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Living in Victoria vs Vancouver

When it comes to visiting or moving to BC in Canada, a question that comes up time and time again is whether to live in Victoria vs Vancouver.

The town cities are relatively close to each other (though separated by a 1.5-hour ferry journey since Victoria is on Vancouver Island) but there are quite a lot of differences between Victoria and Vancouver.

On the southern tip of Vancouver Island and on the mainland of British Columbia, respectively, these two cities are both known for their natural beauty and vibrant culture. But beyond their stunning landscapes and bustling streets, what sets these cities apart, and which one is better?

I spent six years living in Vancouver and took many day trips to Victoria British Columbia.

I’ve also got friends who’ve lived in Victoria after moving from Vancouver and so have a good insight into the pros and cons of living in Victoria vs Vancouver.

If you’re considering moving Victoria to Vancouver, or just wondering which city is best to visit: Vancouver vs Victoria?

Then check out this post which will cover the cost of living in Victoria, the transport, access to the outdoors, food and nightlife and other criteria to assess once and for all whether you should travel to or live in Victoria vs Vancouver.

This is less a case of Vancouver vs Vancouver Island (I recommend visiting both) and more a focus on the two cities.

Victoria is BC’s capital city and it was good enough for the Royals, but is it good enough for you?

Deciding between Seattle vs Vancouver? I’ve worked out the pros and cons of Vancouver vs Seattle.

victoria in winter

Victoria is smaller than Vancouver

While for many people who visit Vancouver from other countries and cities including London or New York, Vancouver is quite a small city, for those living in Victoria, Vancouver is the “big smoke”.

Vancouver is much larger both in population and size than Victoria. This has many benefits such as there being more job opportunities, better public transportation and more options for cafes, restaurants and shops in Vancouver.

In Vancouver, you don’t need to own a car since public transit is so good.

If you’re someone who likes having a lot of choices and variety, then living in Vancouver over Victoria might suit you better.

However, the benefit of living in Victoria vs Vancouver is that the smaller city means the walkability and bike-ability it better.

If you live close to downtown, you can walk to pretty much everywhere you’ll want to go within Victoria. The small size of Victoria means it’s super easy to meet up with friends at short notice too.

victoria in winter parliament buildings

Victoria has a British feel

As a Brit, I’m qualified to talk on this point!

Given its history, Victoria has some areas of the city which feel just like visiting the UK. You’ll find more pubs in Victoria that have a more traditionally British feel and the buildings look more historically and architecturally impressive.

The upside is that in Victoria you won’t find the ‘British lads’ with their tops off and sunburnt stomachs shouting football chants down the streets on a weekend afternoon.

You can also enjoy traditional afternoon teas at the Fairmont Empress Hotel and take a double decker bus ride.

So, if you want a bit of British architecture and culture, but without the downsides of it, moving to Victoria could be right for you.

victoria in winter 6

Victoria has an older population

Victoria is the best option if you’re looking for a family-friendly atmosphere. In fact, there’s a phrase associated with Victoria that it’s for the “newly-weds and nearly-deads”.

That’s to say that Victoria is popular with younger couples who’ve just married and are looking to start a family and those who have retired.

While there are a few universities near Victoria, BC, there’s a bit of an age gap and if you’re in your 20s and early 30s, you may find it hard to build up a community of people around your age.

If you’re in that age range, then Vancouver is a lot better than Victoria. Vancouver is where people go to start their careers after university, and there is a big community of younger people as well as couples who have decided to remain child-free.

Since Vancouver has a bigger population, you’ll find more people like you and many different communities to join.

Both cities are known as places where it’s hard to make friends and meet new people.

This is more complicated in Victoria which is said to have a lot of cliques and as a city where people can be a bit snobbier.

Though in reality, this could be true of many cities.

prospect point in summer

Living in Vancouver vs Victoria BC means you’re closer to the mountains

One of my favourite things about living in Vancouver was how close I was to the mountains.

Living in downtown Vancouver, I could see mountains from my windows and whenever I walked around the city you’d catch glimpses of the North Shore mountains at the end of the streets.

I could go mountain biking and skiing in just 30 minutes from my apartment. It was perfect.

Living in Victoria you’re further away from the mountains. You won’t get the same mountain views that you get in Vancouver, and going skiing involves much more effort.

cox bay lookout tofino
The Cox Bay Lookout trail in Tofino

But it’s easier to access the wilderness from Victoria

However, it is easier to get to more true wilderness areas if you’re living in Victoria vs Vancouver.

If you’ve ever tried to find somewhere to camp for free near Vancouver or tried to book a campsite within a couple of hour’s drive of the city, you’ll understand it’s not easy.

I (not so) fondly remember spending a good couple of hours trying to book some campsites for the summer and not being able to get anything close to Vancouver for the whole season.

