Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Top 20 Victoria Free-bees!

So, is the high cost of fuel, lodging, meals, ferries, etc, etc, getting you down!

You think you can't afford to spend all that coin and still pay to do stuff in Victoria?

Well, just to help you out, here is my Top 20 Victoria Free-Bees, where you can find great things to do in British Columbia's beautiful capital city, and all of them for free! (Or, mainly free)

To facilitate things, I have grouped the items into two areas;

  • Downtown / Inner Harbour - you can walk to everything here
  • Greater Victoria - you will need transportation to get to these offerings.



1. Tour the Legislature Building

Regular tours are provided of this magnificent building located on the west side of Victoria's beautiful Inner Harbour. Learn a little BC history, see some remarkable sights, and enjoy the Gothic architecture of this Inner Harbour Beauty. Inquire at the main doors at the top of the front steps for an available tour.

Also, be sure to take in the building at night; it is outlined in white lights and the sight is unforgettable.

And while you are at it, stroll the legislature grounds. You will find the de rigour statue of Our Queer Old Dean (Queen Victoria), a totem pole, statues, flowers and other interesting things.

2. Visit the lobby of the Royal BC Museum (between the Empress Hotel and the Legislature Building)

The museum and IMAX are both great, but cost. However, the lobby usually contains some exhibits and is free. Check out the impressive totems in the foyer. There are two gift shops to inspect, and, best of all, is a very impressive multimedia show about BC that is projected onto a large BC map. It runs about every 15 min. and is worthwhile waiting for. Often a Clarion concert can be heard from the bell-tower, and just on the corner nearest the harbour is a cut-out of famous BC figures so you and your group can stick your head in one and take the necessary goofy tourist photo as a souvenir.

3. Spend some time in the Empress Hotel on the Inner Harbour

The Grande Dame of the city has been around for 100 years and it is a classic example of the old railroad hotels, and an icon for the city. Its ivy-cloistered walls dominate the southern end of the harbour. From the Leglislature or the Royal BC Museum, enter the gardens on the west side grounds and enjoy the roses and other flowers in evidence. Head south to enter the attached Convention Centre Lobby to view the impressive native art on display. From here, head north into the hotel itself. Just to your left you will see the famous Bengal Room - have a look in and check out the iconic tiger-skin over the fireplace at the back. (Its the perfect place for a refreshing gin and tonic and a little conversation about the tattered shape of The Empire). On the way out, stop and to check out the 'facilities'; they harken back to a gentler age.

Browse the shops located on the concourse and have a look at the historic photos on the walls. In Canada, this passes as real history. At the end of the hall to your right is the original hotel entrance (which has now been relocated to the east end of the building). This space has now been enlarged exclusively to accommodate the famous lobby afternoon High Tea service. (High Tea at the Empress is expensive, you can enjoy the same thing elsewhere at half the price - the James Bay Teahouse, The Blethering Place, etc). However, you can walk through the lobby and past the dining room to take in the elegant ambience, and emerge at the new front entrance. (The front staff might even disclose the number of the haunted room in the hotel, if you ask politely.) From here, check out the halls to your right and the upper lobby.

You can also take a free tour of the hotel on mornings; enquire at the front desk or from the information booth near the Bengal Room.

4. Hang Out On The Inner Harbour

Not only is it scenic; Victoria's Inner Harbour is also a hub of constant activity. Watch the little water-taxi's flit back and forth, see the float-planes land and take off, and observe the comings-and-goings of the Washington Ferries, private boats and whale watching craft. The harbour is a bee-hive of activity, and is never tiresome.

Often there are buskers performing for the tourists in front of the Empress Hotel. Listen to music, watch people perform for the audience, or simply enjoy the ambiance. Along the lower causeway (at the southern end in front of the Empress Hotel) you will find an assortment of carvings, paintings and jewellery available for viewing and sale. At night the harbour comes alive with light; it is worth the effort to see the harbour at night.

Special Events - on Sunday mornings at 10 am during the summer the water taxi's do the equivalent of the Musical Ride, but on the water. Be sure to take this unique event in from the shore.

