Culture and Creepy-Crawlies in Victoria, BC

From high culture to the things that give you the willies, Victoria is a great spot to do what you love.

All too often, Victoria gets written off as the capital of “newly-weds, nearly-deads, and flower beds.” While no one denies it has those things in abundance, it does a disservice to the city, and to yourself, if you think for a second that’s all Victoria has to offer.

VICTORIA, BC - British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, BC, Canada. (Photo by Deddeda Stemler)

Courtesy of Tourism Victoria/ Deddeda Stemler

Victorians are quick to point out the mild climate (they’re possibly a little smug about it) and year-round attraction of the place. It’s a great spot to travel with your family, offering something for everyone. In my house, there is a bit of compromise that goes into vacation activity planning. From my shrill insistence that everyone “try new things and maybe even learn something!” to my kids’ penchant for anything that makes me scream, finding things that suit us all isn’t always easy. Luckily Victoria is full of stuff that fits the bill. Here are some of my faves:

Treading the Boards: Victoria has a vibrant arts scene, and that includes live theatre. Take advantage of the town brimming with art and artists by taking in a show. The events calendar on the Tourism Victoria website is a great place to start. There are generally some family-friendly options, and if you have an evening without kids or if you are travelling with older kids, you might want to check out something a little more experimental or grown up. We enjoyed a showing of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons at the Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre. For 2019 they are featuring a slew of plays from around the world you might enjoy! The monthly cabarets put on by Atomic Vaudeville are always a fun night out,  and SKAM Theatre does some fun projects children will enjoy (for example Grown Ups Perform Plays Kids Wrote is just as hilarious as it sounds.) Other recommendations–some kid-friendly and others less so– include improvised performances at Paper Street Theatre,  and emerging artists’ work during the YOU Show series by Intrepid Theatre that runs from November to April.

High Tea: “My favourite thing about having guests is that I get to eat high tea!” explains my host at the Hotel Grand Pacific. I can’t find a lot to argue there. The English tradition of a late afternoon meal is one I can quickly get behind. Generally served on a tiered platter, high tea usually includes finger sandwiches, small savoury bites like vol-vents and mini-quiches, and a selection of petit-fours and other sweets. Served with strong tea, it is a treat to linger over. The most famous is the sumptuous spread at the Fairmont Empress, but there are other, more easy-on-the-budget options around town to discover. The West Coast spin at the Pacific Restaurant features bites with a focus on local ingredients (children’s menu available too!) and the hip Venus Sophia in China Town offers a yummy vegetarian option for the plant eaters in the group.

Young family admires wooly mammoth in Royal BC Museum

Courtesy of Tourism Victoria/Derek Ford

Royal B.C. Museum The sprawling museum encapsulates many aspects of British Columbian culture and history in interactive exhibits. Several displays are set up to give visitors the feeling of actually being in a different place: on board a ship, in a turn of the century town, in the rainforest, even in the path of an ice age mammoth. Until the end of December, the museum features the Egypt: Time of the Pharaohs exhibit. The travelling exhibition showcases lots of ancient Egyptian artefacts, making it a compromise on “culture” and “creepy” with plenty of after-life related displays. Perhaps the most surreal experience I’ve had in a museum was laying out under the barrel ceiling decorated with hieroglyphs. It was meant to mimic the sensation of being in a sarcophagus, and the goosebumps I got were enough to convince me that buried alive is anything I am interested in experiencing, thank-you-very-much.

Victoria Bug Zoo: Mention the word r-a-t, and I will go catatonic with fear, but spiders and bugs I can handle with the best of them. Good thing because the Victoria Bug Zoo is a hands-on kind of place. Located in downtown Victoria, walking distance from the Inner They have nearly 50 different species of insects. During the guided tours of the space, friendly bug wranglers will reach into the tanks and pull out a bug for you to hold, including giant stick bugs as big as your hand. It’s also home to Canada’s largest ant colony, scorpions that glow in the dark (those guys stay in their tank) and praying mantises that look like bug-eyed aliens straight out of a science fiction movie.

Courtesy of Tourism Victoria/Discover the Past Tours

Ghost tour Victoria is purported to be one of the most haunted cities in Canada, and if you want a really spine-tingling experience, a Ghostly Walk with Discover the Past tour fits the bill exactly.  Convincing storyteller guides lead you to the spots most associated with hauntings in the capital city,  with harrowing stories of tragedy and high drama (toned down a bit for audiences with children.) The committed sceptic in me was still happy to go along because the stories are based on historical happenings and it always fun to think “what if?” And I will admit I did get a few chills, especially after I found out our digs at the Fairmont Empress are supposedly a haven for otherworldly visitors. A sound sleep was elusive after the tour!

Do you look for cultural activities or full-on freaky factor when planning your vacation? No matter what side you choose, Victoria has it in spades!

Many thanks to Tourism Victoria for helping to host my visit. The opinions are, as ever, my own.

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