Cruise ships dock at Ogden Point Cruise Terminal, at one of the two piers – “Pier A” and “Pier B “. Each one of them has two deep-water berths with its own Customs and Immigration area. Although the cruise port can accommodate 3 ships at the same time, there have been days when there were 4 and 5 ships arriving within hours of each other. There are various passengers’ facilities, such as tourist information desk, currency exchange shop, cafes, restaurants and taxis. The Cruise Terminal is only about 1.5 miles from downtown Victoria, and the nearest Airport is Victoria International Airport at 29km away, about 35 min by car. Transportation out of the port and into downtown is very easy, there is a dedicated shuttle bus from the terminal which oddly is the same price as a taxi ride, 10 Canadian dollars. The city bus has a convenient stop outside the terminal and is very affordable at $2.25. Downtown is only 2 miles away and is very pleasant to walk to. The city of Victoria is very walkable, and most sites are within easy proximity of each other.
The local currency is Canadian dollar (CAD) and exchanging money is easy and straight-forward. There are banks and ATMs at every corner, but the best exchange rates seem to be at the exchange shops across the road from The Empress. Make sure you check for commission and other fees. All major credit cards are widely accepted, and you can also use your debit card, but make sure you have notified your bank you would be abroad and are aware of any fees that the bank may charge you.
The opening hours in Victoria are quite standard, most shops and shopping malls would work all week from 9.30 am to 6 pm, with extended hours Thursdays and Fridays. Some outlets have extended summer hours. Banks and post offices are open 9 am to 5 pm, some of them are open until midday Saturday as well and are mostly closed on Sundays. There are several national and international bank holidays as well, so make sure you are aware of those before travelling.
Although English and French are official languages of Canada, English is predominant in Victoria.
The tipping culture in Canada is like the one in the USA. Tipping between 15 and 20% is considered normal and the service is excellent as most people working in the service industry receive low wages and rely heavily on tips. Tip between 15 and 20 % at a restaurant if you have received good service – if the service was not at par, talk to the manager, he would 99% resolve the matter for you. Tipping at counter service isn’t expected. Tip housekeepers and bellboys at hotels about 1-2 Canadian dollars per day/per bag. Tip bartenders from 0.50 to 2 CAD per drink, depending on the venue and tip taxi drivers, spa staff and tour guides 10-15% as well.
The local time in Victoria BC is GMT – 7 hours and the dialling code is 00 1 250.
Things To Do
The Empress building is the most popular local landmark, one of the oldest hotels in Victoria. Opened in 1908, this Chateau-like hotel is considered one of Canada’s grand railway hotels. The hotel is now listed as a National Historic Site of Canada and is one of the top 21 Iconic Hotels in the World by National Geographic Traveller magazine. The hotel was designed by a young British architect – Francis Rattenbury for Queen Victoria – to whom the city is named. There is an impressive historic archive in the basement of the hotel, which is not very often visited, perhaps partially because of the reported sightings of the architect himself in an Edwardian suit, who was murdered in Bournemouth, UK by his much younger mistress. Much less mysterious and spine-tingling highlights are the Miniature World and the high tea, served at the Lobby Lounge.
The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are located nearby and are open to the public with free tours. Here is where the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia’s elected representatives – called Members of the Legislative Assembly – meet to debate and pass the laws that govern British Columbia. The Neo-Baroque building is crowned by a central dome with a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver and there are statues of Queen Victoria and a statue of a soldier to commemorate all the soldiers lost in wars on the front lawn.
Enjoy the year-round 55 acres of lush greenery and rainbow blooms of the Butchart Gardens. More than a million visitors each year come to see this National Historic Site of Canada. The gardens were commissioned by Robert Pim Butchart, a cement manufacturer in 1921 and are still owned and looked after by his successors. First the Sunken Garden was built by the Japanese garden designer Isaburo Kishida, then the Italian Garden, followed by the Rose Garden. The gardens are beautiful in Spring with the tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, in Summer with the roses, the evening entertainment and mesmerizing night illuminations and boat tours, in Autumn with the red and gold of the Japanese maples and near Christmas with the expansive decorations and lightning.
If you are looking to find out more about the history and culture of the “garden city”, head over to the Royal British Columbia Museum. It contains not only The British Columbia’s natural and human history museum, but also the British Columbia Provincial Archives. Familiarise yourself with the maritime culture and history of the Pacific Nortwest at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. See the aircrafts and other aviation related artefacts at the British Columbian Aviation Museum. Go to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria to see some notable works by Canadian artist Emily Carr and for one of Canada’s most significant collections of Asian art. Madrona Gallery exhibits works by established and emerging Canadian artists, as well as a world-class collection of Inuit carvings, drawings and prints. The Ford Rodd Hill National Historic Site is a 19th century coastal artillery fort, used to protect Victoria and the Esquimalt Naval Base. The adjacent Fisgard Lighthouse is the oldest on the Canadian West coast. The Craigdarroch Castle is a shining example of a Victorian mansion, built in 1890 and overlooking the city.
Other interesting sites to see in Victoria are the Chinatown – the second oldest in North America after the one in San Francisco. Beacon Hill Park is a lovely large green space in downtown, with woodland and shoreline trails, playgrounds, a waterpark, playing fields, a petting zoo, ponds and gardens. A famous feature is the world’s forth tallest totem poll at 38.8m (127ft). The Inner Harbour is another historical site, allegedly one of the most beautiful harbours in the world with distinctive architecture and summer entertainment. From here you can also easily pick up a boat tour to go whale watching. At Victoria Bug Zoo you can see and experience live tropical bugs from around the world. Bastion Square Public Markets are the place to buy local arts and crafts, sample some local produce and try artisan food. The market is open every Sunday. The Farm Market is open Thursdays and Fridays and is run almost entirely by chef-volunteers.
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