For what is such a small city, Victoria offers some pretty great shopping experiences, especially for art, antiques, homewares, food, drink, and books. Part of the fun of shopping here is simply meandering along the streets and peeking into one boutique after another—many of them are located in historic old buildings, which makes browsing even more fun.
Most visitors will start on Government Street, the main shopping strip through downtown. It’s a mix of ticky-tacky souvenir shops and some great, can’t-miss boutiques. Among them is the magnificent Munro’s Books (tel. 888/243-2464 or 250/382-2464; www.munrobooks.com), one of the world’s truly great bookstores. Expect to spend some serious time browsing through the new releases and extensive sale tables under the ornate ceiling of this neoclassical former bank building. In fact, Victoria is something of a mecca for bibliophiles: It’s also home to Canada’s biggest used and new bookstore, Russell Books on Fort Street (tel. 250/361-4447 or 250/360-2965; www.russellbooks.com), as well as the beloved independent Bolen Books in Hillside Mall (tel. 250/595-4232; www.bolen.bc.ca), and the half-dozen or so specialty bookstores in nearby Sidney-by-the-Sea, also known as “Booktown.”
The Best Shopping Neighborhoods
Back in the day, Upper Fort Street between Blanchard and Cook streets was known as Antique Row and was chock-a-block with more than a dozen antique stores selling everything from priceless Chinese artworks to well, junk. Today, the number of shops—and the selection—has been sadly diminished, but you can still find some treasures here, sometimes at astonishingly good prices. Old silverware and tea sets are particularly good buys, but you can also find glassware, jewelry, military memorabilia, furniture, and the like. There are also a handful of galleries and auction houses that hold regularly scheduled sales of art, antiques, and collectibles. Increasingly, the neighborhood—which has been rebranded “Mosaic Village”—is becoming a foodie destination, so while you’re here, be sure to check out the bakeries and delis. Most of the shops are open Monday to Friday 10am to 6pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm, and Sunday noon to 4pm.
Bastion Square (View St., btwn. Wharf and Government sts.) is a pleasant little space with shops and restaurants, despite its somewhat grim historic past—it was once the site of Victoria’s Court House, where several hangings took place. These days, you’re likely to find artists displaying their works, especially during the summer months when the Bastion Public Market (May–Sept Thurs–Sat 11am–5:30pm, Sun 11am–4pm) features vendors and local artisans selling handmade arts and crafts, as well as live entertainment. Don’t forget to check out the boutiques of Trounce Alley across Government Street, as well as the ceremonial arch at View Street that marks the entry to the original site of Fort Victoria.
Visiting Fisherman’s Wharf, a cluster of floating shops, eateries, and homes on the south side of the Inner Harbour, is a great way for the whole family to spend a couple of hours, especially if you’re hungry. It’s even more fun if you take one of the Victoria Harbour Ferries over, though you can walk in from either Dallas Road or St. Lawrence Street. A handful of eco-adventure outfitters are located here, as well as shops selling ice cream, fish and chips, and fresh seafood, including live crab. Be sure to wander over to the colorful float homes and enjoy the views of the busy harbor while you enjoy your crispy fried halibut and a lemonade. Most shops are open daily 11am to 7pm (or until dark).
Aside from books, Government Street has boutiques selling First Nations arts and crafts, including the famous hand-knit Cowichan sweaters, at Hill’s Native Art (tel. 866/685-5422 or 250/385-3911; www.hillsnativeart.com) and Cowichan Trading Company (tel. 250/383-0321; www.cowichantrading.com). You can also find fragrant loose-leaf tea at Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (tel. 250/383-3112; www.murchies.com), decadent chocolate creams at Roger’s Chocolates, a perfect little candy box of a sweet shop (tel. 250/881-8771; www.rogerschocolates.com), and one-of-a-kind gifts at Bastion Square, which holds an artisan market in the summer months.
Government Street intersects with Fort Street, and if you wander up a couple of blocks, you’ll find the handful of stores that remain of the once-booming Antique Row. It’s still worth a visit, though you may find yourself spending more time in the bakeries and delis, especially the Dutch Bakery (tel. 250/385-1012; www.thedutchbakery.com) and Choux Choux Charcuterie (tel. 250/382-7572; www.chouxchouxcharc.com). Still, you can find some real treasures at shops like Pacific Antiques (tel. 250/388-5311; www.pacificantiques.com).