The inner harbour is also home to numerous special events such as the spring Boat Show, the Tall Ships festival, BCs birthday bash, fireworks, and the annual Symphony Splash - a full concert on a barge.

A full-service Tourist Information booth is located on the south-east corner of the harbour; right below the Art-Deco Clock Tower. There are also public washrooms located here.

If you still have the energy and the time and interest, with the Mandatory Viewing now out of the way, you can consider taking in some of the many other things to do in the immediate area.


5. Check Out the Sights just across the street directly north of the Legislature

There you will find all the caleshes (carriages) parked, and take some good photos of the horses at work and rest. You can also take in the plaza found there with its fountain and Canada's federal and provincial crests. Just around the corner on the grounds of the Grand Pacific Hotel is a small pond frequented by ducks.

6. Stroll The Seawalk On The Inner Harbour to Fisherman's Wharf.

Walk north up Bellevue Street to the Laurel Point Hotel, behind which you can follow a beautiful harbourside path to Fisherman's Wharf. This is a 20-minute walk. Fisherman's Wharf is partly a working pier with fishing craft constantly moving about, and partly a subdivison that is home to a number of houseboats. Located there is the famous Barb's Fish and Chips shop, as well as other floating food emporiums, including Grilligan's, which features a 'paddle-through' window for take-out kayakers, visible from the little bridge to the wharf.

However, the most interesting item in the area is a long-time resident; Sammy, the harbour seal. Sammy hangs around the pier just in front of the floating fish food store, where you can buy scraps of fish in a bowl for a few bucks. Get your camera ready as someone holds the fish out over the pier. Sammy will leap up to take the treat from their hand. Sammy will also turn around in the water if you whirl the fish with your hand.

Sammy now has a mate, and a little one as well, both gainfully employed in haming it up for the tourists. Just beware, the seagull sitting on top of the fish store will try to steal the fish treat from the bowl before it gets to Sammy!


7. Walk the Ogden Point Breakwater

The area directly behind the Legislature is James Bay. There you can stroll through a neighbourhood filled with turn-of-the (19th) -century homes with pleasant gardens. By heading directly west, about 20 minutes later you will arrive at the cruise ship terminal (for the really big ships). Walk the half-mile to the far end of the breakwater and take in the fresh sea air. There are beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains and the Haro Strait to the south, the West Shore Communities and the Esquilmault Naval Base is to the north, views of the harbour entrance, and, of course, the spectacle of the cruise ships themselves, if they are in town.

A popular, (and inexpensive), local cafe is located at the entrance to the breakwater, and just across is a favourite spot for skin-divers.


8. Drop by Thunderbird Park

Directly south of the Royal BC Museum is Thunderbird Park. It is home to an impressive collection of Totem Poles and also has a native Longhouse of traditional construction. The historical Helmekin Museum is located there, but the grounds are free, and make excellent backdrops for some impressive photos. Just across the street is the Crystal Palace, a magnificient structure that is now a convention hall. Next to it to the south you might be lucky enough to see a lawn-bowling game in progress. Take a photo; the club is being threatened by all of the condos that covet their land.

9. Spend the day at Beacon Hill Park

A 5-minute walk south of the Royal BC Museum you will come across a magnificent urban park with plenty to offer the visitor. Stroll the paths, admire the flowers and trees, and feed the ducks. There is a children's petting zoo for the young ones. Be sure to watch the Running Of The Goats, which happens about every two hours when the animals are exchanged for a new batch from the barn.

Beacon Hill features a free waterpark for the kids to cool off on a hot day, (shaped like a giant watering can, at the south west side of the park), a putting green to sharpen your golf skills, the tallest carved totem in the world, cricket games on the lawn, and great views from Beacon Hill, from which signal fires guided mariners. All of this is free.

Just off Beacon Hill Park at the northwest end is the famous Beacon Drive In - the Victoria version of Mel's Drive-In from the Happy Days show. Or, for the more adult members, at the north-east end of the park you will find The Beagle; a classic pub located in Cook Village. (You have to eat, after all!)


