If you’ve been reading the blog since the beginning, then you’re probably familiar with a feature I launched called Weekend Wanderlust for One. The basic premise: I challenge other solo travel bloggers to plan a trip for $500 or less with travel up to 4 hours away from their hometowns for 3 days and 2 nights.
In late fall 2017, with travel funds dwindling and a long holiday weekend on the horizon, I thought a little weekend wanderlust was an idea worth revisiting. However, instead of challenging others with virtual money, I challenged myself with real cash.
In the spirit of this epic international long weekend in Montreal, Quebec, I gave myself a similar mission: a fun, 3-day weekend in Victoria, British Columbia on a budget.
Traveling from Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia on a Budget
There are a few ways to get to Victoria from Seattle, but none so budget- and time-friendly as Clipper Vacations’ three-hour ferry service. I’d purchased my ticket three months before my anticipated low-season travel date and selected the cheaper non-refundable option to get the best deal ($117USD) .
Day 1 (Friday)
I woke on the morning of my trip giddy with excitement about my first visit to Victoria. Taking the bus to get to Clipper Vacations’ downtown Seattle dock, I arrived with plenty of time to board the 8 am sailing ($2.50USD). It was a long holiday weekend, and the small waiting area was packed with more than 300 travelers eager to take advantage of the opportunity. Boarding went smoothly and the ferry left Seattle on time. In spite of my nervousness about getting seasick, the sailing aboard the Clipper was a smooth and scenic 3-hour ride all the way up Puget Sound through Admiralty Inlet and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the southeastern tip of Vancouver Island.
Arriving in a new city by water was exhilarating and Victoria’s Inner Harbour was a visual treat. The last vestiges of vibrant fall color still clung to the trees, moored sailboats bobbed gently in the water, and situated just one block from the ferry dock, the imposing British Columbia Parliament Buildings, with their neo-Baroque design and green oxidized copper domes, were a magnificent welcome to the city.
Although I’d hoped to tour the buildings, the weather forecast prompted an immediate change to my plans. The next two days promised rain, so I opted to tour The Butchart Gardens first instead of putting it off for another day. It wasn’t long before I boarded a nearby northbound BC Transit bus, purchasing a DayPass onboard for unlimited bus rides for the remainder of the day ($5.00CAD/$3.94USD-cash only).
The Butchart Gardens is one of Victoria’s don’t miss attractions, and even though they are reported to be at their most lovely in the spring and summer, they were still very pleasant in mid-November ($22.21CAD/$17.52USD). Fewer visitors meant more peaceful walks among the manicured paths in the famous Sunken Garden where the faint sounds of birdsong and falling water could be heard at every turn. Not to be outdone, the maples in the Japanese Garden flamed in bright vermillion, while narrow, bamboo-lined paths guided me through a serene space perfect for a contemplative stroll.
Without dinner plans, I splurged on high tea in the Gardens’ dining room ($45.05CAD/$35.53USD). The ambient heat of the fireplace and the hot lemongrass and ginger tea I selected were the perfect way to get warm after a few hours outdoors. Next came a warm ginger scone with cream and preserves, followed by scrumptious and aesthetically pleasing tiers of savory tarts and pies, cold sandwiches, and sweet treats. The verdict: a highly recommended experience worth the expense.
Hours later, I returned to downtown Victoria by bus and then walked to The Craigmyle, a charming guest house located in a quiet residential neighborhood where I’d booked a two-night stay ($206.48CAD/$162.84USD). The concierge directed me to the Rose Room, a bright and cosy bedroom I fell in love with on sight. Although it was still early, I relished the opportunity to burrow under the thick blanket, spend some time preparing for the days ahead, and get a good night’s sleep.
Day 2 (Saturday)
Breakfast at The Craigmyle was a satisfying spread with options to suit nearly every appetite. I selected and savored gluten-free bread with house-made raspberry preserves, fresh fruit, finely milled granola with Greek yogurt and strawberries, a hard-boiled egg, and–best of all–coffee. A few of the other guests enjoyed their meals nearby, and we chatted and exchanged our plans, offering advice on the best things to see and do in Victoria.
Dressing for a rainy forecast, I went in search of Ross Bay Cemetery, a turn-of-the-century graveyard where some of the city’s notables are buried. I made a quick detour through the Government House and Gardens, the official residence of the lieutenant governor of British Columbia. I spent nearly half an hour making a half-circuit of the walking path, admiring the flora and marveling at the tall, brightly-colored totem pole in the gardens.
The visit to Ross Bay Cemetery coincided with Remembrance Day in Canada making my stroll among the worn headstones and grave markers even more meaningful. The cemetery is bordered to the south by the Dallas Road pathway overlooking Victoria Harbour, where I continued a leisurely walk and met many friendly people walking or running with some of the friendliest dogs ever.
