Victoria sits at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, to the west of the San Juan Islands, and visitors here will find that the whole city feels like a resort. Victoria attracts millions of visitors every year to its hotels, shops, parks and cobbled streets, a city landscape that begs for long, leisurely days and comfortable walking shoes.
Victoria began as a humble trading post, founded in 1843 by the Hudson's Bay Company. When Fraser Valley gold rush prospectors began flocking to the area in 1858, the city became the main port for entering the province of British Columbia and its Vancouver Island colonies. Victoria was incorporated as a city in 1862, and until the 20th-century boom of Vancouver, it was the largest city in British Columbia.
Victoria visitors will notice a lot of green and open space. There are over 70 city parks in the city, including the popular Beacon Hill Park on the south side of town; this Victoria park combines landscaping and natural habitats to create an aesthetically pleasing experience for those who wish to wander among the wildflowers. The Cameron Bandshell is a site for live music during the summer. A great destination for Victoria tourists with kids, the park itself includes a miniature-golf green, a cricket pitch and a children's petting zoo.
Victoria also has an active arts community. There are six theatres in the city, including the Belfry Theatre, the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre, and the Royal and McPherson Theatres Society; at the latter, patrons enjoy performances by the Pacific Opera Victoria and the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Recent stage productions in Victoria include Calendar Girls, Black Grace, The Secret Garden, Tosca, Red and Let Me Call You Sweetheart. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria has a permanent collection of more than 17,000 works of art that focus on Asian art, contemporary art, and historical Canadian and international works.
The Royal BC Museum is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Victoria. Permanent exhibitions include the First People's Gallery, the Modern History Gallery, and The Big Map. The museum also features many rotating and travelling exhibitions including "Aliens Among Us," an exhibit designed to educate about the threats of invasive species. Craigdarroch Castle is a short walk from downtown Victoria and is a fine example of Richardsonian Romanesque style architecture; do not miss its 33 original stained glass windows. Hatley Park and Castle is another must-see Victoria attraction, but be sure to book ahead for a tour, as the castle is only accessible with a guide.
Brasserie L'ecole is housed in a former Chinese Schoolhouse. This restaurant serves bistro-style food and offers an impressive menu of French cocktails and wines. For those looking for a more relaxed dining experience, Red Fish Blue Fish is a fun destination, a fish-and-chips spot where diners eat sustainable seafood outdoors on the waterfront of Victoria's Inner Harbor. 2% Jazz Coffee is a great spot to grab a cup of joe before diving back in to a busy day of touring.