Victoria, BC, Canada

The historic core of Victoria, the capital city of British Colombia, is picturesque, charming and a wonderful place to vacation. This travel guide is a walking tour of the Inner Harbour waterfront, Old Commercial District and Chinatown. Then, you will be whisked off to visit a few remote yet must-see points of interest.

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1 Brief History of Victoria, Canada

You are entering the Inner Harbour of Vancouver Island. Straight ahead is the skyline of Victoria. Others have arrived earlier. This was the territory of the Lekwungen People long before the first Europeans sailed by in the late 18th century. Settlement began as a fur trading post in 1843. The population swelled during a gold rush 15 years later. In 1852, the town was named after the 33 year old reigning queen of the United Kingdom. Victoria became a city in 1862 and the capital of Canada’s westernmost province in 1871. It further prospered when connected to the interconnectional railway and thrived as a sheltered seaport along the Pacific coast. All of this happened within the first five decades. See what you’ve missed? Don’t worry. Victoria is very proud of their early history and eager to tell their stories as you discover Old Town.

Victoria Harbour, Victoria, Canada

2 Transportation from Washington State to Victoria, Canada

The Juan de Fuca Strait is an international boarder between Canada and the United States. This waterway is narrow – only 12 to 25 miles wide – so it is an ideal way for commuters and tourists to travel between the countries. The M/V Coho is a passenger and auto ferry. The Black Ball Line vessel makes daily, 90 minute trips between Port Angeles in northern Washington State and Victoria. If originating from Seattle, consider taking the Victoria Clipper Ferry (about a three hour ride) or a 45 minute flight on a seaplane.

470 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1W9, Canada

3 Your Walking Tour of Victoria, Canada Starts Here

Center city Victoria is small (less than 90,000 people), safe, scenic and very easy to explore on foot. A great place to start is where Belleville Street (on the right) meets Government Street (in the background). This intersection is a showcase of major Victoria landmarks. Three were designed by prominent architect Francis Rattenbury. In the foreground is the Canadian Pacific Railway Steamship Terminal (1924). The vine-covered building is the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel (1908). And off camera on the right are the Parliament Buildings (1898). These are just an appetizer. From here, a waterfront promenade (Harbour Causeway) directs you along the Inner Harbour toward additional city highlights. This travel guide will point you along step by step.

470 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1W9, Canada

4 Description of Parliament Buildings in Victoria, Canada

Since 1898, the British Columbia Parliament Buildings have been positioned on 12.5 acres in the southeast corner of the Inner Harbour. They are stunning! The 500 foot long, Neo-Baroque façade is clad with grey andesite stone from Haddington Island in British Columbia. There are 33 copper domes. The central one rises 100 feet and is capped with a gilded statue of George Vancouver. He chartered the Pacific Ocean coastline during a 1791-1795 voyage while a captain in the Royal Navy. Both the island where Victoria is located and the province’s largest city bear his name. On the grounds of “The Leg” (local nickname for Legislature Buildings) are many statues, memorials and gorgeous flower beds.

501 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4, Canada

5 Tours inside Parliament Buildings in Victoria, Canada

Free tours of the Parliament Buildings are available all year, both as guided and self-guide options. Allow 45 to 60 minutes. You will be impressed by the grand halls and staircase, the legislative chamber and the abundance of stained glass. Two of the windows celebrate the longest reigning queens of the United Kingdom: the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (1897) and the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (2002). Equally superb is the Memorial Rotunda. This internal view of the building’s largest dome is encircled with marble and 23 carat gold leaf. In the four corners are murals painted by George H. Southwell. Starting at the upper left and moving clockwise, these paintings represent mining, forestry, fishing and agriculture … the cornerstones of the province’s economy.