Passing the Mile 0 Marker and the adjacent Terry Fox statue and turning towards downtown, I stopped in at historic Murchie’s Fine Tea and Coffee then continued to Fisgard Street where the intricate and colorful Gate of Harmonious Interest welcomed me to Chinatown. How I missed spotting the famous Fan Tan Alley, I’ll never know.
At nearby Swans Hotel and Brewpub, I sat down to a surprisingly delicious and easy-on-the-budget soup and sandwich combo ($14.89CAD/$11.74USD). The meal provided fuel for further explorations in Market Square and window shopping a few boutiques on Johnson Street. Returning to Fort Street, my inner bibliophile found its version of heaven in Russell Books, three stories of floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with new and used books plus vintage and collectible volumes.
Up next was the imposing Craigdarroch Castle ($14.50CAD/$11.74USD), the baronial mansion of Victoria coal and railroad magnate Robert Dunsmuir. With free reign to explore the building’s five floors, I took my time perusing each room, envisioning early twentieth century Victorian life. My favorite part of the tour was Craigdarroch’s tower, where visitors can enjoy 270-degree views over Victoria. A short walk away from Craigdarroch was the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria ($13.00CAD/$10.27USD) where a collection of the works of Emily Carr–artist, author, and one of Victoria’s most famous daughters–was on display.
After returning to the guest house for short rest, I felt revived and–for lack of a better word–adventurous. Usually not one to sample nightlife, I walked half a mile to Stage Small Plates Wine Bar, an intimate, dimly-lit spot, where I nibbled on an appetizer, nursed a glass of pinot gris, and noshed on two “small” plates that were big enough to be entrées ($56.59CAD/$44.63USD). After the delicious meal, I crossed the street to the Belfry Theatre, hoping that tickets to the evening’s performance were still available. They weren’t, so I consoled myself with dessert at the nearby Fernwood Inn, before returning to my lodgings and to bed.
Day 3 (Sunday)
On my final day in Victoria, the rain that threatened all weekend finally came. Checking out of the guest house, I strapped on my backpack and wandered down Fort Street past the colorful Victorian homes, Tudor Revival storefronts on Antique Row, and tony shops and eateries. I should have visited the Victoria Public Market, but instead I explored the retail shops of The Bay Centre and the opulent interiors of the majestic Fairmont Empress Hotel.
Finally, I visited the Royal British Columbia Museum ($17.00CAD/$13.36USD) where I checked my backpack for a few hours for a small donation so I wouldn’t have to carry it through the exhibits ($3.00CAD/$2.36USD). The museum offered a broad overview of the natural, economical, cultural, and political forces that shaped the province, including a life-sized, walkable re-creation depicting what Victoria’s urban landscape might have looked like in the late 1800s. Even more stunning: the collection of towering totem poles in the First Peoples Gallery.
I would have liked for my final meal in Victoria to have been at local favorite Red Fish Blue Fish, but it was closed for the season. Wanting to stay close to the Inner Harbor before my Clipper sailing departed in a few hours, I decided on lunch at nearby Canadian chain restaurant The Old Spaghetti Factory. The restaurant offered warm, dry seating and a four-course lunch special for a mere song ($13.49CAD/$10.60USD).
The unyielding rain forced me to skip Beacon Hill Park, and so I proceeded to the shelter of the ferry dock to wait for departure. Soon, I was back on the water with the twinkling lights of the Inner Harbour receding in the ferry’s wake. The return trip to Seattle was uneventful as we returned in the dark, although I did purchase a refreshing sparkling water ($3.29USD). Three hours later, I was back in Seattle and, after going through customs, on a bus ($2.50USD) back to my apartment. What a whirlwind of a weekend!
Victoria, British Columbia on a Budget
From start to finish, the entire cost of my trip came in at just under $461 dollars, shy of the $500 budget I began with, including a splurge or two. If you’d like to visit Victoria from Seattle or Vancouver without spending a fortune it’s definitely doable. Here are a few tips.
Travel to Victoria during shoulder or low-season
Like many of the other beautiful cities of the Pacific Northwest, autumn and winter weather are often less than ideal but still beautiful in its own way. Be sure to pack a raincoat, layers, and waterproof shoes.
Book your travel and lodging in advance
By booking early, you get a greater range of options closer to downtown and more competitive rates. If possible, choose lodgings where a good breakfast is included–if you don’t mind the walk from downtown Victoria, I can’t recommend The Craigmyle enough.
Consider the exchange rate
If you’re coming from outside Canada, watch the exchange rate between Canadian dollars and the currency of your home country or region. During my trip, the U.S. dollar was performing favorably against the Canadian dollar; otherwise, it would have been much more challenging to fit similar experiences into my budget.
Choose transit for getting around
Riding BC Transit buses in Victoria was a good decision. The buses were clean, comfortable, mostly on time, and a good value. In addition, a bus ride makes an excellent opportunity for people-watching.