When my friend asked what she should do on a Vancouver stopover - I immediately answered, “Go to Victoria”.
“Where’s Victoria?” she asked
“On Vancouver Island” – which elicited a confused look. You know the big island off shore British Columbia, where the state capital Victoria is.
“Vancouver isn’t the capital??”
Yeah I remember being surprised too! It may well be possible to fly direct to Vancouver from Auckland (AirNZ) – but most of us in this part of the world are fairly ignorant of the interesting geography of the this far western corner of Canada.
A map may help: (click on the blue flags for placenames mentioned in this post)
View how to get from Vancouver to Victoria in a larger map
I blame the size of Canada, honestly. Vancouver Island (500km long and 100km wide) looks like its part of the mainland – but its not far away, its rugged, beautiful, and surrounded by sea – what’s not to like? Oh and the Canadians are pretty darn good at public infrastructure and the BC Ferries are an efficient and fairly cheap way of getting around.
Now things have changed since I lived in Vancouver for a year, and although the old ferry terminal still exists at Horseshoe Bay, just north of the city, the main connection is at the tongue-twistingly named Tsawwassen Terminal south of the airport. From here its only 1.5 hour trip across, via the many Gulf Islands (which is why I’d recommend this route anyways) to Swartz Bay which is Victoria’s port, though over 20km out of town.
Can You Drive From Vancouver to Victoria?
Yes you can - BC Ferries will be your transport option of choice here. They are all vehicle ferries and they are incredibly efficient. I do suggest that you are travelling anywhere near summer that you will need to book your vehicle. A car is ideal if you want to see some of Vancouver Islands other towns but its not your only option
For details, schedules and bookings (and you should particularly in the summer and on weekends) see BC Ferries
Vancouver to Victoria by Bus
If you do only have a few days on a stopover in Vancouver I’d suggest that you consider taking a coach straight from the airport to Victoria. You can be in downtown Victoria four hours after leaving Vancouver’s international airport!
The caveats I’d have though – is the that trip is pretty – don’t waste it by doing it in the dark! Also you might want to book this one in advance to confirm you seat in the coach
For details see Pacific Coach - connection from YVR or downtown Vancouver to Victoria via Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay. The combined coach/ferry ticket will cost around C$40. If you find yourself on the ferry without having bought a coach ticket you can buy it on board from there representative (still trying to figure out how this could happen!).
Alternatively you can also use the Skytrain to get to the northern terminus of Horseshoe Bay, take the even shorter ferry ride to Nanaimo and connect on to smaller towns on Vancouver Island
For details see Island Link Bus
Float Plane from Vancouver to Victoria
I was lucky enough to use float planes more than once in British Columbia – is a very common mode of transp0rt in the interior and around Vancouver Island. There are far more flat pieces of water to land on i.e. lakes and harbours, than there are landing strips, particularly in the north with the issues that permafrost causes for landing strips. A small float plane is a dream for seeing the scenary and even getting the odd good photo (not that I appear to have done so). Even better the float plane will take 1/2 hour from harbour to harbour and set you back around C$150 per person. You can take a helicopter too - but you can do that anywhere in the world, if you have the cash – take the float plane – I’d be surprised if you regret it! And remember that is from down town to down town too!
For details see Harbour Air - online bookings direct on this site too.
What to See and Do in Victoria, BC
Victoria is only about 80,000 people, but is tourist friendly with a walkable and compact downtown area. You can get out on the harbour either using the cheap local transit ferry, or more energetically by hiring kayaks. There are also plenty of whale watching trips in the season May-October. I would say that this article about Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf caught my interest – or maybe it was just because I like fish and chips! Craft beers are also a feature of Victoria’s cuisine.
Although it used to live off a, dubious, reputation of being Canada’s most “English” city – these days the promos are more about quirky shops, great food and beer, with a bit of history thrown in. An improvement I think
For more details see Tourism Victoria
My recommendation on the best way to get from Vancouver to Victoria and return? I’d take the bus direct from the airport if arriving in the morning, and return via the float plane the following day.