Located at the very southern tip of Vancouver Island, British Columbia and surrounded by the ocean, the capital city of Victoria BC is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada with beautiful heritage buildings, distinctly British charm, and stunning natural beauty. Every year, people from around the globe come to Victoria to enjoy heritage downtown, the great dining scene, take an eco-adventure and bask in the tranquillity of the West Coast. Having a holiday here is one thing, but what is it actually like to live in Victoria? There are pros and cons of living in Victoria so if you’re considering a move here, this is a great place to start!
The Pros of Living in Victoria
The Natural Beauty
Living in the city of Victoria means that no matter where in the city you live, you’ll only be a short drive away from beaches, gorgeous hiking trails, extensive dedicated biking paths and surrounded by wildlife. Plus, because the city is on the edge of the temperate rainforest zone, the summers are warm and winters are mild so you can enjoy the natural beauty year-round. If you’re itching to get out of the concrete jungle or away from mountains of snow for the majority of the year, Victoria is a dream come true.
If you’re looking into settling downtown Victoria, you’ll find that you’ll be surrounded by heritage buildings instead of towering skyscrapers and only a walk away from Beacon Hill Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Inner Harbour, the Parliament Buildings and the Dallas Road seaside path where you can walk for 7 kilometres and enjoy the sparkling ocean and distant Olympic Mountains. But you don’t have to live right in the downtown core to be able to access beaches and parks, most neighbourhoods in Greater Victoria you’ll find that you’re a walk or a short drive away from incredible public parks, gardens and of course, beaches.
One of the best things about living in Victoria is that you can explore more of Vancouver Island’s breathtaking nature! Bike along the Galloping Goose from Victoria to Sooke or take the Lochside Trail up to Sidney, visit Tofino and experience the wild coastline, hike one of the many mountains in and around the city, take a trip north to Mount Washington for alpine adventures and explore the hidden lake and river parks in the Cowichan Valley.
When it comes to wildlife, Victoria has an abundance of animals that call the parks, gardens and waters around the city home. You can say “Hi” to the friendly harbour seals in Fisherman’s Wharf, bald eagles and hawks are common sights in the skies, see enormous herons that fish in the shallows and if you look carefully and often, you’re sure to spot a pod of orcas off the coast. Songbirds, hummingbirds, rabbits, and deer love to frequent the gardens and parks in Victoria and you can often find peacocks, who live in Beacon Hill just roaming around southern Victoria and along Dallas Road leaving their jewelled feathers on the pavement.
While there are more restaurants in Victoria per capita than any other city, if you’re used to the dining scene in Toronto or Vancouver, Victoria can seem a little low-key. However, what Victoria lacks in quantity of restaurants, it more than makes up for in quality! The philosophy for Victoria restaurants is that the best food is made with local, seasonal ingredients – a philosophy shared with top chefs all over the world. But Victoria takes this even further – from fine dining to casual food trucks, the ingredients used by Victoria restaurants is often of the highest quality which means it’s more likely to be healthier and tastier! Not only is the quality top-notch but Victoria has a wide range of restaurants to suit whatever you’re craving. Here, you can find some of the best sushi outside of Japan, amazing seafood, juicy burgers, avante-garde fine dining, elevated and hearty Italian food and so, so much more.
Victoria is also a hub for craft breweries, cideries and distilleries that produce award-winning libations that you can enjoy at home or on site and there are few places other than the UK where you can find such traditional English and Irish pubs!
This might be one of the best things about living in this beautiful city – get all the benefits of living in Canada without having to battle bitter winters and scorching summers! Victoria has a temperate climate with the temperatures reaching a peak of around 25ºC (77ºF) in the summer months and lows of -2ºC (28ºF) in the winter. Typically though, summer temperatures hover in the low-mid twenties and winter temperatures in the high single digits (8º-10º) – a far cry from the -30ºC and lower in many parts of Canada! Plus, unlike other parts of Canada who deal with snow and plummeting temperatures for 6 months or more in Victoria, spring usually begins in February with buds beginning to form on trees, summer starts in mid-June, fall arrives mid-late October and winter in late November – February. Winters rarely have much snow, there are usually a few days where the city will be blanketed but with the rains and shifting weather from the ocean, snow rarely stays very long. If you want a real snowy experience, you’ll have to head up to Mount Washington.
