Like most of Canada, Victoria isn’t the cheapest place in the world. I don’t mean to say that accommodation, dining, and transportation are Europe or NYC prices. But really, Vic is hardly a budget destination. For most of my travel career, money has always been lacking. Fun fact: I have only been on ONE trip for which I had a job before, during, and after the trip. So for me, the less I can spend on a daily basis, the longer and further I can travel.
This has led me to some pretty shady (and rat infested) hostels in Thailand, but that is a different post…
Back to Victoria, where saving some bucks will definitely be worth it. Thankfully, Victoria is full of free things to do and free places to see for locals and tourists alike. As one of the most beautiful cities in Canada, there are so many outdoors sights to enjoy that the best tourist attractions in Victoria may just be the details in the city themselves.
Explore the University Campuses
Shout outs to both of my alma maters! The University of Victoria (UVic) and Royal Roads University are both located in Victoria. And yes, I graduated from both of them, because I’m super smart.
University of Victoria
UVic is an easy 25-minute bus ride from downtown, and is the second biggest university in the province. Which is relatively small by American standards. But what UVic lacks in size, it makes up for in Aboriginal art and culture, gigantic cedar and red wood trees, modern architecture, a long house, and all kinds of green space.
Originally, everything on campus laid inside Ring Road. Now, the Ring is the 2km, one-way street circling most of campus and many newer structures having to be built outside the Ring to preserve the green space inside.
UVic has a great on-campus pub and many vegetarian/vegan alternatives in the Student Union Building (this is Vancouver Island after all), plus an independent movie theatre and an art gallery. And Cadboro Bay beach is only a 5-minute walk down the hill away from campus. Though the walk back up to campus will take between 10 minutes to forever, depending on your fitness levels.
Where is UVic?
UVic is in Saanich, north of downtown Victoria about 20 minutes by bus or 10 minutes by car.
Royal Roads University
Most distinct for being located within beautiful old growth forests and running straight onto the seaside, Royal Roads is nothing if not majestic. Maybe because there is a castle on campus. And it is a National Historic Site.
Hatley Castle and Park was built by James Dunsmuire, the son of the richest family in BC in the Victorian Era, in . Then James lost all of his cash in some foolhardiness, leaving the castle and the park to the Canadian military as a college. Later the military transferred the property to Royals Roads, a specialty university that serves mainly off campus and distance learning type programs.
The campus is like no other. Hiking trails weave through the entire grounds, as most of the property is still undeveloped. The Rose Garden is epic, and the surrounding lawn areas are epic places for wedding ceremonies, or for an afternoon picnic.
Hatley Castle is used mainly as administration offices, though the bottom floor has remained a monument to the times and the representative for the National Historic Site Designation. In my first stint on campus, my cohort had our wrap-up banquet in the “ballroom”, wherein we ate fancy food and drank a lot of wine. Then some of us snuck past security guards up to the second floor tower. Most people got caught, I did not 😉 Three cheers for hiding in bathroom stalls.
What makes Royal Roads even more unique is the huge amount of wildlife just hanging out on campus. Peacocks, deer, and raccoons are totally normal neighbours at RRU, while geese and random sea life wander up from the ocean. I am sure I saw a sea otter on campus once.
Several of the X-Men movies were filmed here.
Logan, I will always love you. Always.
Where is Royal Roads?
Royal Roads is a 30-minute drive from downtown in Langford.
Climb Mount Douglas or Mount Tolmie
Victoria has two mountains within the city limits, Mt. Tolmie and Mt. Douglas. Mt. Douglas is the larger more scenic of the two, though you can drive up Mt. Tolmie and get a dang good view of the city with minimal effort.
Mount Douglas is a city park, and is crisscrossed with hiking trails of various levels. There is a road that runs up to the top, though it closes at 11am to make way for pedestrians and cyclists. Mt. Doug park goes through 4 different types of eco-systems, ranging from the seaside beach north of Cordova Bay to three levels of rainforest. The view from Mt. Doug is pretty stellar itself, plus who doesn’t love a rainforest in the middle of the city?
Looking to get beyond Victoria? Check out this great list of 40 Thing to See on Vancouver Island!
Seaside Walks to Enjoy Victoria’s Coastal Beauty
Of all of my favourite things to do on Vancouver Island, gazing at the ocean has to be at the top. Victoria has a lot of seaside, so it’s only natural that we love walking beside that sea.
The Songhees Walkway is a 3 km paved coastal walk along the Esquimalt side of the Inner Harbour. Starting from the Johnson Street Bridge, this walk takes you past totem poles, art installations, rocky beaches, marinas, and chances to see all types of coastal wildlife. When I walked it last, I spotted a river otter floating around being super adorable.
