My hands reek of fish as I pass them one at a time to my excitable daughter and her little friends. Tossing the frozen treats with abandon into the Pacific Ocean, they hoot with glee when greedy seals gobble them up. I can’t complain, though it must be noted we’ve been stalking these resident seals in the drizzling rain for well over an hour. Still, the kiddies are having a ball and this has turned out to be one of the best things to do in Victoria B.C. with kids, not to mention an extremely affordable source of entertainment. The smell of chopped herring will eventually wear off our hands, but these memories will undoubtably last much longer.
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Things to do in Victoria with kids
As I parent I should know better. Still, it boggles my mind just how much kids love doing the simplest of activities. This is why British Columbia’s capital city is one of my favourite spots for a family holiday. There’s just so many things to do with kids in Victoria.
From lazy beach days to romping through incredible gardens to meeting the resident marine life, you won’t want for outdoor time in Victoria. Should you wish to take it inside, there are tons of interactive museums to explore, plus kid-friendly afternoon tea services to be had. Here’s a look at my favourite family activities and top things to do with kids in Victoria.
Inner Harbour Victoria, B.C.
You don’t need to spend much money when poking around the Inner Harbour in Victoria B.C. Simply stroll down to the wharf and admire all the tall ships, ferries and float planes, as the pungent sea air revives those with flagging energy.
Water taxies carry passengers from one side of the bay to the other, while harbour ferries cruise to several stops along Victoria’s inner and upper harbour. Look for “FERRY STOP” signs at locations around the harbour.
Chug your way to Fisherman’s Wharf where you can feed the seals, try the famed fish and chips at Barb’s Place or enjoy ice cream while sussing out the floating homes.
Another great way to explore the Inner Harbour is by renting a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board from companies like Ocean River Sports, or Active Sea Kayaking.
Families with children over five-years-old should consider a kayaking tour. Take in the rich aquatic life including jewel toned star fish as you gracefully glide through the sea in a tandem vessel. Some tours take you to local haunts like the bathing hole at the Gorge Waterway in West Victoria, while others paddle along the inner harbour and even out of the city.
Within walking distance of the Inner Harbour, Victoria Bug Zoo has just enough of a creepy crawly factor to keep teens entertained. Want to hold a tarantula in the palm of your hand or how about let a stick insect cling to your arm? Bug guides operate a safe animal handling experience, while revealing these creature’s secrets. Praying mantis, glow-in-the-dark scorpions and an ant colony (1.7 million members strong!) are all waiting for you inside this insectarium.
Then there’s the Royal BC Museum, a cultural treasure where families get a feel for the coastal forest and Pacific-rimmed shoreline of this province by wandering through its natural history galleries. There are enough stuffed critters to induce a taxidermist meltdown, but see if you can’t make a game of spotting ones that don’t exist anymore.
The IMAX theatre is a big hit on rainy days and be sure to pop into the First Peoples Gallery. Wonder Sunday takes place on Sunday afternoons, with special tours and activities designed just for families.
What lies outside the museum is just as interesting as what’s inside. Take a few moments before or after your visit to gaze at the towering totem poles that grace the grounds.
Littles can play hide and seek around the native plant garden, while caregivers soak up views of the glittering inner harbour. In the back courtyard you’ll find a sampling of Victoria’s tastiest food trucks.
Miniature Museum Victoria
About a block away from the Inner Harbour, Victoria has a miniature museum. Miniature World has teeny tiny displays that pique the interests of all ages. There are close to 100 intricately designed dioramas that take you back to fairytale lands and iconic events in history. Peer into Dickenson London, Indigenous Peoples villages and the construction of the CP Railway across Canada.
Empress high tea
There are many places to take afternoon or high tea in Victoria, but Fairmont Empress pulls out all the stops. But before we get into that, let me explain the difference between high tea and afternoon tea.
High tea isn’t typically what you’re after. It sounds grand and all, but high tea is more like an early supper. It’s what you’d want to eat before going to the theatre in London. Afternoon tea is that delicious mid to late afternoon snack with tea sandwiches, scones and petite fours.
Fairmont Empress has this amazing Prince and Princess Tea package for the younger set. Children choose their own blend of tea, and there are mini scones, cookies and finger sandwiches to nibble on. At the end of the tea service, leftovers are packaged up and they’ll be presented with a special certificate.
Oak Bay Victoria
About a 15 minute drive outside of downtown Victoria lies the charming coastal community of Oak Bay. Here you’ll find a collage of villages off the tourist trail that offer plenty of amusements for a laid back, attraction-free day.
