The Butchart Gardens is a unique sight to see in Victoria, British Columbia. Over a century old, the gardens represent what could seem like a more modern concept: repurposing former industrial land and transforming it into a thing of beauty.
Welcoming visitors for the better part of the 20th century, Butchart Gardens remains one of the top sights in the Victoria area. Whether you like architecture, history, nature or if you’re a fan of gardening, a trip to these storied gardens is well worth your time.
My friends and I recently visited Butchart Gardens on a trip from Seattle and I liked them so much that I thought I’d share what I have learned about them with you.
Here’s a handy guide to help you plan your visit — plus some extra things to do in the attractive city of Victoria, as well as accommodation options.
Where Are The Butchart Gardens?
You’ll find the Butchart Gardens in British Columbia. More specifically, you’ll find them near the city of Victoria, capital of British Columbia, which lies within Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island.
The exact location is on the Saanich Inlet, where the sea is mostly calm and the bay sheltered. If you visit in the summer or spring months you may actually even be able to observe humpback whales and orcas from there!
The Butchart Gardens are ideal to visit on day trips from Victoria, but they are also an easy day trip destination from Vancouver and Seattle and are perfect for a fun family day out.
Butchart Gardens History
Butchart Gardens were dreamt up by Jennie Butchart in the early 20th century. Jennie and her husband, Robert Pim Butchart, had founded a limestone quarry in the area, but in 1909, when all of the limestone had been depleted, the pair wondered what to do with the empty space.
And so, in 1912, Jennie decided to start planting a sunken garden in the area where the quarry had once existed. The initial garden was completed in 1921, and the couple began admitting visitors to their new garden project. They named their house Benvenuto (which means “welcome” in Italian).
But further landscaping and planting continued over the decade. The tennis courts became an Italian garden in 1926 and then later, in 1929, the former kitchen garden was transformed into a rose garden.
Today the Butchart Gardens are designated a National Historic Site of Canada. Over a million visitors pass through the gates of the gardens each year. Amazingly, several generations later, the gardens are still owned by the Butchart family.
Is Visiting Butchart Gardens Worth It?
Visiting the Butchart Gardens is definitely worth your time if you’re in the area. Known around the world, this manicured green space covers an extensive area and includes a range of different gardens.
There’s the Mediterranean Garden, the Rose Garden and the Japanese Garden, among others. No matter what time of year you go, there’s always something interesting to look at. It’s a peaceful place to spend a few hours wandering around.
If you are spending time in Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle or even the Olympic Peninsula, you really should set up some time to visit these historic gardens.
Butchart Gardens Main Sights
To help you navigate your way around the best sights in the Butchart Gardens, here’s some information about the highlights that you can expect at this unique attraction.
The garden that started it all. It was here in 1909 that Jennie Butchart began to create what would become this well-known treasure of Canadian gardens.
Completed in 1921, the original quarry has been cleverly used in the creation of the Sunken Garden, with walls now covered in greenery, winding paths and even a lookout point.
The Ross Fountain is the work of Jennie Butchart’s grandson, Robert Ian Ross. He installed this landmark fountain in the gardens in 1964, marking the garden’s 60th anniversary.
The fountain is edged by an ever-changing carpet of seasonal flowers. It’s particularly attractive when it’s illuminated on special occasions, as the water dances to the enchanting lights.
The Japanese Garden at the Butchart Gardens is a particularly interesting slice of this horticultural sight. It was designed by a Japanese garden designer, Isaburo Kishida, who hailed from Yokohama. Kishida, who was 65 years old at the time, was employed by the Butchart family and travelled to Canada in 1907.
His design was so well received that Kishida’s work became in high demand, and so he travelled around the region installing Japanese gardens.
The Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens remains an impressive and tranquil space. It’s planted with crowds of rhododendrons and azaleas and is laced with pretty streams. Visitors enter through a traditional torii gate, separating this magical space from the rest of the gardens.
Constructed on the top of what was once the tennis court of Butcharts’ home, the Italian Garden is a stylish, formal arrangement. It’s decorated with two ponds, one of which was designed for Robert Pim Butchart (this was so he could keep his collection of ducks happy).
The Italian Garden is planted with around 22,000 bulbs, representing 85 varieties of plants. One of the best things about the Italian Garden is that it’s the location of an ice cream stand!
One of the two ponds in the Italian Garden, Star Pond was originally called “the Duck Pond”. Robert designed it himself in 1928, after being inspired by seeing a star-shaped duck pond while traveling in Europe with his wife.
Robert, who loved ducks, was particularly fond of this intriguingly shaped water feature. In fact, he wrote:
This [duck] pond and surroundings will be one of the chief attractions of the gardens [and] is situated from the house just beyond the formal [Italian] garden. The pond is of nice design and planting and is for Wood, Mandarin, Mallard and other prettily plumaged ducks.Robert Pim Butchart
The elegant Rose Garden is one of the star attractions at Butchart Gardens. Home to around 2,500 different types of roses, the garden begins to bloom in early summer and remains colorful until the end of autumn.
Strolling through the paths, the aroma of the roses is unmissable — it’s like walking through a field of natural perfume.
The Butchart Gardens comes complete not just with plants, but with a carousel too. This charming old-school carousel may look the part, but it is actually a later addition, having arrived in 2009.
One claim to fame is being the only carousel on the whole of Vancouver Island. The charming carousel is decorated with colorful patterns and hand-painted animals to ride. There’s a small fee for the ride.
For those who arrive at Butchart Gardens by boat or kayak, Butchart Cove and its wharf will be their first port of call. This attractive waterside area features a lookout, where you can enjoy soaking up views of the gardens and the natural scenery beyond.
Dragon Fountain is one of the more recent additions to Butchart Gardens. It was gifted to the city of Victoria from its sister city: Suzhou, China. The fountain consists of a dramatically posed bronze dragon, which spouts water from its mouth.
After dark, a series of lights make an even more attractive scene.
Situated close to the Japanese Garden, the Sturgeon Fountain is another interesting water feature. Here you’ll see three intertwined bronze sturgeon that appear as if they’re diving into the water; in the middle of them is an impressive jet of water that sprays into the air.
Practical Guide To Visit Butchart Gardens
Butchart Gardens tickets
Butchart Gardens tickets price varies depending on the time of year you visit, being cheaper in the low season and more expensive in the peak season. There also are different rates for adults, youth (aged between 13 and 18) and children between 5 and 12 year of age.
You don’t really need to buy tickets online before visiting – we got them at the door when we arrived but we visited in mid-September. You may want to consider getting tickets online in the busier spring and summer season. However, keep in mind that tickets bought online via the official website are not refundable.
The only time of year for which you really need to get tickets in advance is if you want to visit Butchart Gardens at Christmas, between December 1 and January 6. At that time of year, you will need a timed entrance ticket which you must book ahead of your visit.
For more information Butchart Gardens tickets to Butchart Gardens, check out the official site.
Butchart Gardens hours
Much like tickets, Butchart Gardens hours vary depending on the season, with longer opening hours during the Christmas period as well as during the summer and at weekends.
For detailed information about Butchart Gardens hours make sure to visit the official website.
Butchart Gardens are closed on December 25.
How long does it take to visit the Butchart Gardens?
You can spend any amount of time you want to, really, but I would recommend at least 4 hours – that’s how long my friends and I took to explore. There’s a lot to see here among the water features and manicured gardens. You’ll even find eateries and a fantastic souvenir shop to browse, so you won’t ever get bored!
Best time to visit Butchart Gardens
You can visit Butchart Gardens all year round. But it’s the summer season when the gardens are at their prime, with the rose garden in full bloom. This is also when the gardens are at their busiest, however. We visited on a Sunday in mid September and found the Butchart Gardens to be busy, but not crowded. It was pleasant.
On Saturday evenings in July and August, the gardens host firework displays.
Butchart Gardens at Christmas are absolutely stunning, as seasonal light displays and illuminations decorate the sculptures and pathways. The most beautiful display if by far the 12 Days of Christmas. This takes place from December 1 through to January 6.
Should you get a guide to visit Butchart Gardens?
We did not hire a guide to explore Butchart Gardens and we honestly did not feel like we needed one. The trails are very clearly indicated, so you won’t get lost.
Having said that, these are historical gardens and a guide is a good idea if you feel like you want have a more in-depth experience and a better understanding of how they were created.
How to get from Victoria to Butchart Gardens
Victoria is the easiest access point to Butchart Gardens.
