Few cities lend themselves to wintertime coziness as well as Victoria, British Columbia. With its compact layout, vibrant food scene and grand architecture reminiscent of Europe’s great cities—not to mention the mildest climate in Canada—the City of Gardens continues to blossom when temperatures drop.
Let there be lights. The famous Butchart Gardens pulls out all the stops for its annual Magic of Christmas light display, a breathtaking nighttime extravaganza, complete with an ice-skating rink and live music, December 1–January 6. Enjoy a festive light show right in the city center when Christmas Lights Across Canada illuminates the city’s Parliament building and grounds from December 5 through early January.
High tea at the Fairmont Empress Lobby Lounge
Sleep tight. Diagonally across from the Parliament building, you’ll find the grande dame of Victoria hotels, the Fairmont Empress, famous for its indulgent high tea. Built in 1908, the Empress recently received a royal upgrade, from rooms to restaurants, completed in 2017. For a more intimate experience, bed-and-breakfasts are plentiful; the fireplaces in every room of the Beaconsfield Inn are especially appealing in winter months.
Chow down, fuel up. Brunch is serious business in Victoria, and Jam Cafe and Nourish Kitchen & Cafe are two of many excellent options serving hearty meals (like Jam’s pulled pork pancakes) to last you until dinnertime.
For a relatively small city, Victoria boasts an abundance of global cuisine. We recommend Chimac’s Korean fried chicken or Vij’s Sutra, an offshoot of the popular Vancouver Indian restaurant. For a hyperlocal menu, check out 10 Acres: The restaurant’s three locations all feature seasonal ingredients grown on its farm. If you find yourself in need of a midday snack and shopping break, the many food and craft vendors at Victoria Public Market are happy to oblige.
Pulled pork pancakes at Jam Cafe. Photo by Helene Cyr
Living history. When winter weather forces you indoors, step back in time with a visit to Craigdarroch Castle, a stunning Victorian structure built between 1887 and 1890 for Scottish immigrant turned Canadian coal baron Robert Dunsmuir. (Fun fact: The castle was a filming location for the 1994 screen adaptation of Little Women, starring Winona Ryder.)
To turn back the clock even further, check out the Royal BC Museum’s incredible collection of First Nations cultural artifacts; and a special exhibit on Mayan culture, “Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises,” on view through December 31. Find history on a much smaller scale at a wonderfully strange attraction called Miniature World, which is exactly what it sounds like: room after room of minutely detailed, tiny tableaus of events real and imagined.
On the way home. Stretch your legs in Beacon Hill Park before your return journey; these lush 200 acres are stunning, no matter the season.
Getting there: The passenger-only Victoria Clipper will get you to Victoria in less than three hours. Be sure to bring your passport (or enhanced driver's license) to get over the border.
Art from “Maya: The Great Jaguar Rises”. Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum