It’s nice to visit a city and do the “it” things. In Victoria, high tea at the Fairmont Empress and a stroll through the Butchart Gardens are right up there. However, beyond these standard recommendations, there are some lesser-known gems that offer a peek into Victoria’s rich history and culture without ending crowded corridors and long lines.
These are three of my absolute favorites.
Chinatown’s Second Narrowest Street
The mystique of Fan Tan Alley’s narrow walkway has earned it quite the reputation over the years. Its shadowed corners and seemingly hidden shops give the impression you’ve stepped back to a time where rice was exchanged for chickens and deals were made with a handshake.
However, the mystery of Victoria’s Chinatown doesn’t stop there. Just west of Fan Tan’s northern Fisgard St. entrance, is the alley’s lesser-known sister – Dragon Alley, Connecting Fisgard and Herald Street, it offers a bit wider passageway. Recently revitalized, it’s speckled with an eclectic mix of shops, restaurants, studios, residential units, and the occasional urban patio.
The old world elegance of Victoria’s earlier residents echoes through the oak and rosewood paneled rooms at Hatley Castle. Completed in 1908, it’s located roughly 12 kilometers from the Inner Harbour. With ivy-covered stonewalls and lavish gardens, it’s easy to picture ladies in billowing skirts strolling through the grounds.
The 40-room “house” features a grand front hall and staircase, soaring ceilings, and jewel-box stained glass windows. Teak floors run throughout and a baronial fireplace stands in the great room with prominence.
Now part of the Royal Roads University, it’s open to the public for daily-guided tours. Or you could opt instead for a self-guided tour of the surrounding gardens.
As an extension of the renowned Royal BC Museum, Thunderbird Park often gets overlooked. It was established in 1941 to display the museum’s collection of totem poles. While over the years, the majority of the original poles were moved indoors and replaced by replicas, the towering statues still remain an excellent place to wander and learn about the First Nations.