501 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4, Canada

6 Legislative Library at Parliament Buildings in Victoria, Canada

The Provincial Library was established in 1863 to accommodate the Colonial Legislature of Vancouver Island. The institution was rechartered as the Legislative Library of British Columbia in 1894. Its mission has always been to serve the information needs of legislative members and their staff. They also supply services to independent researchers and the general public when time is available. In 1911, Francis Rattenbury, the architect who designed the Parliament Buildings, was invited back to design a new south wing of the Parliament Buildings for the library. The project was completed in 1915. Notice the statues in the niches. They are among 14 sculptures of historical people and a dozen allegorical figures decorating the library façade. They were sculpted by Charles Marega and Bernard Carrier.

501 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4, Canada

7 Cenotaph and Carillon in Victoria, Canada

Within eyesight of the Parliament Buildings are two Victoria monuments. In the foreground is the British Columbia Legislature Cenotaph. The war memorial was erected in 1925 to honor Canadians who lost their lives during wartime. The bronze soldier on top of the granite base was sculpted by Vernon and Sidney March. The cenotaph is the scene of Remembrance Day ceremonies every November 11. On the left is the Netherlands Centennial Carillon. The Dutch gifted the 90 foot tower in appreciation for Canada’s help with their liberation during WWII. The carillon contains 62 bells.

698 Government St, Victoria, BC V8V 2L8, Canada

8 Kwakiutl Bear Pole in Victoria, Canada

There are several First Nations totem poles around central Victoria. This one facing the harbor is the Kwakiutl Bear Pole. It was carved from a 13 foot piece of red cedar in 1966 by Henry Hunt. He was a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw community. These Indigenous people live primarily on Vancouver Island. A sizable collection of totem poles can be admired at Thunderbird Park adjacent to the Royal British Columbia Museum. You will also enjoy seeing Cicero August’s Knowledge Totem in front of the Parliament Buildings.

Belleville St & Government St, Victoria, BC V8V 2L8, Canada

9 Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, Canada

The Royal British Columbia Museum is a human and natural history museum. Since it was founded in 1886, the collection has grown to over seven million items. There are three large permanent exhibits: The First Peoples, Becoming British Columbia and Natural History. The latter displays artifacts and fossils dating back 500 million years. Among the favorites is the full-size woolly mammoth. The Royal BC Museum also keeps visitors coming back to see frequent temporary exhibitions and new presentations at the IMAX Victoria.

675 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8W 9W2, Canada

10 Emily Carr Statue in Victoria, Canada

Victoria-born Emily Carr is one of Canada’s most revered artists. Experts characterize her paintings as a unique blend of Modernistic and Post-Impressionist. Early in her career, she focused on Indigenous people themes. She later shifted to British Columbia landscapes. The Group of Seven – influential painters from 1920 through 1933 – called her The Mother of Modern Arts. This “Our Emily” statue by sculptor Barbara Paterson was erected in 2010. On Carr’s shoulder is her pet Javanese monkey named Woo.

721 Government St, Victoria, BC V8W 1W5, Canada

11 Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, Canada

The vine-covered Fairmont Empress is the famous showpiece of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. The four-star property is ideally located along the waterfront on Government Street. It greets visitors arriving by boat or seaplane and beckons them for Victorian afternoon tea. The Empress was commissioned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and opened in 1908. This was during the era – from the late 19th century until the 1930s – when Canadian railway companies competed by building majestic hotels across the country. The Fairmont Empress is considered one of the best examples of Châteauesque architecture. It was designed by Francis Rattenbury. He also designed the nearby British Columbia Parliament Buildings.

721 Government St, Victoria, BC V8W 1W5, Canada

12 Harbour Water Services in Victoria, Canada

A fun, scenic and affordable way to travel among Victoria’s major shoreline sites is aboard a water taxi or harbor ferry. They service 14 areas of interest from February through October. You can also sign up to enjoy a 45 minute cruise around the harbor. To learn more, talk to the operators at the Empress Dock.

