The City of Victoria is actually a conglomeration of many different neighbourhoods, all with their own unique qualities. We would like to help to familiarize you with the neighbourhood options in Victoria so you can make an informed decision about which location would be best for you.
The downtown core of Victoria is very pleasant. It has several different residential neighbourhoods as well as the expected commercial areas. Much of the accommodations in downtown are condos and apartments but there are some older, stately homes at the edges. Many, but not all, of the city's attractions are found in the downtown area. These include The Empress Hotel known for it's old English tea service, the Royal BC Museum
, the inner harbour which features many festivals and attractions, many excellent restaurants, the Government Street shopping district and so much more. Downtown Victoria is safe, clean, well laid out and inviting. Well worth the trip down, there is no doubt.
Historic James Bay is a beautiful neighbourhood surrounded by the ocean and Beacon Hill Park. There is a certain something about James Bay, it might be the old buildings, it might be the setting as it is framed by ocean and the park but it also might just be that when people first arrived on Southern Vancouver Island, they chose this peninsula of land as their place to start the first European settlement. We can only imagine what the clams, oysters and crab was like back then, they must have been spectacular. James Bay also has the Province of British Columbia Legislature within it's borders as well as Fisherman's Wharf, the Cruise Ship Terminal, the Breakwater (a walking path into the ocean along a concrete and stone breakwater), Birdcage Walk and half of Beacon Hill Park. It is a lovely area, prized by many as the best place to live in Victoria.
On the other side of the park from James Bay is Fairfield. A wonderful area with funky shops and old wooden homes, this is a beautiful part of Victoria with flowering tree lined streets and a short walk to the ocean and all amenities. Fairfield's Cook Street Village is an excellent little enclave of funky shops, grocery stores and coffee houses. It is only 3 or 4 blocks long but is packed with some really great choices for eating, drinking and having a nice time. Fairfield also has the city's oldest cemetary at Ross Bay. Here you can actually find some of the first buried European inhabitants, their headstones still intact. On a windy day, be sure to head to Clover Point to watch the waves, the wind and the birds taking it all into stride.
Saanich has had humans living in the area for literally thousands of years. There were many First Nations communities in the area since before recorded history, the Europeans arrived in the 1840s when the Hudson's Bay Company opened a post on the peninsula. In the 1850s Kenneth MacKenzie ordered a school house built, Maple Point School, which is actually still standing. It is now known as The Craigflower Schoolhouse and is a museum worth visiting to see some of the rich farming heritage of the area. Saanich also has an Observatory with a 72 inch telescope which was the largest in the world for a few short months in 1918 after it was built. It survives today and the view from the top of the hill it is mounted on is spectacular. Other places of note worth visiting are the University of Victoria gardens, Mount Douglas Park, Elk Lake and the many roadside farm stands that dot the area.
This area of Greater Victoria is probably best known for three things, it's large number of both hobby farms and working farms as well as several excellent vineyards, the spectacular Island View Beach and the internationally acclaimed Butchart Gardens. Visiting here means eating very well, for instance, stop at the Michell Farm's stand
on your way to Island View Beach and buy an amazing selection of local fruits and vegetables. Hopefully you will be there when the raspberries and strawberries are in season as they are a real treat! We would have to say that a visit to Butchart Gardens
is essential if vising Victoria, you will not be disappointed. Consider visiting the gardens during one of their many themed events like at Halloween, Christmas or New Years but if you are not here for those times of the year, come on a weekend to enjoy the fireworks every Saturday night in summer. Come early to claim your spot to watch, it is a popular event!
To arrive on the island you have to come by boat or by plane. It just so happens that both of those methods are located in North Saanich. The Victoria International Airport
was conceived in the 1950s as a military installation to support the community tax base. It brought in 10,000 military personal, leading to the creation of the town of Sidney. The airport became civilian in the 1960s and continues to serve the South Island to this day. To mention your boat arrival is to speak of the BC Ferries Swartz Bay Terminal
. This is the main arrival dock for the Victoria to Vancouver ferry run. This is the most popular method of reaching the island so if you intend on travelling by ferry, ensure you plan ahead to avoid arriving to discover your ferry is full.