10. Take A Historical Walk in Downtown Victoria

Victoria has 150-years of history. Check out some of the interesting buildings, sites and history of the area while strolling downtown streets. The Tourist Information Booth located on the south-east corner of the Inner Harbour has detailed maps of three historical walks in downtown Victoria. This is a free way to enjoy the city, and learn about its history on the way. There are stops in the oldest Chinatown in North America, the smallest street in North America (Fan Tan Alley), a bank where Robert Service once worked, the outline of the old Hudsons Bay Fort to be found, and many tangible vestiges of Victoria's elegant (and not-so-elegant) past to be discovered.

11. Enjoy the citylife at Bastion Square

Head north along Wharf street and drop down to the water to watch the boats and planes come and go. Here you will even find an excellent fish and chips shop located in an old shipping container! After about three blocks return to Wharf Street above, and go up the steps on the east side of the street. This is Bastion Square, close to where the original Hudson's Bay Fort was located (coincidently, on what is now called Fort Street), and where public hangings once took place. Bask in the sunshine at an outdoor table, check out the offerings from local artists, and do some window shopping in local shops. In the summer Buskers will also hang out here. Head up the alley to the east, cross Government Street and you will find more local flavour in Trounce Alley.


12. Peruse the Shops on Government and Douglas Streets

Victoria's retail cente is just to the west of the Inner Harbour. Besides the usual souvener shops and restaurants, you will find Murchies - an authentic tea shop where you can find such things for sale as special tea blends, clotted cream, egg-coddlers, tea cozys, and toast racks. Make sure to stop in at a local favourite, Roger's Chocolates, to try out their legendary treats and enjoy a historic building harkening back to Victorian times. Check out local history at Munro's Books. Or, pick up some BC wines, smoked salmon, cream cheese and fresh bagels for a memorable meal.

There are many local art galaries to enjoy, and pose for the mandatory tourist shops in front of the wooden mounties, the whales and the big stuffed bears in front of the shops.

Often you will encounter buskers and street artists for entertainment. Unfortunately, there are also the pan-handlers, but try not to let them detract from the pleasure of the experience of downtown Victoria.


13. Tour the LGs Gardens

No doubt you have heard of the world-famous Butchart's Gardens, and while they are magnificent, they will set you back about $25 a head to view. So why not stroll the grounds at the Lieutenant-Governor's official residence for free. It also has a beautiful rose garden, lush green lawns and manicured flower beds to enjoy. A duck pond is home to local wildlife, and there are fine examples of a local Vancouver Island species of tree - the Gerryoak. A spectacular rose garden is contained there, as is an herb garden.

If you are in the area over Christmas, the New Year Levee is always a good function to attend, with all kinds of goodies to be had for free. See my earlier blog specifically about the Levee.

14. Enjoy some of the many panoramic vistas of the area

The beautiful local scenery can be admired from the heights by a trip to local heights. There, spread out below you, are the city, the ocean, the mountains in the background, and the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Local favourite spots for viewing are Mount Tolmie, Mount Doug, and Bear Mountain. Mount Doug and Tolmie are located right in the city. Bear Mountain is just on the outskirts to the northwest, (turn south at the round-about for the vista), and is home to a Jack Nicolas golf course and a mini-Banff resort.

There is also a little-known height just behind Gonzales Bay, which is worth the effort. On it you will find the old original astronomical observatory, a cairn dedicated to the early explorers of the area, and even a spotting tower from an old WW-II gun battery that protected the city. It is worth the effort to try to find these spots. From Dallas Road turn north on Foul Bay Road; right at the stop sign, and look carefully for a half-hidden road to the right, near the crest of the hill. Take it to the parking lot at the top and walk from there. To find the cairn and the gun battery, take the little road across from the parking lot and follow it to the end. The cairn is on the last peak to your left, and the battery is on the last peak to your right.

15. Drive the Scenic Dallas Road

A drive along the ocean-front is a must for any visitor, if you have transportation. [If not, you can rent a vehicle, or even a scooter to make the drive]. You could spend an entire day doing just this. From the Legislature head north and simply stay on the road as it winds across the north end of James Bay and joins with Dallas Road. You will be treated to spectacular views and a whole range of possible things to see and enjoy.

