There are dozens of great things to see and do in downtown Victoria. These are some that are often missed or overlooked. The Bug Zoo and Miniature World are great if you have kids along. The Bateman Centre and Emily Carr are great for art lovers. Market Square and Chinatown are a look into Victoria's past.
11. Market Square(free): Market Square is a fantastic little collection of local and independent stores with a characteristically Victoria-local feel. Formed into a square with an open courtyard in the middle, the courtyard has a strangely welcoming and laid back feel to it. Built in the late 1800's, Market Square was popular with sailors and gold prospectors seeking adventure and fortune. The Square was home to hotels, saloons and outfitting shops that catered to gold miners setting off for the Klondike. This interesting history can be seen in both the architecture and historical murals and photographs that line the entryways. Wandering through Market Square gives you a great sense of Victoria's history. Even Swans Pub that sits in on one(outside) corner seems to embrace a polished and luxurious, yet old fashioned and friendly brewpub feel. Market Square is open Monday to Saturday 10-5pm and Sundays and holidays until 4pm. Walking to Market Square from the Inner Harbour is very nice and scenic. Just walk along the waterfront down Wharf Street or down Government Street. About 5-10 minutes from the Inner Harbour you will come to Johnson Street. Look for the large "Market Square" sign and gate on Johnson Street. You can access Market Square from a few directions and access points, but this is the main entrance and certainly the most visible. Take a look at their store directory here if you are interested in shopping. If you are just interested in relaxing in a colourful and welcoming place, Market Square is hard to beat.
12. Chinatown(free): If you exit Market Square to Pandora Avenue you will find yourself at the edge of Victoria's Chinatown. If you walk to your right, down Pandora Avenue you will see the famous Fan Tan Alley across the street. Fan Tan Alley is a narrow gap in the buildings that contains a surreal collection of stores on either side. Incense fills the alley and on either side the most unusual little shops. The historic feel of Chinatown can be seen in this alley. Ancient wooden beams and brickwork dating back a century can be seen. Victoria's Chinatown is the second oldest in North America(after San Francisco) and oldest in Canada. It dates back to 1858, when the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush caused a rush of immigration to Victoria from San Francisco. The population went from a few hundred, to over 30000 in just a few months! Famine and war further motivated waves of Chinese to come to Victoria. Chinatown continued to grow through the 1800's, where it was estimated to be home to well over three thousand in 1911. A staggering number when you consider that Chinatown was only about six city blocks in size. After 1911 the population and size of Victoria's Chinatown declined rapidly and finally in the 1980's the area was revitalized as a tourist friendly part of the city seen today. In 1995 it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada. Fan Tan Alley exits to Fisguard St and effectively the centre of Chinatown. At the corner of Fisguard and Government St is the Gate of Harmonious Interest. With stone lions at either end, this beautiful gate was a gift from Suzhou, China one of Victoria's sister cities.
13. Emily Carr House($7): Located just a couple blocks past the Parliament Buildings down Government St, Emily Carr House is the faithfully restored Victorian era home of this famous Canadian painter's childhood home. It is an interesting house that transports you back to 1864 into an accurate look at an upper class home in Victoria. Emily Carr lived in this house for most of her childhood before moving to San Francisco, Paris and London for art training.
Over the next few decades the house was passed to Emily's sisters and eventually sold. In 1964 the house was saved from demolition and in 1976 the BC government purchased the property and helped return it to its original condition when Emily Carr lived there. Emily Carr House is open in the summer months and the entry fee is $6.75.
14. Robert Bateman Centre($13): Located in the old Steamship Terminal on the Inner Harbour, across from the Parliament Buildings. Most will recognize this as the building that contained the Wax Museum for decades. The Robert Bateman Centre consists of eight galleries of Robert Bateman's works with a multimedia commentary from the artist himself. The cost to enter is $12.50 and open daily 10-5pm.
15. Miniature World($15): An all ages attraction featuring animated miniature scenes of historical fact, fiction and fantasy. Over 85 scenes are featured, including the world's smallest operational sawmill. Located in the the Empress, the entrance is found around the left side of the building at 649 Humboldt St. Miniature World is open year-round 9am-9pm(summer) and earlier during the off season.
16. Helmcken House(donation): Helmcken House is another beautifully preserved and restored house in Victoria. Located next to the Royal BC Museum, this house was the home of John Sebastian Helmcken. He was one of the three negotiators for British Columbia's entry into Canada as a province. He lived in this house from 1853 until his death in 1920. Helmcken House is historically significant as it was one of the first substantial houses built outside of Fort Victoria and marks the beginning of James Bay, Victoria's earliest residential neighbourhood. Unlike the nearby Emily Carr House what had to be restored, the Helmcken House is largely preserved in its original state.
After his death in 1920, Helmcken's daughter left his bedroom untouched as a sort of shrine to his memory. The BC government purchased the property in 1939, and now it is an extension of the Royal BC Museum. Admission to the Helmcken House is included with your admission to the Royal BC Museum($24), and it is open 12-4pm daily, but only June to August. If you just want to see the house and not the Royal BC Museum, you can pay by donation. Closed the rest of the year it is still worth seeing from the outside if you don't make it during open hours. Another option is to see the virtual tour of the inside from the Royal BC Museum website right now.
