Victoria, BC–a city some call the “Barbados of Canada” due to its mild temperatures and low rainfall relative to the rest of BC and Canada–is a great city in which to raise a family. Because one of Victoria’s major industries is tourism, there are lots of great family-friendly attractions to take children to including the natural wonders of Vancouver Island which are practically at your doorstep. Whether you’re a resident or a tourist yourself, here are the top 12 Family Things To Do in Victoria (in no particular order):
1. Explore the ocean without getting wet. The New Marine Centre in Sidney (about a 15 minute drive north of Victoria) just opened up this past summer to rave reviews. The state-of-the-art centre is full of interactive displays and aquariums teeming with local ocean wildlife such as jellyfish, eels, anemones and an octopus. The Centre’s goal is to educate visitors about the rich diversity of life below the ocean surface and to inspire visitors to protect the ocean environment here in BC and around the globe. If you can’t make it up to Sidney, the older but also great Undersea Gardens is in the heart of Victoria’s Inner Harbour near many other attractions.
2. Learn about the history of BC from pre-historic times to the 20th century. The Royal British Columbia Museum is the largest museum in British Columbia. The permanent galleries feature the natural world of BC (past and present), First Peoples history and culture and the history of Biritsh Columbia’s society and development. The famous life-sized woolly mammoth and the Ocean Station exhibit might be a bit scary for little kids but will thrill bigger kids. The museum also houses travelling feature exhibits with past exhibits showcasing artifacts from Egypt, Leonardo Da Vinci’s life and the Titanic.
3. Feel like giants! You’ll want to chant “Fee Fi Fo Fum” at Miniature World! This museum in downtown Victoria features intricate miniature 3D model displays with themes such as Fantasy Land, Frontier Land and Dollhouses. Lots of family fun but be aware that there is a gallery of models of battlefields in case you have a violence-free family.
4. Visit royalty and celebrity in life-sized wax form. The Royal London Wax Museum near Victoria’s inner harbour (and right beside Undersea Gardens) features over 300 wax figures and objects in the oldest North American Josephine Tussaud Wax Museum. The museum houses wax figures depicting kings and queens, prime ministers and presidents, scientists, innovators and entertainers. They also have a display of replicas of the royal crown jewels. Make sure to keep kids and squeamish grown-ups out of the separated Chamber of Horrors gallery.
5. Hit the beach. Willows Beach in Oak Bay is Victoria’s most popular beach. The shores are sandy and the water is shallow, perfect for life-jacket-wearing kids. There is also a great playground and playing field for year-round outdoor activity. Summer treats can be purchased at the seasonal concession stand. On stormy days, Clover Point along Dallas Road is a fantastic place to watch the waves crash (from a safe distance of course). It’s also a great place to fly a kite and watch kitesurfers.
6. Go panning for gold! At Mineral World and Scratch Patch in Sidney BC, you can not only pan for gold but pick out your own favourite shells and rocks to take home including real turquoise, amethyst and jade. It’s like a buffet of polished precious gemstones! It’s a great place for little kids who love to collect rocks. The rocks are quite small, however, so they’re not suitable for children and younger siblings who are still in that hand-to-mouth choking-hazard phase. There are also geological displays and a great gift shop for mom and dad.
7. Be dazzled by live butterflies. Victoria Butterfly Gardens in the Saanich area of greater Victoria features an indoor display of exotic butterflies, plant life, birds and fish. When it’s miserable outside, at Butterfly Gardens you will be transported to a warm tropical paradise. Make sure to have a camera at the ready in case a beautiful butterfly lands on your child’s nose! The gardens also have a café for lunch and are just down the road from the famous Butchart Gardens, another great family attraction.
8. Visit the wild and captive animals in Beacon Hill Park. Beacon Hill Park not only features some of the best playgrounds in Victoria but also features many ponds full of wild ducks (who love being fed), roaming noisy but stunning peacocks (whose molted tail feathers are beautiful treasures to be found) and the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm which is a seasonal petting zoo (open by donation in the warmer months of spring, summer and fall). The petting zoo features miniature horses, pot belly pigs and domestic rodents such as rabbits, among other animals. But the small zoo’s main attraction is the miniature goat pen where you can enter and pet the adorable and extremely playful little goats. Little animal-lovers will be absolutely delighted. Make sure to score a provided brush to give the goats a little grooming. They love it! There is lots of inexpensive animal fun at Beacon Hill, just make sure to wash your hands at the provided sink as you exit the petting zoo.
9. Explore the ocean wilderness. A drive up the west coast of Vancouver Island from Victoria and past Sooke will bring you to many fantastic beaches such as French Beach, China Beach, Mystic Beach and Botanical Beach. These are not swimming beaches like Willows Beach. Instead, they are exploring beaches! They have fantastic rock formations and tidal pools and feature the ultimate beauty of the west coast. Botanical Beach is the farthest away but the richest in ocean life. It is a preserved area so make sure the kids know it’s a don’t touch, don’t step-on place. The waves at these beaches can be sudden and dangerous so be sure to stay clear of the water. Check current tidal charts and choose a low tide time to go and don’t forget your camera!
10. Be mesmerized by bugs. At the Victoria Bug Zoo in downtown Victoria, your budding entomologists can see live exotic insects, spiders and scorpions. But don’t worry, they’re all safe in their aquariums so they won’t bite!
11. Be treated like royalty. The famous historical Empress Hotel (where Queen Elizabeth stays when she is in town) features royal afternoon tea in the tea lobby and now includes options for Prince and Princess tea for your little princes and princesses. Dainty sandwiches and pastries have been nibbled and tea has been sipped in the tea lobby for almost a century. Children need to be on their best behaviour for this high-class treat, a dress code is enforced and reservations are required one or two weeks in advance. This is Victoria’s most exclusive and high-class family attraction.
12. Find that perfect bedtime book. Victoria is a great city for book-lovers of all ages. There are many “new” bookstores–including the famous Munro’s Books which was originally opened by world-renowned Canadian author Alice Munro and includes a great selection of children’s books–as well as many excellent used book stores. But for arguably the best selection of children’s literature check out the independent Bolen Books in Hillside Mall. This bookstore is one of the largest in the city and has the richest selection of fantastic children’s literature. For a larger selection of kids’ books visit Chapters on Douglas Street but expect to find more branded selections based on toys and TV shows.
Note that Undersea Gardens, the Royal BC Museum, the Wax Museum, the Victoria Bug Zoo, Miniature World and the Empress Hotel are all very close to each other and near the Parliament Buildings. Mineral World and the New Marine Centre are both in Sidney and would make a great day of combined activities. Butterfly Gardens and Butchart Gardens are close to each other in Saanich which is between Victoria and Sydney.
There is lots of family fun to be had in Victoria and this is just a list to get you started. There are also lots of other great attractions to discover like Emily Carr House, the Victoria Art Gallery and the Parliament Buildings. For a lazy relaxed day in the summer, grab an ice cream or gelato along Government Street and then wander down to the inner harbour to watch the street performers and arts and crafts sellers. Victoria is just a ferry ride away from Vancouver and Seattle. Whether you’re a tourist from across the water, up-island or a tourist in your own town, Victoria is a great bustling city of family fun.
Former resident of Victoria