Many people in U.S. take off during the summer on Alaskan cruises that depart from Seattle and head up to Juneau or Anchorage. I personally don’t care for cruises but sailing along through the Inside Passage off the West Coast is something that everyone should do once in their lives. The spectacular vistas, chance to see wildlife, especially orcas, and typically calm summer seas make it, in my opinion, one of the only cruises worth doing in the world (another one would be cruising through the Panama Canal, but that’s for another post). Yet as a consequence of their eagerness to maximize their time on board and in Alaska, it’s easy to overlook southern British Columbia, mainly Vancouver and Victoria. To do so would be tragic as these two cities are both easy to navigate and have their own unique charms that make them work the stop.
Without a doubt, one of my favorite cities in the world. There are a lot of great city and outdoor things to do here as well as some great food. I like to rent a bike and explore the city that way – it’s extremely bike friendly with dedicated bike paths to the most popular locations. My recommendations:
- Granville Island. You can easily spend the better part of the day here eating and shopping. There is a public market selling all manner of produce, food stalls with creative offerings from patisseries to curry to bagels, whatever you have a hankering for, you can find. Want to buy a whole salmon? No problem. How a Montreal bagel (if you haven’t had bagels in Montreal, they rival, if not surpass, New York’s). Beyond the food, there are all sorts of local and unusual boutique type stores. There are art galleries, gold and silversmiths, carpenters, potters, plus all manner of maritime operations. If you would like to buy a yacht and catch your own salmon, you can do this here too. Plan for at least 4 hours to explore the public market, eat, and shop.
- Stanley Park. A West Coast rain forest right in the middle of the city, you can leave the tall buildings behind and in minutes find yourself surrounded by bald eagles’ nests, totem poles, or just alone. There are beaches, an aquarium, and all sorts of landmarks to see but I recommend just taking a hike. Get off of the main outer pathway and head to the interior of the park where you can get some peace and quiet. Renting a bike and exploring the park this way is also a lot of fun. You can rent bikes near the entrance – I recommend Spokes Bike Rentals.
- Horseshoe Bay. Vancouver is a city of boats and ferries. So hop on one to explore the city by water and see why Vancouver is one of the pretties cities on earth. I recommend taking the ferry from Horseshoe Bay. Tucked away, you will feel closer to the mountains than to the city. In fact, this part of British Columbia claims to have as many days of sunshine as Hawaii so chances are it will be beautiful when you are there. It’s easy enough to get an Uber or Lyft to drive you to Horseshoe Bay as it is in West Vancouver and not that far outside of the city. Once there, you can take a short ferry ride to Bowen Island, a ti
ny island where you can go hiking, or better yet, rent a kayak and paddle around the calm waters. Back on Horseshoe Bay, be sure to check out The Boathouse for dinner. A local chain, this outlet is in a beautiful setting and serves consistently good food. It is a perfect way to end your day of hiking, kayaking, and exploring.
Victoria is a like the long lost relative of the British Isles. Jokingly referred to as “behind the tweed curtain,” Victoria feels like a town lifted straight from the U.K. You can have tea, visit a castle, and walk in English gardens. A nice contrast to Vancouver yet easily accessible via BC Ferry, it makes for a relaxing day or two.
- High Tea. There are a lot of places to have tea in Victoria; most of them situated around the inner harbor. There is, of course, the infamous high tea at the Empress Hotel which is the epitome of elegance. However, head just a bit outside the city center to the Tea Room at the Abkhazi Garden for a quaint tea room in a beautiful garden. Built in the 1940s by Prince and Princess Abkhazi, the menu here changes seasonally and often features produce grown in the garden itself. Plus, how often can you have tea at a place built by a Prince and Princess? Well worth a visit.
- Craigdarroch Castle. This is worth a visit if no other reason than how often do you have the opportunity to visit a Scottish castle outside of, well Scotland?
- Bard & Banker Public House. If you had any doubt as to whether Victoria has clung to its British Victorian-era roots, go no further than Bard & Banker for confirmation. The pub finds its home in the Bank of British Columbia building that opened in 1885. A building with a rich history all of its own, you can enjoy a pint, some decent food, and step back in time. This is the pub where I was introduced to a Black Fog, a drink I have yet to find on a menu elsewhere or find a bartender who knows what it is. In any case, it’s the perfect dessert drink for a beer drinker. It’s a pint of Guinness with a shot of Chambord raspberry liqueur. If you haven’t tried one before, check it out here.