Visitors to Vancouver frequently hear about the beauty to be seen when traveling to Victoria and Vancouver Island when they arrive in Vancouver for a holiday, and it’s true! Victoria is a wonderful city to visit with many popular attractions, and Vancouver Island is a treasure trove of adventure!
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Whatever you’re looking to experience you’ll definitely find it on Vancouver Island!
Traveling to Victoria on Vancouver Island can be a challenging exercise! The BC Ferries system is complex and there are many choices to navigate. Which ferry route is the best for your trip? Is there a best time of day to travel? What can I see along the ferry route? What can I do aboard the ferry? Fear not! We’re going to answer all of these questions and more!
There are three routes to Vancouver Island from Vancouver. You can take a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, which is approximately 2 hours north of Victoria. When traveling to Victoria you can take a ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, which is approximately 30 minutes from Victoria. Lastly, you can take a ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point, approximately 20 minutes south of Nanaimo.
The routes to Nanaimo from Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen are best if your plans take you further up the Island from Victoria, such as to Tofino or Ucluelet (where there is some of the best surfing on the west coast!).
The ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is best if you’re planning to travel to Victoria. It’s the most widely serviced route with the biggest ferries. There are many other ferry routes navigating the coastal British Columbia waters, including ferries up the Sunshine Coast and to many of the Gulf Islands. Check out the BC Ferries website to find out more if you’re traveling to Victoria and beyond.
Best time to travel to Victoria
Hands down, the best time to travel to Victoria is when it’s most convenient to you!
You may have heard stories about hours-long waits for BC Ferries when you’re traveling to Victoria and you’re not wrong. There can be very long waits for ferries, especially on long weekends and in the busier summer months. However, one of the best kept secrets about traveling by BC Ferries is that you can make a car reservation on most sailings!
All you have to do is go to the BC Ferries website and click on “reserve now”. What follows is a very easy to navigate menu taking you through the reservations process. Note that you have to get to the terminal between 30 and 60 minutes before the sailing to use the reservation!
Insider tip: the longer in advance you make your reservation, the cheaper it is! Reservation fees are $10 if made more than 7 days in advance; $17 if made less than 7 days in advance; and $21 if made for same day travel.
You can also walk on the ferry and 99% of the time you’ll have no problems getting on. A note of caution though: there can be very long lines for walk-on’s during long-weekend heavy traffic times so I urge you to get to the terminal early during these peak periods.
Bonus tip: if you’re a motorcyclist, you pay half the fare of car drivers and never need a reservation! Simply arrive in time to board the vessel and you’re guaranteed to get on. If you arrive before boarding begins, motorcyclists will usually be directed to the front of the line and will board first.
Crossing time from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay is 1 hour and 35 minutes and 24 nautical miles when you’re traveling to Victoria. I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful this route is! Make sure you get a seat near the windows so don’t miss a single minute! The gorgeous west coast scenery will take your breath away. From narrow fjords to majestic open ocean, from inhabited islands to tiny abandoned gulf islands, you’ll see it all on this voyage.
I’ve taken this route 100’s of times over the years, and each time I marvel at how lucky I am to be in this beautiful part of the world. On my last crossing, I was very lucky to be seated at the bow of the boat when a pod of killer whales appeared, not 30 metres off the bow of the ship!
The consensus was that these killer whales were part of the southern resident killer whale group.
We were treated with many sights of dorsal fins breaching as the beautiful whales swam through the water. The great thing about BC Ferries crew is that a public announcement is made whenever a pod of whales is seen so that passengers can all get a glimpse of these marvelous creatures.
Onboard Experience when Traveling to Victoria
Most BC Ferries vessels offer extensive onboard amenities. As a seasoned BC Ferries traveler, I have my own routine when traveling to Victoria. I like to frequent the Seawest Lounge, where you can enjoy scenic coastal views in a relaxing and quiet environment. The fee to enter is around $12 and includes hot and cold beverages, fresh pastries, crudités, and a wide selection of magazines and newspapers.
I’ve also been known to enjoy the Pacific Buffet, which offers ocean-view dining with a buffet featuring a wide selection of hot and cold items as well as a delicious dessert bar.
Other amenities onboard most BC Ferries include a self-serve restaurant, coffee and snack bar and a gift shop. I must say the gift shops on BC Ferries are excellent. The buyer for these stores has excellent taste! I have found many gifts and other fine items in these stores over the years.
If you want to just rest and relax during the voyage, there are vast seating areas onboard offering comfortable chairs, many with access to charging ports for your electronic devices. Last but not least there is usually at least one children’s play area!
Traveling to Victoria on BC Ferries can be a fun and relaxing experience! Follow my tips, plan ahead, and most of all, enjoy the trip!
Have you been on BC Ferries?