Victoria is still a tiny capital by modern standards, with just over 25,000 residents, but it's well worth having a nose around to get a feel for local Seychellois life.
It lies on the east coast, 8km north of the airport, bounded by mountains on one side and sea on the other and was founded on this spot by the French in 1778 as L’Etablissement, because of its excellent natural harbour. In modern times, it has been extended seawards on reclaimed land where modern office blocks replace the colonial-style architecture of old Victoria.
Today, Victoria is the commercial centre of Seychelles and during business hours the streets throng with people and traffic. ‘Old’ Victoria, the area that lies at the foot of the mountains, is built around narrow streets lined with elegant, if crumbling, French colonial-style buildings. The modern avenues of ‘new’ Victoria, laid out on the reclaimed land, are more stately, their pavements broad and flat, and lined here and there with attractive garden areas, bright with canna lilies and bougainvillaea. Explore both the old and new of this sleepy, colonial capital.
Start your exploration of Victoria at the Clock Tower, right in the centre. This striking landmark is the symbol of Victoria – a replica of a clock tower near Victoria Station in London (not of Big Ben, to be clear). This is the best place from which to navigate your way around the capital.
Nearby on the corner of Albert Street and Revolution Avenue stands St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. This was the Seychelles’ oldest church, consecrated in 1859, but little of the original structure remains. A little further along on the opposite side of the road is Camion Hall, which houses small souvenir shops.
Further along, Albert Street joins with Market Street, which runs inland parallel to Revolution Avenue. This is a pedestrianised zone, ideal for a relaxed wander over to the Sir Selwyn Selwyn-Clarke Market, named in honour of a former governor. This is undoubtedly the buzzing heart of the capital, an incredibly colourful and vibrant market, always crowded with locals shopping for their fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.
The fish stalls are the commercial centre of the market, piled with freshly caught barracuda, parrotfish, cordonnier, bonito and kingfish. Produce stalls are stacked with neat pyramids of exotic fruits and seasonal vegetables. Others are laid out with trays of mixed spices, neatly rolled quills of fresh cinnamon bark, packets of turmeric and old jars crammed with small but deadly red and green chillies.
The best time to visit is on Saturday mornings, the peak time for shoppers – if you’re not looking to buy your own fish, there are also shops selling clothes, souvenirs and spices.
For a bird’s-eye view of the goings-on, climb the stairs to the upper floor.
Parallel to the coast, Albert Street leads north towards Beau Vallon and Francis Rachel Street south towards the airport. This was once the waterfront before land reclamation, and many of the quaint old buildings still survive here, squeezed between modern offices and shops.
The picturesque facades make great backdrops to a sun-kissed selfie.
State House Avenue leads inland to the gates of State House, the President’s office, a beautiful colonial-style building. It’s not open to the public, but you can admire it from the outside. In the opposite direction, Independence Avenue leads towards the sea.
The History Museum is situated in the National Library Building on Francis Rachel Street. In the entrance is the Stone of Possession, a stone placed by the French in 1756 to claim the islands. Displays are very simple without any interactive or animated exhibits, but for those interested in the history of the islands it’s an excellent introduction. The peaceful air-conditioned hall also makes for a pleasant, cool retreat from the heat and bustle of the capital, ideal if you’re acclimatising after your flight.
Looking for some art to take home? There’s a small gallery on the opposite side of the museum car park, Carrefour des Arts, which also has original paintings for sale. Continuing the theme, it’s well worth taking the time to visit Kenwyn House, directly opposite the main entrance to the National Library on Francis Rachel Street. This is one of the best-preserved 19th-century buildings in Victoria. Apart from the architecture, it contains a fairly extensive art gallery featuring many local artists.
The Natural History Museum is situated on Independence Avenue near to the Post Office. In this natural paradise, it’s well worth investigating the exhibits here as they really tell you something about what makes the Seychelles so special. There are displays of indigenous birds, marine life, tortoises, geology and extinct species. Permanent displays include copies of the famous paintings of British artist Marianne North.
On the opposite side of the road is Victoria’s most popular restaurant, the Pirates Arms. This relaxed café-bar opens onto the street and it's the perfect place for people watching. Conveniently, it’s also open all day and well into the evening for a meal, snack or drink. There’s a small arcade of shops beside it, several of which sell souvenirs.
Independence Avenue terminates at a roundabout featuring the Bicentennial Monument known as Trwa Zwazo (‘three birds’), erected in 1978 to celebrate 200 years of human settlement in the Seychelles. Continuing straight on, the road leads to the Inter-Island Quay, the departure point for charter boats and ferries to Praslin.
From the Trwa Zwazo Roundabout, 5th June Avenue heads south to Marine Charter Association, which is the departure point for glass-bottom boats and some charter yachts. Almost opposite is the statue Zonm Lib (‘free man’).
On the southern edge of Victoria, the Botanical Gardens provide a gentle contrast with the bustle of the capital. The best time to visit is early in the morning, the middle of the day being too hot for walking. The late afternoon is also good, though some blooms will have faded by this time. There are no refreshments on sale in the gardens and it’s a good idea to take a bottle of water with you.
Wander as you please around the 6-hectare site, with its delightful peaceful atmosphere visitors can experience today. The main path is lined with exotic and endemic palms. To the left, lawns incline towards the river. About 100m from the car park, there’s a turning to the right and on the opposite corner there’s a mature coco de mer tree and a large pen containing Aldabra giant tortoises.
Continuing uphill, the gardens open out on the right, the broad lawn dotted with exotic trees and shrubs. Beyond this there’s an attractive pond with water lilies and darting dragonflies. The path leads uphill to the top of the gardens. Giant fruit bats may be seen roosting in the trees towards the mountains and blue pigeons flit by.
Northwest of Victoria, Beau Vallon is the most popular beach in the Seychelles, with three large hotels and several smaller establishments in the vicinity. Nevertheless, it’s only really busy at weekends when locals join tourists to enjoy the beach and watersports.
Two of the best dive centres in the Seychelles are situated at Coral Strand Hotel and Berjaya Beau Vallon Bay Resort and Casino. Paragliding is also popular. Other activities include a range of watersports from windsurfing to water skiing and banana boat rides.
Beau Vallon is an excellent beach for swimming and safe for children, with soft sand, no undertow or dangerous currents, a gentle gradient and generally no big rollers.