The historic seaside capital of British Columbia is a cosmopolitan city brimming over with aesthetic appeal and charm. Additionally, it’s jam-packed with world-class gardens, phenomenal farm-to-table cuisine, and bucket-list-worthy museums. And, even those on a budget can enjoy its many delights, thanks to the wealth of free things to do in Victoria, B.C.

In fact, a scenic jaunt across the Salish Sea aboard the Victoria Clipper ferry is not only affordable, all it requires is your current passport and weekend bag. Besides that, the value rate makes it hard to say no to a guilt-free weekend of shopping and exploring!

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Want to have fun without breaking the bank? Consider these 20 free things to do in Victoria, BC that won’t cost you even a single loonie.

1. Watch for Whales

Orca off the shores of Victoria, B.C. credit: Jonathan E Shaw via Flickr

There are many paid whale watching boat tours in Victoria. But did you know you can see them without paying a thing? Of course, it’s not guaranteed, but orcas have been spotted from the walkways around the Inner Harbour, and from Beacon Hill Park. Plus, if you visit the park, you’ll be checking off another one of the top free things to do in Victoria, B.C. on our list further along. Not to mention, at minimum, breathtaking views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State are guaranteed.

2. Tour the Renowned Parliament Buildings

Victoria Parliament Buildings. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Look closely to catch sight of the many sculptures adorning the Parliament Buildings. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

If anything epitomizes Victoria, it’s the iconic blue-green domed Parliament Buildings. Take one of the free guided tours available to get expert insight as you explore, bringing history to life.

Make your visit even more exciting by checking to see when the Legislative Assembly will be in session. Visitors are invited to go behind the ornate ropes of the public galleries to attend debates, watch live chamber proceedings, and committee meetings.

NOTE: On weekends, visitors must join a tour to enter. The free tickets are distributed from the front driveway on a first-come, first-served basis.

3. Experience the Return of the Queen at the Fairmont Empress

The reconstructed dome high above the hotel’s Palm Court. Credit: Annarae
The reconstructed dome high above the hotel’s Palm Court. Credit: Annarae

A renowned international landmark, it would be hard to find anything more quintessentially Victoria than the Fairmont Empress. A fixture in the capital since it opened in 1908, the moment you step inside you’ll be immersed in Old-World glamour and New World whimsy. The cloud-like chandelier a standout crafted out of 250,000 hand-cut crystals, floating above the Empress lobby.

The Empress’ other showstopper is in Palm Court. A kaleidoscopic stained-glass dome, the colors of the glass shift with the weather, making it appear different in every season, and sometimes every day. Definitely worth a return visit!

4. Wander through Victoria’s Vibrant Chinatown

With its whimsical silhouette and bold color scheme, the Chinese Public School is perhaps Chinatown’s most distinctive heritage building. Photo: Charlie Chan
With its whimsical silhouette and bold color scheme, the Chinese Public School is perhaps Chinatown’s most distinctive heritage building. Photo: Charlie Chan

A piece of advice: when you have the opportunity to experience North America’s second-oldest Chinatown district, take it! Victoria’s Chinatown is chock-full of delights. Discover everything from hidden courtyards and enticing alleyways to rich cultural attractions, one-of-a-kind restaurants, and a treasure trove of shops. To take it all in, we highly recommend exploring this colorful neighborhood on foot.

Walk beneath the immense Gate of Harmonious Interest, stroll down Fan Tan Alley, visit the vibrant Chinese Public School, and the serene Tam Kung Temple tucked inside the Yen Wo Society Building.

5. Window Shop & More From Lower Johnson Street to Market Square

Market Square, Victoria B.C., credit: Michal Klajban, Wikimedia Commons

Lower Johnson Street offers some of the best window shopping in Victoria, making it another great place to stroll. Not only that, but it also leads to Market Square. Victoria’s historical town square, it’s surrounded by heritage buildings, with more shops, boutiques, galleries, and jewelry stores to browse. In the open courtyard, free live free music is often hosted too.

6. Explore the Historic James Bay Neighborhood

Colorful heritage homes in Edwardian styles fill James Bay. Credit: Herb Neufeld
Colorful heritage homes in Edwardian styles fill James Bay. Credit: Herb Neufeld

Chinatown isn’t the only historic neighborhood that deserves exploring. Surrounded by water on three sides and with walkable pathways, in the bedroom community of James Bay you’ll get a glimpse of life as one of Victoria’s earliest settlers. Be sure to check out Kingston and St. Lawrence Streets, with its over half dozen heritage homes. Hollybank, Hatherleigh and Spring Cottage are highlights, looking as if they came straight from a storybook with turrets and spires.

