Victoria Introduction Walking Tour, Victoria

Victoria Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Victoria

Perched on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, the capital of the Canadian province of British Columbia, Victoria, is known for its beautiful natural scenery, mild climate, marvelous Victorian-style architecture, and cultural scene. Collectively all these qualities have contributed to this Pacific coastal city's informal title of "Athens of the West".

The region's First Nations people had lived in the area for thousands of years before the European settlers arrived. The forerunner of the city, British fort Victoria, was founded in 1843 by James Douglas of the Hudson's Bay Company. It was named for Queen Victoria who was on the throne at the time, thus making it one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest.

True to its heritage, Victoria has retained a large number of historic buildings intact to this day, including two of its most famous landmarks: the Parliament Buildings completed in 1897 and the Fairmont Empress Hotel overlooking the bustling Inner Harbour.

Other popular attractions to visit include the local Chinatown, the second oldest in North America after San Francisco's; the Royal BC Museum, showcasing the natural and human history of British Columbia; and Fisherman's Wharf, a charming area featuring floating homes, restaurants, and shops.

Also, reputed for its strong focus on horticulture and green spaces, Victoria is affectionately labeled "the Garden City," referring to its many parks and gardens, such as the world-renowned Butchart Gardens and Beacon Hill Park. "The Emerald City" is yet another, similar nickname highlighting Victoria's lush greenery and natural beauty, which is reminiscent of the mythical city of Oz.

Needless to say that the locals are proud of their hometown's unique character and charm. You, too, can join in the chorus of the fans of this "Pacific Jewel" on the Canadian West Coast and see for yourself whether its reputation as a sparkling gem of a city is well deserved by taking this self-guided walking tour.
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Victoria Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Victoria Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Canada » Victoria (See other walking tours in Victoria)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: alice
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • British Columbia Parliament Buildings
  • Royal British Columbia Museum
  • Government Street
  • Fairmont Empress Hotel
  • Miniature World
  • Inner Harbour
  • Wharf Street
  • Fan Tan Alley
  • Gate of Harmonious Interest and Chinatown
British Columbia Parliament Buildings

1) British Columbia Parliament Buildings (must see)

The British Columbia Parliament Buildings are a group of imposing structures situated in Victoria, which were completed in 1898 and are considered a perfect example of the Neo-baroque Renaissance style of architecture. Their stunning design incorporates a range of features like columns, pediments, domes, and classical motifs. The central building is the most notable of the complex, with a magnificent central dome reaching a height of 75 meters, making it the fourth-tallest dome in the world. Atop it is a gold-covered statue of Captain George Vancouver.

The Neo-baroque complex consists of three main buildings, namely the central legislative building, the west wing, and the east wing. The central building houses the Legislative Assembly, which is the lawmaking body of the province. The legislative chambers located in the central building are open to the public when the legislature is not in session.

The west wing of the buildings houses the offices of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and the Legislative Library. The east wing is home to government administrative offices, including the offices of the Premier and the Lieutenant Governor.

These buildings are rich in history, having witnessed many significant events since their opening in 1898 - including the introduction of women's suffrage, the establishment of the provincial flag and coat of arms, and the first meeting of the Western Premiers Conference.

Today, they are a popular tourist destination and are open for public tours. Visitors can explore the stunning architecture, learn about the history of the buildings and the province, and witness the daily workings of the Legislative Assembly. The interiors are also home to numerous works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and murals, which further enhance the beauty of this historic site.

Why You Should Visit:
The buildings and the surrounding garden knoll are spectacular, both at night and during the day.
Mesmerizing interior with mosaic tiles, painted ceilings, and stellar stain glass windows.
You'll be able to take a self-walking tour or a guided tour of portions of Parliament.

Make sure you do the indoor tour, as well as the garden tour – both are free!
You can also sign in at the security desk and visit the basement restaurant which is frequented by all the politicians.
Royal British Columbia Museum

2) Royal British Columbia Museum (must see)

Founded in 1886, the Royal British Columbia Museum is divided into several permanent galleries, including the Natural History gallery, the First Peoples gallery, and the Modern History gallery. The Natural History gallery features exhibits on the province's flora and fauna, including displays of taxidermied animals and interactive exhibits that explore the region's diverse ecosystems. The First Peoples gallery showcases the history and culture of the Indigenous peoples of British Columbia, with exhibits that include ceremonial regalia, carvings, and artwork. The Modern History gallery examines the province's more recent history, with displays that focus on the colonial period, the gold rush, and the impact of industrialization on the region.

The museum's main focus is a fascinating journey through time, with two primary themes taking center stage: the rich history of the major cities in British Columbia, and the captivating history of the indigenous peoples who have long called this area their home. As you wander through the museum's carefully curated collection, you'll discover an impressive array of artifacts and exhibits that vividly illustrate the lives of these communities during a pivotal period of change, when the first Europeans arrived on these shores.

