Victoria was settled in 1843 as a Hudson's Bay Company's trading post. The most westerly of Canadian cities and the oldest city on Canada's west coast, its temperate climate allows daffodils to bloom in February while the rest of Canada is experiencing bitter-cold weather. More than any other Canadian city, Victoria has the ambience of an English town. Named for Britain's famous queen, it is a city that revels in the past. Tartan-kilted pipers welcome you. The streets, the Tudor-style architecture and the lampposts adorned with hanging baskets of bright blossoms, as well as the British-style tea shops, will take you back to another time and place.
SightseeingVictoria's favorable climate is ideal for sightseeing. Most sites here are conveniently located downtown within easy walking distance of each other.
Founded primarily as a fur-trading post, Victoria has retained its special small-town charm. Cricket is still played on the bowling greens in Beacon Hill Park alongside Douglas Street. In the park, you'll also find a wading pool, a petting zoo and an outdoor amphitheater, where Sunday-afternoon concerts are held. Lawns, lakes and gardens offer many pleasant vistas, and there is a spectacular view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains.
The most immediately recognizable location is the Legislative Parliament Buildings, the government seat of British Columbia. Overlooking Inner Harbour, these buildings, completed in 1897, have been fully restored. Designed by Francis Rattenbury, the symmetrical complex is an outstanding example of Victoria's dignified European architecture.
Across Government Street from the Parliament Buildings is the Royal British Columbia Museum. It presents a lively look at the natural and human history of British Columbia. You'll be fascinated by the exhibits, which cover 12,000 years and range from prehistoric wildlife to a turn-of-the-century town.
Just a short distance from this complex is the Visitors Information Centre, at Wharf and Government Streets. Located on the waterfront, it has a restored art deco tower you can't miss.
Should you care to relax over high tea, by all means visit the fabled Empress Hotel, another Rattenbury building, on Government Street. The hotel, built by the Canadian Pacific Railway, serves a proper English tea every hour and a half. Even if you're not hungry or thirsty, you may still want to visit this site. Built in 1908, it is a well-maintained relic from the Golden Age of the grand hotels--the 488-room chateau recently underwent a $45 million renovation. The southern end of the hotel, now a modern conference center, is beautifully designed.
Around the corner on the Humboldt Street side of the Empress Hotel is Miniature World, containing over 40 little attractions where people are as tiny as your thumbnail. The gift shop stocks a wonderful assortment of miniatures.
Another Victoria landmark is the Crystal Gardens, located in back of the Empress Hotel on Douglas Street. This extraordinary glass-roofed paradise, touted when it opened in 1925 as the largest swimming pool in the British Empire, is filled with hundreds of colorful tropical flowers and is home to penguins, monkeys, brilliant-hued flamingos and macaws.
Where Douglas and Humboldt streets meet, you'll find the Classic Car Museum, which contains over 40 classic cars. Close by is the world-famous Royal London Wax Museum, featuring over 200 lifelike historic and celebrity figures--such as Queen Victoria, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe--that were sculpted in England. The Pacific Undersea Gardens next door present scuba-diving shows several times daily in the undersea theater. Here, you can view over 5,000 marine exhibits, including a giant Pacific octopus, in their natural habitat.
The Bastion Square section, several blocks north of Inner Harbour, was the site of the Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Victoria. Now, gas lamps and cobblestone streets give the area an Old World feeling, while restored buildings from the city's boom days house shops and restaurants. An old courthouse has been converted into the Maritime Museum, where dugout canoes, model ships, Royal Navy charts and uniforms, and other seafaring memorabilia are on display. A new museum will open on the site in 1995. Nearby Market Square, originally part of Chinatown, contains the historic Olde Towne area, dating back to the city's gold-rush days.
Victoria's Chinatown was established in 1858, back when Chinese immigrants worked on the railroads, and is one of the oldest Chinatowns in Canada. The Gate of Harmonious Interest, with its two hand-carved stone lions from Suchow, China, and its ceramic tiles from Taiwan, towers over Fisgard Street at Government Street, welcoming visitors to shops offering exotic merchandise and food products. Nearby Fan Tan Alley is supposedly the narrowest street in Canada. It was once the heart of the opium and gambling district, where games of skill and chance like mah-jongg, fan-tan and dominoes were played.
Heading east on Fort Street, you'll encounter Craigdarroch Castle. The original owner, Robert Dunsmuir, was British Columbia's first millionaire; unfortunately, he died before his extravagant home was completed in 1890. This mansion-cum-museum features authentic furniture, objets d'art and architectural details, including landscape paintings, stained-glass windows and carved woodwork sent by rail from Chicago.
In this city of gardens, it's said you just haven't been to Victoria if you haven't seen Butchart Gardens, a world-renowned 50-acre botanical showcase of native flora as well as rare and exotic plants and trees. More than 700 varieties of flowers bloom in this location, which was once a limestone quarry. Of special interest are the three rose gardens -- English, Italian and Japanese.
ShoppingAnchorage has several shopping centers in and around the downtown area. Exclusive specialty shops are located throughout the city and the Anchorage Bowl.
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