The gardens are located around a 15-minute drive from Victoria Airport or approximately 30 minutes from Downtown Victoria. You can find car rental companies at the airport, otherwise there are plenty of cabs you can hail downtown. Uber works in Victoria too.
There’s a CVS shuttle bus to Butchart Gardens that leaves from Downtown Victoria and takes visitors directly to Butchart Gardens. The shuttle bus departs from the Empress Hotel and Government Street. The driver will shower you with information about the gardens during the drive, but once there you will explore on your own and have about 4 hours inside the gardens.
You don’t actually have to book shuttle bus from Victoria to Butchart Gardens, but if you want to do so, check out the prices and timings of the shuttle to Butchart Gardens on GetYourGuide.
By public transport
This is the cheapest but also the slowest way of getting from Victoria to Butchart Gardens as the ride takes around one hour. Bus route 75 travels from Belleville St at Government St (located right beside the Fairmont Empress Hotel) goes along Douglas Street where it picks up more travelers.
Keep in mind that not all 75 buses go all the way to the Butchart Gardens, so before getting on the driver!
Guided tours from Victoria
If you are staying in There are a few excellent guided tour options from Victoria.
Private Victoria City Tour and Butchart Gardens – this tour is an excellent option if you don’t want to bother with transportation, and it also includes a one hour tour of Victoria. As it is a private tour, you will get the best price point if you are traveling with a few friends. The tour includes pick up from and drop off back to your hotel in Victoria.
Christmas in Victoria and the Butchart Gardens – If you happen to be in Victoria during the Christmas holidays, this is definitely a great tour option. The tour includes transportation to the Butchart Gardens where you can admire the 12 Days of Christmas display, and a guided tour of Downtown Victoria for more Christmas lights. Admission to the gardens is not actually included.
How to get to Butchart Gardens from Vancouver
To get to Butchart Gardens from Vancouver, you will first have to take the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria. You have several combination options to get from Vancouver to Victoria and then to Butchart Gardens.
By boat and bus
The Vancouver – Victoria ferry leaves from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and takes around 1.5 hours to get to Vancouver Island. Once there, you then have to make your way to Butchart Gardens, which involves taking the number 81 bus from Swartz Bay (just outside the ferry terminal) — this will take you directly to the gardens.
You could also hail an Uber or taxi from the ferry terminal.
By boat and car
The other option is to self-drive. That means driving your car onto the car ferry from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. After this, you simply drive around 35 minutes from Swartz Bay to Butchart Gardens.
If you have the budget to splurge, you also have the option of taking the seaplane from Vancouver to Victoria. There are some great deals around that offer flights as well as local transport and admission to the gardens, for a completely hassle free day.
This seaplane from Vancouver to Victoria with a tour of Butchart Gardens is one of the best tour options. It gives you plenty of time to explore the gardens and you will also get a chance to wander around Victoria.
Day trips to Butchart Gardens from Vancouver
If you are staying in Vancouver, you may want to make the most of your time exploring Butchart Gardens and book a hassle free full day day tour from Vancouver. This means you won’t have to worry about traveling to and from the gardens, plus you’ll get a helpful guide telling you all there is to know about this green space.
Below are some excellent options:
From Vancouver: Victoria Day Trip By Seaplane – Set off on an adventure from Vancouver Harbour as you take off on a seaplane bound for Victoria. Landing at Victoria’s Inner Harbour, you’ll be taken on a bus tour to Butchart Gardens on a full-day excursion. You’ll then return via seaplane, flying over the Gulf Islands for some stunning scenery. Keep in mind this tour does not offer guiding services inside the gardens.
Vancouver to Victoria and Butchart Gardens – Leaving Vancouver behind, you’ll be taken on a bus and then a ferry, to the British Columbia capital of Victoria. Take some time to soak up the highlights of the city, and then it’s time to independently explore the beauty of Butchart Gardens.
Full-Day Victoria & Butchart Gardens Tour – Enjoy some time strolling among the colorful flower displays and sculpted spaces of Butchart Gardens on this comprehensive tour. You’ll be whisked from Vancouver by minibus, hop on the ferry, and be in the gardens with plenty of time to explore. Again, you will be exploring the gardens on your own.