One particularly impressive exhibit focuses on the history of 20th century Vancouver and Victoria, taking visitors on a journey through the bustling city streets of yesteryear. A full-scale mockup of a classic town awaits, complete with a vintage movie theater featuring the legendary Charlie Chaplin, bustling Chinatown streets teeming with activity, and a hotel that showcases various pivotal moments in history. Visitors can even board Capt. Vancouver's ship and witness a gold panning operation in action.

The museum also hosts touring exhibitions. Some of the previous ones have included artifacts related to the RMS Titanic, Leonardo da Vinci, Egyptian artifacts, the Vikings, the British Columbia gold rushes and Genghis Khan. The Royal BC Museum partners with and houses the IMAX Victoria theater, which shows educational films as well as commercial entertainment.

Why You Should Visit:
The main museum in Victoria, BC, with a huge section of anthropology, nice section on natural history and geology of Vancouver Island, and the most amazing reconstruction of entire sections of the city of Victoria during different historical periods.

Don't skip the outdoor section on the side of the main entrance. You can visit one of the original houses of the first big settlement in Victoria, totems, and a First Nation chief house, in a very nice and quiet setting. Otherwise, plan at least 3 hours to enjoy all the exhibitions (permanent and temporary).
Government Street

3) Government Street

Come take a stroll down Government Street, a vibrant hub of entertainment and commerce in Victoria. This bustling street is a veritable treasure trove of fashion, handicrafts, museums, and historical landmarks, including Canada's oldest Chinatown. With its wide sidewalks, Government Street is perfect for leisurely strolls on foot. Begin your journey at the opulent British Columbia Parliament Buildings, a neo-baroque palace that towers over Victoria's picturesque Inner Harbour. Follow the street northwards past the Edwardian gem, The Fairmont Empress hotel, which was built in the early 1900s.

Satisfy your sweet tooth at Roger's Chocolates, a local favorite that has been serving up delectable treats since 1885. Antique enthusiasts will relish exploring the auction houses on Antique Row, where precious furniture and objects abound. For a truly spine-tingling experience, visit the harbor's visitor information center and sign up for a Ghostly Walks tour, where a knowledgeable local guide will regale you with the street's fascinating history on a 90-minute walk.

Government Street also boasts bookstores, a mall with international department stores, and coffee shops, offering visitors a one-stop-shop for all their needs. Don't forget to explore the pedestrian-only alleys off Government Street, such as Trounce Alley, where you'll find a bevy of fashionable boutiques. At Bastion Square, be sure to catch the street performers at work and browse the market during weekends and the warmer seasons. Don't miss the Maritime Museum of British Columbia housed in the historic Old Courthouse building.

Chinatown Victoria is undoubtedly one of Government Street's highlights, and the colorful Gate of Harmonious Interest marks its entrance. This historic district is impeccably preserved and boasts fortune tellers, souvenir shops, restaurants, and teahouses. Visitors can indulge in a "tea flight," comprising three blends that harmonize perfectly with each other.
Fairmont Empress Hotel

4) Fairmont Empress Hotel (must see)

The Fairmont Empress hotel is situated on Victoria's Inner Harbour and has been a celebrated symbol of the city since it was first opened in 1908. Its architecture is grand and majestic, with a mix of Châteauesque, Renaissance Revival, and Beaux-Arts styles, and features an imposing facade with a prominent central dome and grand entrances that lead to the opulent interior.

The Fairmont has been described as one of Canada's finest examples of Edwardian architecture, and has been recognized as a National Historic Site. Its grand exterior is matched by its equally grand interior, which features ornate furnishings, luxurious finishes, and grand public spaces that showcase the best of early 20th-century design. The most iconic feature -- the grand lobby -- features a grand staircase, high ceilings, elegant chandeliers, and is dominated by a large fireplace, which is a popular gathering spot for guests and locals alike.

Another popular feature is the world-famous tea room, where guests can enjoy the hotel's signature Afternoon Tea experience. The tea room has been serving high tea since 1908, and its opulent decor and traditional service have made it a Victoria institution.

In addition to the tea room, the hotel has several other dining options, including a seafood restaurant and a lounge bar. Guests can also take advantage of the waterfront location, with views of the Inner Harbour and easy access to nearby attractions.
Miniature World

5) Miniature World (must see)

As you wander the streets of Victoria, you may stumble upon a seemingly unassuming building. However, as soon as you cross the threshold, you'll be transported into a world of wonder and delight, where animation, lighting and sound effects enhance more than 85 highly detailed miniature scenes.

The amount of time and effort that must have gone into creating each of the intricate displays is truly awe-inspiring. From historical battles to whimsical fairy tales, "Gulliver's Travels" and novels by Charles Dickens, there is something to captivate the imagination of everyone who visits. The attention to detail is simply incredible, and it's easy to get lost in the many layers of each scene.

This is not the kind of place you want to rush through. Give yourself plenty of time to explore and soak up all the magic and wonder that this place had to offer. As you wander through the displays, you will find yourself transported to different worlds and lost in time, with each scene carefully crafted to evoke a specific emotion.

