Considered one of the top twenty Downtowns in North America, Downtown Victoria is the business centre of Greater Victoria on Vancouver Island. The historic buildings, shops, streetscapes, restaurants, bars, hotels and the Inner Harbour all contribute to a vitality which is uniquely Victoria, British Columbia.
The city offers a myriad of services and attractions catered to its year-round flow of business people and visitors, both local and foreign. The picture-perfect Inner Harbour is surrounded by many of Victoria’s beautiful character buildings and premier attractions: the stately Empress Hotel, the BC provincial Legislative Buildings, museums and galleries. Conde’ Naste Traveler Magazine reader’s poll rated Victoria one of the top ten cities to visit in the world.
As romantic as Victoria may be, with its delightful natural harbour and the Olympic Mountains of Washington State on the horizon, the provincial capital of British Columbia is less a museum piece nowadays than it is a tourist mecca.
Established in 1843 by James Douglas as a Hudson’s Bay Company Fort, the City of Victoria has a proud history of British custom. Visitors pour in to view vast sculpted gardens and London-style double-decker buses, to shop for Irish linens and Harris tweeds, to sip afternoon tea, and to soak up what they believe is the last vestige of British imperialism in the Western Hemisphere.
First stop should be the Visitor Centre on Wharf Street, opposite the Empress Hotel. The well-staffed information centre dispenses useful information on the sights of the city and the things to do in and around Greater Victoria.
Location: Downtown Victoria is located on in the city of Victoria, the capital city of the Canadian province of British Columbia.
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Hanging Flower Baskets adorn the city’s lampposts in a celebration of scent and bright colours, symbolizing Victoria’s passion for gardening. Flowers bloom year round in Victoria, which makes exploring the outdoors here enjoyable in any season.
Shopping: For British woolens, suits, gifts, and sweets, the downtown area north of the Empress Hotel on Government Street is the place to shop. Look for English wool suits, the best of the Cowichan sweaters, and a very proper Victorian mix of fine pipes and tobaccos. Delicacies include the finest selection of specially-blended teas and coffees, picture-perfect chocolates in a Belgian style, almond brittle, black-currant pastilles, marzipan bars, and much more.
Antiques: Antique hunters should head east up Fort Street from Blanshard to Antique Row, and block after block of antique shops, with excellent 18th- and 19th-century antiques and collectibles, much of it British in origin: silver, military memorabilia, rare prints, fine china, antique furniture and Victorian bric-a-brac. Fort Street is also home to art galleries and auction houses that hold regularly scheduled auctions.
BC Legislature: If there’s a quintessential image of Victoria etched in the memory of all who visit the city, it must surely be British Columbia’s Legislative Buildings at night. Adorned with 3,333 light bulbs, it takes on a magical quality. Take a free tour of the Legislative Buildings and learn about history and government of British Columbia.
The ivy-covered Empress Hotel, overlooking Victoria’s Inner Harbour, has been a famous Victoria landmark since 1908. The Empress is known for serving afternoon tea in its elegant upper lobby, and for its beautiful public spaces, which are well worth seeing.
The Royal British Columbia Museum is one of the finest of its kind in the world, offering dramatic dioramas of natural landscapes and full-scale reconstructions of Victorian storefronts. The museum features outstanding displays on the province’s artifacts, documents, history and culture, as well as national and international feature exhibits. Permanent Galleries include the First Peoples, Modern History and Natural History Galleries.
The Maritime Museum of British Columbia allows visitors to explore BC’s seafaring history through more than 5,000 artifacts. Exhibits include the fort and the city of Victoria, explorers and pirates, whaling and fishing, shipbuilding and shipwrecks, ship models and paintings, the Coast Guard and Navy, and the courtroom once presided over by the notorious Judge Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie in the late 19th century. Note that this museum is closed until further notice.
The Robert Bateman Centre displays the definitive collection of Robert Bateman’s work. Through their collections, research, exhibits, and programming the centre encourages experiential learning, observation and dialogue, and inspires people of all ages to find their place in Nature. Experience the magic of nature through the eyes of Robert Bateman, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists and conservationists. His work brings attention to the beauty and destruction of our planet. The Robert Bateman Centre is located at 470 Belleville Street, in the Steamship Terminal on Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
The Union Club of B.C. building is a national historic site located on the corner of Gordon and Humboldt Streets in downtown Victoria, opposite the Empress Hotel. The magnificent beaux arts Italian Renaissance-style building was completed in 1912. From the outside, its beige columns and brick exterior stand tall, while its high-arched windows offer a glimpse into life as a member of the B.C. Union club.
Old Town Victoria is the oldest section of Victoria, built up between the 1860s and the 1890s. Explore Johnson Street and Chinatown, the galleries and sidewalk restaurants in Bastion Square, and historic Market Square, a restored 19th-century courtyard surrounded by three floors of charming heritage shops, restaurants, and offices.
Chinatown: The splendid lion-bedecked Gate of Harmonious Interest marks the entrance to Victoria’s small Chinatown, the second oldest in North America (after San Francisco). Once a ghetto for newcomers, Chinatown is now a heritage area, a vibrant commercial community, and an intriguing part of Victoria’s past and present. Visit the tiny shops and studios on Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada – only 90 centimetres wide at its narrowest.
Whale Watching: Victoria is the ultimate destination for whale watching adventures with Orca (Killer) Whale pods, Humpback Whales, and Minke Whales. The Inner Harbour is the departure point for year-round whale watching trips, harbour cruises, kayaking tours, and fishing and boating charters. Whale Watching in British Columbia.
