Why I Love Wandering In Downtown Victoria, British Columbia

October 18, 2020
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Pedestrian walkway in the lower causeway of Victoria Inner Harbour with the iconic Empress Hotel in the background
Ways to enjoy the scenic downtown area of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Every time I visit Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, I like to spend time wandering through its downtown. Bordering the scenic Inner Harbour, the beautifully landscaped downtown contains historic landmarks, heritage buildings, modern shops, pubs, and restaurants.

Victoria is a cruise stop in summer months. It is a popular destination for tourists coming by land, sea, or air. This year, with the pandemic, no cruise ships have docked, and few tourists have walked the city streets. Hopefully, businesses will be able to survive to ensure a vibrant downtown for both locals and for tourists when they can return. The photos in this post were taken over several past visits to the city. I hope to be able to visit the city again soon.

Inner Harbour

Marina lined with boats in Victoria Inner Harbour

The view of and walkways along the Inner Harbour are a large part of downtown Victoria’s appeal. This may be one of the most beautiful harbours in the world.

Boats in Victoria Inner Harbour with view of British Columbia Parliament Building in background

Watching the activity in the harbour, either during a leisurely stroll or while stopping to sit for a while, is a pleasant way to spend time. Recreational vessels and small cruise ships moor in the Inner Harbour. Whale watching and ecotours take off from here. Float planes land and take off. Water taxis make short hops among several stops along the harbour.

Yellow and green pickle-shaped boats of Victoria Harbour Ferry moored at marina

The colourful Victoria Harbour Ferry boats are fun to watch. The tiny boats are called happy boats by the company that runs them. They are also known as “pickle boats” because of their shape. The water taxis are bright yellow. Victoria Harbour Ferries also offers 45-minute harbour tours on green “happy boats.” The happy boats perform a water ballet on select days between May and September. You can see and read more about this ballet in my post Victoria Harbour Water Ballet.

Neo-classical Victoria Steamship Terminal building with massive Ionic columns
Steamship Terminal Building contains the Robert Bateman Centre, an art gallery exhibiting the collected works of renowned painter and naturalist Robert Bateman. It is also the spot from which to watch the water ballet.

A dedicated pedestrian walkway along the lower causeway is a perfect spot from which to watch the activity in the harbour. The public space also hosts festivals, shows, street performers, and markets.

An up-cycled cargo container houses a takeaway fish n chip shop along the Victoria waterfront
Red Fish Blue Fish, an outdoor waterfront fish n chip shop in an up-cycled cargo container, usually has a much longer line-up than in this photo

Heritage Buildings

The view looking out over the harbour is lovely, but so is the view of the city looking in from the harbour. The harbour is located across from the iconic Empress Hotel and next to the British Columbia Parliament Buildings. Both buildings opened in 1890 with construction led by Francis Rattenbury. Other historical buildings line Victoria’s downtown core.

British Columbia Parliament Buildings, Neo-Baroque stone buildings with a central dome and two end pavilions
British Columbia Parliament Buildings
Stone and brick exterior of the Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia
Empress Hotel

Victoria, built on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen People, is Western Canada’s second oldest city. It was founded as a trading post by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1843. When gold was discovered on the British Columbia mainland in 1858, Victoria boomed as it served as ocean port, supply base, and outfitting centre for miners headed to the Fraser Canyon. Victoria was established as a city in 1862.

Blue, green, tan, and red buildings dating to the late 1800s in downtown Victoria
Historic buildings on Johnson Street

Old Town Victoria contains a collection of commercial heritage buildings constructed between the 1860s and 1890s. The buildings today contain offices, shops, restaurants, and galleries.

Former 1855 three-story bank building now houses a pub
A pub now occupies the building that opened n 1855 as the Bank of British Columbia

Shops And Markets

Walk the streets and alleys of downtown Victoria and you’ll find a diversity of shops for browsing or for serious shopping. There are a number of the typical souvenir shops, but there are also unique clothing stores, houseware boutiques, toy shops, and galleries selling fine art, jewelry, artisan crafts, and indigenous art. There are restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops to stop at for refreshment.

