Updated: May 21, 2015

Guide to Vancouver Island and Victoria

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, located in the Pacific Northwest off the coast of Washington and British Columbia, is a great vacation getaway spot. With a mild climate and gorgeous scenery, you will find yourself surrounded by mountains, ocean, forests, quaint towns, and opportunities for golfing, sailing, hiking, cycling, camping, dining, shopping - you name it. The island itself is shaped a bit like a cigar pointing downward at a 45 degree angle. It is 280 miles long and 62 miles wide. Most visitors concentrate their time and energy on and around the southern tip of the island, between Nanaimo and Victoria. Vancouver Island's main city is Victoria, located on the the southern end of the island, a one hour ferry ride from Port Angeles, Washington. There is additional ferry service to Vancouver Island from Seattle, Bellingham (both serving Victoria) and Anacortes (ferry serves Sidney), as well as ferries from Tsawassen (BC) to Swartz Bay on the north edge of the Saanich Peninsula.



Getting to Victoria by Ferry

The Ferry to Victoria: BC Ferries has served the island since 1960, and they operate the ferries from downtown Vancouver on the mainland out to the island. There are ferries from Vancouver to Nanaimo For BC Ferry schedules, check out their website: BCFerries.com. For schedules on the Port Angeles ferry, you want CohoFerry.com. How can you take your car to Victoria? This is the ferry that also carries passenger cars. The MV Coho costs $10.50 per person each way (cars are an extra $30 each way), departing Port Angeles on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula daily. During the off season it generally departs twice daily, at 8:20 and 1:45. During the summer and fall there are usually 3-4 daily crossings - check their website for details. The same ferry returns from Victoria to Port Angeles, 10:30AM and 4PM in the off-season, with corresponding times in the summer to match the arriving boat. A single ship, the MV Coho, makes this crossing in about 90 minutes port to port. Another option is the Victoria Express which runs an extended summer schedules (May - Sept), with 2 daily crossing in the easly summer, and 4 during the middle of the summer. The Victoria Express also departs out of Port Angeles, and carries 150 passengers. For ferries from Seattle to Victoria, go to VictoriaClipper.com. The trip from Seattle is about 2.5 hours, and adult tickets are $66-$84 for adults, depending on time of year. There are NO passenger vehicle ferries from Seattle to Victoria. If you want to take your car, you must catch the ferry in Port Angeles or Anacortes.

Vancouver Island Facts: The area code for Vancouver Island is (250). The population of Vancouver Island is 700K. Driving times from Victoria to Sidney is 30 minutes, Victoria to Duncan 55 minutes, Victoria to Qualicum Beach 2 hours.The main highway 19 covers the eastern edge of the island, from Port Hardy in the north down past Nanaimo. Hwy 4 takes you from Parksville on the east side over to Long Beach on the west. Nanaimo is the second largest city on Vancouver Island after Victoria. Known as the harbor city, it has great dining and shopping. Ferries to Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay and Tsawassen) depart from Nanaimo, carrying you across the Strait of Georgia. Qualicum Beach is another popular tourist spot on the east coast near Nanaimo, home to nearby Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park - take a guided cave tour for something different!

Things to see in Victoria and nearby

Victoria is a small, walkable town with lots to see and do. Some of the most popular sights in Victoria are the BC Experience, the Maritime Museum, Miniature World, IMAX theater, Pacific Undersea Garden, Parliament Buildings, Royal BC Museum, Royal London Wax Museum, Fishermans Wharf, Carr House, Craigflower Manor, The Empress Hotel, Victoria Bug Zoo. Nearby is Butchart Gardens, Craigdarroch Castle, and whale watching trips that depart from the harbor during season. Butchart Gardens is an internationally famous gardener and non-gardeners delight. Started in 1904 by Jennie Butchart, They have an Italian Garden, a Rose Garden, and Japanese Garden, just to name a few. Obviously the late fall through early spring is not as bountiful and colorful as the spring and summer seasons, but they have displays year-round. Located 14 miles from Victoria, Butchart Gardens is a location all visitors should visit (see map below). When is Butchart Gardens open? Butchart Garden Hours: the gardens open at 9AM each day and are open until 5-6PM in the early spring, until 9 or 10PM in the summer, and until 3 or 4 PM during most of the fall and winter (extended hours during the Christmas holiday season - see their website: ButchartGardens.com - you can also purchase your tickets in advance here). How much is admission to the Butchart Gardens? Tickets to the Butchart Gardens cost $21-$23 for adults during the peak season, $13-$18 in the offseason, while childrens tickets are $10.50-$11.50 in the summer and $6-$9 in the offseason. For a map of Butchart Gardens, click here. Mid-June through mid-September are the best visiting times, especially in the afternoon. Plan to spend 2 hours minimum, and keep in mind that more than 1 million visitors per year come to the gardens, many in the summer! The Victoria Butterfly Gardens is another popular spot about 5 minutes from Butchart Gardens, allowing you to explore indoor tropical gardens while wild butterflies flit and dance around you. The Undersea Garden can be found right in the middle of the harbor where the ferry boats dock. It is a floating aquarium, basically, allowing you to view sea creatures beneath the surface of the water. For a scenic drive or bikeride, circle around the harbor into James Bay and start near the breakwater at Ogden Point (near the cruise ship terminal), and follow Dallas Road along the waterfront. It turns into Beach Dr. which will take you northward up to Oak Bay and Uplands. You can follow Hillside Rd. back into downtown, making a left onto Douglas or Blanshard.

Victoria Maps - Map of Victoria, Vancouver Island

Most of the activity on Vancouver Island is concentrated around Victoria on the southeast coast, and up along the eastern side of the island past Vancouver, B.C. For maps of downtown Victoria, Greater Victoria, and Vancouver Island, check out TourismVictoria.com. They have several large scale maps of Victoria and Vancouver to make it easy to get your bearings and find the various sites and features listed above.