7. Be One with Nature at Beacon Hill Park

Vibrant plants and flowers fill Beacon Hill Park year-round. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Vibrant plants and flowers fill Beacon Hill Park year-round. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

Beacon Hill Park isn’t just for whale watching, of course. Nature lovers of all types will enjoy it. A nature reserve in the heart of Victoria, it boasts an array of colorful flowers and unique plants, forest, free-roaming peacocks, and plenty of beach access. It even has a petting zoo with pigs, donkeys, chickens and more. And, can we talk about the goats?! They deserve their own separate feature.

The zoo’s twice-daily goat stampedes (10:10 a.m. and 4:10 p.m.) are not to be missed. You’ll see (and hear) the goats thunder out of their overnight abodes, racing and jumping to the play area. It happens all over again in the evening. Furthermore, there’s no admission fee, although small donations are encouraged.

Bring a picnic and you could spend hours at Beacon Hill Park without having to spend a penny.

8. Spook Yourself on a Self-Guided Ghost Tour

Many famous Canadians and Americans, including Sir James Douglas, Robert Dunsmuir and Emily Carr, are buried in this captivating cemetery. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Many famous Canadians and Americans, including Sir James Douglas, Robert Dunsmuir and Emily Carr, are buried in this captivating cemetery. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

Fan of a good ghost story? Known as the most haunted city in BC, Victoria offers no shortage of spooky places to visit. You can get a ghost hunting guide from the Victoria Visitor Centre to track them down. We highly recommend Bastion Square. This former courthouse ruled by “the hanging judge,” Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, is one of the city’s most notoriously haunted spots.

Explore the favorite haunts of some of Victoria’s oldest citizens. Or check out the hauntingly beautiful Ross Bay Cemetery, which is home to the last few historical burial plots in the city. You may even come back with a spooky story or two!

9. Tour the Government House: Grounds, Gardens, & More

The Government House, Credit: Tourism Victoria

The admission to world-famous Butchart Gardens is well worth paying for the experience. But if you can’t swing it, you have another good option. The beautiful grounds, including the gardens, surrounding the residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia are open to the public for free exploring. It includes meandering trails that lead to a variety of colorful spaces. That includes the sunken rose garden, a Victorian rose garden, an English country garden, an herb garden, and a Rhododendron garden.

Open from dawn to dusk, one could easily spend hours immersing themselves among the songs of the birds and the striking natural beauty. The house itself is open to the public for free guided tours. They cover various points of interest, the architecture, art, and history. As space is limited, you’ll need to register in advance.

10. People Watch from the Causeway

Drink in the picturesque views of the Parliament Buildings towering above Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Drink in the picturesque views of the Parliament Buildings towering above Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

To truly get a feel for Victoria’s downtown core, you’ll want to spend time on the causeway circling the Inner Harbour. That’s because this is a top-spot for people watching and a whole lot more. Indeed, you can soak up a myriad of views, watching the boats come and go, marveling  at the Parliament Buildings, and the iconic Fairmont Express. But that’s not all. Equally important is the beauty after dark. Those who stick around until dusk are treated to a glorious sunset just before the twinkling lights of the city illuminate it all.

11. Check out Colorful Houseboats and Playful Seals at Fisherman’s Wharf

Wander through a colorful collection of floating houseboats along Fisherman’s Wharf. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Wander through a colorful collection of floating houseboats along Fisherman’s Wharf. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

We don’t know about you but we can never get enough time near the water. In fact, just around the corner from Victoria’s Inner Harbour is Fisherman’s Wharf. A floating, kid-friendly hidden gem, here you can admire dozens of colorful houseboats bobbing up and down with the tide. Furthermore, the wharf is a great place to say hello to the playful harbor seals. Watch them swim around the docks for an always entertaining show with no admission cost.

Not to mention, you can put that savings to good use by treating yourself to a scoop of gelato (or two!) at Jackson’s Ice Cream, Victoria’s only floating ice cream store.

12. Jam Out at the BC Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival

credit: Victoria Jazz Society

Victoria offers fun events year-round. Even better? Some are free. For example, the BC Harbour Blues ‘n Roots Festival offers free performances during the day. To clarify, the evening performances are ticketed, so take note. But that means you can come hang out in the summer sun at the outdoor stage in the Inner Harbour, enjoying the blues and a mix of multiple genres. Held over the weekend of August 23-25, 2024, food stalls, beverages, and artisan vendors are all included too.

13. Snap a Totem Pole Selfie at Thunderbird Park

Check out all the stunning totems in the peaceful Thunderbird Park: Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Check out all the stunning totems in the peaceful Thunderbird Park: Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

Wander through the towering totem poles and unique collection of First Nation monuments in Thunderbird Park. This hidden gem is nestled on a quiet, tree-lined corner providing an ideal place to relax and soak up the remarkable art and native history.

The colorful Wawadit’la, referred to by the locals as the Mungo Martin House, is a highlight. Not surprisingly, this wooden building with a gigantic painted grin was named after the famous local carver.

