You’ve seen them. The turquoise-green, birdcage-like domes. The stately stone columns and walls. The iconic figures and statues. Holding court over the core of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, it’s nearly impossible to pay a visit to BC’s charming capital without spotting one of the city’s signature symbols – the Parliament Buildings.

However, you’re missing half of the grandeur of the 122-year-old, Romanesque-style building if you don’t venture inside. The best part? Admission is free! Get an inside peek at the architectural marvel with these 10 things you must-do at Victoria, BC’s Parliament Buildings.

1. Observe Debates from the Public Galleries

Want a peek at what the day-to-day activities inside the Parliament Buildings? Check when the Legislative Assembly is sitting and tuck behind the ornate ropes of the public galleries for a look at all the action during the debates. Watch as the Lieutenant Governor and the 85 elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) debate the pros and cons of each bill before deciding to support or reject the measure.

Or swing by during “Question Period,” for an intense 30-minute rapid-fire question and answer session as opposition members question the Premier and cabinet ministers about government plans. Be sure to arrive early to snag a seat, as this is one of the most popular times to catch parliamentary proceedings in real-time!

Surrounded by grand marble columns, the Legislative Chamber is as stunning as it is lively. Credit: Scazon
Surrounded by grand marble columns, the Legislative Chamber is as stunning as it is lively. Credit: Scazon

2. Soak in Stunning Stained Glass Windows

Decked out in an array of sparkling colors, more than 100 stained and leaded glass windows dot the interior walls of the Parliament Building. In search of one of the largest and dazzling displays? Bee-line it to the Diamond Jubilee Window in the Reception Hall. Crafted in celebration of the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, the window features BC’s first coat of arms and a flurry of flowers that represent each country in the United Kingdom.

If you’re up for an educational round of I-spy, stop by the building’s newest addition, the Golden Jubilee Window, created in honor of the 50th year of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. See if you can spot BC’s provincial symbols in the design, such as the Steller’s jay, Western Red Cedar, Pacific Salmon as well as pieces of jade included in the masterpiece.

Next, pop into the building’s staircases to find a kaleidoscopic collection of glass inscribed with quotes from famous writers as well as early philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato.

Discover the intricate design work used in the creation of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee window. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Discover the intricate design work used in the creation of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee window. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

3. Gaze Up at the Memorial Rotunda

One step into the grand structure and it’s hard to miss the Parliament Building’s lofty showstopper – the exquisite Memorial Rotunda in the heart of the building. With a soaring 100-foot ceiling, the octagonal renaissance-style dome distinguishes the Parliament Buildings from the many circular neoclassical domes used on American state and federal capital buildings.

An open circle adorned with marble, gilded walls and four paintings representing British Columbia’s first industries (farming, fishing, mining and forestry), it is the perfect blend of historic dignity and Old-World glamour.

(Insider tip: Don’t miss the two-meter tall statue of Captain George Vancouver, the explorer who is credited with first circumnavigating Vancouver Island, perched outside on the top of the dome. Made of beaten copper and plated with 14-carat gold, it is stunning in the afternoon sunlight).

The four images painted on the ceiling of the rotunda by George Southwell in the 1940s to celebrate the four primary industries of the province at the time. Credit: Marion Kenny
The four images painted on the ceiling of the rotunda by George Southwell in the 1940s to celebrate the four primary industries of the province at the time. Credit: Marion Kenny

4. Check Out the Shxwtitostel

Pop down to the Lower Rotunda to admire the hand-crafted “Shxwtitostel,” a traditional inland river canoe carved by The Honourable Steven Point, 28th Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, and Chief Tony Hunt, Hereditary Chief of the KwaGulth and master carver. Inspired after discovering the pre-carved red cedar log on Ross Bay Beach in Victoria, Point crafted the canoe to represent a bridge between First Nation peoples and people whose ancestors arrived in Victoria later.

Want to see the building’s signature dome from a different perspective? Parliamentary Education Officer, David S. Nicholls, explains, “Kids always enjoy coming into the Lower Rotunda and looking up to the top of the 100-foot ceiling of the main dome of the Parliament Buildings.”

In Halq’eméylem, this stunning canoe's name, Shxwtitostel means, “a safe place to cross the river.” Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
In Halq’eméylem, this stunning canoe’s name, Shxwtitostel means, “a safe place to cross the river.” Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

5. Curl up with a Book in the Legislative Library

Are you a burgeoning bibliophile or perhaps a history buff? Duck into Legislative Library and get lost in the stacks of historical books and best-selling novels that span the seven-floor library. With an eye-catching domed entrance crafted out of white marble and framed by stately pillars and balconies, this reader’s paradise is worth visiting for the aesthetics alone. Don’t miss the mythical creatures known as grotesques peering down from the ring of the dome.