Spinnackers Brewpub, a true Victoria establishment sits right on the walkway, so its seaside patio is a natural place for rest and a beer.
Stroll the Dallas Road Waterfront Trail
Dallas Road is the ultimate in ocean viewing. The Dallas Road Waterfront Trail runs from the eastern lip of the Inner Harbour through Beacon Hill Park, past Clover Point, and all the way to the far end of Ross Bay Cemetery. During my first year of university I spent a lot of time on this trail getting my miles in for my marathon training.
This trail is the ultimate Victoria walk, with 4km of paved or hard packed path that rarely veers far from the crashing waves. Kites and kite surfers can be observed off Clover Point, while the boats and beach activity all along make for excellent voyeurism opportunities.
Hunt for History in Ross Bay Cemetery
Speaking of cemeteries, Ross Bay Cemetery is one of the coolest ones you may be able to find. Just a stone’s throw from the ocean, Ross Bay is home to not only many of Victoria’s most famous dead, but also, many of the dead but loitering. Meaning, this place is super haunted!
An exemplary example of the Victorian-era, Ross Bay Cemetery has been maintained very well, probably not an easy feat with the ocean frequently spraying salt water all over the place.
A forested cemetery with all kinds of old headstones and monuments, Ross Bay is like a historical treasure hunt. Is it morbid to see who can find the coolest dead person?
Of the famous rich white men, we have James Douglas, BC’s very first governor, Robert Dunsmuire, the richest man in BC who built the illustrious Craigdarroch Castle, and Billie Barker, the discoverer of gold up in Northern BC.
Now that the ‘important men’ have been covered, two of the most fascinating and intrepid women in British Columbia’s history rest in the Ross Bay Cemetery.
Nellie Cashman first came to BC for the gold rush in 1873, and was one of very few female miners. She ran boarding houses, mined for gold and ore, and was generally a kickass woman. She earned the nickname the ‘Miner’s Angel’ that winter when she heard of a scurvy outbreak in northern BC. After gathering six men for the relief trip, Nellie made her way 77 days through the snowed-in BC winter to Cassiar, where she delivered medicine and relief supplies, and cared for the ailing. Nellie was such a cool lady, she’s on an American stamp! #nastywoman
Emily Carr was Canada’s most respected and famous artist (in my opinion), and lived and died in Victoria. Most of her art depicts scenes of the British Columbia wilderness and coastline. Her most famous works are her scenes of Aboriginal villages and totem poles in Haida Gwaii. I am currently drinking tea out of a mug with one of her forest paintings on it.
Emily is known as one of the more eccentric of Victoria residents. She never married and was a bit of a prankster. In fact Ms. Carr does sound like someone who was kind of tough to get along with. Emily also kept a menagerie of animals in her home in James Bay, including a monkey. Seriously Emily?
Monkey notwithstanding, Emily Carr was awesome and one of the coolest ladies in Canadian history. Period.
There are actually tours of Ross Bay Cemetery (only $5) that could surely shed more light than I ever could!
Watch the Harbour Traffic at Ogden Point Breakwater
Ogden Point, at the south end of Dallas Road, is a 1km long breakwater that juts into the ocean and is a local favourite. Be it a sunny day or a windy day, I always love walking (or running if I am training for a race) along the breakwater. Seals appear regularly in the waters off of the breakwater, or around the end near the harbour light. Folks hang out on the breakwater walls, doing what Victoria folks do: meditating or smoking weed.
Ogden Point is an excellent place to watch the ships and ferries come in and out of the Inner Harbour, as everything goes past Ogden. This is the natural end point for any walk along the waterfront pathway or along Dallas Road.
Take the Self-Guided James Bay Walking Tour
James Bay is one of the more beautiful neighbourhoods you will ever see. It’s haunted like crazy, but the over 370 heritage houses and adorable streets make up for the potential ghostly terror.
The Victoria Heritage Society has put together one heck of a self guided walking tour through James Bay that goes past many Emily Carr sites, including her home, studio, and where she died. The spectacular and colourful architecture of James Bay is enough to draw even the most non-walking tour types, plus it’s only 3.2KM. You can do that.
Click here for the James Bay Walking Tour Brochure.
Best Places to Stay in Victoria British Columbia
Most people visiting Victoria stick to the downtown/Inner Harbour areas. Which is totally legitimate. But, may I suggest spreading out from those areas and perhaps finding some true Victoria gems instead? Check any of these Victoria hotels and guesthouses for the best in Victoria neighbourhoods!
4.2 Stars, Retro-Kitsch renovated Motel west of Downtown with great onsite diner!
Ocean Island Garden Suites
3.0 Stars, Apartment Suites near Downtown
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3.5 Stars, City Centre B&B in Fairfield
Villa Marco Polo
3.5 Stars, Adult only B&B in Rockland
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