The downtown core of Victoria is constantly changing, with numerous new developments altering the skyline each and every year. That said, much of the original historic charm still prevails, which is easy to see in the brightly painted Victorian-era shopfronts, or the brick-clad century old buildings in Canada’s oldest Chinatown.
While some may have described it as sleepy in the past, Victoria now offers a thrilling mix of new restaurants, amazing events, and various unique outdoor activities.
What to Love
- Everything at your fingertips
- Vibrant restaurant scene
- Historic buildings and impressive architecture
- Easily walkable
We are incredibly fortunate for the calibre of restaurants here in the city, and none embody that more than those which feature West Coast / Canadian centric cuisine. Perhaps one of the most fine dining of the bunch (but also still great for a work lunch), is The Courtney Room, which serves modern Pacific NW items, in a truly elegant environment. Just down the road is Hank’s *A Restaurant, an intimate space where guests interact with the kitchen, and are served an ever-rotating selection of delicious local inspired dishes. In the same block you’ll find the 10 Restaurant Acres Group – which offers 2 distinct restaurants (The Bistro and The Commons) in the same block, each with meals supplied by their 10-acre farm on the Peninsula. Rounding out the west coast menus, and definitely a location not to be missed, is Agrius (with their impressive selection of natural wines, an inspired dinner menu, and incredible pizza).
If you’re searching for the best mixologists in town, head over to either Little Jumbo or Wind Cries Mary (don’t miss their secret patio) – both offer great dinner menus, but the real stand out are their drinks, many of which are made entirely from scratch with local ingredients. Just around the corner is Sherwood, a café and restaurant, and Clarke & Co, two additional options that never disappoint. With perhaps the most extensive drink menu, Clive’s is an institution that has been serving outrageously delicious drinks for decades.
If you’re more interested in an international experience, head over to Trounce Ally and you’ll find a duo of exceptional Spanish eateries – Tapa Bar, which has been a mainstay for years (try their grilled kale and the almond stuffed dates) as well as Bodega, a wine bar which has one of the best happy hours in the city.
Numerous French restaurants have come and gone over the years, but Brasserie L’Ecole continues to provide an unpretentious experience, with delicious classic inspired cuisine. A newer, yet none less noteworthy option is Saveur – here you’ll find French-inspired contemporary cuisine through playful and elegant tasting menus, all while featuring local ingredients.
Perhaps the most well-known (or most well-loved) restaurants in the city is Il Terrazzo, a fine dining Italian restaurant that’s been a staple in the community for years. Located in an old town courtyard, amid brick fireplaces and candle lit ambience, the food here is inspired by Northern Italy with a Pacific Northwest twist. Almost everything on the menu is a must try – and here you’ll find perhaps the most expansive wine list in the city. For over 20 years, Café Brio’s menu has focused on Italian inspired dishes, with influence from the West Coast, all while making everything from scratch. You’ll find Café Brio in the eclectic blocks of Upper Fort Street. While recently undergoing a substantial renovation, Pagliacci’s still retains its incredible charm, and since 1979 has been a community favourite. Here they also make everything in house – whether you’re looking for freshly made soup or pasta, or a towering piece of cheesecake, this Italian eatery has it all.
Options for Pizza in the city are truly endless, but be sure to try Standard (for take-out), Prima Strata, and Romeo’s. If you want to celebrate our fresh local seafood, head over to Red Fish Blue Fish (a food truck found on the wharfs at the inner harbour), Fishhook, or Farris’s Oyster Bar. While sushi restaurants are plentiful, Ebizo and Nubo are true standouts. And if you’re looking for more vegetarian or vegan options, Be Love, Lotus Pond, and Rebar should be top of your list.
Victoria seems to be home to more pubs per capita than the rest of the country, so finding an exciting place for a pint is easy. At the top of Bastion Square, you’ll find Irish Times Pub, the Bard & Banker, as well as Garrick’s Head Pub. At the bottom you’ll find The Local (which has a lively patio with views of the Inner harbour). At the edge of old town, you’ll find Canoe Brewpub – a legendary restaurant housed in a historic warehouse which has one of the best (and largest) patios in the city.
Things to Do
As Canada’s oldest Chinatown (and second oldest in North America), Victoria’s Chinatown began over 150 years ago, with the influx of miners looking for gold during the province’s numerous gold rushes. Filled with a maze of alleyways and courtyards, with many original buildings still standing, it’s a great way to explore such a pivotal part of Victoria’s heritage. The best way to explore is to wonder: make sure not to miss the Gate of Harmonious Interest (marking the entrance), the Chinese Public School, and perhaps one of its most famous features is the incredible narrow Fan Tan Alley. While there are several outstanding restaurants in the area, a staple for generations has been Don Mees – a long-running, Chinese institution offering dim sum and other Cantonese and Sichuan plates.
If the weather is cooperating, there are a ton of activities that make the most of the Inner Harbour and Gorge Waterway. At Ocean River Sports, you can rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board for the day; locally known as the ‘pickle boats’, Victoria Harbour Ferries provide a unique way to see the waterways, either as a taxi service, scenic tour, or even for a pub tour; and not to be missed is one of Victoria’s newest attractions, the hot tub boats!
If you find yourself south of the downtown core in James Bay, Fisherman’s Warf is a must visit destination. Here you’ll find floating homes, numerous food kiosks (don’t miss Barb’s Fish and Chips), and a lovely park. This is also one of the numerous destinations in the Inner harbour where you can find whale watching tours.
For an indoor experience, the Bay Centre is Victoria’s downtown shopping destination and is home to several local and international brands. Also nearby is the Royal Theatre, an elegant 19th century venue, which is Vancouver Island’s largest premiere venue for the performing arts. For some additional indoor exploration, spend the day at the Royal BC Museum; founded in 1886, the museum includes three permanent galleries: Natural History, Becoming BC, and the First Peoples Gallery, and hosts a number of rotating exhibits as well. While you’re there, check out the IMAX theatre which displays both blockbuster and educational films on the largest IMAX screen in BC. Also great for the kids is the Victoria Bug Zoo – home to over 50 fascinating species, interactive demos, and knowledgeable (and fun) staff.
If you’re searching for a more boutique shopping experience, there’s no better place to start than lower Johnson Street. From here, you can meander your way through old town, eventually ending up at Upper Fort Street – anther quirky, yet quant shopping area.
For a unique group experience, book a rooftop volleyball court at the Strathcona Hotel, and enjoy an outdoor drink with views over the neighbouring buildings.
Make sure to find time for the Victoria Public Market. Housed in the historic 100-year-old Hudson Bay building, here you’ll find local vendors offering gourmet foods, handcrafted goods, and often live entertainment.
Perhaps the best way to see the city is by air, so for a birds eye view, Harbour Air Seaplanes offers float plan tours of the city and surrounding areas, as well as private charters, and flights to the upper island, mainland, and Seattle.