Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Inevitably, your Alaskan cruise ship will stop in at least one Canadian port. A popular locale is Victoria, British Columbia.
Welcome to Victoria, British Columbia
This capital city is actually located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, one of the largest islands in the Pacific. Located just over 60 miles from the mainland, Victoria has a distinct culture and unique history that truly sets it apart from the rest of Canada.
Named after Queen Victoria, the city dates back to 1843, making it one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest. The architecture and city design maintains that rich heritage with traditional, European designs as showcased by the British Columbia Parliament buildings and the world famous The Fairmont Empress Hotel, which still serves afternoon tea.
Victoria is also known as the “Garden City”, with many green public spaces; the city is as eco-friendly as they come. When your cruise ship docks in Ogden Point near the Inner Harbor, you may be tempted to spend time exploring the downtown area, but there is an even more impressive display just outside the city.
By traveling slightly beyond the port, you can visit The Butchart Gardens. This lush private sanctuary is home to one of the world’s most spectacular floral displays in the world.
History of The Butchart Gardens
What once started as a wife’s desire to improve a “pit” left by her husband has now become one of the most impressive and largest private gardens in the world. The gardens’ origins date back to the early 1900s when Robert and Jennie Butchart moved to Vancouver Island. The Butchart’s family business involved making cement, and they soon built a home near a large quarry that would provide the limestone needed to create this building material.
With the limestone deposits quickly exhausted, Jennie Butchart was determined to revive the natural surroundings, making something beautiful from what was now a desolate and empty space. Completed about a decade later, the garden was opened to the public and quickly gained popularity attracting tens of thousands of visitors a year. Today, this area is known as the Sunken Garden- the oldest and most extravagant garden on the premise.
Inside the Sunken Garden
While traveling the world, the Butcharts would regularly collect rare and exotic plants, trees, and shrubs, leading to the expansion and addition of multiple gardens during their lifetime. Today, there are a total of 6 unique gardens, as well as a collection of statues, ponds, and other areas of the grounds you can explore during a trip to the gardens.
Exploring The Butchart Gardens from a Cruise Ship
The Butchart Gardens are located about 14 miles from the cruise port. The easiest way to get to the gardens is to schedule a tour, which will provide you round trip transportation from the cruise port.
Our tour allotted us 90 minutes at the gardens, but you can definitely spend much longer here. We strongly recommend skipping combo tours and spending as much time as possible at the gardens to explore the entire grounds.
You Have Arrived at the Butchart Gardens
Also, depending on the time of year you sail, be mindful of the day light hours. Yes, the gardens were upgraded in the 1950s to provide lighting at night, but optimal appreciation (as well as photo ops) of the gardens are best in the daylight hours. We visited in September and felt like our explorations were a race against the setting sun!
As you enter The Butchart Gardens from the parking lot, you will be greeted by a large sign and a picture-worthy waterwheel. With many people congregating near the entrance, it can feel a bit crowded, but the crowds do disperse rather quickly as visitors begin to enter the gardens and meander through the various displays.
Waterwheel at the Entrance to the Gardens
Essentially, the area is a big circle, and if you head to the left upon entering, you will be guided to the main attraction, the Sunken Garden. While it may take a few minutes, you should be able to grab some fantastic selfies and wide shots of the Gardens from the lookout point on the staircase. Heading down into the gardens, you will find the Rose Fountain and the smaller Bog Garden, which looks exactly as it sounds.
A View of the Sunken Garden from the “Lookout Point”
Adjacent to this area, two authentic totem poles were added to the Gardens, commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the establishment of the Butchart Gardens and the Canadian government’s recognition of the Gardens as a National Historic Site.
Heading back toward the center of the property, you are greeted by the Rose Garden. This circular area, in the middle of the gardens, contains a variety of different roses. For those who want to learn a bit more, all of the roses are marked with variety, name, and the year they were planted at the gardens.
A Pond at the Japanese Garden
Perhaps one of the most magnificent displays in the entire area is the Japanese Garden. Designed by Isaburo Kishida, who had been commissioned by the city of Victoria to design some public parks in the early 1900s, this garden is the furthest away from the entrance and contains an intricate array of small ponds, streams, and bridges. This garden is a very tranquil and surreal place to sit and enjoy the artistry of the shrubs and trees delicately placed throughout the area.
The last “major” garden is located in your travels from the Japanese Garden back toward the parking lot. Built in 1926, the Butcharts transformed their tennis court into the Italian Garden. The center piece is a star-shaped fountain that used to house the Butchart’s ducks, which is now surrounded by annual flowers.
More than Just Gardens
Besides spending the day roaming the grounds and admiring the beauty, you can also indulge in other activities and events, depending on when you visit.
Following the path from the Sunken Garden into the estate, you will be greeted by a large lawn area, which regularly holds musical performances during the summer. Also, you have the option to have a picnic in the park, enjoying the wide open lawn, or sitting in covered, reserved dining areas.
In 2009, a children’s pavilion with a wooden carousel was installed. This family friendly attraction boasts 30 hand-carved carousal horses and runs throughout the day so visitors can enjoy a ride at their leisure (there is an additional cost).
The Butchart’s Former Home Now Includes Multiple Restaurants and an Adajcent Gift Shop
A coffee shop and several dining venues are also open, seasonally, offering a variety of food options from casual and fine dining experiences. For a regal experience, both afternoon tea and high tea are offered in the dining room, which was once part of the original Butchart home.
Of course, there is also a gift shop, where the Princess found a way for us to buy a few more souvenirs during our tour of the Gardens.
Traveling Beyond the Port
Victoria, British Columbia is a beautiful city. You can marvel at the city landscapes or spend time touring some of the historic neighborhoods and buildings. But, we suggest that you venture beyond the port!
By visiting The Butchart Gardens, you will have the opportunity to explore diverse plant life and witness some of the most meticulous and well landscaped gardens found anywhere in the world. The displays are regularly updated with seasonal flowers, so there is always something unique and different to see.
Once you have experienced The Butchart Gardens, your flower pots and mulch beds back home may seem a bit inferior.