It’s been named Most Romantic City in Canada and Canada’s Best City for Women yet Victoria, B.C. still flies under the radar for many travelers blinded by the bright lights of nearby Vancouver.
Victoria, located on Vancouver Island, is a hidden gem, boasting the mildest weather in the country and a chill West Coast vibe. Whether you’re an outdoor adventurer or a lover of luxury, there’s literally something for everyone in this walkable haven where the food and craft beer scene rivals that of a big city.
Take a quick and scenic Helijet flight from Vancouver and spend a night or two checking out some of these sights. When you realize you don’t want to leave, book a later flight home (departing directly from YYJ) and plan to settle in for a while.
Fairmont Empress — Photo courtesy of Fairmont Empress
This iconic luxury hotel has been holding court in Victoria since 1908 and, with a recent facelift, it’s looking more elegant than ever.
Standing tall over the Inner Harbour, the regal Empress has hosted celebrities from Shirley Temple to Harrison Ford and real royalty, including Prince Charles and Camilla. Opt for a Fairmont Gold room, which gives you access to the incomparable Gold Lounge and its brand-new patio where you can nab the best seat in town for the spectacular sunsets.
Silk Road Tea
Daniela Cubelic of Silk Road Tea — Photo courtesy of Chung Chow
Of course you have to experience the legendary afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, but you also have to make time to visit this lovely tea shop in Victoria’s historic Chinatown.
Tea master and founder Daniela Cubelic (yes, she holds a degree in tea) has created an eclectic collection of original blends made with premium quality, fresh, organic botanicals – and without artificial flavors or colors.
Take home a tin of the bestselling Beau-TEA-ful skincare tea, filled with white and green tea leaves, rooibos, calendula, lemon balm, peppermint, citrus peel, lemongrass and lavender. It’s the perfect complement to a massage or facial in Silk Road’s award-winning spa.
The Butchart Gardens
The Butchart Gardens — Photo courtesy of The Butchart Gardens Ltd
Home to the most stunning landscaping – just take a look at their Instagram feed! – you would never guess that The Butchart Gardens was built over a century ago on an abandoned quarry.
Now a National Historic Site of Canada, the family-owned gardens feature more than one million plants in 900 varieties, and attract almost a million visitors annually. You could easily spend a day here during any season, wandering through all the different sections, including the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden and the Mediterranean Garden.
Enjoy the views over lunch, afternoon tea or dinner at the award-winning restaurant, The Dining Room, and pick up something for your own garden at The Seed and Gift Store.
The Very Good (Vegan) Butchers
Vegan burger from The Very Good Butchers — Photo courtesy of The Very Good Butchers
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, it may be worth a trip to Victoria just to eat at The Very Good Butchers. Honestly, it may be worth moving there.
This is the best non-meat “meat” I’ve ever tasted, and you truly have to try it yourself to believe it. If you didn’t know better, you would swear you were biting into a real burger or bacon. (Bacon!) It’s plant-based, organic, hand-crafted, perfect.
Munro’s Books — Photo courtesy of Wayne D. Templeton
A destination for bibliophiles for more than half a century, this beautiful bookstore located in the historic former Royal Bank of Canada building was founded by Jim Munro and his then-wife, short story writer and Nobel Prize winner, Alice.
Today, Munro’s has been passed down to four long-term staffers who continue to make the store a welcoming place to browse the shelves, attend author events and discover your next favorite read. Stop by to pick up a book about Victoria from their extensive collection – although you may enjoy spending time in the store so much, you may not have time to see anything else.
Goat Stampede at Beacon Hill Children’s Farm
Beacon Hill Children’s Farm — Photo courtesy of Beacon Hill Children’s Farm
Every morning at 10:10, the farm gates open and the running of the goats begins. It takes less than a minute, but it’s adorable and hilarious and the best way to start your day.
The goats run to their enclosure, where you can pet them and play with them as long as you like. If you sit down on a rock, they’ll climb on you and innocently gum your hair and your clothes. This is a simply joyful experience, and everywhere you look, people of all ages are smiling, laughing and taking selfies with the goats.
At 5:10, the goats run back to their off-hours habitat. Although these runs are officially named goat stampedes, it would be more appropriate to call them goat therapy.
Tartines at Fishhook — Photo courtesy of Fishhook
In a cozy little space on Fort Street (Victoria’s culinary epicenter), former Top Chef Canada contender Chef Kunal Ghose whips up his version of French Tartines, piling smoked fish and locally-grown heirloom vegetables on top of perfectly toasted fresh baguettes.
Locals line up for the rotating menu of sustainable seafood which also features salads, fish curries, house pickled organic veggies, and soups. Order a cup of the delicious chowder made with coconut milk, smoked fish broth, thyme-chili roasted potato, wild fish confit and smoked salmon belly bacon. You’ll be lured in by the smell and hooked by the taste.
The Pedaler Bike Tours
The Pedaler Bike Tours — Photo courtesy of The Pedaler
Victoria is a great city to explore by bike, and The Pedaler offers both guided and self-guided tours of some of the area’s best spots.
Check out “Castles, Hoods and Legends,” take in the coastal scenery on an electric bike or eat and drink your way through Victoria on tours focused on gastronomy and the craft beer scene. No need to worry about calories because you’ll be working them off between indulgences.
Royal BC Museum
Royal BC Museum — Photo courtesy of Tourism Victoria
With 26,000 square feet of indoor exhibits, there’s no better place to get a feel for all of British Columbia, in just an afternoon, than the Royal BC Museum.
The museum has been around since 1886 and it offers a fascinating, in-depth look at B.C. through galleries celebrating natural history, human history and culture. Whet your appetite by visiting “100 Objects of Interest,” an online exhibit carefully curated from the more than six million objects in the museum’s extensive collection.
Salish Sea Vitality Treatment at Willow Stream Spa
Seaflora products from Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Empress — Photo courtesy of Lois Alter Mark
The idea of rubbing your body with seaweed is admittedly a little weird, but I promise there’s nothing fishy about it. In fact, it’s utterly blissful.
This new treatment at the Fairmont Empress’ recently-refreshed spa takes you on a pampering journey through the waters of Vancouver Island with an invigorating scrub featuring some of the purest seaweed in the world to remove impurities and smooth and revitalize the skin.
You’re then wrapped in an antioxidant and vitamin-rich mixture of sea kelp lotion and seaweed gel, followed by a sea-powered shower with a unique, wild seaweed chamois. Take home some nurturing products from Seaflora to bring back that relaxing feeling of your Victoria vacation.