Metal street sign saying Trounce Alley
In Trounce Alley you’ll find shops, restaurants, and 125-year-old gaslights
Metal archway beside red brick building announcing entry to Trounce Alley
Market Square is a restored 19th century courtyard surrounded by heritage shops, restaurants, and offices
Outdoor vendors in a wide alley in downtown Victoria
The eclectic outdoor market in Bastion Square runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday May through September

Government Street is lined with brand-name and one-of-a-kind shops. It is also one of the streets bordering the multi-level Bay Centre shopping mall.

White tone exterior of Munro's Books

Munro’s Books on the other side of Government Street from the Bay Centre is a favourite of mine. The store was founded in 1963 by Jim Munro and his first wife Alice, renowned Canadian short story writer and 2013 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The store, originally on Yates Street, relocated to Fort Street in 1979, and then to its current location in 1984. In 2014 Jim retired and passed ownership of the store to four long-term staff members. Jim died in 2016.

Book store interior with high ceilings and white pillars
Inside Munro’s Books

Next door to Munro Books is Murchie’s Tea & Coffee. Murchie’s has been importing and blending tea since 1984. Murchie’s has 130 varieties of tea and 25 coffee roasts you can buy to brew at home or sip in the store along with a sandwich, salad, or sweet treat, perhaps while reading the book bought at Munro Books.

Landscaping

Tall flowering bushes and shorter annuals at the edge of grass lawn

Victoria is sometimes called the City of Gardens. There are several formal gardens to visit. Public spaces are beautifully landscaped with plants and sculptures. Many private yards look like gardens. It’s almost as if a green thumb is a prerequisite to living here.

Topiary of a mother and baby orca
Surfacing

The Surfacing display, otherwise known as “the orcas”, features a mother and baby orca riding a wave. The horticultural display has sat on the southeast corner of Humboldt and Government Streets since 2010. It is a temporary, seasonal installation. Each fall, it is transported back to the Beacon Hill Park nursery to winter in a greenhouse.

Grouping of different coloured flowering plants with a rock edging
Peace Tulip Garden on Bellevile Street at Granville Street was created in honour of the Canadian troops who liberated the Netherlands in World War II. This photo was taken in September, long past tulip season. The garden is full of other flowers.
Bronze statue of seated Emily Carr with sketchpad, parrot on shoulder, and dog beside her
Statue honouring artist and writer Emily Carr features a seated Emily Carr with her sketchpad, her Japanese monkey “Woo” on her shoulder, and her dog “Billie” standing nearby
Bronze statue on a rocky hill of a woman wearing a crown and holding a laurel wreath and a bird in up-stretched arms
Spirit of the Republic monument on the corner of Menzies and Belleville honouring the Canadian volunteers who fought on the side of the republic in the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War
Bronze statue of a little girl and her dog running toward the open arms of her kneeling father in a sailor's uniform
Homecoming Statue commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Canadian Navy (1910 – 2010)
Totem pole alongside Victoria Inner Harbour
Orca whale sculpture with a painted mural on it
Sculpture in front of Victoria Visitor Centre

Attractions Within Walking Distance

There are a number of attractions within the downtown core including the Royal BC Museum and tours of the Parliament Buildings. You can enjoy afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel or the historic Pendray Tea House. Other attractions, such as Beacon Hill Park, the colourful Fisherman’s Wharf, and the oldest Chinatown in Canada are within walking distance.

Whether heading to somewhere specific or just ambling haphazardly through the streets, Victoria’s downtown is a scenic and interesting place.

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Why I Love Wandering In Downtown Victoria, British Columbia - Ways to enjoy the scenic downtown area of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada #Canada #BritishColumbia #Victoria

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  • Reply
    Eva Dueck
    October 18, 2020 at 10:50 am

    I have visited Victoria several times over the years. I love the city!
    My last visit was in 2008, so I’m overdue for getting back there.

    BTW Murchie’s also serves a wonderful hot chocolate.

    • Reply
      Donna Janke
      October 18, 2020 at 1:22 pm

      Eva, maybe someday we’ll wind up in Victoria at the same time and could do some exploring together. BTW, now I want hot chocolate!

  • Reply
    Ken Dowell
    October 18, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Looks like a great place to spend some time. Hopefully it survives these crazy times intact.

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