Brush up on your BC history and legislature inside the Parliamentary Library. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Brush up on your BC history and legislature inside the Parliamentary Library. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

6. Let the Kiddos Meet Up with Notable Figures from BC’s Past

Time your visit right during summer (from the end of May to early September) and see the Parliamentary Players bring some of the province’s famous citizens back to life via period costumes and lively monologues. Be greeted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria along the front driveway of the Building or chat up the famed architect of the building, Francis Rattenbury. Don’t be surprised if you also stumble upon BC’s first female MLA, Mary Ellen Smith or famed BC gold miner, Nellie Cashman. You never know who you’ll encounter!

Looking for kid-friendly fun? Nicholls says, “Kids can ask at the Tour Desk for a copy of our I-Spy activity sheet, which gives them certain items to look for as they explore the building.”

Snap a selfie with a few of Victoria, BC's historical figures. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Snap a selfie with a few of Victoria, BC’s historical figures. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

7. Count the Lights on the Parliament Buildings

While the Parliament Buildings are absolutely majestic during the day, come nightfall, the buildings take on a whole new look. More than 3,600 lightbulbs on the outside of the buildings burst to life, illuminating and outlining the structure with a dramatic glow. A tradition that goes back to 1897, when 350 lights were placed on the building to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Originally only used for special occasions, they have been switched on nightly since 1965.

(Psst – Swing by at Christmastime when red and green bulbs get added to the mix. Plus, the province’s official Christmas tree – the giant, more than 100-foot-tall Sequoia on the front lawn – gets dressed with its own set of thousands of energy-efficient bulbs during the annual Christmas Lights Across Canada event.)

Thousands of lights illuminate the outside of the Parliament Buildings every evening. Credit: Nick Bentley
Thousands of lights illuminate the outside of the Parliament Buildings every evening. Credit: Nick Bentley

8. Explore the Back of the Property

If you came for the grand scale and proportion of the majestic Parliament Buildings, be sure to stay for the often over-looked treasures on the backside of the property. Listen to the bubbling sounds of the Centennial Fountain. Rimmed with a bronze gull, sea otter, eagle, raven, bear and wolf, the creatures are geographically symbolic of the colonies and territories that joined to form British Columbia.

Stroll along the walls of the Legislative Library to discover the 14 tall statues guarding the exterior. Ranging from the founder of Fort Victoria, Sir James Douglas to the first Chief Justice of British Columbia, Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, each one in some way connected to BC’s early history.

Wander behind the Parliament Buildings to catch sight of the Centennial Fountain. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Wander behind the Parliament Buildings to catch sight of the Centennial Fountain. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

9. Grab Breakfast or Lunch in the Parliamentary Dining Room

When you’re hungry for a bite, head down to the Parliamentary Dining Room for a tasty, breakfast or lunch prepared with fresh, local ingredients by their award-winning chef. Whether you nosh on daily specials such as the Schnitzel burger or an egg-centric breakfast concoction such as the huevos rancheros breakfast wrap, you can’t go wrong no matter what you choose! Combined with friendly staff and the chatter of regulars, it makes for a relaxing dining experience.

The Parliamentary Dining Room is a calm, oasis for casual dining. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
The Parliamentary Dining Room is a calm oasis for casual dining. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

10. Hop on a Guided Tour

Want to see every nook and cranny of the Parliament Buildings? Join one of the free, guided tours and the expert staff will fill you in on everything from the ins and outs of British Columbia’s parliamentary process to the history of the province. If it’s full-on immersion you’re after, treat yourself to the popular Seniors’ Tea and Tour. Indulge in a tasty, white-cloth breakfast in the Parliamentary Dining Room before following a member of the Parliamentary Players Program to transport you back in time on a guided tour of the cherished building.

Cozy up for a steaming cuppa with some of VIctoria's notable citizens frpm the past. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia
Cozy up for a steaming cuppa with some of VIctoria’s notable citizens from the past. Credit: The Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

If anything embodies Victoria, it is the historic Parliament Buildings. Whether you drop in to watch a debate, wander through the Premier’s sweetly-scented rose garden or opt to explore the grounds on your own, you’ll leave feeling like a real Parliamentarian.

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Feature Photo: Anne McKinnell