993 David Foster Way, Victoria, BC V8W, Canada

13 Mosaic Orca Statue in Victoria, Canada

A very popular attraction in Victoria is whale watching. There are three pods of local orcas. So, there is an excellent chance you will see some of the 80 killer whales swimming, tail slapping, breaching and, if you are lucky, skyhopping. You can select from several tour operators. This mosaic orca statue is located in front of Prince of Whales, Whale & Marine Wildlife Adventures. Another option, and the oldest local company, is Five Star Whale Watching.

812 Wharf St, Victoria, BC V8W 1T3, Canada

14 Visitors Centre along Waterfront in Victoria, Canada

You are reaching the end of the pedestrian-only Lower Causeway. This main attraction for tourists runs parallel to Government Street. From here, you will continue your causal stroll north along Wharf Street. These several blocks offer more great views of the bustling waterfront. Along the way, this guide will suggest you venture up intersecting streets to see more points of interest. Before you go too far, if you have any questions about Victoria, want to arrange a tour or grab a map, then go to the Visitor Center at the base of the Art Deco clock tower.

812 Wharf St, Victoria, BC V8W 1T3, Canada

15 Mother Orca and Calf Topiary in Victoria, Canada

Another tribute to Victoria’s resident orca population is on the corner of Wharf and Humboldt Streets. The artwork was created in 2010 by Sandra Bilawich. The seasonal topiary featuring a mother and her calf is called The Surfacing. The sculpture is 21 feet long. The average male killer whale measures 20 to 26 feet. Orcas are not the only amazing wildlife living along the harbor. Others include gray and humpback whales, porpoises, harbor seals and California sea lions plus an occasional bald eagle.

Government & Wharf Street, Victoria, BC V8W 1A4, Canada

16 Union Club of British Columbia in Victoria, Canada

In the mid-19th century, when gold was discovered in British Columbia, the population of the tiny town mushroomed. This led to Victoria being incorporated in 1862. Soon afterwards, prominent businessmen wanted a distinguished place to socialize. They founded the Union Club of British Columbia in 1879. It has been the premiere gathering place ever since. In 1913, the club moved into this Neo-Georgian building on Humboldt Street. Inside is an elegantly appointed ballroom, meeting rooms, inn and lounge. You do not need to be a member to enjoy the amenities and a great meal with excellent wine. Next door is the Maritime Museum of British Columbia. This is a fascinating place to learn about Victoria’s inseparable history with the sea.

805 Gordon St, Victoria, BC V8W 1Z6, Canada

17 Bastion Square in Victoria, Canada

Bastion Square is an ideal respite during your exploration of the waterfront. The pedestrian walkway is home to several outdoor cafes plus restaurants and taverns. During the summer months, the area is alive with local artisans. Until 2019, you knew you arrived when you saw this sculpture resembling tall red tulips. Commerce Canoe was created by artist Illarion Gallant in 2008. It actually is a tribute to the First Nations people who once harvested wild rice in the waterways near Victoria. The artwork has since been replaced by a 30 foot Welcome Pole. So why is this called Bastion Square? Because this was the location of a Fort Victoria bastion that once guarded the harbor. The city jail was also here during the gold rush era.

1205 Wharf St, Victoria, BC V8W 1T8, Canada

18 Victoria Era Commercial Architecture in Victoria, Canada

In 1843, the Hudson’s Bay Company established the first British colony on the island as a fur trading post. The settlement was soon secured by a fort named after Queen Victoria (reign 1837 to 1901). Fort Victoria was demolished in 1864 to make room for the expanding population. The city came of age during the late 1800s until about 1915 thanks to an active port and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Warehouses sprung up along the wharf. Commercial construction radiated a block or two off the harbor. Some of the best Victoria era commercial architecture can be appreciated along lower Yates Street. Most of these brick heritage buildings were constructed from 1880 through 1910. This area is called the Old Commercial District and is a major part of Victoria’s Old Town.

