Vancouver to Victoria in Style: A Must-Do Coastal Escape by Travel Experts
Posted in: British Columbia
Travelers looking for a convenient and comfortable way to travel between Vancouver and Victoria will be delighted to hear about a premium cruise option: V2V Vacations. Departing from downtown Vancouver and arriving to the Inner Harbour of downtown Victoria, V2V offers a scenic nautical journey through British Columbia’s stunning coast. Here we share the experience from start to finish, along with must-do Victoria activities as part of our Coastal Escape to Victoria travel package.
Psst... scroll to the bottom of this post for a short video of the trip! Or, read on for all the details.
The sky is a hazy yellow as the sun dries the last of yesterday’s clouds, reflecting bright glimpses of light off an otherwise grey Vancouver Harbour. I’m on the seawall in Coal Harbour – a neighborhood within walking distance from almost every downtown Vancouver hotel – when I see what I’ve come for: the V2V Empress.
The V2V Empress docked in Coal Harbour, downtown Vancouver.
A distinctive Indigenous orca design on the exterior of the ship distinguishes the 242-passenger high speed catamaran, which waits conveniently across from the clearly-marked V2V office. Entering, I’m greeted by a smiling company representative whose smart uniform bears the provincial tartan and company colors of red and white. Gesturing to take a seat in the waiting room it isn’t long before we depart, each passenger giving a name instead of a ticket to board the vessel.
I can’t help but think how simplified the process is, having walked from my downtown Vancouver apartment to take a ferry to Victoria. When you're limited on time or just want to make the most of your vacation, V2V offers so much more than a means of transport, and eliminates the added travel time of getting to a terminal.
Boarding the V2V Empress in Coal Harbour, downtown Vancouver.
Traveling Aboard V2V
As a crew member directs me to my seat on the upper deck in Royal Class, these views and amenities are certainly a step above. Each ergonomic leather seat is equipped with its own USB port and international charging outlet, while complimentary Wi-Fi covers the ship and panoramic views surround. A welcome beverage is placed in my hand with a clink of “Cheers to being a Royal!” and just like that I feel relaxed and at ease, allowing myself to settle in.
A Royal Class boarding pass for the V2V Empress with assigned seat number.
Royal Class includes a three-course meal served directly to your seat, and as I peruse the menu the options are certainly more tantalizing than one would expect. I opt for an all-butter croissant with egg, crispy prosciutto and tomato-balsamic jam, which is served alongside a warm scone and seasonal berries with whipped mascarpone. Two lattes into the trip I order a glass of champagne – all of this is included in the Royal ticket, after all.
A light three-course meal is served directly to your seat in Royal Class.
To celebrate the province’s agricultural bounty, V2V Vacations has done an incredible job with their Salish Sea-inspired menu. A commitment has been made to use sustainable and preservative-free ingredients whenever possible, and so a range of local purveyors deliver them fresh to the ship each day. Both the breakfast and the lunch menu offer three choices for your main, and alternatives are available for those with dietary restrictions.
Watching the scenery and enjoying the onboard amenities of the V2V Empress.
I spend the rest of the trip admiring the sights and using the amenities at my seat, save for a brief trip to the upper deck as we wind our way through Active Pass. Whales are often sighted on the journey with V2V, and so as the ship slows to navigate between Gulf Islands I keep my eye out for a fin. I don't spot any on this particular journey, but the constant views are spectacular, and I can’t get enough.
Arriving to downtown Victoria's Inner Harbour aboard the V2V Empress.
Throughout the trip, short commentaries are played teaching where we are and what we’re seeing. A few interesting historical facts later and we’re arriving to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, flanked by the impressive Fairmont Empress hotel, parliament buildings and the Royal BC Museum. It’s the end of a 3.5-hour journey and I’m somewhat surprised – it certainly felt shorter and I was still very much enjoying the ride.
Wandering the Inner Harbour of downtown Victoria.
Arriving to Downtown Victoria
Stepping off into a busy Victoria morning and bidding the friendly V2V staff farewell, I have the entire day to explore. The Coastal Escape to Victoria package keeps you here for a full three days – with two nights at the Fairmont Empress – but sadly I don't quite have the time and so I make the most of my 12 hours.
The colourful house boats at Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria.
It’s just a short 15-minute walk from the harbor to Fisherman’s Wharf, so I head west towards colorful floating house boats serving up various food and drinks. A food tour would be the preferred way to get the most of the city’s flavors, but since I don’t quite have the time I settle with a classic: fish and chips.
A classic fish and chips lunch at Fisherman's Wharf, Victoria.
Highly recommended – and included in our Coastal Escape package – is the Eat Like a Canadian tour, which stops at seven local spots. With this you'll enjoy foods like candied salmon, poutine, Nanaimo bars and more, beginning at Fisherman's Wharf and ending on downtown's popular Government Street.
Visiting the Parliament buildings on downtown Victoria's Inner Harbour.
I make a brief stop at the Parliament buildings on my way back from Fisherman's Wharf, remembering how in the summer months the lawn becomes specked with sunbathers and their blankets. It's a relaxed vibe out here, and an easy stopping point to make as I find my ride to the Butchart Gardens.