17. Walking Tours($15): Discover the Past Walking Tours offer a variety of intensely researched, historical walking tours of downtown Victoria. The operate year-round on a fairly regular basis and offer Ghostly Walks, Chinatown Walks and Discovery Walks. All tours take you through the extensive and interesting history of Victoria. The historical expertise and enthusiasm of the guides is incredible. Definitely should be included in any visit to Victoria if you are curious about history. Tours range in price and duration, but generally 1.5 hours and $15. They have a variety of tours and pricing that are best previewed on their excellent site.
18. Water Taxis($5) & Tours($45): Along the Inner Harbour you will spot water taxis at various places. Victoria Harbour Ferry run taxis and tours year-round and will take you to any or all of the major points of interest in Victoria's Outer, Middle and Upper Harbour. The taxis don't have a set schedule, however they circle the harbour continuously and charge about $5 per zone. The Inner Harbour stop near the Empress to Fisherman's Wharf is in the same zone, so you would pay just $5(one way). They also offer 45 minute tours for $45 that depart every 30 minutes from the Inner Harbour Causeway Marina.
19. Victoria Bug Zoo($10): Located just a block from the Inner Harbour, the Victoria Bug Zoo is a collection of "multi-legged creatures from around the world. Giant walkingsticks, praying mantis, tarantulas and glow in the dark scorpions. There are over 40 different species and Canada's largest ant farm. They have enthusiastic "bug guides" that explain the creatures and even let you touch some of them. Located at 631 Courtney St, between Government Street and Douglas Street. Open 11am to 4:30 and admission is $10 adults and $7 kids under 10.
20. Horse Drawn Carriage Tours($55-$250): You will notice horse drawn carriages along the streets of Victoria, especially near the Parliament Buildings and Inner Harbour. Since 1978, Victoria Carriage Tours and Tally Ho Tours have been running tours in Victoria for decades. The carriages and guides are in keeping with what a Victorian era carriage ride must have been like. Their attention to detail is remarkable and the tour guides are very knowledgeable. They offer several different tours of varying lengths and prices. Victoria Carriage Tours(prices are per carriage, not per person): By the Sea Tour is $100 and 30 minutes long. The Beacon Hill Park Tour is $145 and 45 minutes long. The Royal Tour takes you on a longer route past the Empress and out to Beacon Hill Park, along the ocean and back through Victoria's oldest neighbourhood. $185 and 1 hour long. The Our Very Best tour is $225 and runs for 90 minutes, extending further than the Royal Tour and includes Chinatown and more of James Bay. They run tours year-round and you can usually spot them near the Inner Harbour and jump on without a reservation. Tally Ho Tours: Short and Sweet Tour, 15 minutes for $55(prices are per carriage, not per person). Waterfront Tour, 30 minutes for $100. Beacon Hill Park Tour, 45 minutes for $145. Deluxe Tour, 1 hour for $185 The Premier Tour, 1 hour 30 minutes for $225. The Romance Tour, 1 hour 40 minute for $250(reservations required).
21. Christ Church Cathedral(free): Downtown Victoria has two very beautiful and wonderfully historic churches. Christ Church Cathedral and St Andrew's Cathedral. Christ Church Cathedral is absolutely stunning and looks more like a castle than a church from the outside. The original church here dates back to 1872, however the present structure was built decades later in 1929. Inspired by Durham Cathedral in England, Winston Churchill, while visiting Victoria was asked to lay a stone on the north tower during construction. Located just 5 blocks from the Inner Harbour, the approach to the church is amazing. If you start walking along Courtney Street from Douglas Street you will see it two blocks away. It sits at the end of Courtney Street and takes up most of the block. The view from this spot alone is amazing. As it is a church, you can always go inside and take a look. The inside is as magnificent as the outside. They often have a welcoming volunteer inside to give you a tour if you want. Definitely a must-see in Victoria, that most have never hear about. Whether you like history, architecture, or both, you will be amazed at this stunning building.
22. St Andrew's Cathedral(free): Just a couple blocks away on the corner of Blanshard St and View St is another beautiful church. St Andrew's Church is a magnificent and more conventional looking church built of bricks and with seventy-two foot long nave and 175 foot tower. The cathedral is a National Historic Site of Canada and as with the Christ Church Cathedral you can always(it seems) walk in and take a look around. The interior has 21 huge stained glass windows and even on a rainy day are fantastically bright and beautiful. Possibly the most unusual feature of this church can be found on the outside in the crypt. Walk around the left side of the building and you will spot three wonderfully ancient headstones. One of them reads, "Bishop Charles John Seghers... Murdered in Yesetltor Alaska November 28, 1886 Buried in this Cathedral RIP".
23. Government House(free): Located just a couple blocks from Craigdarroch Castle is the wonderful, free and usually overlooked Government House. The official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of BC, the Government House is filled with extravagant works of art, historical items and lavish furnishings. When the British Royal Family visit Victoria this is where they stay. Though Government House(inside) is only open to the public with a free guided tour one Saturday per month, the beautiful gardens are accessible year-round. You can see inside Government House anytime via an amazing virtual tour they have provided though their website. Click the image here to link to the Government House site virtual tour.
Government House is located on 36 acres of beautifully maintained gardens, separated into numerous zones based on plant life and styles. Included in the massive garden is a large water fountain pond as well as a duck pond. More than half of the 36 acres is occupied by Victoria's cherished trees, the Garry Oak. Located very close to Craigdarroch Castle, Government House is just a 30 minute walk or 5 minute taxi ride from the Inner Harbour.
If you walk to taxi from the Inner Harbour you can either follow Fort St and turn right on Joan Crescent and you will pass Craigdarroch Castle. If you keep following Joan Crescent you will drive directly to Government House when you reach Rockland Ave.