524 Yates St, Victoria, BC V8W 1K8, Canada

19 Market Square in Victoria, Canada

LoJo is the nickname for lower Johnson Street. This area is filled with boutiques, primarily fashion retailers. At the center is Market Square. There are about 45 small yet fun shops and restaurants inside facing an open courtyard. The mall is contained within a half block of heritage Victorian buildings such as the Milne Block, constructed in 1891.

560 Johnson St, Victoria, BC V8W 3C6, Canada

20 Swans Hotel in Victoria, Canada

There are several large, branded hotels in Victoria. But many people prefer their overnight accommodations be small, quaint and reasonably priced. The city offers many boutique options as well. An example is Swans Hotel. This location at the end of Wharf Street began as a granary warehouse in 1913. Four decades later, the building became Buckerfield’s country store. In 1987, local developer Michael Williams began restoring the property to fulfill his dream of being a hotelier. Complimenting the 31 rooms – each decorated with wooden beams and a kitchen – is a pub serving their own craft beer. Notice the woman watering the flowers. These hanging baskets are among the 3,500 decorating the city during the summer.

506 Pandora Ave, Victoria, BC V8W 1N6, Canada

21 Gate of Harmonious Interest at Chinatown in Victoria, Canada

People began arriving from China in 1858 at the start of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. The numbers accelerated in the 1880s during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1885, the Chinese had become so numerous in Victoria that the federal government imposed an immigration tax. This had a nominal effect. By 1910, Chinese constituted nearly half of the city’s population. Most of them lived in Victoria’s Chinatown, the second oldest in North America. Today, the neighborhood is a popular tourist attraction. This traditional paifang (Chinese arch) over Fisgard Street is the Gate of Harmonious Interest.

500 Fisgard St, Victoria, BC V8W 1R4, Canada

22 First Masonic Lodge in Victoria, Canada

In 1860, the Grand Lodge of England granted the petition to establish Victoria Lodge No. 1085. The cornerstone for the city’s first Masonic hall was laid 18 years later. The temple was designed by John Teague, the same architect who drew plans for the nearby Victoria City Hall. The pediment of their lodge on Fisgard Street proudly displays the Square and Compasses, the universal symbol of Freemasons.

650 Fisgard St, Victoria, BC V8W 1R6, Canada

23 Victoria Public Market at the Hudson in Victoria, Canada

The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670, making it the oldest company in North America. It began as a fur trader in New France (part of today’s eastern Canada) and quickly became a monopolistic land owner and, in some areas, a quasi-government. They began to diversify into general merchandise during the mid-19th century. In 1850, Hudson’s Bay established a small store in Fort Victoria followed by this grand department store in 1914, one of the original ones in Canada. The façade of the Second Empire building has cream glazed terracotta cladding. It was a bold new look that has evolved into a prized heritage landmark. After The Bay built a new department store a few blocks away, this location was renamed The Hudson. In 2013, the extensive renovation became luxury condos on the upper floors and the Victoria Public Market at the street level. You will love browsing among the stalls. The merchants display artisan crafts and lots of food options. They range from meats, cheeses, produce, desserts and morsels you’ve never seen before but are eager to taste.

1701 Douglas St #6, Victoria, BC V8W 0C1, Canada

24 Victoria City Hall in Victoria, Canada

The Second Empire style of Victoria City Hall is marvelous, especially the 105 foot clock tower. Architect John Teague is credited with the design. This heritage site, built between 1878 and 1891, still offices the mayor and eight councillors. Each one represents a different neighborhood. This National Historic Site of Canada is the architectural cornerstone of Centennial Square. As the name implies, the plaza commemorates the 100th anniversary of Victoria’s incorporation as a city in 1862. During the summer, come here to eat and tap your feet during the Lunchtime Concerts in the Square. The free performances are every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday starting at noon.