Among these are; Fisherman's Wharf, Ogden Point (the cruise-ship terminal), Henderson Pond (where the R/C Club runs boats on Sunday mornings), Beacon Hill, Mile Zero on the Trans Canada Highway, the Terry Fox Statue, Fanyo Beach, Clover Point - home to paragliders and kiters, the historic Ross Bay Cemetary, Willows Beach, Oak Bay - a community that is a slice of England), the Gonzales Observatory, Ten-Mile Point, Cattle Point, Mount Doug Park, etc.

16. Walk / Cycle the Galloping Goose & Lochside Trails

Victoria has great walking and cycling trails that run right through the heart of the city out to Schwartz Bay on the peninsula to the north, and all the way to Sooke in the west. Along the way you will find parks, ponds, playgrounds, places to stop for a snack, vegetable stands, and even a field for R/C aircraft!

17. Take in a Local Market

There is a regular circuit of outdoor markets in the area; among them is the Moss Street Market on Saturdays, the Sidney Market on Thursdays, and the Bastion Square Market on Sundays. Most of these are seasonal, so check out the schedule before you go. You can sample local food, examine local wares, purchase art or jewellery, or just enjoy the friendly atmosphere.

18. Check Out the local Parks

Right at the southern side of the Malahats on the highway leading up-island is a magnificent example of a Pacific Rainforest and Old Growth forest named Goldstream Provincial Park. Stroll thru the moss-covered cedars and pines. Check out the salmon spawning grounds, observe the eagles and spot wildlife.

There is also a great interpretation centre at the end of the trail, with its famous Salmon-cam. During spawning season [October to December] the area is swarming with eagles that come from as far away as California for the feed. You can even make your own unique 'salmon print' art (in-season), which you can frame and hang in your office as a reminder of the trip!

The Sooke Pot-Holes (pools scoured in mountain streams) offer refreshing mountain walks, good dipping and beautiful hiking trails for all. All beside unique canyons and pools carved out of the rock by a rushing mountain stream.

Also not to be missed are Gorge Park, located upstream from the Inner Harbour; The Lagoon on the west-shore; the grounds at Hatley Castle, (Royal Roads), and other local parks.

19. Take a mini-trip to Olde England in Oak Bay Village
This little area in the east end of the Victoria area is reputed to be more English than England itself. It is a charming slice of the Old Sod and features shops, stores, pubs, restaurants and tea-houses with authentic English goods, foods and beverages. Many unique and interesting things can be found in the village, and it will be memorable day that won't cost an arm and a leg as long as you just windowshop.

20. Patrol Antiques Row

No, this is not the Old Folks Home; Victoria is home to a vast collection of antique and curio shops. These are concentrated on Fort Street in the two blocks east of Douglas Street. There you will find for sale all kinds of interesting furniture, knicknacks and assorted odds and ends. An afternoon spend visiting the shops is like rummaging your old uncle's attic and garage.

If you are really into it, there are two evening auctions held regularily at Kilshaw's and Lunns. Some facinating characters appear at these events, and a whole evening's entertainment is free for the taking. There is nonstop action and it doesn't cost a thing to observe, as long as you don't scratch your nose at the wrong time!


So, as you can see, there are lots of things to see and do in Victoria that don't cost anything!

And, for those of you that are on a budget, there are even more deals to be had during early March when the Be A Tourist In Your Own Town promotion offers great deals on admissions, reduced hotel rooms, and discounts at selected restaurants. A $10 ticket can yield more than $500 in value. Sure, the weather can be a little off, but compared to the rest of Canada it is positively spring-like! Besides, with cheap flights and all, you will never find a less-expensive time to enjoy the local area.