The beautiful Sunken Garden at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria.
Wandering The Butchart Gardens
Celebrating over 100 years in bloom, The Butchart Gardens has been declared a National Historic Site of Canada for its impressive and ever-changing displays. Having begun as a limestone quarry in 1904, the privately-owned land was transformed into five beautiful gardens – the Sunken Garden, Mediterranean Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Garden and Italian Garden – by 1939, when it was opened to the public and paired with outdoor concerts and night lighting. Since then a carousel, fireworks display and Christmas events have been added.
The handcrafted carousel at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria.
Wandering the gardens today, the sensory experience is astounding. Bright fuchsia pinks and butter yellows pop against emerald greens and true magentas, each carefully landscaped as one of many displays to tell a story while you walk. Winding staircases and stony paths guide me from one floral scent to the next, while elements like a fountain with golden frog add a fairytale-like undertone to the experience.
Spring tulips are in season at The Butchart Gardens in Victoria.
It's spring, so the approximate 300,000 bulbs that have been planted in the gardens are nearly at their peak in bloom. Tulips and daffodils are the seasonal flower of choice, complimented by heather, crocus, narcissus, primula polyanthus and countless other varieties. Elsewhere on the grounds the summer flowers are being nurtured, tended to by teams of gardeners who make the gardens' visions come to life. I notice the roses will be in bloom soon and make a mental note to return, when archways and bushes bear their petals and the scent takes over entire lawns.
The Italian Garden at The Butchart Gardens, with the gelato stand to the left.
A nice touch is in the Italian Garden, where a small stand is selling gelato. A talented culinary team has honed their skills in Italy and returned to serve a mouthwatering selection of flavors, so I opt for a honey lavender that seems fitting for the location. It's light, delicate and tastes more like honey than it does the lavender, but it's as delicious as expected and the perfect close to my time in the gardens.
Wandering Canada's oldest Chinatown in downtown Victoria.
Exploring Canada's Oldest Chinatown
Returning to downtown Victoria, I choose to stop and explore Canada's oldest Chinatown. It isn't a particularly large neighborhood, but it has all the culture and charm you'd come to expect, with restaurants selling noodles and bubble teas and red Chinese lanterns lining the streets.
Walking down the tiny Fan Tan Alley in downtown Victoria.
Tucked between two shops and little more than an arm's span in diameter, Fan Tan Alley is so narrow you could easily miss it if you didn't know it was there. I duck in and follow some other tourists taking in the tiny street, noticing that the buildings here bear in-between address like 23 ½. There's a couple boutiques, a soap shop and a vintage record store selling labels, then I'm out the other side where I start searching for a meal.
Fresh oysters and shrimp tacos from Finn's restaurant on Wharf Street.
Dining on the Waterfront
Downtown Victoria has a plethora of fantastic restaurants to choose from, and many have enjoyable views of either the water or historic cobblestone streets that surround. Government street is a popular go-to (and is where the Eat Like a Canadian foodie tour ends!) but I choose to follow Wharf Street since I'm in the mood for fresh seafood and happen to know just the place.
Finn's is housed in a beautiful redbrick and fieldstone heritage building overlooking the harbor, and serves everything from oysters and fresh steam bowls to burgers, sandwiches and flatbread pizzas. An enclosed solarium-style space offers unspoiled views of the busy seaplanes – perfect for me, since my flight with Harbour Air leaves in less than two hours.
Boarding Harbour Air for the return flight from Victoria to Vancouver.
Return to Vancouver with Harbour Air
Having just feasted on fresh poke, oysters and shrimp tacos, I'm full and ready for my flight. Checking in is just as simple as it was with V2V, comprised of a short walk to the docks and a 25-minute wait before we board. Since the flight itself is 35 minutes from Victoria to downtown Vancouver I know I'll be home in just an hour – a shorter alternative than returning with V2V, but it all depends on which experience you want to have.
Offering a completely different perspective than what you'd have from on the water, Harbour Air flies over the glittering ocean and archipelago that makes up the Gulf Islands. I'm looking out the window and enjoying the views when I see a fin – and I realize a pod of orca whales are swimming right below the plane! It all happened a bit too quickly for me to snap a proper photo, but the experience is one I'll certainly share with all my colleagues back at the office.
Enjoying the sights aboard Harbour Air to Coal Harbour, downtown Vancouver.
Back in downtown Vancouver, my coastal escape to Victoria has come to an end. It was a whirlwind of a day so I would absolutely recommend doing the full trip with two nights at the Empress, where you can partake in high tea and browse the nearby boutiques between the foodie tour and Butchart Gardens. If all you have is a day the trip can certainly still be done, and trust me when I say that either way it will be a highlight of your trip to Canada's stunning west coast.
Travel Tip: With V2V you can choose between two classes: Premium and Royal Class. Both offer ergonomic leather seating, complimentary Wi-Fi, individual charging ports at each seat and access to an outdoor sundeck. A selection of authentic BC cuisine, beer, wine, and cider is also available for purchase, however Royal Class includes a welcome beverage, unlimited non-alcoholic beverages and light three-course lunch or breakfast. These are served directly to your seat, which is located on the upper deck above Premium Class.