Victoria and Butchart Gardens Christmas Tour – Summer may be peak bloom time at the gardens, but Christmas is the most magical time of year to visit Butchart Gardens. This tour takes you to see the festive decorations around Victoria, including Government Street and Chinatown, before heading off to experience Butchart Gardens illuminated for the festive season.
How to get to Butchart Gardens from Seattle
In order to get to Butchart Gardens from Seattle, you will first have to make your way from Seattle to Victoria. You have several ways of doing that.
By boat and shuttle
There is no car ferry from Seattle to Victoria. For that you would have to drive to Port Angeles, which is about 2.5 hours away – so it can be quite time consuming, especially with heavy traffic. You will be better off taking the passenger ferry from downtown.
The Seattle – Victoria ferry is called the Clipper. Departing from Pier 69 in Downtown Seattle, the ferry takes around 3 hours to reach Victoria. From there, I’d recommend taking a taxi or Uber (Uber works in Vancouver Island). This is actually what we did and we found it pretty convenient.
The Clipper Ferry from Seattle to Victoria also offers several packages. You have the option of the simplest Clipper Ferry package which includes just the ferry ride, or a package that combines the cost of a ticket with a shuttle ride and admission to Butchart Gardens.
You have several class options when booking the Clipper, and you can pick your seats. The boat ride is fairly scenic as you get to see the beautiful landscape. When we traveled the sea was super calm, but just in case you should take some dramamine or other motion sickness tablets with you.
Don’t forget your passport if you are traveling to Victoria from Seattle! Remember you’ll be crossing the border and going through customs both on the way to Victoria and back again.
Seaplane from Seattle to Victoria
Several companies operate the seaplane from Seattle to Victoria. Kenmore Air is one of the most reputable ones. The seaplane leaves from Lake Union in Seattle and lands in Victoria. You will have to make your own way from the seaplane terminal close to the Parliament Building – there usually are taxis and uber in the area.
Traveling to Seattle? Make sure to also read my post The Best Places To Visit In Seattle.
Where to eat at Butchart Gardens
There’s a surprising number of places to get a snack or a full meal when you’re discovering the beauty of Butchart Gardens.
Aptly situated among the floral displays of the Italian Garden, this gelateria serves up a tempting selection of 12 flavors that have been inspired by local ingredients. The team behind this delicious eatery travelled to Italy to learn the craft of making gelato, so you can expect top quality sweet treats. I tried the lemon sorbet and it was actually super creamy (oh, and vegan!).
When you need your caffeine fix during your trip to Butchart Gardens, look no further than the Coffee Shop. Here you can enjoy a hot (or cold) beverage alongside a selection of sweet snacks.
Blue Poppy Restaurant
This casual eatery is a self-styled cafeteria where you can pick up a good selection of dishes that are ideal for lunch. There are plenty of sandwiches to pick from, some soups, salads and sweets too, and a good choice of desserts. It’s quick, easy and comforting.
The Dining Room Restaurant
The atmosphere in the Dining Room harks back to the early 20th century, when Jennie Butchart would serve her guests delicious afternoon tea. There are also lunch and dinner options available, so it’s perfect if you want to eat before or after visiting the gardens.
Other useful information
Situated in Waterwheel Square, the Visitors Center is the place to start your trip to Butchart Gardens. Here you can pick up a map (available in 22 languages), and have a chat with one of the friendly staff members. You can also store luggage, rent a push-chair or a wheelchair,
When we visited, we noticed several disabled visitors roaming around the gardens. Efforts have been made to ensure that Butchart Gardens are accessible for all, but the gardens are over 100 years old. That means some of the pathways can be a bit narrow, and there are several staircases situated around the gardens.
Toilets can be found at the Visitor Center and in the carpark. You’ll also find toilets within the gardens themselves, specifically near the Rose Carousel.
Called the Seed & Gift Store, the souvenir shop at Butchart Gardens is something to behold. I would say it’s quite the perfect souvenir shop – I certainly went shopaholic mode one when visiting.
Set over 7,000 square feet, here you can find several exclusive items to take home and remember your trip to the gardens, from art and accessories to seeds so you can use to start your own garden!
If you are traveling back to Seattle, staff at the counter will seal your seeds to make sure you can swiftly go through customs.
