Seattle to Victoria

Many people include a trip to Victoria from Seattle. It is only 86 miles by air from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria.  So it is a 20 minute flight by Horizon Air, a one-hour flight by Kenmore Air Floatplane, and at least a 3-5 hour undertaking by any other form of transportation. Generally it takes 4-6 hours to drive and take a ferry, depending on border wait times and driving distances.  The fastest way after flying is the Victoria Clipper high-speed catamaran.  It is passenger only, but bicyles are allowed if you pay a small extra fee in advance. If you are driving, your choices include: BC Ferries from Tsawwassen (SW of Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (~30 min, North of Victoria), the MV Coho (Black Ball Ferry Line) from Port Angeles, WA (2.5-3 hr NW of Seattle) to downtown Victoria; and Washington State Ferries from Anacortes (1 hr North of Seattle) to Sidney (~30 min North of Victoria). Victoria is full of bike trails and bike ways. The Visitor's Center on the Inner Harbour has bicycle maps for sale.  Victoria is a delightful city full of old English charm, plus the splendid Butchart Gardens.  If you wish to spend the night that would be the best as there is lots to do. Visit the Royal BC Museum or take a free tour of the Parliament Buildings.

Ferry

The most direct way to get from Seattle to Victoria is by Victoria Clipper, a 3-hour crossing from downtown Seattle to downtown Victoria. They also offer trips to the San Juan Islands. This is a passenger-only ferry. While that might sound like an obstacle, it's not really.  Nearly everything that is of interest to a tourist is in Victoria's downtown core. A convenient strategy is to take the Clipper to Victoria and then take a double-decker city tour. This is offered in conjunction with a trip to the wonderful Butchart Gardens. It is recommended that you visit the Gardens later in the afternoon when the crowds have thinned out.

You can check online for any internet specials

clippervacations.com

Via Port Angeles: (2.5-3 hours drive from Seattle) 

For those who want to travel by car, the  MV Coho (Black Ball Ferry Line) departs from Port Angeles for a 90-minute crossing to downtown Victoria. This option offers daily service up to 4 sailings a day (each way in Summer) to Victoria's Inner Harbour.  The ferry takes all types of vehicles (cars,RVs and commercial) as well as walk-on passengers and bicycles (paid parking lots nearby).  Hotel and Attraction packages (including Butchart Gardens and Double-decker tours) are offered on the web site for additional discounts. You can also buy discounted tickets onboard, along with duty free liquor, beer, cigarettes and perfume.  They have a small gift shop and cafeteria as well.

See also BC Ferries below.

Seaplane

For the truly adventurous there also is Kenmore Air , with many daily flights between Lake Union and Victoria's Inner Harbour, though it's pricier than any of the other options, it can be a good option for those who have limited time or want to spend less time in transit.  Note, however, that Kenmore Air has a luggage restriction of 25 lb per passenger. Do check Kenmore Air's website for online deals, as they often have special pricing on last minute flights or when there is just one or two seats left on a flight.   

Car

Most of the other options for getting to Victoria will involve considerable driving.  That's not always a bad thing, as there are wonderfully scenic routes to get you to these ferry locations.  The most frequent (and largest) boat is on BC Ferries, however it leaves from Tsawwassen which is across the Canadian border, so you have to deal with passports, the ferry lines and the border.

Another possibility is the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes WA to Sidney BC.  Anacortes is about 50 miles north of Seattle.  Allow 2 hours, Seattle to Anacortes.  Be at the ferry terminal at least one hour before departure, two if possible; better safe than sorry.  You can reserve a spot on this ferry.  There are two daily departures during the summer.  This ferry winds thru the San Juan Islands and is very scenic.  Limited food service is available.  There is a snack bar at the ferry dock and several restaurants nearby.

Another option is the M/V Coho , a private ferry from Port Angeles, Washington (also known as Black Ball Ferry Line).  To get there you would be driving on the Olympic Peninsula in the area of Hurricane Ridge, which is in Olympic National Park.  You could easily spend a day or two visiting Pt. Townsend (Victorian homes), Pt. Gamble, Sequim, and Port Angeles before heading to Victoria.  This ferry has food service plus a duty free shop, and a gift shop.   

