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British Columbia’s capital is Victoria, a truly charming little city, happily tucked away on its own tranquil island just across the water from Vancouver. Its nickname Garden City fits it well, both inside the city and all over this massive island. Balancing all this natural beauty is an underlying atmosphere of gentility and sophistication, evident in Victoria’s restaurants, bars and eclectic museums. But there’s so much more to discover on this island with a car, with whale watching and hikes through ancient forests remaining ever-popular pastimes.
Who to Book With
All of the big-name car hire outfits, including Avis, Budget and Hertz, can be found In Victoria. Nearly all of them are located along Douglas Street, at the airport or around the ferry terminal. Victoria is a very popular travel destination between June and September, so it’s highly recommended to book rentals online as early as you can to avoid higher rates and a thin selection of vehicles.
Best Time to go
Victoria enjoys some of Canada’s warmest weather and half the amount of annual rainfall as Vancouver just across the water. The rain falls the most between November and April, and the peak tourist season runs from June right through September. It’s busy here in the summer, when the weather borders on the sublime. To avoid the crowds, try visiting in May or at the very end of September-early October, when temperatures are mild and the rainfall minimal.
Need to Know Essentials
These documents are typically required when collecting a car rental:
- A valid driving license or International Driving Permit
- A secondary piece of photo ID
- The credit card used with the online booking
- A printed rental confirmation if possible
Because the downtown core of Victoria is so well-suited to walking, the traffic here is surprisingly light. In the summer, the area around the ferry terminal gets congested as cars move on and off the boats. But the city has a grid layout that is fairly easy to navigate, and all of the hotels downtown have private parking for their guests, making it easy to leave the car and walk around the city core.
Parking on the streets of Victoria is also pretty easy thanks to the 11,000 available spaces, but they are monitored by coin meters and usually have a time limit of just 90 minutes. These rules are strictly enforced, although parking on Sundays is free. Five ‘parkades’ can be found in the city centre, along with four surface parking lots. These are ideal for longer stays, with rates typically set at about CD$2.25 per hour and CD$13.50 per day.
Within the city limits there are no highways, just main roads and side streets that form a web over the entire area. It’s a breeze to get out of Victoria, however, via the Trans-Canada Highway 1, which heads north up the island. Once out of Victoria, the island becomes very rural with only a few scenic roads to get you to the popular destinations.
Victoria’s public transportation system, mainly consisting of buses and supported by ferries, is managed by BC Transit. These buses are useful for reaching most sightseeing spots around Victoria, but any further exploration requires a car rental. Ferries arrive steadily from Vancouver and Washington State in the US, so it’s very easy to bring your car with you from mainland Canada or the US.
Buses are good option for reaching virtually anywhere in the greater Victoria area. They cost around CD$2.55 for a single ride, while kids under five can travel for free. The DayPass is a good deal for visitors that want to move around a lot. It costs around CD$7.75 and gives unlimited transport for a 24-hour period. The DayPass can be bought at any store displaying a FAREDEALER sign or at the Victoria Tourism Centre.
If you want to ride the ferry just for fun, try one of the tour tickets. Victoria Harbour Ferries offers a 55-minute Gorge Tour and a 45-minute Harbour Tour. Either trip costs around CD$22 for an adult or CD$10 for kids.
Ferries are an integral part of Victoria’s transport network. They are a lot of fun to ride, and run from many points around the Victoria, as well as Upper and Inner Harbours. Victoria Harbour Ferries operates the routes from 10:00 to 21:00 in the summer and from 11:00 to 17:00 the rest of the year. Fares are just CD$5 for an adult single journey.
Taxi rides in Victoria are typically very cheap thanks to the compact size of the city. Taxis drivers rarely, if ever, stop for you along the street, so it’s best to keep a number of a local outfit like Bluebird Cabs and call whenever you need a pick-up. For something fun, try a Pedicab cruise around downtown, courtesy of the Victoria Pedicab Company.
BC Transit handles all the buses in Victoria, running around 40 different routes all over the city and into the surrounding suburbs. Most routes run from 06:00 until midnight and cover most important locations in town, such as the Ferry Terminal and Butchart Gardens.
Victoria is the perfect city from which to take daytrips around Vancouver Island. It doesn’t take much time or energy to get out of the urban perimeter and into the incredibly beautiful countryside of this island. Most of the attractions on Vancouver Island involve nature and outdoor recreation, but it’s also a breeze to drive onto a ferry and explore Seattle or Vancouver for the day.
Juan de Fuca - Provincial Park is a classic example of the wild coastal nature that dominates Vancouver Island. It’s a short and very scenic drive up Highway 14 from Victoria. The park features nature hikes, beaches, whale watching and other outdoor fun.
Lake Cowichan - This is a relaxing and easy drive north from Victoria along Highway 1. This lake is vintage British Columbia, just developed enough with the town on the south shore, but still wild enough to be really beautiful. Take a trip to the town for the day and enjoy boating or just wandering around the lakeshore.
The San Juan Islands - These are actually in America, but ferries run every day from Victoria to the town of Anacortes, which allows access to Whidby Island. Here, you can drive around this pastoral island and check out quaint towns like Oak Harbor and Coupeville. The ferry ride itself is sublime.