1 Centennial Square, Victoria, BC V8W 1P6, Canada

25 Old Merchants Bank of Canada Building in Victoria, Canada

In 1907, when this Beaux-Arts structure opened as the Merchants Bank of Canada Building, it was one of city’s most expensive developments. This has been a branch of the Bank of Montreal since 1922. If you are a fan of old bank architecture, then check out an older Bank of Montreal Building at 1200 Government Street. It was constructed in 1897 and is now the Irish Times Pub. Both of these banks were designed by architect Francis Rattenbury yet have remarkably different facades.

1225 Douglas St, Victoria, BC V8W 2E6, Canada

26 St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Victoria, Canada

St. Andrew’s Cathedral has an impressive, High Victorian Gothic design crowned by a 175 foot spire. The Roman Catholic church was dedicated in 1892. The elaborate rose window above the entrance is the first of about 100 stained-glass windows inside. They portray events of Christ plus various saints including Saint Andrew, an Apostle and the brother of Simon Peter. This is the third cathedral to be built for the Diocese of Victoria since it was founded in 1846.

1202 Blanshard Street, Victoria, BC V8W, Canada

27 St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Victoria, Canada

You will not be the first person to be surprised and perhaps confused to see another church named St. Andrew’s less than two blocks from the cathedral. No, they are not affiliated. This is St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, built in 1890. The parish was founded by Scottish immigrants in the mid-19th century. Naturally, they dedicated the church to their country’s patron saint. The design also hints of a Scottish castle. The most interesting feature is this corner tower with four turrets and conical roofs. From here, turn west on Broughton Street and you will soon be back at the waterfront. This ends your walking tour of Old Town. You will need transportation to reach the remaining sites to visit.

680 Courtney St, Victoria, BC V8W 1C1, Canada

28 Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

At the age of 25, Robert Dunsmuir left Scotland and sailed for 191 days in order to reach Vancouver Island. He initially worked as a coal contractor for the Hudson’s Bay Company. By the end of his career, he was a coal, shipping and rail tycoon and one of the wealthiest men in British Columbia. Dunsmuir spent a fortune to build this opulent mansion. Unfortunately, he died in 1889, about 1.5 years before construction of Craigdarroch Castle was finished.

1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, BC V8S 3L5, Canada

29 Breakfast Room inside Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, Canada

Craigdarroch Castle became a museum in 1979. The tour is fascinating. Many of the estate’s 39 rooms are elegantly appointed with late-19th century furnishings, artwork, 47 stained-glass windows and household items befitting an aristocrat. There are also family portraits around, as if Mrs. Joan Dunsmuir and her three daughters still lived here. The Breakfast Room is a sample of their lavish Victorian lifestyle. Most of the pieces displayed here – including the Wild Rose dinnerware, the hand-cut cruet set plus the silver tea and coffee servers – were the height of elegance when created in the late 1800s.

1050 Joan Crescent, Victoria, BC V8S 3L5, Canada

30 Morpho Butterfly at Victoria Butterfly Gardens near Victoria, Canada

Imagine being surrounded by over 4,000 fluttering butterflies. How about also encountering countless tropical birds, fish, insects and tortoises in a simulated rainforest. Sound like fun? This describes your visit to the Victoria Butterfly Gardens in Brentwood Bay, about a half hour drive from central Victoria. The attraction appeals to the entire family. This is a male Morpho butterfly. His open wings display a metallic blue color on the dorsal side. The closed wings expose a dull brown coloring for camouflage. The ocelli resemble an owl’s eyes. They effectively scare off predators. There are nearly 150 subspecies of this butterfly. Most live in South and Central America as well as parts of Mexico. Go to Victoria Butterfly Gardens so you can learn similar facts about their other 70 species of butterflies and moths.