If you live in Victoria, this is much easier to achieve. Spending time outdoors is one of my top recommendations when it comes to what to do in Victoria BC.

Living in Victoria over Vancouver means you can enjoy the remote areas of Strathcona Provincial Park, discover the best Vancouver Island hikes and find plenty of spots to camp for free around the island. There’s also Campbell River which is one of the best places for grizzly bear watching tours on the Island!

things to do in vancouver when it rains
Embracing the rain while living in Vancouver

The weather in Victoria vs Vancouver is better

One of the cons of living in Vancouver is the weather. November in particular can be exceptionally rainy and miserable. I remember one year it rained for 30 days straight!

Though you can still find things to do on a rainy day in Vancouver, you may decide Victoria is better than Vancouver because of the weather alone.

Victoria is home to some of Canada’s mildest weather. You won’t get freezing temperatures like you find in Toronto in winter, nor will you get quite the same amount of rain as Vancouver gets.

The summers in Victoria are usually drive, but not exceedingly hot either.

china town victoria in winter 2

Vancouver is more diverse

Vancouver is known for being one of the most multicultural cities in Canada. While I personally don’t think it’s that multicultural for a city (I was living in London before so perhaps my views are skewed), Victoria is even less diverse.

Sure, Victoria has a historical Chinatown and there is a mix of different cultures, but for a city, it’s noticeably white and English-speaking.

If you’re looking for a city that’s more diverse then Vancouver wins against Victoria.

bc ferries to bowen island
BC ferries

You’ll have to get a ferry or flight to leave Victoria

One of the reasons we decided not to move to Victoria, in the end, was that it’s more hassle to get out of Victoria.

Since Victoria is based on Vancouver Island you’ll need to fly Victoria to Vancouver or get a ferry to leave the island and make your way over to the mainland.

This adds costs, and time, and increases your carbon footprint if you decide to fly from Victoria to Vancouver, which is something we should all be trying to reduce.

Living in Vancouver you can drive your way to the Rocky Mountains in a day, head down to the US, or go North to the wilderness of BC. There’s no need to wait around for ferries.

If you want to travel internationally while living in Victoria, there is a big airport, but for most flights, you’ll need to transfer to Vancouver International Airport (YVR) which is a bit of a hassle.

Having to rely on the ferry from Victoria to Vancouver can be a pain. It gets booked up quickly over the summer and is expensive, especially if taking your car across with you.

best things to do in gastown vancouver

Cost of living: Victoria BC vs Vancouver?

You’ll find many people claiming that Victoria is much more affordable than Vancouver. While this used to be true, this isn’t really the case these days.

Yes, rent in Victoria and Victoria’s cost of living is less than living in Vancouver but cheap? Not so much.

If you’ve come from Vancouver or a major west coast city in North America, then Victoria may seem like a bargain. However, if you’ve come from elsewhere, you’ll probably find it very expensive.

Vancouver is known as one of the most expensive cities in Canada and with rents in excess of $2,500 for a 1-bedroom apartment, it’s hard to deny. However, the cost of rent isn’t that much cheaper in Victoria either, especially if you’re looking to move downtown.

Job opportunities: Vancouver vs Victoria Vancouver Island

Added to the high cost of living in Victoria, is the fact that the job market is smaller, and it can be hard to find a job depending on which market you’re in.

While Victoria does have a lot of job opportunities, Vancouver undoubtedly has a bigger market especially when it comes to tech.

things to do on grouse mountain (1 of 1)
The view from Grouse Mountain

Things to do in Victoria Canada vs Vancouver

When it comes to things to do in Victoria vs Vancouver, both cities have plenty to offer.

Victoria is known for its beautiful downtown core with its British-inspired buildings. There’s the market at the harbor, the super cool Malahat Skywalk and the famous Butchart Gardens. There are plenty of fun things to do in Victoria BC no matter the season.

From Victoria, you’re also closer to some of the best places to visit on Vancouver Island including Tofino, Campbell River and the southern Gulf Islands.

However, Vancouver wins hands down when it comes to things to do too.

Whether you’re visiting Vancouver in the summer, or are looking for Vancouver hikes, mountain biking, skiing in Vancouver, or visiting Vancouver’s top attractions including the Vancouver Lookout, Grouse Mountain, kayaking in Vancouver and visiting Whistler, there’s so much to do.

If you’re trying to decide if you should pick Vancouver vs Victoria to visit, then I recommend you stay in Vancouver and plan a 2 or 3 day trip to Victoria.

You can either take the ferry, or the seaplane and spend a day or more exploring the city, before heading back to Vancouver and carrying on with your trip.

