Many people view Victoria (population 300,000) for the first time from the Inner Harbour , coming in by boat the way people have for almost 150 years; on rounding Laurel Point, Victoria sparkles into view. Ferries, fishing boats, and seaplanes bob in the harbor, with a backdrop of manicured lawns and flower gardens, quiet residential suburbs, and striking inner-city architecture. Despite the pressures that go with city life, easygoing Victorians still find time for a stroll along the waterfront, a round of golf, or a night out at a fine-dining restaurant .
Victoria doesn’t have as many official sights as Vancouver , but this isn’t a bad thing. Once you’ve visited “must-sees” like the Royal British Columbia Museum  and Butchart Gardens , you can devote you time to outdoor pursuits such as whale-watching, a bike ride through Oak Bay, or something as simple as enjoying a stroll along the beach.
You will be confronted with oodles of ways to trim bulging wallets in Victoria. Some commercial attractions are worth every cent, others are routine at best, although the latter may be crowd pleasers with children, which makes them worth considering.
Discovering Victoria’s roots has been a longtime favorite with visitors, but some locals find the “more English than England” reputation tiring. Yes, there’s a tacky side to some traditions, but high tea, double-decker bus tours , and exploring formal gardens remain some of the true joys of Victoria.
Tourism Victoria (250/953-2033 or 800/663-3883, www.tourismvictoria.com ) runs the bright, modern Victoria Visitor Info Centre (812 Wharf St., daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m.), overlooking the Inner Harbour .
By Air: Vancouver Island ’s main airport is on the Saanich Peninsula, 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Victoria’s city center. The terminal building houses a lounge, café, and various rental car agencies. The AKAL Airporter (250/386-2525 or 877/386-2525, www.victoriaairporter.com ) operates buses between the airport and major downtown hotels every 30 minutes for adult $18, child $11 each way. A taxi costs approximately $55 to downtown.
Scheduled flights link the international airports of Vancouver  and Victoria, but it’s such a short flight (25 minutes from terminal to terminal) that unless you’re on a connecting flight, the alternatives are more practical. Smaller airlines, including those with floatplanes and helicopter services, provide a direct link between Victoria’s Inner Harbour  and the downtown Vancouver waterfront. Harbour Air (250/384-2215 or 800/665-0212) charges $125 each way.
By Bus: The main Victoria bus depot is behind the Empress Hotel at 700 Douglas Street. Pacific Coach (604/662-7575 or 800/661-1725, www.pacificcoach.com ) operates bus service between Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station and downtown Victoria, via the Tsawwassen–Swartz Bay ferry. In summer the coaches run hourly 6 a.m.–9 p.m. for $43 one-way, $84 round-trip, which includes the ferry fare. The trip takes 3.5 hours. Scheduled bus services on the island is offered by Greyhound (604/388-5248) from the same terminal.
By Ferry: From Tsawwassen (Vancouver ): Vessels operated by BC Ferries (250/386-3431 or 888/223-3779, www.bcferries.com ) run regularly across the Strait of Georgia from Tsawwassen, 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Vancouver, to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Victoria. Through summer, ferries run hourly 7 a.m.–10 p.m., slightly less frequently the rest of the year. The crossing takes 90 minutes. You can expect a wait in summer; there are limited vehicle reservations available for $15 per booking. Peak fares are adult $13.50, child 5–11 $6.75, vehicle $45.
From Seattle: Clipper Vacations (800/888-2535, www.clippervacations.com ) connects Seattle ’s Pier 69 with Victoria’s Inner Harbour  up to five times daily. Its turbojet catamaran, the Victoria Clipper IV, is North America’s fastest passenger ferry, traveling at speeds of up to 45 knots (over 80 kph/50 mph). This speedy vessel makes the crossing in two hours. The cost is adult US$93 one-way, US$155 round-trip.
From Anacortes: Washington State Ferries (206/464-6400, 250/381-1551, or 888/808-7977, www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries ) runs a regular ferry schedule between Anacortes  and the San Juan Islands , with the 7:50 a.m. sailing continuing to Sidney , on the Saanich Peninsula 32 kilometers (20 miles) north of Victoria. The return sailing departs Sidney at 11:45 a.m. The one-way fare is adult US$16.40, child US$11.50, vehicle and driver US$66.10. Reservations must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
From Port Angeles: Black Ball Transport (250/386-2202 in Victoria, or 360/457-4491 in Port Angeles, www.cohoferry.com ) operates the MV Coho across Juan de Fuca Strait between Port Angeles  and Victoria’s Inner Harbour . It makes four crossings daily in each direction mid-May–mid-October, two crossings daily the rest of the year. Advance reservations are not accepted—phone a day or so before your planned departure for estimated waiting times. The one-way fare is adult US$14.50, child US$7.25, vehicle and driver US$53.