1461 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J5, Canada

31 Introduction to Butchart Gardens near Victoria, Canada

A nickname of Victoria is The Garden City. Nothing justifies the moniker better than Butchart Gardens in Brentwood Bay. This mecca for horticulture enthusiasts is about 15 miles from downtown Victoria and a couple minutes from Victoria Butterfly Gardens. The 55 acre botanical garden attracts over a million visitors each year. In addition to blooming and manicured landscapes, you will be treated to statues and fountains. Shown here in front of the former Butchart residence are sculptures of a donkey and a foal. They are the artwork of Florence-born artist Sirio Tofanari. He gained fame across Europe for his depiction of animals. Tofanari also created the fountain in the Japanese garden.

800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J8, Canada

32 Sunken Garden at Butchart Gardens near Victoria, Canada

Butchart Gardens displays millions of plants and flowers representing over 900 varieties plus sculpted trees and bushes. With each step you take, the kaleidoscope of colors and the sweet fragrances harmonize with the cadence of song birds. This is an exceptional experience! The botanical masterpiece is the Sunken Garden shown here. As you stroll along the mosaic path, you will feel transported to a grand garden behind a European palace. This is just the beginning. You will also admire the Rose, Italian, Mediterranean and Japanese Gardens. It is easy to see why 50 gardeners are required to maintain Butchart Gardens. This must-see attraction is open all year.

800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J8, Canada

33 History of Butchart Gardens near Victoria, Canada

The history of Butchart Gardens is as interesting as the property is beautiful. Surprisingly, this all began as a depleted limestone pit. In 1888, Robert Butchart started a cement business. His main quarry for materials was at Tod Inlet. In 1904, he and his wife Jennie built a home here. They named it Benvenuto. This is Italian for welcome. Within a few years, the limestone deposit ran dry, leaving a gaping hollow behind their house. The vast emptiness inspired Jennie to plant flowers. They soon blossomed into her passion. She first finished the Sunken Garden. In the ensuing years, she created four more gardens, each with its own theme. Jennie also created a lasting family tradition. Butchart Gardens is still managed by her descendants.

800 Benvenuto Ave, Brentwood Bay, BC V8M 1J8, Canada

34 Floating Shops, Eateries and Homes at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, Canada

Fisherman’s Wharf in the Middle Harbour is a fun, bustling, colorful and tasty highlight of Victoria. Flanking three docks are vibrant boutique shops and food vendors. Lick an ice cream cone or sip gourmet coffee while strolling along the wooden boardwalk. Or nibble on fresh seafood beneath an outdoor umbrella. Share your meal with an awaiting seal or seagull. Marvel at the quaint floating homes. Watch commercial fishermen haul in their catch. Or charter your own fishing boat. Exercise the kids at Fisherman’s Wharf Park. Or be glad you left the kids home during this vacation. Fisherman’s Wharf is a must-do experience.

1 Dallas Rd, Victoria, BC V8V 0B2, Canada

35 Marina at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, Canada

There is something mesmerizing about watching moored boats bobbing on a perfect afternoon. Listen to the ropes clang against the sailboat masts. Breath the fresh Canadian air. Bask in the sunshine. Savor the serenity. You’ll never want this moment to end at Fisherman’s Wharf. When it is time to leave, you have plenty of options to get where you are going. The Ogden Point cruise ship terminal is only ten minutes away on foot. The waterfront of central Victoria is a 20 minute walk in the other direction. Or you can hop aboard a water taxi or harbor ferry. Yes, physically leaving is easy. The hard part is having to leave Victoria after a wonderful visit.

12 Erie St, Victoria, BC V8V 4X5, Canada

36 Parliament Buildings at Dusk in Victoria, Canada

By now you are convinced Victoria is a beautiful city to explore. Nightfall is equally enchanting. As the sun sets, the Inner Harbour and waterfront landmarks begin to sparkle like lit Christmas trees. This dazzling display is a long-standing tradition. It began in 1897 when the Parliament Buildings were first illuminated to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Today, this magnificent glow outlining the Legislature Buildings is achieved with over 3,500 light bulbs. The lovely fountain in the center dates back to 1906.

501 Belleville St, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4, Canada