The Oak Bay Marina is always on our hit list. Here, parents can gaze longingly at sailboats, imagining what life on the coast might be like. Meanwhile, kids can look for the resident marina seals bobbing about among the docked sailboats.
It’s said that Victoria is more English than the English, which obviously isn’t true, but it’s not difficult to pick up the English village vibe going on along Oak Bay Avenue. Quaint tea cafes, traditional pubs and independent shops, including an excellent toy store await.
Even if you’re not staying at Oak Bay Beach Hotel, you might be able to while away the day here. They often offer day passes from September to May to access the stunning outdoor mineral pools and eucalyptus steam room. Poolside bar and menu service is the icing on the cake! Some years this service is available, others not, so check in advance.
Another one of my go-to spots in Victoria is Willows Beach. It’s quite close to Oak Bay and is a lovely spot for a picnic. For that, I recommend the Willows Galley (2559 Estevan Ave), a fish and chip shop that dishes out regular and gluten-free options.
With stunning views of the Olympic Mountains, including the dormant volcano, Mount Baker, families can spend the day happily playing in the shallow and protected waters of Willows Beach or at its shaded playground.
City of Gardens
Victoria is known as Canada’s city of gardens, so you really ought to see its flagship product: The Butchart Gardens. Though this National Historic Site is open all year round, it really comes alive each spring when hundreds of thousands of bulbs begin to blossom.
There are over 55 acres of gardens to explore, each brimming with flowering trees and intricately designed flower displays. Pick up the self-guided family walks worksheet to guide you through the gardens. FYI: Even dogs are welcome in this botanical paradise.
You can make a full day out of The Buchart Gardens with their afternoon tea experience (children welcome). Additionally, there are two other restaurants on-site.
Another of my favourite gardens in this city is found at Beacon Hill Park. Anchored agains the shores of Juan de Fuca Strait, this massive park is blossoming with fields of wildflowers, a miniature golfing green and a water play area.
There are streams, lakes, ponds, even a black cottonwood semi-swamp within Beacon Hill Park. Not only is this park a haven for waterfowl, you may even spot river otters, painted turtles and crayfish..
Best is the children’s zoo. Caregivers are used to supervising goat rodeos, but when they contain actual goats, it’s an opportunity few can afford to miss. Goats stampede from barn to pen when the children’s zoo opens and closes each day. As you can imagine, it’s frightfully exciting for youngsters to witness.
Best whale watching in Victoria
Vancouver Island is one of the best spots for whale watching in North America with plenty of species lurking around Victoria. Black and white orcas (killer whales) are the most frequently sighted, and it’s estimated 80 whales of this species live in Victoria’s waters.
The most common whales sited are humpback, minke and grey whales. Additionally you’ll see seals, sea lions and possibly porpoises and bald eagles in their natural environment.
Your best chances for viewing whales around Victoria is from April to November, but marine wildlife tours led by certified naturalists operate throughout the year and showcase a diverse collection of ocean occupants.
Pet friendly hotel Victoria B.C.
Sometimes a trip just isn’t the same without the most important member of your family – your pet. There’s more than one pet friendly hotel in Victoria, B.C., but the two below really stand out.
Hotel Zed is this totally rad property that’s affordable and interesting for families. You can bring in two pets of ANY SIZE to designated rooms, but you’re not to leave them unattended. They allow pets like cats, in addition to dogs.
A retrofitted 1967 VW bus shuttles you to downtown, but it’s only a 10-minutes on complimentary bikes. This family and pet friendly property sports a Ping Pong Lounge, hot pink water slide and guest laundry.
My other favourite pet friendly hotel in Victoria is Fairmont Empress. You know this B.C. institution for its famed tea service, but it’s also really woke on the wellness front.
Not only is this Fairmont sporting a Willow Stream spa, but they’ve got Winston, an adorable Labrador golden retriever cross who’s their resident canine ambassador. He was was part of the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind, but didn’t complete his training because he was too friendly.
Registered guests can take Winston out for walks or sit and chill together. If you’re bringing your own pet, cats and dogs are permitted, but can’t be left unattended in the room. The concierge can set you up with a pet sitter though.
Forgot your food, dishes, treats, bedding or poop bags? Fret not, they’ve got loads of pet amenities available upon request.
INTERESTED IN VISITING OTHER CANADIAN CITIES WITH KIDS?
Have you ever visited Victoria, B.C.? If so, what are your favourite activities to do here?