Among the things to do in Victoria, the world-class attractions are worthy of a prominent place on your travel itinerary—Butchart Gardens, say, or the Royal BC Museum. For visitors on a budget, however, there are plenty of free things to do in Victoria. Here are some of our $0 favorites:
#1 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Stroll the Causeway
The Causeway is the bustling pedestrian walkway circling the Inner Harbour. It’s repeatedly voted the best people-watching spot in Victoria and offers beautiful views of the water, the Parliament Buildings and the skyline. Here, you can grab the Harbour Ferry for a 45-minute tour of the Gorge Waterway.
• The Inner Harbour and Causeway, near the intersection of Belleville St. and Government St., map
#2 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Take in the docks
The docks at Fisherman’s Wharf are home to charming fishing boats, float homes and a wonderful new children’s playground. If you are willing to spare a bit of cash, there are other things to do at this Victoria landmark, such as sample yummy ice cream and fish and chips.
• Fisherman’s Wharf, near the intersection of Erie St. and Dallas Rd., fishermanswharfvictoria.com, map
#3 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Tour the natural parks
The Capital Region—that is, the Greater Victoria area and the Gulf Islands—is home to an excellent collection of natural parks, from the beach-front Island View Regional Park on the Saanich Peninsula to the wild and rugged East Sooke Park on the West Coast. A variety of free, drop-in programs are scheduled throughout the year (see the events calendar here).
• Victoria’s parks, various locations, 250-478-3344, crd.bc.ca/parks
#4 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Tour Chinatown
The colourful shops and sidewalks of Canada’s oldest Chinatown are sure to brighten your visit no matter what the time of year. Admire the historical murals, walk Canada’s narrowest street and browse the eclectic shops for hints of the community’s fascinating past.
• Victoria’s Chinatown, around Herald St. and Government St., map
#5 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Beacon Hill Park
This 183-acre park in downtown Victoria offers plenty of things to do, including a playground, year-round gardens and duck ponds, plus a seasonal water park and 18-hole putting green. A petting zoo welcomes guests from spring through fall for a small admission fee.
• Beacon Hill Park, south shore along Dallas Rd., beaconhillpark.com
• Map and reviews
#6 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Jump in the lakes
Come summer, visitors can cool off at one of the region’s many fine lakes. Local favourites include Elk and Beaver Lake Regional Park on the Saanich Peninsula, Thetis Lake Regional Park in the community of View Royal (15 minutes from downtown) and, a little further afield, Matheson Lake in Metchosin.
[RELATED: 20 Things to Do With Kids in Victoria]
#7 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Window shopping
The ideal window shopping destination in the city is historic Government Street. It’s an excellent place to pick through souvenirs, peruse top-notch retail stores and to see the remnants of the city’s 19th century start as Fort Victoria.
• Government Street, between Herald St. and Humboldt St., map
#8 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Snap a picture with totem poles
Head to the Royal BC Museum grounds and explore the many totem poles at Thunderbird Park. Mostly carved by Gitxsan, Haida and Kwakwaka’wakw artists, these striking artefacts are deeply associated with native culture of the region. Of all thing things to do in Victoria, this is one of the most memorable—and quintessential.
• Thunderbird Park, Royal BC Museum, 250-356-7226, website
• Map and reviews
#9 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Walking the breakwater
Located just a few minutes from the Inner Harbour on the James Bay waterfront, the breakwater offers a different view of the city and gives visitors a chance to take in Na’Tsa’ Maht – The Unity Wall, which depicts the history of the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations.
• James Bay Breakwater, access from Dock St. and Dallas Rd., map
#10 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Watch bald eagles and the salmon run
The best place to watch the autumn salmon run is Goldstream Provincial Park, in Victoria’s West Shore neighbourhood. The park offers walking and hiking trails past waterfalls, and the river where the fish return upstream to spawn. Winter brings majestic bald eagles to the park, visible on and above the treetops. You can learn about all these species at the Nature House, located on-site.
• Goldstream Provincial Park, Trans-Canada Hwy, just north of the village of Goldstream, 250-478-9414, goldstreampark.com
• Map and reviews
#11 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Admire BC’s awesome art
Browse the stunning works of art on display at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, which offers pay-what-you-can days on the first Tuesday of every month. The permanent exhibit of Emily Carr works showcases British Columbia’s premiere artist.
• Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1040 Moss St., 250-384-4171, aggv.bc.ca
• Map and reviews
#12 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: See the view from a mountain top
Victoria offers plenty of uphill hikes that pay off with gorgeous vistas. Mill Hill Regional Park‘s easy 200-metre climb is a great choice that’s close to town. More experienced hikers may want to try Lone Tree Hill Regional Park and Mt. Finlayson in Goldstream Provincial Park. Be sure to pick up a trail map before departing and leave plenty of time to return before dark.
#13 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Drive the Scenic Marine Route
Capture the city’s picturesque oceanfront with a leisurely drive or cycle along the well-marked Scenic Marine Route.
#14 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Walk the history
A stroll through downtown takes on a whole different meaning when you follow the Signs of Lekwungen. These bronze markers provide an interpretive route along the Inner Harbour and surrounding areas that honours the art, history and culture of the Coast Salish people who have resided in the Victoria area for generations.
• Signs of Lekwungen, throughout downtown Victoria, website
#15 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Go fish
For anglers, near-the-city opportunities include Elk Lake (on the Saanich Peninsula) and Langford and Thetis Lakes (in the West Shore community). The pier at the foot of Sidney’s Beacon Avenue is another popular saltwater spot. Check with local outfitters for license requirements.
#16 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Take a ghost tour
Victoria is known as the most haunted city in British Columbia, and you can enjoy a self-guided ghost tour for free by picking up a guide at the Inner Harbour Visitor Centre. Stops include the Old Burying Ground, Ross Bay Cemetery and Bastion Square—formerly a courthouse ruled by “the hanging judge,” Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, and considered by many to be Victoria’s most haunted spot.
#17 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Bike the geography
Experience every aspect of the Capital Region’s picturesque landscape, from rolling agricultural lands to West Coast forest, by taking a bike trip along the Lochside and Galloping Goose multi-use trails which are set up along a former rail lines.
#18 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Surfing and skimboarding
Skimboarders can take advantage of the open expanse of flat, sandy beach at Witty’s Lagoon in Metchosin (just be sure to check the tide tables before heading out), while surfers watch for the perfect waves to appear at Jordan River and Sombrio Beach.
#19 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: The sculpture walk
In the charming Sidney-by-the-Sea, which is a quick drive north of Victoria, you’ll find the Sidney Sculpture Walk—a waterfront walkway that leads past several evocative outdoor works of art.
• Sidney Seaside Sculpture Walk, foot of Beacon St., Sidney, sculpturewalk.ca
#20 FREE THING TO DO IN VICTORIA: Go kayaking
To experience the natural West Coast environment, paddlers should hit up protected oceanfront waters. We recommend Cadboro Bay on the Juan de Fuca shore near the University of Victoria.
• Cadboro Bay, at the foot of Sinclair Rd., cadborobayvillage.com