Victoria’s Chinatown may be small—only 2 blocks—but it is historically huge. A National Historic Site of Canada since 1995, it is the oldest Chinatown in Canada, and second oldest in North America, after San Francisco, dating back to the Fraser Canyon gold rush of 1858. Thousands of Chinese, most from Guangdong province, fled famine and drought back home in the hopes of finding fortune in the New World. Originally just a cluster of wooden shacks, the neighborhood quickly developed into a densely populated area of businesses, schools, temples, and a hospital—as well as opium factories, gambling dens, and brothels. Things are a bit more sedate these days, but visitors can still see the famously narrow Fantan Alley, the gloriously ornate Gate of Harmonious Interest, the old Chinese School, and the many shops and restaurants, including the exceptional Silk Road Tea on Government Street.
Cross the Johnson Street Bridge and you’ll find yourself in West Victoria, once an industrial part of the city, now home to several condo developments attracting young professionals. You’ll also find a huge concentration of walking and biking trails here.
Keep going east and south instead, though, and you’ll find yourself in the city’s older residential neighborhoods, such as pretty James Bay behind the Parliament Buildings, or wealthy Oak Bay with its manicured gardens, Tudor-style mansions, and a charming village filled with tony boutiques and eateries.
On the outskirts of Victoria lie several important attractions. The most famous of them is the legendary Butchart Gardens. It’s located up north, out on the Saanich Peninsula, toward the ferry terminal and near the town of Sidney-by-the-Sea and the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre. Then there is the bucolic Cowichan Valley, with its wineries and organic farms, just off the Island Highway to the northwest. And to the southwest, the village of Sooke, with its world-famous inn and epic hiking trails.
Victoria and its surroundings offer many attractions. Here are just a few.
Inner Harbour & James Bay
Any tour of Victoria has to begin with the Inner Harbour, its most iconic, most historic area. Here I’ll include the quiet residential neighborhood of James Bay, which has a couple of attractions you won’t want to miss.
Stretching north and east is the downtown area, filled with great little shops, restaurants, pubs, and attractions. It’s easy to explore this area by foot, but expect to find yourself carrying a few treasures home with you.
Oak Bay, Fernwood & Fairfield
If you head east of downtown, you’ll leave the city’s commercial area and enter its residential neighborhoods, including posh Oak Bay and artsy Fernwood. The neighborhoods are filled with historic homes and lush gardens, and are a pleasant place to while away some time. They are also home to some of the city’s important sights.
On the City Outskirts
Some of the most important aspects of Victoria aren’t actually in the city, but on its outskirts—the airport, for instance, and the main ferry terminal. And so it should be no surprise that some of its biggest attractions are out there, too. From Victoria, two highways lead north: Hwy. 1, or the Island Highway, which heads up Vancouver Island to Cowichan Bay, Nanaimo, and Parksville, with arteries leading west to Sooke and Tofino; and Hwy. 17, the Patricia Bay Highway, which travels up the Saanich Peninsula to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. Both roads lead to some impressive sights.
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.