Additional Things To Do In Victoria
As the capital of British Columbia, there are a whole lot of cultural sites spread across the city that make it well worth spending more time here. If you have a chance, definitely plan two nights in Victoria so visit the Butchart Gardens and other attractions in the city.
Have afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel
This is probably the most popular thing to do in Victoria! It’s the perfect way of ending your day after exploring the gardens and it will transport you back in time and to “good old England.”
The Fairmont Empress Hotel has been serving up sophisticated afternoon tea for 115 years. Here you can take your seat in the lobby lounge, surrounded by turn-of-the-century decor and furnishings, while you tuck into sumptuous scones topped with homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream — all washed down with specialty loose-leaf teas.
Or you could opt for champagne if you want to elevate proceedings!
Wander around Downtown Victoria
With its grand, historic architecture, Downtown Victoria is an attractive place to stroll around.
One of the best ways to see in a short space of time is this half-day hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus tour. The tour is narrated, so you get a better understanding of what you’re seeing, too.
You can hop on at the Fairmont Empress Hotel and then ride the route around town, stopping off at Chinatown, Bastion Square, Fisherman’s Wharf and Beacon Hill Park to name just a few (there are 15 different stops in total).
You could also consider this 2-hour bike tour of Victoria that goes to the most important historical sites in the city, including Chinatown, Craigdarroch Castle, and Beacon Hill Park.
Explore Fisherman’s Wharf
Set close to the Inner Harbor, the Fisherman’s Wharf area is a still-working wharf that’s also home to plenty of entertainment for visitors, too — think shops, restaurants and colorful houseboats. If you’re lucky you may even be able to spot a harbor seal bobbing around!
Whale watching is definitely one of the best things to do in Victoria. When it’s season, tours depart regularly from the tourist harbor to take visitors to look for for orcas and humpback whales.
I recommend this 3-hours whale watching tour on covered boat which includes hotel pick up and drop off and a marine guide to help you in spotting these marine creatures.
Visit Craigdarroch and Hatley Castles
There are two beautiful castles close to Victoria, which are perfect places to visit to learn a bit more about the city’s history.
At Hatley Castle you can only explore the beautiful park around it. Hatley Castle was completed in 1908 and for two years between 1941 until 1943 it was used as a dormitory and mess hall for cadets and staff officers at Royal Roads Military College. The Castle is now where the administrative center of the Royal Roads University is located.
The other, Craigdarroch Castle, was built by coal baron Robert Dunsmuir at the end of the 19th century, during the reign of Queen Victoria. It is now a National Historic Site of Canada. The castle can be explored for a fee and it is part of the Victoria hop-on hop-off bus circuit.
You may want to consider this Craigdarroch Castle and Hop-On Hop-Off Combo Tour which includes admission to the castle and a hop-on hop-off tour of Victoria with several stops, including at the Empress Hotel, Chinatown, the Fisherman’s Wharf, Beacon Hill Park and Christ Church Cathedral.
Where To Stay In Victoria
There are some excellent places to stay in Victoria, though be prepared as it isn’t exactly a cheap destination. Here’s a selection of the best options for any price range.
Luxury: Fairmont Empress Hotel
The long-established Fairmont Empress Hotel (it opened in 1908) is a 4-star gem in Victoria’s collection of hotels, and a National Historic Site in its own right. Also known as “Castle on the Coast”, here you can choose one of the 431 sophisticated guest rooms and suites.
Each room has been designed elegantly and features classic, antique furniture and modern amenities. Here you’ll find a bar, restaurant and spa to treat yourself during a stay.
Mid-range: Abigail’s Hotel
For a slice of historic accommodation in Victoria without breaking the bank, take note of Abigail’s Hotel. Set within a house built in 1930, this adults-only property features antique decor throughout, from the classically decorated bathrooms to the four-poster beds and cosy open fireplace in the shared lounge.
There’s a delicious breakfast served each morning to set you up for a day of exploring Victoria.
Budget: The Craigmyle
The Craigmyle is a heritage property on a leafy street in Victoria. Each room has been individually decorated, meaning no two rooms are the same; some have amazing views of Craigdarroch Castle.
Breakfast is available each morning, but some rooms come with kitchenettes, while there’s also a shared guest kitchen to help keep accommodation costs low.