Inside tip: With the exception of the heraldic pole, all the poles in the park are replicas carved by Mungo Martin and others. However, you can see the original totem poles by visiting the First Peoples Gallery inside the Royal BC Museum. (If you’re here on B.C.’s Family Day, February 17, 2025, admissoin is free!)

14. Get Lost in the Finnerty Gardens

Brilliant blooms fill a massive rhododendron bush. Credit: Scott McDonald
Brilliant blooms fill a massive rhododendron bush. Credit: Scott McDonald

A secluded sanctuary at the edge of the University of Victoria campus, Finnerty Gardens boasts over 4,000 trees and shrubs and 35 flowerbeds bursting with a jaw-dropping display of perennials. In fact, all you need is the free map (available at the entrance gate) to discover botanical bliss!

Rhody lovers take note, the gardens include one of the largest collections of rhododendrons in the Pacific Northwest. This is Rhody heaven with 200 different species in a kaleidoscope of colors.

15. Take in Live Music at Ship Point

Ship Point, Inner Harbour Victoria, B.C. credit: Greater Victoria Harbour Authority

Throughout the summer months, June 11 through September 19, 2024, music at Ship Point is a live music series that takes place from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. And, it doesn’t cost a thing.

Futhermore, this event provides the perfect warm weather gathering spot. Plus, you can eliminate the need to spend by bringing a picnic. There are picnic tables, Adirondack chairs, and umbrellas all available. But keep in mind if you’re looking for convenience, you can always spend a little at one of the high-value food trucks on-site.

16. Follow the Signs of Lekwungen

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Want to learn more about the First Nations people who have resided in the Victoria area for hundreds of years? All you need to do is follow the Signs of the Lekwungen, an interpretive walkway wrapping around the waterfront and surrounding areas.

Track down all seven of the unique, spindle whorl-shaped site markers, carved by renowned Coast Salish artist Butch Dick. Coupled with details about the land, original inhabitants, and the spirit of the people, it brings their culture to life.

17. Bike the Galloping Goose

The Galloping Goose crosses the Selkirk Trestle, connecting Victoria West to the neighborhood of Burnside. Credit: Pedaler Cycling Tours
The Galloping Goose crosses the Selkirk Trestle, connecting Victoria West to the neighborhood of Burnside. Credit: Pedaler Cycling Tours

Many hotels in Victoria’s downtown core offer complimentary bikes for exploring. Accordingly, if you book one of them you can take advantage of the 37-mile-long Galloping Goose Trail and pedal for free. It stretches all the way from Victoria to Sooke. In particular, we like following the road southwest across the picturesque Selkirk trestle. You’ll roll under a dense canopies of leaves, alongside serene farmland, and into the pristine wilderness of the Sooke Hills.

Prefer beachfront views? Wind your way north through Saanich toward Sidney. By and large, there’s no better way to get a complete picture of the region.

18. Appreciate BC’s Talented Artists at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

The cozy, historic Art Gallery of Greater Victoria feels like stepping into a friend's home. Credit: Blake Handley
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria feels like stepping into a friend’s home. Credit: Blake Handley

Need an art fix? Head to the historic Rockland neighborhood to the intimate Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Here you can explore the museum’s seven modern galleries with nearly 20,000 objects d’art from across the globe. But be sure to duck into into the Gallery’s tranquil Asian Garden that awaits outside too. Tucked among the bamboo and Japanese maples is the only authentic Japanese Shinto Shrine in North America, styled after the architecture of the Meiji period Shinto Shrines.

The best part? Admission is pay-what-you-can the first Tuesday of each month. We can say without hesitation that viewing incredible works of art doesn’t get more affordable than this!

19. See the City from Mt. Tolmie

Standing tall across the water, the snow-capped Mt. Baker will take your breath away. Credit: Mick HallStanding tall across the water, the snow-capped Mt. Baker will take your breath away. Credit: Mick Hall

For a relatively easy trek that brings big rewards, hike to the top of Mount Tolmie. After just 1.25 miles you’ll reach what’s often named among the “best places to view the city.” The panoramic vista showcasesGreater Victoria, Mount Douglas and Washington State’s San Juan Islands and Mount Baker, along with the vast expanse of glistening blue waters. Additionally, bird lovers can watch for birds in the sheltered natural areas. Or, simply bring a blanket to toss down for a picnic and quiet reflection.

20. Join a Guided Nature Walk

Sunset at Island View Beach Regional Park. Photo credit: Brandon Godfrey/Wikimedia Commons

Finally, the CRD Regional Parks Programs offers a variety of guided nature walks, focused on everything from birds, butterflies, and bats to whales. Check the latest brochure  to find out what’s happening during your visit.

There’s no need to empty your wallet to have a good time with friends or family with a long list of free things to do in Victoria, B.C. anytime you’re in the mood for adventure!

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Feature Photo: Erik Lawrenz