com.
Tip: Whales on the Way to Victoria
If you're pressed for time, Prince of Whales (tel. 888/383-4884; www.princeofwhales.com) tours now offers a great way to combine whale watching and your trip to Victoria. June to September, you can book a 4-hour whale watching tour that leaves from Vancouver's Burrard Inlet and docks right in front of the Fairmont Empress in Victoria. To return to Vancouver you can either book another tour that includes an excursion to world-famous Butchart Gardens, or book a seat on a floatplane, which will put you back in Vancouver in less than 45 minutes. One-way, whale watching fare is C$159 (£80); round-trip (including Butchart Gardens excursion) is C$299 (£150). Air transfer package (whale-watching boat to Victoria, floatplane return) is C$299 (£150).
By Public Transportation
By Bus -- The Victoria Regional Transit System (B.C. Transit; tel. 250/382-6161; www.bctransit.com) operates 40 bus routes through greater Victoria as well as the nearby towns of Sooke and Sidney. Buses run to both the Butchart Gardens and the Vancouver Ferry Terminal at Sidney. Regular service on the main routes runs daily from 6am to just past midnight.
Schedules and route maps are available at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre, where you can pick up a copy of the Victoria Rider's Guide or Discover Vancouver on Transit: Including Victoria. Popular Victoria bus routes include no. 2 (Oak Bay), no. 5 (downtown, James Bay, Beacon Hill Park), no. 14 (Victoria Art Gallery, Craigdarroch Castle, University of Victoria), no. 61 (Sooke), no. 70 (Sidney, Swartz Bay), and no. 75 (Butchart Gardens).
Fares are calculated on a per-zone basis. One-way single-zone fares are C$2.25 (£1.10) for adults and students and C$1.40 (70p) for seniors and children 5 to 13; two zones cost C$3 (£1.50) and C$2.25 (£1.10), respectively. Transfers are good for travel in one direction only, with no stopovers. A DayPass, C$7 (£3.50) for adults and students, and C$5 (£2.50) for seniors and children 5 to 13, covers unlimited travel (all zones) throughout the day. You can buy passes at the Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre, convenience stores, and ticket outlets throughout Victoria displaying the FAREDEALER sign.
By Ferry -- Crossing the Inner, Upper, and Victoria harbors by one of the blue 12-passenger Victoria Harbour Ferries (tel. 250/708-0201; www.victoriaharbourferry.com) is cheap and fun. May through September, the ferries to The Fairmont Empress, Coast Harbourside Hotel, and Ocean Pointe Resort hotel run about every 15 minutes daily from 9am to 9pm. In March, April, and October, ferry service runs daily 11am to 5pm. November through February, the ferries run only on sunny weekends 11am to 5pm. The cost per hop is C$4 (£2) for adults and C$2 (£1) for children.
Instead of just taking the ferry for a short hop across, try the 45-minute Harbour tour or the 55-minute Gorge tour; both cost C$20 (£10) adults, C$18 (£9) seniors, and C$10 (£5) children under 12.
You can easily explore the downtown area of Victoria on foot. If you're planning out-of-town activities, you can rent a car in town or bring your own on one of the car-passenger ferries from Vancouver, Port Angeles, or Anacortes. Traffic is light in Victoria, largely because the downtown core is so walkable.
Rentals -- Car-rental agencies in Victoria include the following: Avis, 1001 Douglas St. (tel. 800/879-2847 or 250/386-8468; www.avis.com; bus no. 5 to Broughton St.); Budget, 757 Douglas St. (tel. 800/668-9833 or 250/953-5300; www.budgetvictoria.com); Hertz, 655 Douglas St., in the Queen Victoria Inn (tel. 800/654-3131 or 250/360-2822; www.hertz.com); and National, 767 Douglas St. (tel. 800/227-7368 or 250/386-1213; www.nationalvictoria.com). These latter three can be reached on the no. 5 bus to the Convention Centre.
Parking -- Metered street parking is available downtown, but be sure to feed the meter because rules are strictly enforced. Unmetered parking on side streets is rare. All major downtown hotels have guest parking. Parking lots can be found at View Street between Douglas and Blanshard streets, Johnson Street off Blanshard Street, Yates Street north of Bastion Square, and The Bay on Fisgard at Blanshard Street.
Driving Rules -- Some of the best places on Vancouver Island can be reached only via gravel logging roads, on which logging trucks have absolute right of way. If you're on a logging road and see a logging truck coming from either direction, pull over to the side of the road and stop to let it pass.
Biking is the easiest way to get around the downtown and beach areas. The city has numerous bike lanes and paved paths in parks and along beaches. Helmets are mandatory, and riding on sidewalks is illegal, except where bike paths are indicated. You can rent bikes starting at C$7 (£3.50) per hour and C$24 (£12) per day (lock and helmet included) from Cycle B.C., 747 Douglas St. (tel. 866/380-2453 or 250/380-2453; www.cyclebc.ca).
Within the downtown area, you can expect to travel for less than C$10 (£5), plus tip. It's best to call for a cab; you won't have much luck if you try to flag one down on the street. Drivers don't always stop, especially when it's raining. Call for a pickup from Empress Cabs (tel. 250/381-2222) or Blue Bird Cabs (tel. 250/382-4235).
You get to sit while an avid bicyclist with thighs of steel peddles you anywhere you want to go for C$1 (50p) per minute (C$2/£1 per min. if there are four of you). You'll see these two- and four-seater bike cabs along the Inner Harbour at the base of Bastion Square, or you can call Kabuki Kabs (tel. 250/385-4243; www.kabukikabs.com) for 24-hour service.