BC Ferries offers services to the Lower Mainland and Gulf Islands that allow you to explore the waters and areas around Vancouver Island with ease. Many of the ferries are drive-on so you can take your car to explore and get home easily. All ferries on the Southern Island leave from Swartz Bay at the top of the Saanich Peninsula and if you’re going to the Lower Mainland, the ferry arrives in Tsawwassen meaning that if you’re going from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver, you will spend a fair amount of time driving or on public transport. Despite this, the ferry ride itself is a beautiful trip as you weave around the Gulf Islands. If you’re going to a Gulf Island, the trip is often far more straightforward as the Gulf Islands are much smaller and require less driving time. In both cases, it’s important to check the schedules and book your travel ahead of time because BC Ferries is the primary mode of transportation for Islanders and popular routes get busy quickly which can mean long waits or having to reschedule for another sailing.
The Victoria Clipper which leaves from downtown Victoria and arrives downtown Seattle through the Strait of Juan de Fuca is a scenic way to travel to the US! This 2 hour and 45 minute journey is a comfortable one with plush seats and an on-board cafe where you can purchase snacks and beverages. This ferry is walk-on only though so if you’re hoping to spend some time exploring Seattle, you’ll have to make rental car arrangements or rely on public transport while you’re there.
It’s important to note that living on an Island can have its challenges but the ferries have a certain charm to them – so long as you’re not in a rush!
The Standard of Living
Living in Victoria offers a high standard of living: it’s a safe place to live with a stable government and economy, employment opportunities, growing industries and incredible publicly funded healthcare and education. While in recent years, Victoria has battled with a rising homelessness spurred by the lack of affordable housing, Victoria is a safe place to live compared to many major North American cities.
The government in Victoria is stable with regularly held elections and adherence to Federal and Provincial laws. The politics in Canada is not nearly as entertaining as the politics south of the border and we like it that way. In 2008, when the crash happened and millions of Americans’ lives were turned upside-down, Canadians felt only a few ripple effects of the market downturn. Generally speaking, the Bank of Canada and its financial industries are cautious to a fault and while that can create issues, as we’re seeing now with skyrocketing interest rates, Canada has maintained a relatively stable economy over the years.
In Victoria, there are many job opportunities especially if you’re interested in a position in the Provincial Government, tourism, healthcare, construction or retail and the tech sector has been booming in Victoria for the last few years.
Canada has public healthcare so if you need to go to the hospital, you won’t be given a bill at the end of your visit and there are doctors, walk-in clinics and pharmacies all over the city. If you’re moving with kids, the public and private schools in Victoria are excellent with dedicated teachers and administrators to ensure that every child gets a quality education. For kids graduating out of high school and for adults looking to expand their skill or knowledge base, the University of Victoria is an excellent institution.
The Cons of Living in Victoria
It is Remote
When you look at Victoria on a map, you’ll see that you really are on the farthest west coast in North America. It can be a little strange feeling so cut off from the rest of the world especially because to get off the Island, your only options are ferries, seaplanes and airplanes. While that seems like a lot of options, the ferries are often full and require pre-planning, sometimes weeks ahead for holidays, and they’re slow. Vancouver is only 115 kilometres from Victoria but the journey takes 4 – 5 hours with the ferry system. Seaplanes are an incredible way to get from downtown Victoria to downtown Vancouver quickly but you’ll have to pack light because there is a weight limit on the small pontoon planes and the journey can be very expensive. Plus, if you travel for work or if you want to do more frequent international travel, you’ll find that there are limited direct flights from Victoria International Airport. This can make international flights more expensive and take longer than leaving from a major city on the mainland of Canada.
The Cost of Living
While Victoria is cheaper than living in other Canadian cities like Toronto or Metro Vancouver, it is not a cheap city to live in. While there might be many different types of Victoria homes, real estate prices and rentals have soared in recent years making housing a big issue for anyone living in Victoria. In many cases, you’ll have to make a tough decision and weigh up the costs of buying vs. renting in the city. Food prices are also high in Victoria, as are utilities, car prices, insurance and cell phone services. The cost of attractions and activities are on par with the rest of Canada but it is important to weigh up the benefits of living in Victoria with the actual costs.
It is on the Juan de Fuca Plate
Much of Southern Vancouver Island is on the Cascadia Subduction Zone with Victoria sitting right over the fault line. Victorians all know that if there were a large earthquake, there is a possibility that Victoria could experience significant destruction of the city or worse, be submerged. While this has been talked about for years and casually known, most Victorians do have earthquake bags ready to go to last 72 hours if there was a major earthquake. While this sounds terrifying, small earthquakes have been happening around Vancouver Island for years with no significant events.
Ultimately, Victoria is an incredible place to live where you can easily have a healthy, active lifestyle filled with high quality food, incredible fresh air, and a laid-back lifestyle. If you want to see what it’s like to live in Victoria, have a look at the selection of long term rentals EMR offers in Greater Victoria and immerse yourself in life in Victoria!