Lower Johnson Street & Market Square
“LoJo,” as the locals call it, is an uber-trendy hood of designer boutiques housed in brightly painted heritage buildings. Even if you’re not shopping for a pair of cool new shoes or overpriced yoga pants, it’s fun to wander around, do some window shopping, and perhaps stop for a coffee or smoothie. Hours vary, but most shops are open Monday to Saturday 10am to 6pm.
You’ll definitely want to check out Market Square, one of Victoria’s oldest landmarks, an old brick town square built back in the 19th century to serve all the crowds coming through on their way to the Klondike gold rush. Today this two-story brick marketplace features a number of boutiques and restaurants, and is just a fun place to explore. Market Square is open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 4pm (www.marketsquare.ca).
A bit further north, Government also intersects with Johnson Street. Turn left here and you’ll find yourself in the funky Lower Johnson or “LoJo” neighborhood. This area is crammed full of boutiques housed in brightly painted Victorian shop fronts, with the historic Market Square at the bottom by Wharf Street. Shop for edgy fashions at Smoking Lily (tel. 250/382-5459; www.smokinglily.com), eco-friendly toys at Hip Baby (tel. 250/385-8020; www.hipbaby.com), and organic, handmade body-care products at Salt Spring Soapworks (tel. 250/386-7627; www.saltspringsoapworks.com). Explore Market Square, then wander up Pandora Street to Chinatown; be sure to peek down Fantan Alley, Canada’s narrowest commercial street, then pop into Silk Road Tea (tel. 250/704-2688; www.silkroadteastore.com) for hand-blended teas and tea-based spa products.
Nearby you will also find the Victoria Public Market (tel. 778/433-2787; www.victoriapublicmarket.com). It only makes sense that a city so obsessed with local food would house its public market in one of its most beautiful landmark buildings. The Hudson was built in the 1920s, designed in the Beaux Arts style as one of the Hudson’s Bay’s grandest department stores. Now it houses condos on the upper floors, where once you could buy lingerie and housewares, and Victoria’s brand, spanking new market on the main floor. This is a stunning space, all exposed beams, high ceilings, and industrial lights, and many of Victoria’s most popular artisans have stalls here. Graze your way through the samples at Salt Spring Island Cheese, the savory porchetta sandwich at Roast Carvery, and the sweet treats at Damn Fine Cake Company, just for starters. This is also an excellent place to pick up a foodie souvenir for your friends back home, such as the gourmet blended teas at Silk Road Tea or the locally harvested sea salts at Island Spice Trade. The Public Market is open Tuesday through Saturday 9:30am to 6:30pm, Sunday 9:30am to 5pm (closed Mon). Note that the best day to visit is Wednesday, when the market holds a farmers market.
Outside of downtown, Oak Bay Village and Cook Street Village offer more great little boutique shopping. Gardeners will dig Dig This (tel. 250/598-0802; www.digthis.com) and anyone with a sweet tooth will adore the international and retro candies at Sweet Delights (tel. 778/430-4906; www.sweetdelightsvictoria.com).
Oak Bay Village
Oak Bay is one of Canada’s wealthiest neighborhoods, home to countless mansions, bounteous gardens, a marina, three golf courses, and this charming village stroll. It’s one of Victoria’s two “village” neighborhoods (the other is the slightly smaller Cook Street Village; www.cookstreetvillage.ca). Expect pedestrian-friendly streetscapes lined with trees, boutiques, cafes, and pubs. Oak Bay Village is a lovely place to amble and browse through the galleries and garden shops, and you’ll want to stop in at the popular Ottavio Italian Bakery & Delicatessen, the cheery Penny Farthing pub, or the White Heather Tea Room. And just try to resist the sweets at Roger’s Chocolates or Sweet Delights. Opening hours vary from shop to shop, but you can expect most to be open Mon–Sat 10am–5:30pm, Sun 11am–4pm. For more information visit www.oakbayvillage.ca.
And don’t underestimate the cool stuff you can find at the museum, gallery, and attraction gift shops. Butchart Gardens especially has a vast selection that ranges from cutesy floral doodads to stunning original works of art, while the Royal BC Museum is a treasure trove of beautiful things.
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.