Many of the best Victoria neighbourhoods are clustered together because of the city’s location at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and the fact that it is surrounded by water. This makes it an easy city to explore and, as a result, you’ll probably spend most of your time in the greater-downtown core. Take advantage of having both land and water to check out while being right in the heart of the city.
Downtown Victoria is composed of a few distinct areas, which are often referred to separately, but are still in close proximity. The Inner Harbour, Oldtown and Chinatown hold most of the city’s best accommodations, restaurants, nightlife and attractions, making it a good base for your visit to the city. The entire downtown area is easily navigated on foot. Tourists and Victorians alike flock to the downtown core to shop, eat, browse in bookshops, go for coffee, visit different attractions (like the Legislature and museums), watch whales, kayak the Gorge waterway and the list goes on
James Bay, Victoria’s first neighbourhood, is the oldest community on the West Coast of North America north of San Francisco. Consisting largely of quiet residential streets, this area, which flanks the south side of the Inner Harbour, is also home to a few of the city’s better hotels and Fisherman’s Wharf—Victoria’s houseboat community. Strolling through James Bay, you’ll see many houses designated with a “heritage” status, meaning they’ve maintained their original Victorian style and reflect the historical character of the area. James Bay also has its own little village center that includes a grocery store, coffee shops, banks, a liquor store, a pharmacy and other small shops.
Vic West (Esquimalt)
In 1924 the Johnson Street Bridge was built, which linked downtown Victoria with Esquimalt, the historic neighbourhood that sits west of downtown on the other side of Victoria Harbour. In recent years, the area of Esquimalt closest to the water has been renamed Vic West in an attempt to shed the rough reputation of its predecessor. It was originally part of the territory of the Songhees, an indigenous North American Coast Salish people, but they were relocated in 1911 to make way for industrial development. The past 30 years have seen a boom in condominium development along the water, such as Dockside Green, a progressive construction in “green building” practices. Vic West is home to Spinnakers Brewpub, as well as the Vic West Skate Park, the biggest park on Vancouver Island.
As the story goes, wealthy residents looking to get away from the mud flats of the Inner Harbour originally established Oak Bay, a community known to be “more English than England itself.” It has a distinct genteel flavour, apparent in the tearooms, village shops and gardens, but is also changing with the times as more and more pubs, cafés and art galleries pop up in the neighbourhood. The best way to check out Oak Bay is by bike, and you might want to include a pedal through the Uplands area, which is home to many of the most expensive properties in Canada. In the summertime, Willows Beach— one of the most protected and popular beaches in Victoria—is a great place for a swim, and keep an eye out for breathtaking views of Mount Baker in Washington state.
The Rockland/Fairfield neighbourhoods lie south of Fort Street and are separated from downtown along Cook Street. Rockland, which occupies the higher ground, is full of many stylish mansions and gardens, including the attractions of Craigdarroch Castle and Government House. Down the hill, Fairfield is a mix of single-family homes (many also quite elegant) and low-rise, 1970s-looking apartment buildings. Near the bottom of Cook Street (just before Dallas Road) is a collection of coffee shops, restaurants and a couple stores—referred to as Cook Street Village. It’s a great spot to sit and people-watch while enjoying a coffee before a walk in nearby Beacon Hill Park. Fairfield is also home to the Moss Street Market, which runs weekly from April to October.