Take your time and press the display buttons. You will watch trains, plane propellers, cars, a trolley, a castle door, goldfish, double-decker buses, a waterwheel (etc.) move within the dioramas.

Summer Hours: 9am-9pm
Winter-Spring: 9am-5pm
Inner Harbour

6) Inner Harbour (must see)

Victoria's Inner Harbour is a feast for the senses! The moment you arrive, you are greeted with the picturesque sight of the stunning Fairmont Empress Hotel, standing proudly with its historic facade and elegant architecture.

The hustle and bustle of the harbour will draw you in, with horse-drawn carriage rides, whale watching excursions, and harbour ferries calling out to you. You'll find yourself swept away by the picturesque views of yachts bobbing gently in the harbour, the majestic British Columbia Parliament Buildings standing tall in the distance, and the charming old buildings, now renovated into restaurants and shops, lining the waterfront.

As you meander along the harbour, you'll be treated to the melodies of street musicians, the performances of jugglers, and the mesmerizing creations of artists. All of this, set against the backdrop of the sparkling waters and the majestic architecture, will create a memory that you'll cherish for a lifetime.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the most beautiful waterfront walkways anywhere; very scenic and very quaint. Lots of free entertainment of breathtaking variety.

If you're into it, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, or take a mini-boat tour (fee).
Wharf Street

7) Wharf Street

In the late 1800s, Wharf Street was the bustling center of Victoria's shipping industry, where ships would dock to unload cargo and passengers. The street was lined with warehouses, hotels, and businesses that catered to the needs of sailors and merchants.

Today, it still retains much of its historic charm, with beautifully restored buildings that house a variety of shops, restaurants, and galleries. Visitors can stroll along the waterfront and enjoy views of the harbor, the Parliament Buildings, and the historic Johnson Street Bridge.

In recent years, Wharf Street has undergone significant redevelopment, with new buildings and attractions popping up. The street is now a bustling hub of activity, with a lively mix of locals and visitors enjoying the sights, sounds, and flavors of Victoria. The combination of old-world charm and modern amenities makes it a memorable experience.
Fan Tan Alley

8) Fan Tan Alley

Fan Tan Alley is a fascinating and unique attraction located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Victoria. Known for being the narrowest commercial street in North America, this alley is less than 0.9 meters (3.0 feet) wide at its narrowest point. The alley runs south from Fisgard Avenue to Pandora Avenue, between Government Street and Store Street. The alley's name comes from the Chinese gambling game Fan-Tan, which was once played here. During the 1910s, it was well-known for illegal gambling clubs and opium factories. However, police raids and declining visitors led to the closure of the gambling clubs in the 1950s and 60s. The alley fell into disrepair, but it was revitalized in the 1970s and 80s with leadership from David Chuenyan Lai.

Today, Fan Tan Alley is a popular tourist destination that contains a variety of small shops, an art gallery, restaurants, apartments, and offices. It was designated as a heritage property by the local government in 2001. The alley's original gate was salvaged and donated to the Six String Nation project, where it now serves as kerfing on a guitar located there. Interestingly, in the 1990 movie "Bird on a Wire," Mel Gibson rides a motorcycle down the alley.

Visitors to Fan Tan Alley can immerse themselves in its rich history and enjoy its unique atmosphere. The narrow alleyway is a testament to Victoria's multicultural past, and visitors can explore its many shops and businesses.
Gate of Harmonious Interest and Chinatown

9) Gate of Harmonious Interest and Chinatown

The Gate of Harmonious Interest is not only a cultural symbol, but also serves as a magnificent gateway to Victoria's Chinatown, the oldest in Canada and second only to San Francisco's in North America. Its history dates back to the mid-19th century, with a mass influx of miners from California to what is now British Columbia.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest was erected in 1981 to celebrate the revitalization of Chinatown by the City of Victoria and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, with the participation of both Chinese and non-Chinese communities. The gate is a shining emblem of unity and harmony, as reflected in the two inscriptions on it, "To work together with one heart" and "To help each other achieve harmony."

The structure itself is a spectacular piece of architecture with elaborate red and gold decorations, a true feast for the eyes. Two hand-carved stone lions, gifted by Victoria's Twin City, Suzhou of the People's Republic of China, stand guard on either side, adding a touch of magnificence to the scene. The outer red pillars hold two time capsules each, to be opened in 2081 and 2096, providing a glimpse into the past for future generations. Additionally, a plaque engraved with the names of 61 Chinese Canadians who fought and died for Canada during World War II is also located at the site, reminding visitors of the sacrifices made for the country.

Why You Should Visit:
The ambiance of Victoria's Chinatown is palpable, as most alleys brim with unique boutique shops. From vegan cork purses to specialty soaps, these shops offer a plethora of items that cannot be found elsewhere. Other stops range from produce, chocolate and bakeries to metaphysical literature. The alleys themselves are cute and infused with atmosphere, featuring exposed brick, vibrant colors, and impeccable cleanliness.

Not all restaurants are great, so make sure you read some reviews before choosing where to eat.

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Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles