You’ve arrived in Victoria for a couple of days and it’s scheduled to rain on your first full day. With its many forests, lakes, and mountain views across the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver Island looks beautiful in the rain. But if you don’t have a car with you, what can you do?
Luckily, there are many options to keep you entertained in the downtown core of British Columbia’s capital city.
The first decision of the day is breakfast. Victoria has many great breakfast and brunch options, including Jam Cafe and Blue Fox Cafe. The problem is, because these restaurants are so popular, you often have to wait in line. If the lineup continues once you have your table, you might feel somewhat rushed to eat quickly so others can get inside (or maybe this is just me?). These restaurants are also quite small and can feel a little crammed.
For a relaxing sit-down experience in a light and spacious environment, consider Fathom Restaurant inside the Hotel Grand Pacific on Belleville St. At the time of writing, the menu includes avocado toast, coconut chia pudding, tiramisu pancakes, chorizo and bacon hash, salmon and shrimp tartine, and more exciting options. If you’re less of a sit-down breakfast person, the Hotel is also home to the cozy Courtyard Cafe which sells various warm beverages, smoothies, sandwiches and baked goods (all made in house) in a friendly, quiet atmosphere.
If you’re visiting Victoria during a weekday, consider taking a tour of the BC Legislature located next to Hotel Grand Pacific. You can go self-guided or join a guided tour. Times are posted on the legislature’s website. Be aware that visitors are required to go through security screening before entering the building. Unknown to many, the parliament building also has a small dining room with some tasty food for great prices.
Also located on Belleville St is the Royal BC Museum. A lovely space, it hosts various exhibits and its large IMAX theatre features interesting documentaries that showcase Indigenous culture and the beautiful wildlife and landscapes of British Columbia.
From the museum, you can walk through the gardens of the famous Fairmont Empress Hotel and up Douglas St before turning right up Fort St. On this block there are a load of great local shops to peruse. You could spend hours browsing the book shelves at Russell Books, and plant lovers will like Brown’s the Florist. Just opposite, The Papery sells beautiful cards, journals, calendars, and craft decorations. If you’re looking to buy household and cosmetic goods that contain less plastic and are made more sustainably, The Good Planet Company sells various items including candles, bed linens, dish cloths, soaps, food containers, and more! Even if you’re not buying, it’s worth visiting this shop just to feel inspired by the various consumer options that are better for the planet. Just up the street, you can build your vinyl collection at Ditch Records & CDs, and across from here, Oscar & Libby’s is a great place to buy gifts for someone that likes puzzles and games.
By now, you might be ready for some lunch. In this block of Fort St, you’re in a prime area to try food from various cultures. Fans of Vietnamese cuisine can try Pho Boi, Burger Crush has a small menu that’s done well, and La Taqueria offers a more authentic Mexican menu (and strong margharitas!). A short stroll down either side of Blanshard St also opens up more options, including the Italian Deli that makes delicious paninis and sells imported goods, and a couple of ramen and Korean restaurants. For a sweet treat, the award-winning Crust Bakery on Fort St is known for its delicious pastries (blueberry custard is a must-try!) while the nearby Dutch Bakery offers special chocolates and cakes. (If you like marzipan, almonds and whipped cream, you’ll love the Dollar Roll!)
From here, you can head to Yates St by crossing through St. Andrew’s Square on View St. If you have any room left in your stomach while inside this small mall, you’ll probably be tempted by the smells from Empire Donuts, as well as the freshly made soup from Soupa Cafe.
Yates St is home to the Interactivity Board Game Cafe. Bring your friend(s), choose a game, and play away. You can also order food from the menu, which includes a long list of milkshake flavours. If boardgames aren’t your thing and you’re more of a pool person, you could spend a couple of hours at Peacock Billiards on Blanshard at View.
If you’d rather not do anything and just want to switch off for an hour or so, Sapphire Day Spa is on View St, while The Spa Magnolia on Courtney St is considered a luxury spa accomodation.
If you want to give your feet a rest and get out on the water, consider booking a tour with Victoria Harbour Ferry. This 45-minute tour in a sweet little water taxi shares information about the homeland of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations, the development of Victoria as a city, and its naval history. You might see some sea otters and seals in the harbour. Even orca whales sometimes make a brief appearance! Visit the Victoria Harbour Ferry website for more information.
Locals love Victoria for its thrift stores, and there are many to choose from. Value Village on Store St is probably the biggest, but if you’d rather have your money go towards a non-profit, choose Women In Need on Pandora Avenue or the Salvation Army on Johnson St. You can find some great bargains!
When it comes to dinner, there are so many good choices in the downtown core that aren’t part of a chain. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there’s Rebar near Bastion Square, or Green Cuisine in the Market Square off Johnson St. Tapas lovers will love Tapa Bar in Trounce Alley or Perro Negro on Yates St. For true farm-to-table cuisine, 10 Acres Bistro is a good choice. If you like the pub scene, Bard & Banker or the Irish Times on Government St might appeal to you. Fans of Italian can try the beloved Pagliacci’s on Broad St, Fiamo on Yates St, or the fancy Il Terazzo on Johnson St. If you like seafood, consider Finn’s or Nautical Nellies on Wharf St, or Ferris’ Oyster Bar on Yates St. For something more casual, Tacofino on Pandora Avenue is one of Victoria’s most popular eateries, making big burritos with a blend of Mexican and North American style.
If rain is forecast during your visit to Victoria, don’t despair. With a vibrant community of locally owned businesses and organizations, there are many great things to see, do and eat in this west coast city! Whether you like art, history, shopping, games, or being pampered, you’re sure to find something to keep you happy on a rainy day.
The author wishes to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, on whose lands the establishments mentioned in this article are based.