What's it like living in Victoria BC?

Living in Victoria, BC: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

by Ellie Cleary

Are you thinking about making the move to live in Victoria, BC? In this post I share my experiences of living in Victoria, BC, Canada, and what you need to know before deciding if Victoria is the perfect Canadian city for you.

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Living in Victoria, British Columbia

The city of Victoria, Canada is located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island (note it’s not called Victoria Island) and is the capital of the state of British Columbia. It’s about as far west as you can get in Canada without going completely off-grid (Haida Gwaii) and Victoria regularly features among the best cities to live in in Canada thanks to its unique geography and natural charms.

I landed in Victoria, BC in the summer of 2019 after fleeing Toronto‘s icy winters and soul-less condos in the search for a Canadian city with a good climate, plenty of nature, culture and reasonable job prospects for my then partner. Although it’s no longer my home, Victoria retains a little piece of my heart, and I hope to return some day.

For context, if you’re new to the blog, I lived in Victoria together with my partner in our mid 30’s from 2019-2020, we’re both immigrants to Canada (from the UK & India), after we decided to leave Toronto where we lived for our first year in Canada.

When asking any Canadians about living in Victoria, you’ll be subjected to a range of opinions, and my advice is to filter which ones you take notice of. Branded – slightly unfairly – as the city of newly weds and nearly deads, Victoria is not known to be the most happening place in Canada, and many people will tell you there’s nothing to do there. But it’s also not just full of retirees either – there are plenty of students, a growing international community, families and young professionals too. So don’t let anyone talk you out of giving Victoria a try on that basis alone.

In this living in Victoria BC blog I’ll go through all the living in Victoria, BC pros and cons from my own personal experiences of living there, so you can decide if Victoria sounds like somewhere for you.

Before I get started with the details, I’ll say this: Vancouver Island is somewhere that calls to certain people, and if you feel like you need to come here it’s probably for good reason. Trust your gut. Moving to Vancouver Island is a decision that most people don’t look back from!

Looking out over the Juan de Fuca strait from southern Victoria

The Good

Living in Victoria, Canada has so much to love about it. I challenge anyone to take the ferry from Vancouver on the mainland to Victoria on Vancouver Island (it’s slightly confusing that the island is named after the city that’s not actually on the island, but anyway…) and not fall a little bit in love. As you wind through the Gulf Islands on the way towards Victoria, it’s easy to see why many who come here end up not leaving thanks to the serenity and spectacular scenery.

Which brings me to… Here are some of the most amazing reasons to live in Victoria:

The Incredible Nature

If you dream of getting away from the big cities and concrete life and want to settle somewhere smaller that still has good coffee and restaurants but it surrounded by natural beauty, Victoria may just be your dream. Although Victoria is still a city (with a population of 367,000 in the greater Victoria area), even in downtown Victoria you’ll have stunning views of the Juan de Fuca strait and across to Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains in the US, and a walk down to the Harbour anytime to watch the seaplanes taking off across the water is a pretty amazing sight.

Surfers will love that Tofino is just a few hours drive away, and there are endless trails and hikes to do around the island within easy access by car from the city of Victoria. Within the city itself, a hike up ‘Mount Doug’ provides great views over across to the Gulf Islands that lie between Vancouver Island and the Canadian mainland, into the USA, and over Victoria itself. Come winter, skiing and snowboarding are available without having to leave the island further north at Mount Washington.

living on Victoria island
Friendly doe in the garden in Victoria BC

The Wildlife

The whole of British Columbia is literally awash with wildlife, and the oceans around Vancouver Island especially will not disappoint. This is one of the best places in the world to come and watch for whales and orcas, or go on a boat trip to spot bears further north around the Pacific Rim national park.

However, Victoria is home to its share of (docile) wilder creatures too – there are few cities which can claim that both peacocks and deer roam the streets, but in Victoria that’s what happens. (Well, the peacocks are actually residents of Beacon Hill park, but they are free to come and go, and you’ll often find them, or their feathers in streets nearby the park in southern Victoria). The deer are mostly friendly and just wander about (albeit they are a source of annoyance to gardeners) but there’s arguably no greater treat than looking out of your window and seeing a deer gazing back at you from your front yard.

Food & Dining

Although there might be less choice of restaurants compared to Canada’s bigger cities, what Victoria may lack in size it makes up for in quality. As one of the most temperate parts of Canada, there are plenty of farmers markets in and around Victoria, so for those wanting to eat high-quality, organic, locally grown food, that is possible here as the winters are more temperate, making it possible to grow more. One thing to note is that food costs more here, but is higher quality (see my section on cost of living in British Columbia below).

There’s also a thriving restaurant scene with offerings from any cuisine you could want, along with a booming micro-brewery industry. Bakeries are one of the things Victoria is famous for – as it’s supposedly the ‘most English’ city in North America, so you can happily eat an afternoon tea with homemade scones, followed up with a local beer. As a Brit myself, I would say some of the bakeries were more aspirational than others, but they still provided welcome satisfaction for my tea and cake cravings!

Oh, and Victoria has great Irish & English pubs!

living in Victoria BC Canada
Downtown Victoria is home to plenty of bars and pubs

The Weather

One of the best things about life in Victoria, BC is its climate – it’s no accident that retiring in Victoria, BC is a thing – as the bones of many people who move here long for a little warmth.

Victoria has a temperate climate, with summer temperatures hovering around 22 degrees celsius, and winter daytime temperatures averaging between 8-10 degrees – a far cry from the negative digits found throughout the rest of Canada. If you’re looking for warm winters in Canada, it doesn’t get better than Victoria. It very rarely snows here (although it did in the winter I lived in Victoria), and when it does snow, we’re talking about rarely more than 5cms which lasts for a day or two before melting, instead of the weeks or months of snow on end in other Canadian cities. For ‘proper snow’ you’ll need to head further north up-island.

I found the weather in Victoria to be much better than the UK, and although people do tend to complain about the rain, I would rather take grey wet (but mild) winter days over freezing ones with minus temperatures but clear skies. If a mild climate is what you’re after, then Victoria’s your place.

about the cost of living in victoria british columbia
Views out over the Gulf Islands & towards the Mainland from Victoria

The Ferries

For those who want to be able to leave the island without flying, or just explore the local area on the water, one of the best ways of exploring around Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands are the ferries from Victoria.

BC Ferries runs a number of routes including between Victoria and Vancouver, to the different Gulf Islands including Salt Spring and Galiano, and there’s also a ferry that runs between Victoria and Seattle (although this is currently suspended due to Covid-19). The BC Ferries are all RORO ferries making it easy to take your car with you.

The downside of the ferry to Vancouver is it does not take you from downtown to downtown directly, so there’s a fair amount of driving or public transport involved. Ferries leave from Swartz Bay (nearVictoria) and arrive at Tsawwassen on the mainland, about an hour south of Vancouver, so the journey all in all takes 2.5-3 hours. But once you’re onboard, sailing through the Gulf Islands is beautiful.

The People

From my experience, Victorians are a friendly and welcoming bunch, and life moves at a leisurely enough pace here for people to give each other the time of day and stop to say hi. People know who their neighbours are and will go out of their way to make newcomers feel welcome, too.

The Bad

Much as it’s pretty great to live in Victoria, there are some downsides too that it’s better to be aware of before moving here.

The Cost of Living in Victoria, BC

One of the pros and cons of living in Victoria, BC, that you’ll have to weigh up if you’re thinking about moving here is the cost and affordability of Victoria. Unfortunately, when doing my research online before moving, much of the information I found was out of date and portrayed Victoria as more affordable than it is.

To say it simply – although Victoria is definitely cheaper than Vancouver, it is not a cheap city to live in. I cover some of the typical costs in my costs of living in Victoria section below.

The biggest thing you’ll have to contend with is the housing market. Rentals are in high demand in Victoria, and unscrupulous landlords typically put them on Airbnb for summer months, for 2-3x the monthly rental, and then rent them to students for September-May. Buying can be one way to avoid this, but if you’re looking to rent year-round, then be prepared to have to do some legwork and negotiation. From my experiences, renting a small apartment or condo is roughly the same price as in Toronto, at the current rates (2021), paying around $1700 for a one bedroom apartment.

Compared to other regions of Canada, BC has higher prices for food, liquor, and some utilities – on Vancouver Island you can expect to pay a good chunk of change for your wifi connection.

How much does it cost to live in Victoria BC
Inner harbour living will cost a pretty penny… especially the seaplanes!

The Job Market

The job market in Victoria is a mixed bag. It’s great for entrepreneurs, with large numbers of people running online businesses or working for themselves. It’s also great for local government jobs – as the state capital of British Columbia, the BC government is the main employer in the city. If you can get your hands on a government job, they’re gold, with good benefits and pay.

Victoria is also home to a good number of tech companies and does (or did pre-covid) also offer lots of opportunities for tourism jobs.

Outside those industries it can be harder to find jobs, as the main commerce for BC is all in Vancouver. So, depending on your experience and what you hope to do, you’ll want to research the potential opportunities for your industry in Victoria. Be aware that it’s definitely not possible to commute to Vancouver for work each day from Victoria, although some people do do it when they only need to be in the office 1 day a week.

The Homelessness & Drugs Problem

Although the drugs problem in Victoria is nothing like Downtown East in Vancouver, the city has seen an increasing problem with homelessness and drug use in downtown Victoria. You’d be advised to avoid aimlessly wandering around Pandora St and Johnson St and the north end of downtown after dark.

That said, coming to Victoria from Toronto, I felt much safer in Victoria than I did there.

There are also parts of downtown Victoria which are pretty run down and could do with a lick of paint (or several) and the inner harbour tends to get swamped by cruise ship tourists when they dock. (Don’t buy anything from the souvenir shops there which are all overpriced). Some people complain that Victoria BC is depressing during winter months, and the downtown definitely doesn’t have the same retail and facilities as larger cities – but it really depends on what your expectations are and what you are looking for in a place to live.

where to live in Victoria BC
Typical residential streets near Cook Street Village in fall colours

The Remoteness

If you’re a Canadian moving from within Canada this may not be so much of an issue, but the one thing I found myself wishing I could change was feeling like I lived on the edge of the world.

Of course, this is the eternal irony – as the joy of Victoria is in its location and surroundings of less-touched nature – which would be an entirely different story if this was on the mainland or a major commercial hub.

But it’s something to think about. For those who love to travel or have family in other countries, living in Victoria you’ll always have to take at least 1 extra flight (or ferry). Direct flights are available to Seattle, Vancouver (roughly every hour), Calgary and Toronto, but that’s about it. Flights to Victoria can also be expensive. If being able to get on a direct flight to see loved ones is a deal breaker, then Victoria may not be the place.

I also struggled with the timezone – with many clients in Europe for my business, being on PST instead of EST made my work days feel like they had to start earlier.

Ocean views from Victoria, looking south

The Ugly

It’s hard to find anything to say that could be ugly about Victoria – especially when so much of the good around living here revolves around its beauty, access to nature and incredible location.

But if there’s one less-than-beautiful secret that I never heard anyone talk about before I arrived in Victoria, it’s probably this.

Vancouver Island sits near the edge of the Juan de Fuca Plate, and along with much of southern coastal BC is part of the ‘Cascadia subduction zone’. Earthquakes of minor – medium magnitude are common all along Vancouver Island, but it has also recently been discovered that Victoria sits directly on top of a fault line. As a city with a lot of historic buildings and unstable sand, the southern portion of downtown Victoria is at risk of submersion and/or flooding from tsunami during a large earthquake. Almost everyone has an emergency earthquake kit ready to grab in case the worst happens (or so I later found out!).

The worry is about what will happen when the ‘big one’ comes.

This is not to scare you away from Victoria – I did not feel any quakes during my time there (although there were magnitude 5 quakes reported off Tofino).

If you’re considering buying property in Victoria it is something to be aware of though – to check what / if any work has been done to secure the foundations, and to what extent condos have been built with earthquakes in mind.

Places to live in Victoria BC
Victoria’s Inner Harbour & famous Fairmont Empress Hotel at dusk

The Cost of Living – Victoria, BC

One of the frequently asked questions I hear is what is the cost of living in Victoria, Canada like? The answer is that the living cost in Victoria, BC is probably pricier than you think.

The biggest expense is property, with the rental market being fiercely competitive and overpriced. For a 1 bedroom apartment in downtown Victoria, I was seeing typical values advertised in cost of living in Victoria reports as $1100+, whereas in reality it was $1600+ for a basement apartment. For a 1 bedroom downtown Condo, you’re looking at $1700-$1800+ (excluding utilities).

Here are some typical costs for the average cost of living in Victoria, BC (2021):

  • 1 bedroom apartment rental: $1700+
  • 1 month bus transit pass: $85
  • Meal for 2 including drinks at a pub / mid-range restaurant: $100 + service
  • High Speed (fiber optic) internet per month: $89+
  • Groceries for 2 per month: $600

So if you’re wondering is living in Victoria, BC expensive? The answer is yes, it’s up there with the more expensive places to live in Canada.

Is Living in Victoria, BC for me?

If you’re someone who loves the outdoors, nature and being able to explore less well-trodden places, then I can pretty much guarantee you’ll love Victoria. Many who move to Vancouver Island use Victoria as their first landing point, and eventually decide to move more rural on the island to take advantage of nature.

Victoria is somewhere that felt to me like it could have been home for a long time, and I felt at home here. When I left in March 2020, I fully intended to return – but the pandemic had other plans, and in the meantime my Canadian visa expired.

If you’ve made it this far in this post then I’m pretty sure… the island is calling you :-).

Read more about Vancouver Island on Soul Travel:

The Best Places to Visit on Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island bucket list

The Best BC Wellness Retreats

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What's living in Victoria, BC like? Read my guide to find out what you need to know before moving here! #canada

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