Carriage Ride: Relax in a horse-drawn carriage and capture the romance of an era when tall ships docked in the Inner Harbour. Private carriage tours include Old Town, Chinatown, Beacon Hill Park, heritage homes, and the Dallas Road waterfront. Fabulous horsedrawn carriages have been delighting visitors with rides through Victoria for over 100 years!
Beacon Hill Park is an historic sanctuary in Downtown Victoria, with landscaped gardens, bridges, ponds, abundant wildlife, and spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains. A delightful quiet envelops this sunny spot, where walking trails link with neighbourhood streets that lead down into the busy hum of Victoria. Beacon Hill Park was the site of an ancient village inhabited for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the colonial settlers. In 1956, renowned Kwakwaka’wakw artist Mungo Martin and his team raised the world’s tallest free-standing totem pole in Beacon Hill Park (38.8 metres/128 feet).
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm is a hands-on petting zoo in Beacon Hill Park, enjoyed by kids and adults alike, with lots of baby animals, potbelly pigs, African pygmy goats, miniature horses, alpacas, rabbits and guinea pigs, a goat-petting area, and many other critters to meet and pet. Don’t miss the famous daily Goat Stampede at closing time! The farm is open seasonally.
The National Geographic IMAX Theatre will delight you with crystal clear images and 12,000 watts of wraparound IMAX Digital surround sound. Six stories high and 81 feet wide, the IMAX screen pulls you in and brings images to life, letting you feel like you’re really there. Located inside the Royal BC Museum.
Thunderbird Park, adjacent to the Royal BC Museum, displays an impressive collection of totem poles of the First Nations of coastal British Columbia. With the enriched perspective that such a visit will bring, you’ll look at the landscape with new interest and appreciation. The figures on the totems will no longer be static representations from a mythological age. Instead, combined with the presence of killer whales, seals, eagles, ravens, salmon, and other species that are as vibrant in the landscape today as they were in the past, you’ll enter a timeless realm and, in the process, discover a new place in nature for yourself.
Point Ellice House was acquired as a waterfront estate in 1867 by Gold Rush magistrate and commissioner Peter O’Reilly. An audiotape tour is offered and you’ll see an amazing collection of Victoriana in its original setting. High Tea, served until 4pm, is a favourite here!
Emily Carr House is the birthplace of Emily Carr, one of Canada’s first and best known independent artists and writers. Enter into the same ambiance her family knew in the 1870s, and see some of her early pottery and sculpture.
Helmcken House was built in 1852 for pioneer doctor John Helmcken, and is now the second oldest residence on its original site in BC. Dr. Helmcken’s library, medicine chest, and medical instruments make up one of Canada’s finest 19th-century medical collections. Fascinating audiotape tours will guide you through a house full of intriguing legacies.
St. Ann’s Academy is one of Victoria’s premier historical landmarks, surrounded by heritage orchards and gardens. Built by the Sisters of St. Ann in 1871, the former school and convent now houses provincial government offices. The historical chapel is open for viewing, displaying gilded and ornately hand-carved altars, delicate ceiling carvings, original oil paintings, and historic sculptures. Located at 835 Humboldt Street.
Victoria Bug Zoo: Discover the amazing world of insects and spiders at this unusual and fascinating zoo. Friendly and knowledgeable bug guides will introduce many unique creatures, reveal the exotic secrets of this hidden kingdom, and provide a safe animal-handling experience for the more adventurous.
Miniature World features over 80 fascinating miniature dioramas. Displays include the Great Canadian Railway, the world’s smallest operational sawmill, the wonderful world of the circus, the enchanted valley of castles, and miniature Doll Houses circa 1880 with over 50 rooms beautifully furnished in exquisite detail. Located on the north side of the Empress Hotel.
Diving: There’s plenty of diving action around Greater Victoria. Much of the diving activity is based out of Ogden Point in Downtown Victoria, with diving in the marine sanctuary right off the Ogden Point Breakwater.
Ogden Point: The breakwater at Ogden Point in James Bay, at nearly 800 metres long, extends into the ocean and offers a unique opportunity to walk out to sea and enjoy great views in all directions. Completed in 1916, and named after Peter Skeene Ogden, a noted 19th-century office of the Hudson’s Bay Company, the return walk takes about 40 minutes. With no railings on either side, the walkway is not recommended for those suffering from vertigo, and parents should monitor young children. Winter storms conditions demand additional caution.
Fisherman’s Wharf: Just around the corner from Victoria’s Inner Harbour and the Ogden Point cruise ship terminal, Fisherman’s Wharf is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. This unique marine destination offers food and ice cream kiosks, unique shops and eco-tour adventures in the heart of the working harbour. Wander down the docks with your lunch, buy seafood fresh off the boat, see moored pleasure vessels and float homes, and watch as fishing vessels unload their wares. Adventures include whale watching and wildlife-viewing tours, kayak rentals and fishing charters. Located at 1 Dallas Road in Victoria, a scenic 10-minute walk from downtown, Fisherman’s Wharf is serviced by the Victoria Harbour Ferry service from the Inner Harbour. www.fishermanswharfvictoria.com.
Festivals & Events: An exciting schedule of annual music and theatre festivals take place in Victoria throughout the year, including the Victoria Jazzfest International, the Shakespeare Festival, Victoria Rootsfest Music Festival, Symphony Splash, and the Victoria Fringe Festival. Downtown Victoria’s entertainment scene also offers a year-round choice of music, dance, and drama, including performances by Victoria’s own symphony, opera, theatre, and dance companies.