Ah beautiful Sidney by the Sea. Originally build to house the influx of military to the peninsula, Sidney has become a beautiful little seaside community. All along the waterfront in the village are a selection of condos and low multi-unit complexes that offer unparalleled views of the Salish Sea and the island-studded Haro Strait. This is an ideal place for boating, fishing, diving, bike riding, sailing, whale watching and so much more. One of the best kept secrets of Sidney is the massive open air market every Thursday in the summer. With an incredible array of local artisans and small vendors selling just about everything, it is a real treat to visit, especially as a tourist. While you are enjoying the market or the city in general on other days of the week, make sure you take time to visit the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre
, Sidney's own aquarium. Out front you can catch free open air concerts in the summer presented on a beautiful outdoor stage and grassy area. Sidney is also well known as Canada's only booktown featuring 12 book stores in the city limits. Enjoy bird watching? Take time to visit the Shoal Harbour Migratory Bird Sanctuary and if you have time and a boat, Sidney is also the gateway to the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. Sidney is a wonderful place, come and enjoy it!
The City of Langford, located in the area known as the Westshore, was the natural area of expansion for the city. As Saanich is mostly rural farmland, which has been protected under the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), and to the north up the spine of the island is Malahat Mountain, the only logical way to expand the city was west, into what is now called the City of Langford and the area known as Westshore. While there are not any significant attractions that make up Langford, it is well known for it's shopping. You can find every and all large chain stores, a large shopping mall and the Goldstream Village shopping features a wonderful selection of coffee shops, small locally owned stores and great restaurants.
One of the premier areas of Victoria, Oak Bay is full of wonderful stately homes, many of which date back to the turn of the 19th century and have been lovingly maintained and updated over the years. Oak Bay Village has an old English charm about it and is worth the visit, even if you aren't staying in Oak Bay. This municipality gets its name from the Garry Oak ecosystem
that prevails along the coastal areas which were once bustling First Nations communities. Once the Europeans arrived, there was a Hudson's Bay Company farm at Cadboro Bay, cattle were brought ashore at Cattle Point to avoid taxes and some of the original homes belonging to the first settlers still stand to this day. Many of Victoria's most impressive homes are found in Oak Bay and neighbouring Uplands. The Victoria Golf Club in south Oak Bay is the second oldest golf course west of the Great Lakes having been founded in 1893. Paired with the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, founded in 1892, there is a plethora of old world history and charm to be found in Oak Bay!
Best known locally for the fact that the Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt is located there. As one of the region's busiest navel yards, lots of people work and live in Esquimalt. These docks were actually first opened in 1842 to service the Royal Navy and have been expanded many times. In 2010 the Royal Canadian Navy celebrated its 100th anniversary at the base showcasing navel units from all over the world. Since it has been a navel yard for so many years, the whole area is steeped in tradition and has many landmarks from days gone by. If you look at the route that Old Esquimalt Road takes, for instance, this was the trail through the forest that was constructed in 1852 to link the Esquimalt Harbour with the Victoria Harbour and Fort Victoria. Considering the massive influx of people over the years thanks to wars, the relocation of the Royal Navy's Pacific base from Chile in 1865, the gold rush, the railway, the shipyards and so much more, Esquimalt has been and will continue to be one of the most important navel yards in the world. To this day, you can experience both modern and historical navel operations in and around Esquimalt Harbour. If you like ships and the history of the Navy, this is the place for you!
Colwood is a small enclave of Greater Victoria found between View Royal and Langford. Before the highway provided a viable bypass to Langford and up island, the only way to the western communities of Langford and Sooke was up the hill in Colwood. This traffic was called the "Colwood Crawl" as all of the people attempting to get west and north went though the shopping district of Colwood. Car dealers, fast food restaurants, car rental companies and the Casino, you would never know that Colwood actually has some spectacular hidden gems to offer if you took the area at face value, hidden behind that facade are some amazing attractions! First to be mentioned and not to be missed is Historic Fort Rodd Hill. Built in the 1890s as an artillery battery mandated to protect the harbour from attack, the Fort survives to this day and is a jewel of Canadian history. Fitting that from Fort Rodd Hill you can see Fisgard Lighthouse, one of Canada's National Historic Sites. The feeling of stepping into a real 19th century lighthouse is an experience everyone should have, when you are in Colwood, ensure you do! Easily accessible is Hatley Castle, recently purchased and refurbished by Royal Roads University. This was originally the personal residence of James Dunsmuir, Premier and later Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. A little known fact is that the British Royalty was considering moving the Monarchy to the castle during the second world war for protection. Instead they remained in London. The Castle has also been the charge of the Canadian Military before its current use as offices, meeting rooms and attractions like the spectacular gardens, another location simply not to be missed. When in the area, you can also enjoy the Lagoon, a wonderful beach and National Migratory Bird Sanctuary. On the way, you might want to stop in for a swim at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre or even go golfing at either of the two amazing courses, Royal Colwood or Olympic View Golf Courses.