Book a day trip from Vancouver to Victoria with transport and the Butchart Gardens

FAQs about Victoria vs Vancouver BC

Is it better to visit Vancouver or Victoria?

If you have the choice, visit both! If you can only visit one, then I recommend basing yourself in Vancouver. The city is larger and has many attractions including biking the Stanley Park seawall, Grouse Mountain, Vancouver Lookout, Granville Island and more. You can also take Vancouver to Victoria day trips so it’s pretty easy to visit both!

What is the difference between Victoria and Vancouver?

Vancouver is much bigger than Victoria. Victoria is on Vancouver Island and Vancouver is on the mainland. Vancouver has more things to do too. They’re both similar in terms of weather and cost of living.

Is Victoria or Vancouver more expensive?

Vancouver is a bit more expensive than Victoria but these days there isn’t a huge difference when it comes to rent and the cost of buying a house in Victoria vs Vancouver.

Is Victoria more affordable than Vancouver?

Victoria is ever so slightly more affordable than Vancouver. If you’re moving to Victoria from Vancouver or another well-known expensive city, then you’ll find Victoria a little bit cheaper when it comes to renting. However, it’s still an expensive city and if you’re not already living in a high-cost-of-living area, you’ll not find Victoria cheap.

Is Victoria in Vancouver?

No. They are too separate cities. However, Victoria is in Vancouver Island.

How far is Victoria from Vancouver?

Victoria is about 3 hours from Vancouver if you’re taking the ferry. If you fly it’s about 30 minutes away.

How to spend 1 day in Vancouver?

Visit Stanley Park, Granville Island, Gastown and the Vancouver Lookout. Check out this 1 day itinerary for Vancouver put together by a local.

Final thoughts on Victoria vs Vancouver

I lived in Vancouver for 6 years and absolutely loved it.

If you’re someone who wants to be close to skiing and have great access to the mountains and the benefits of being in a larger city (shops, restaurants, and more people to meet), then Vancouver wins hands down.

However, if you’re looking for a smaller community that’s still surrounded by natural beauty and don’t mind living with fewer choices for shops and restaurants, or having to travel further to ski, then Victoria could be a great option.  

When it comes to Vancouver or Victoria to visit, I recommend Vancouver since it’s larger and has more attractions nearby like Whistler and Squamish. However, if you have the time, then I strongly recommend visiting both.

Canada Travel Planning Guide

Should I buy Canada travel insurance?

100% YES! — You should have travel insurance for all your trips. Though Canada has “free” healthcare, it’s only for residents. If you’re just visiting, you’ll need travel insurance should you need medical care. It also helps you claim for delayed flights or lost/stolen baggage. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance!

Is it safe to rent a car in Canada?

Yes — Renting a car is a good idea in most of Canada as public transit isn’t the best!

Car hire is usually quite reasonable, especially compared to some other countries and they’ll all be automatic so you shouldn’t have a problem driving it if you’re used to manual transmission.

I personally use a mix of DiscoverCars and RentalCars to find the best deal that works for me when I rent a car. I used them in Norway, Italy, and Canada when we first moved, and have never had an issue. For RV rental I recommend Outdoorsy.

What’s the best way to pay/exchange money for Canada?

Wise (formerly Transferwise!) — I use my Wise card everywhere these days. I fill it with a certain currency and then I can spend it in countries across the world, online and even for direct debits. Wise has the best currency exchange rates (and they’ll even tell you when you can get it cheaper elsewhere!). When you pay in another currency through chip and pin or tap/wireless, they’ll automatically convert it for you – it’s easy! This link gets you a fee-free transfer.

Do I need a visa for Canada?

Many countries do not need a visa to travel to Canada — However, you may need an ETA which costs $7 (you need this if you’re from the UK). You can buy them online and they usually take a few hours to come through though it can take longer. Only ever buy from this official website otherwise you’ll end up paying more money necessarily. If you want to move to Canada, check out my guide to the Working Holiday Visa which is how we first moved there! Always check the official Canadian Immigration website to see whether you need a visa to travel there.

Will my phone work in Canada?

It depends — Some American and European companies work in Canada for a certain amount of data or time but many will not work at all. Getting a Canadian SIM card will help you get around with Google Maps and stay in touch with people back home. There isn’t much free WIFI in Canada so you can’t really rely on that, especially if you’re heading outside of major cities.

Where can I book my Canada accommodation?

I always check for hotels or Hostel World for hostels. If I’m looking for something for a bigger group of people, or a bit more unique (cosy cabins, luxury beach houses) then I use VRBO.

When we first moved to Canada we used Trusted Housesitters to get free accommodation!

What’s the best site to buy Canada flights?

I only ever use Skyscanner to find cheap flights no matter where I’m travelling!

Last Updated on September 20, 2023 by Hannah

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