My family and I visit Victoria twice a year for long trips – and these are the places we don’t get tired of, and the spots the kids ask to return to, again and again.
Victoria Bug Zoo. It’s not necessarily the bugs that are the draw here – there are plenty of places to see a cockroach or an African millipede. But the tour guides make this attraction one of our favorites in Cascadia. The guides dispense education with entertainment and genuinely kid-friendly attitudes. Whether describing how a bug eats her mate or using a millipede as a moustache, the enthusiastic employees always provide weird facts and fun.
Butchart Gardens. Scamper through, under and around over 55 acres of pathways, fountains and arbors woven with roses. The sunken gardens are always a favorite – go down steps or a ramp down into a colorful valley of flower power. This summer, take a spin on the newly installed vintage carousel in the children’s garden. Giant loaner umbrellas make rainy-day walks easier, but bring rain covers for strollers. The garden isn’t cheap, but it’s absolutely worth the time and expense. Check out their info on kid-friendly things to do, before you go.
Beacon Hill Park. This 62-acre city greenspace provides lovely (and free) flower-filled gardens, a water park and year-round playground with riding toys, a rock-climbing wall and slides. If you absolutely can’t afford Butchart, this will do, particularly with very young children who won’t know the difference. The Beacon Hill Children’s Farm offers a chance to groom baby goats and watch the daily “Running of the Goats.” Read more about the Run in my article here.
Royal BC Museum. A three-story museum filled with artifacts and replicas depicting Pacific Northwest and BC life. Enter a cedar-scented Native American longhouse, hear a cat’s meow in the replica Victorian Village, and listen to the echo of your own voice when encountering a towering moose. Clever use of lighting and sound effects offer a sensory-rich encounter with natural history and human history. Of all of the museums in the Pacific NW and BC, this one does it biggest and best.
Fisherman’s Wharf. Fish are a feature here – eat fish ‘n’ chips at Barb’s Place while walking among houseboats, buy fresh salmon at The Fish Store and feed fish guts to Sammy the seal. It’s true – you can feed a real (and adorable) seal here. Required warnings: Count fingers after feeding Sammy, don’t get too close to Sammy and make sure toddlers don’t toddle right off the pier. Then, visit the new playground near Fisherman’s Wharf, reviewed here by the blog Swings and Roundabouts.
Tea at the Empress. On sunny summer weekends, you’ll have to make a reservation – this hotel is packed with families, all the way up to the 1908-era rafters. Adult teas are enormous and easily feed a kid or two, but the children’s tea is also a special treat. The Empress offers a luxe setting – ferns, nice china, fireplaces, and curtain-draped views of the Inner Harbour – and may not be for the chronically fidgety or very young. But it’s a memory-maker for older kids. My daughter still asks to go back on every trip, even though I’ve told her it’s a once-every-10-years activity, due to the expense.
Victoria Butterfly Gardens. If you’re rained out of other outdoor attractions, this 12,000-square foot indoor garden entertains. It’s not that much bigger than Pacific Science Center’s Butterfly House, but this garden does include flamingos and venus flytraps. The 75 species of butterflies here are friendly – maybe because they’re Canadian – and they’ll often land on a child’s hand.
Downtown Victoria. Victoria’s brick buildings hold dozens of wonderful stores for every age group. So go shopping: pick up books at Tall Tales Books, toys and clothes at Kaboodles or Sprouts, toffee at the English Sweet Shop or peony-colored silk purses at Chinatown Trading Company (551 Fisgard St.). Buy BC-made baby toys and carriers at Mothering Touch, take elementary-age kids to a comic shop-lined street (Johnson Street) and bring teens to the quirky Zydeco Gifts and chic Smoking Lily.
A Tourist Attraction. Like tourist attractions around the world, the following may be designed to squeeze the maximum amount of dollars from visitors (with minimum effort). But like candy, these two Inner Harbour stops are enjoyable every once in a while. Which ones do I recommend? See Superman, Pinocchio and Barack Obama (or George W. Bush, depending upon your political inclinations) at the Royal London Wax Museum .(Update: Permanently closed) Or take a peek inside Miniature World’s campy, tiny worlds of war, historic life and fairy tales. Please note, these are the only two super-touristy stops I recommend. And I have visited all of them. (Clears throat and looks meaningfully at you)
Find even more awesome attractions in my book Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver and from the Tourism Victoria site.