 

Victoria to/from Vancouver

If you want to visit Vancouver it's also very easy. There is a bus service between downtown Victoria and downtown Vancouver.  It is called the BC Ferries Connector and is operated by Wilson's Transportation. Bus tickets must be prepaid online or by phone and include the ferry fare.  The bus will take you to the BC Ferries terminal and onto the ferry.  The terminal on the Victoria side is at Swartz Bay; the terminal on the Vancouver side is at Tsawwassen.   After crossing the Strait of Georgia, the ferry docks at the terminal and the bus proceeds onwards to downtown. If you are starting your trip right at the ferry terminal, you can reserve your bus ticket using the website's Onboard to Vancouver/Victoria option. For this service, you buy a walkon passenger ferry fare at the terminal and use your booked coach ticket once on board. More information at BC Ferries Connector .

For additional travel options between Victoria and Vancouver, consult Inside Vancouver : Getting from Vancouver to Victoria here at TripAdvisor. 

 

Seattle to Vancouver 

Car

If you have to take the car be prepared for long waits at the border. Waits of 60 minutes are not uncommon, but with the improvement of the Canadian dollar vs the American dollar, Canada is experiencing fewer car visits from the USA. Aside from the Blaine, Washington border (and on to the BC Ferries), the only other routes from the USA to Victoria are via the MV Coho (Port Angeles) and Washington State Ferries (Anacortes).

Here are a few hints to help you plan around these delays. First of all tune your radio to 1130 AM, a Canadian radio station that gives border crossing times every 9 minutes.  Alternatively, there's an electronic readerboard that shows the wait times at the various crossing points as you go through Bellingham on I-5 north (note that the Pacific Hwy crossing is referred to as SR 243) that shows all 4 crossings, and then another one as you approach Blaine that shows the main Peace Arch and truck crossing wait times.

There are four primary border crossing stations. They normally give the Canadian name vs the USA name so both are listed.

The first one will be Peace Arch-Blaine (the one on Interstate-5 if you made no turns).

The second will be Pacific Hwy-truck customs. This usually a shorter wait and even though it says trucks there are car lanes available. 

Another traffic issue to consider if you use one of these crossings is the reversible lane through the Massey Tunnel south of the Vancouver Airport.  Between 3-6 PM, all traffic heading into Vancouver on Hwy 99 is compressed into 1 lane going through the tunnel because traffic travelling south from Vancouver is given 3 lanes rather than the usual 2, and the resulting backups can delay you 30 minutes or longer.  So either leave Seattle by no later than noon or consider waiting until later in the evening (but then you'll have Seattle/Everett rush hour traffic to deal with).

If there is a 45 minute or longer wait at either and you want to avoid the hassle, get off I-5 in Bellingham. Look for the Mt. Baker exit. If you see the Bellis Fair Mall, you've gone too far, but that is another way to get to the same spot. You are going to head towards Lynden, which is a cute little town right on the border. It is primarily inhabited with people with Dutch ancestry and they have a lot of little shops with a Dutch motif. It's a good spot for lunch. There are two ways to get there. If you take the Bellis Fair exit take the Guide Meridian toward Lynden. If you take this route go into Lynden. To visit downtown turn right at the cemetery. Look for the signs to the border. If you take the Mt. Baker exit it is a lot more scenic. If you take the Mt. Baker Hwy exit you will see a series of shops and restaraunts. Get in the left lane and you will see a left turn lane. That will take you on Hannegan Road. You will be going down a little hill and you will be going straight north through some nice farm lands. You won't see a lot of signs but you can't go wrong. Finally you will get to a 4-way stop. That will be Front Street in beautiful downtown Lynden. Have lunch and look around. It's easy to get to the Lynden border crossing from downtown. You will cross at the Lynden-Aldergrove crossing. This crossing is almost never busy and it will probably take less than 10 minutes to enter Canada.  Its a good tradeoff versus waiting at Blaine for quite a long time.  It will however probably take you 30 minutes to get to Lynden, and you should be aware than when you cross the border you will hit Hwy 1 west into Vancouver.  From the border to Vancouver it will be approximately the same amount of time as crossing at Blaine. You will find it's a good tradeoff in time and sightseeing.  Listening to 1130 AM will give you the difference in wait time between Blaine-Peace Arch vs Lynden-Aldergrove.  

The fourth crossing east is at Sumas-Huntingdon which is only good if you are already at Mt. Baker, but it is another alternative.  Both of the latter are also good if you are planning to avoid Vancouver and are heading east into the Okanagan Valley or heading away from Vancouver.