Heading past Langford and Metchosin the next major community you arrive at is the quaint hamlet of Sooke located right on the Sooke Basin with access to the Juan de Fuca Strait and the open ocean. Sooke offers ocean and mountain views from a number of locations within the city limits, quite a spectacular setting to be sure! While Sooke's popularity as the gateway to the wild west side has existed for years, Sooke is really beginning to become a destination unto itself. Sooke offers numerous back country recreation adventures for 4x4s and other off road vehicles. Sooke is also stepping up to provide some amazing mountain biking terrain for amateurs and pros alike. The community is rallying behind the bikers and a number of parks and epic courses are planned for the future. Also worth mentioning, hidden behind Sooke are some great lakes for swimming and fishing. Most are 4x4 or ATV access only but some can be accessed by foot providing for your own secret fishing adventure. Thanks to Sooke's location right on the ocean, fishing, whale watching and many other ocean activities are close at hand and easily accessible. If you choose an oceanfront vacation rental with a dock, some of the fishing charter companies will pick you up right from your accommodation. Be sure to book well in advance, prime weekends fill up quickly! Sooke is also home to the Sooke Fine Art Show which showcases local artisan, many who are internationally acclaimed. The show is an excellent place to purchase art directly from the artists!
View Royal is an unassuming little community on your way to the Westshore. While you might miss the fact that it is there, it does contain a couple of notables as well as some very nice oceanfront neighbourhoods hidden away. When it used to take days to reach Sooke and points west by carriage and horse, there were many places to stop for the wary and hungry travellers of the time. You could water the horses, get a hot meal, even spend the night. They were really the hotels of the day and they were built virtually directly on the muddy tracks that the carriages would take. As these accommodations were situated at regular intervals on the road, they were named for these distances, conveniently indicating how far you had traveled. View Royal actually has 2 of them, the Four Mile Pub and the Six Mile Pub. Both have existed in their current locations for more than 150 years. Other View Royal notables include the Craigflower Manor and Schoolhouse, a National Historic Site built in 1856. Thetis Lake Park is also within the borders of View Royal. This park contains a series of clean lakes suitable for swimming, boating and fishing. They also feature a great circular walk you can take. Many of the residential areas of View Royal have spectacular views, hence the origin of the name, the community sure boasts a royal view!
If there was ever a place that defined idyllic small acreage farmland, it sure is Metchosin. Add to that Metchosin's many regional nature and recreational parks like Witty's Lagoon, Matheson Lake (a personal favourite) and Albert Head, you have all the right ingredients to call somewhere paradise. Oceanfront properties? Yes. Kilometre long fine white sand beaches? Several. Rural atmosphere and preserved forests? You bet! A bike path that runs the length of the area? That too! Small artisan shops, roadside farm stands, a farmer's market, community events, minimal commercialism, Metchosin has it all. There is one thing though, Metchosin is the anglicized version of the local dialect's name for the place, "Smets-Schosen", which literally means "place of stinking fish". While local legend maintains prior to the European arrival, an Orca was beached and died, causing the whole area to reek there is also a more practical and current explanation in the fact that the winter storms wash large amounts of bull kelp onto the beaches and when this rots, it smells like rotting fish. Paradise just smells a little bit in the spring.
The Highlands remains one of the more underdeveloped areas of Greater Victoria. While the area is clearly a target for further residential expansion of Victoria and Langford, it continues to be best known for its many lakes, hills, parks and wilderness. The Highlands has many parks and two of the very best in the area, Gowlland Tod Provincial Park and Mount Work Regional Park which feature absolutely spectacular views of Finlayson Arm and the forested vistas of the Malahat. It is hard to imagine a better location to have a rural lifestyle but still be minutes from the city centre, the Highlands are that. In addition, there are roads that provide access to the peninsula and therefore the ferries and airport. If you like convenience and rural atmosphere, the Highlands is the best neighbourhood for you.