Victoria starts at the Inner Harbour, which is also the oldest part of the city, and radiates outward from there. Most of the city spreads north and east, although there is a growing community in West Victoria.
Inner Harbour -- For most visitors, this is where it’s at, and it’s what those glossy tourism brochures depict. Framed by the BC Parliament Buildings on one side and the Fairmont Empress Hotel on another, the Inner Harbour is where to find cabs, horse-drawn carriage rides, double-decker tour buses, ferries, floatplanes, whale-watching outfitters, kayaking tours, fish and chips, and the main Tourism Victoria Visitor Centre. The BC Royal Museum is among the top attractions, as is a waterside stroll around the harbor to Fisherman’s Wharf, with is its small community of fishing boats and floating homes. In summer, the place fills up with a myriad of artist-vendors who add to the entertainment value of your meanderings.
Downtown -- Also called Old Town, this area has been the city’s social and commercial focal point since the mid-1800s, when settlers first arrived by ship. This is also the area of the city most popular with visitors, filled with shops, museums, heritage buildings, and lots of restaurants. The area’s fascinating Barbary Coast history—which includes rum smuggling, opium importing, gold prospecting, whaling, fur trading, and shipping—is reflected in the hundreds of heritage buildings, once home to chandleries, warehouses, factories, whorehouses, and gambling dens.
Chinatown -- Victoria’s Chinatown is tiny—only 2 square blocks—but venerable. In fact, it’s the second oldest Chinese community in North America (after San Francisco). At one time, legal opium manufacturing took place in the hidden courtyard buildings flanking the 1.2m-wide (4-ft.) Fan Tan Alley, Canada’s narrowest commercial street.
James Bay, Ross Bay, Rockland & Oak Bay -- When Victoria was a busy port and trading post, the local aristocracy would retire to homes in these neighborhoods to escape the hustle and bustle in the city center. Today, they remain beautiful residential communities. Houses are perched on hills overlooking the straits or nestled amidst lushly landscaped gardens. Golf courses, marinas, and cozy inns edge the waters, where you can stroll the beaches or take a dip if you don’t mind the chilly water.
Fernwood -- This charming residential neighborhood may not have any oceanfront to boast of, but it makes up for it with plenty of character. Home mostly to young families and creative professionals, its tree-lined streets are filled with heritage homes, popular restaurants, quirky boutiques, and the historic Belfry Theatre.
Victoria West -- Once the city’s industrial zone, this area across the Johnson Street Bridge is now among its trendiest neighborhoods, especially for young professionals who enjoy the proximity to downtown. Several new condo developments have gone up here, and the area has plenty of bike trails, walkways, parks, and cool eateries to feed all those newcomers.
Saanich -- This is the part of the city you’ll drive past on your way north and east to the ferry terminal. It’s largely a suburban residential area of neighborhoods such as Quadra, Gordon Head, and Cordova Bay, which may be great places to live, but don’t offer many attractions to the visitor. However, if you travel further out on the Saanich Peninsula, you will come across Butchart Gardens, Sea Cider, and the charming little town of Sidney-by-the-Sea, with its many bookstores.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.