Be aware that if you're a Canadian citizen, several car rental companies have warnings prohibiting renting a car in the USA and driving it into Canada.  Look at Alamo for more details.  On occasion, posters in the forum have suggested just not telling the customs officer, but according to Alamo your car may be impounded at Canada customs.  Be up front with your rental car agency.  NO similar restriction applies to USA citizens driving across the border, but make sure the cross border use is approved.  Here is the exact wording:                

Rental Vehicles & Insurance 
A valid rental contract is required in all circumstances, so when arriving at Customs, be prepared to show your rental contract.

 Here is a good website for historical border crossing wait times

http://www.wsdot.com/traffic/border/d...

Train

You also can use Amtrak to get from Seattle to Vancouver.  Note, however, that the Cascades train covers the scenic rail route only twice a day in each direction.  Amtrak's other offerings are actually buses that use the less scenic road route.      

One suggestion is to take the Amtrak train from Vancouver back to Seattle. In summer it stays light till late 9:30 or so and the train leaves at 6 pm and follows the water back to the border and into downtown Seattle.

The two trains a day run from each city at approximately 7:30 am and 7:00 pm. (check Amtrak for exact times).  The evening train out of Seattle is a continuation of the train from Portland, and therefore does not always leave on time. The other trains are usually on time leaving and within about 10 minutes of on-time arriving.

Amtrak has implemented a 25% discount by buying tickets 14 days or more in advance.  Summer weekends do sell out so its good to buy in advance.

More detailed information about Amtrak's evening train from Vancouver to Seattle is available on the TripAdvisor page entitled Inside Seattle : Getting Here from Vancouver by Train.

Bus

Quick Shuttle offers a bus service from Seatac Airport, downtown Seattle, and Bellingham Airport to Vancouver Airport, downtown Vancouver and Vancouver's cruise ship terminals.  You should be aware that Quick Shuttle makes several stop in downtown Vancouver and once across the border makes a few more making the one way trip to Seatac about 5 hrs.  While not always the fastest option, it is logistically well situated if you're leaving a Vancouver cruise and leaving via Seatac airport.  You should know that the downtown Seattle stop is near the Space Needle and not in the city center as in Vancouver.  Another option is Amtrak bus that runs at several times during the day before the evening train from Vancouver.  It makes no stops and stops in the Seattle King St Train Station which is in Pioneer Square on the south side of downtown Seattle. 

Bolt Bus is a new service offereing express bus routes from 'seattle to 'vancouver.  It picks up near the ''''Amtrak station in 'seattle and drops at the train station in 'vancouver..  Buses have free wi fi and only make one stop and at the border so a very quick express trip.

Crossing the border hints

 As of June 1, 2009 all USA citizens are required to have a passport for land crossings to Canada. Prepare accordingly.

While it is seldom a major issue, there are times when if one parent only is traveling with minor children the customs agents have the right to ask to see a notarized statement from the other parent giving them permission to leave the country.  Be prepared.

Also, Canada has different regulations on what is considered a felony and what is considered a 'weapon'.  A drunk driving conviction, while not a felony in the USA, is considered a felony in Canada and you can be denied entry for being convicted.  People with DUI convictions have been turned back more frequently in recent years as border security has been tightened with more jurisdictions sharing computerized information on travelers — and turning up long-ago offences.

Americans with DUI convictions who want to visit Canada can apply for what is called a "Minister's Approval of Rehabilitaton," which will give them permission to enter. You can get details on the Web page of the Canadian Consulate General in Seattle on what makes visitors inadmissible to Canada and what to do about it: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/informat...

In addition, mace, which is pretty common in the states, is considered carrying a weapon in Canada, so better leave that behind.

There are border crossing hints listed above, but if you do decide to drive and want to exchange any leftover Canadian currency, stopping at a Duty Free store is a good way to get rid of foreign coins.  They will probably exchange CDN coins for U.S. even without a purchase, but if you buy something they will take what you have then let you pay the balance in either currency.

Off-Site Links:

http://www.butchartgardens.com/
http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/  
http://www.victoriabc.ca/victoria/par...
http://www.clippervacations.com/ 
http://www.kenmoreair.com/  
http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/index...
http://www.cohoferry.com/  

http://www.whales.com/
http://www.amtrakcascades.com/  
http://www.quickcoach.com/