Full details may be found at:

The 2009 promotion runs from March 4 - 8th 2009, the ticket-book is $10, and the offerings are:


  • Abkhazi Gardens
  • Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
  • Beacon Hill Children’s Farm
  • British Columbia Aviation Museum
  • CFB Esquimalt Naval & Military Museum
  • NRC – Centre of the Universe
  • Glendale Gardens and Woodland
  • Pacific Undersea Gardens
  • Mineral World & Scratch Patch
  • Miniature World
  • Royal London Wax Museum
  • Sidney Historical Museum and Archives
  • Sooke Region Museum


  • "A" British Columbia – Television Station Tour and Open House, Saturday, March 7th
  • Legislative Assembly of British Columbia – Free Parliament Buildings Tour /10% off in Gift Shop
  • M.V. COHO/Black Ball Ferry Line – FREE TOURS on board the M.V. COHO
  • Market Square – FREE 30-Minute Historic Walking Tour – afternoons only
  • Murray’s Trick and Joke Shop – Free magic demos - 10% off retail (formerly Tony’s)
  • Prince of Whales -20 Minute Harbour Cruise - mornings only


  • Arbutus Ridge Golf Course and Olympic View Golf Course- 2 for 1 Green Fees
  • Artisan Wine Shop –10% off retail
  • BC Transit – ½ Price Super Day Pass or Discount Day Pass
  • Craigdarroch Castle – 50% off Regular Admission Rates
  • The Fairmont Empress – 50% off Regular Tea Price
  • Fort Rodd Hill & Fisgard Lighthouse – 2 for 1 Admission
  • Gray Line Tours - 75% off 45 minute City Tour - Ride for only $ 5.00
  • Great Pacific Adventures – 2 for 1 Marine Adventure Tour
  • Great Canadian Casino –Buy $5, Get $10 in slot play
  • Hotel Grand Pacific – The Pacific Restaurant - 2 for 1 West Coast Tea
  • Hyack Air Floatplane Tours – 40% Off ($59.00 p.p) Scenic Floatplane Tour of Victoria
  • Oceanside Gifts & Maple Leaf Gifts – 10% Discount on over 6,000 Items
  • “O” Bistro – 2 for 1 Appetizers with purchase of entree
  • Odeon Theatre – 2 for 1 Admission
  • Maritime Museum of British Columbia – Enjoy $5.00 Admission Fee
  • Mineral World and Scratch Patch - Buy 1 $10 Scratch Patch bag and get second one Free.
  • National Geographic Imax® Theatre – 50% off Regular Admission- Valid on standard 45 minute feature only
  • The Original Christmas Village – $1.00 Beenie Babies, 2 Free w/ $15 purchase
  • Pacific Coach Lines – 15% off Retail Fare between roundtrip Victoria/Vancouver fares
  • Prince of Whales – 2 for 1 Marine Wildlife Tour
  • Red Fish, Blue Fish – 2 for 1 on Local Cod and Chips with purchase of 2 beverages.
  • Rogers’ Chocolates – ½ price on any individual hand-wrapped Victoria Cream
  • Rogers’ Chocolates’ Soda Shoppe – ½ price on an individual Ice Cream cone
  • Royal BC Museum – 50% off Regular Museum Admission
  • Sam’s Deli – Complimentary soup or salad with any sandwich purchase
  • Swans Brew Pub – 2 for 1 Burgers and Free Brewery Tours
  • Tilley Endurables– Adventure Clothing – 10% Off any regular priced item.
  • Wild Saffron Bistro - 2 for 1 Entree
  • Willow Stream Spa – 30% off any Facial/Massage/Body Treatment

Present Ticket To Redeem Special Hotel Rates At The Following Hotels*

  • Embassy Inn - $33.00*
  • Executive House Hotel- $32.50*
  • Hotel Grand Pacific $45.00*
  • Huntingdon Hotel & Suites - $30.00*
  • James Bay Inn Hotel & Suites $30.00
  • The Oswego Hotel $45.00
  • Quality Inn Downtown- $31.50*
  • Swan’s Suite Hotel $40.00*
  • Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour- $45.00*

* All rates quoted are per person, per night, based on double occupancy and subject to availability.
Not valid with any other offer or promotion. Reservations are required.


Anonymous Amy A. said...

Thanks for the tips, and the BC Ferry tips too. Wonderful.

8:37 AM  

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