Coming to Victoria by car means parking. Parking rules are strict here, not always clear to visitors. So, beware.
From the Cities website:
Installation of Victoria's new on-street parking system is now complete. The City of Victoria has replaced 1,900 on-street parking meters with 257 computerized pay stations to make parking easier and more inviting for downtown visitors.
The new pay stations allow you to Pay 'N Go. Once you've paid for parking, there's no need to return to your car. You simply Pay 'N Go.
Victoria's new Pay 'N Go on-street parking is convenient and easy to use, allowing you to:
•Enter your space number and purchase time from any pay station downtown
•pay by coin, credit card or the new City parking card
•receive a parking receipt.
How to Use a Pay Station:
1.Park and note your space number.
2.At any pay station, enter your space number.
3.Choose your method of payment (coin, credit card or the new City parking card).
4.Purchase the parking time you require.
5.Print and collect your receipt - there's no need to return to your vehicle!
A pay station's main screen provides prompts throughout the transaction. Your receipt includes your parking space number and the date and time of expiry.
There are three downtown time zones: 20 minutes, 90 minutes and 120 minutes.
The on-street parking rates for the new pay stations and existing single head meters as of July 1, 2010 are as follows:
•25 cents for 6 minutes
•$1 for 24 minutes
•$2 for 48 minutes
•$3.75 for 90 minutes
You really don't need a car to explore Victoria as it's very small as far as cities go. You'd just park the car and walk everywhere. For example, the Parliament Building sits right next door to the Royal BC Museum, which is just across the street from the Empress Hotel, which sits across the street from the Inner Harbour and the whale watching companies. And if you head north of the Empress, Chinatown, Bastian Square and Market Square (major tourist shopping destinations) are all located 5 minute walks away from eachother.
However, Butchart Gardens is located a 30 minute drive north of Victoria so having a car may come in handy if you don't feel like taking public transit or you don't feel like taking one of the many tour buses that drives between Victoria and the gardens.
The only time having a car is preferred is if you plan to do trips outside of Victoria, or if you plan on exploring Vancouver Island beyond Victoria. Having a car is ideal if you're planning to go to Sooke, Bamfield, Parksville, or Tofino for example.
Whether or not you want to rent a car to get to Victoria should depend on how much money you're willing to spend, how much luggage you're taking with you, and how many people you're travelling with. If you're travelling to Victoria with a family, then it might make more sense paying for one car as opposed to paying for individual tickets for a bus or tour.
If you're not within driving distance like we are, you will have to either fly into Vancouver or Seattle. Then you will have to catch a ferry because Victoria is on an island. We drive up to Tsawassen (just south of Vancouver) and take a BC ferry to Sydney (BC ferries are like luxury liners compared to WA State Ferries). You could also take the Victoria Clipper from Seattle which is a passenger only catameran.
Victoria is small enough to see on foot (in fact its the best way) so park the car and start walking. You'll have to drive or take a bus out to Butchart Gardens though.