Culture Dose: A Victoria Holiday Getaway

Seeking a little holiday cheer, eh? We’ve got just the place for you.

There’s no question: Victoria does the holiday season right. Think twinkly lights, adorned trees and heaps of seasonal activities and special events. A festive buzz pervades the waterside city throughout the month, providing merriment for all. Sure, we like Vancouver Island all year long: its pace is tranquil, the locals friendly, and the travel easy. But at this time of year, things become truly magical.

VicotriaBelow, find a sampling of ideas on how to take in the season in Victoria. For a more comprehensive guide, visit, which features an advent calendar of daily events (and deals!) not to be missed.


Pack your passport, and set your alarm for an early Clipper departure from downtown Seattle. On travel day, head to Pier 69 as the city has just begun to awaken. Once on-board, settle in with a complimentary cup of tea or coffee, and take in lovely cityscape views as the dawn splits open the morning sky and your vessel pushes off across steely gray waters. (Tip: on choppy, high-sea days, splurge on the 25-cent motion sickness pills found at the Duty Free counter.) Spend the less-than-three hour journey gazing out your window, munching on snacks (like yogurt, turkey and cheese croissants, crackers with salmon and chive cream cheese) and, if you’re feeling celebratory, toasting your getaway with $4 splits of champagne (only credit cards accepted on-board). *Alternatively, take the Black Ball Coho ferry from Port Angeles.

Clipper Terminal


The Clipper deposits passengers right downtown at Victoria’s Inner Harbour, within walking distance of many hotel options. (Fun fact: According to a 2006 Government of Canada statistics study, Victoria is the fittest city in Canada, so guests can take full advantage of the town’s walkability.) Just a stone’s throw from the Clipper terminal, find the decadent Inn at Laurel Point. This “Pacific Rim-inspired waterfront hotel,” which consistently makes Conde Nast’s Top 25 hotels list, features modern rooms draped in warm hues and spacious balconies that offer water views of synchronized rowers, festively-lit boats and the occasional sky-arching rainbow.

Inn at Laurel Point
The Inn at Laurel Point
Laurel balcony
From a Laurel Point balcony

 Enjoy meals at the hotel’s AURA restaurant where chefs create pieces of culinary art not to be missed. Highlights range from the fried sushi and risotto with braised duck and BC mushrooms to Berkshire pork loin and the halibut hot pot. From the hotel, easily stroll along the waterside trail to downtown or, in the other direction, to Fisherman’s Wharf, a colony of colorful houseboats, kayaking and whale watching companies and vendors selling fish ‘n’ chips, mini donuts, pulled pork sandwiches and poutine. Although, summer is this zone’s most happening time, check out the unique houseboats during the peaceful quiet of the winter season. If you’re lucky, you will also enjoy a visit from a few of the dock’s resident seals.

Seasonal highlights at the Inn at Laurel Point include popular weekend Santa brunches (an impressive and extensive spread, adults $39) and, in the lobby, Canada’s national showcase of gingerbread houses. A stunning display of whimsy and creativity reveals 27, candy-enforced structures that follow themes from seaplanes and Star Wars to the sport of curling and Pixar’s animated film Up. The free exhibit collects donations for Habitat for Humanity Victoria (last year, sponsors raised more than $5,000), and guests can vote on which masterpiece they think should win the competition.

Oak Bay Beach Hotel
Oak Bay Beach Hotel

Alternatively, stay a little farther afoot at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel, a family-owned and operated venue where guests feel as though they’ve entered a decadent home, thanks to lush rooms with faux fireplaces, kitchenettes with coffeemakers, giant tubs, fluffy robes and pillows topped with chocolate treats. The luxury, English manor house-inspired waterfront accommodation has just reopened after a three-year-long, $52 million-rebuild project on the same property where the original Oak Bay Beach Hotel (built in 1927) stood.

The new design mingles the old with the new, and many physical elements and furnishings remain from the original hotel (windows, bricks, beams, furniture and artwork). The owners hope that guests will feel that they can “reach out and touch history.”

Oak Bay Beach Hotel mineral pools
Oak Bay Beach Hotel mineral pools

The property includes a 100-room hotel with 20 luxury residences, a fitness center Boathouse Spa & Baths, the David Foster Foundation Theatre, a fine-dining restaurant and the more casual Kate’s Cafe—run by the owners’ daughter—where a real fireplace and a faux fireplace (a la the “fire log channel”) provide a cozy atmosphere for quiches, soups, scones, sandwiches or an afternoon beer. But the piece de la resistance? Dip in the hotel’s three seaside, heated mineral baths, where lapping waves provide a tranquil soundtrack. (Non-guests will be thrilled to learn they can purchase day passes for $30 to use the mineral pools, gym, locker room and to soak up these delicious views, along with libations on the licensed patio.)

The Snug Pub, one of Victoria’s first cocktail lounges and a local favorite since it was established in 1952, has once again gained immense popularity. Today’s pub features some repurposed elements from the original (stained glass windows, for example). Queues to get a table sometimes stretch far into the hotel lobby by 5:30 p.m., so arrive early to get a seat! The hotel currently offers introductory rates as well as special Christmas packages (and carols in the lobby December 22, 23, and 24).


In and around the harbor, take horse-drawn carriage rides, enjoy a spot of afternoon tea at the famous Empress Hotel (where the tea theme now carries over into cocktails, too) or, on some evenings, watch alfresco holiday films that are projected on the outside of the Delta Ocean Pointe Hotel.


Adults relive the wonderment of childhood at The Butchart Gardens, where attractions on the 55-acre  property include an ice-skating rink (where a nearby cafe sells warming egg nog and hot cocoa), a merry-go-ground, evening caroling, festive and delicious dining options and a “Twelve Days of Christmas” luminary  display that takes about an hour and a half to wander through and features tens of thousands of twinkling lights.

B Gardens


The London Chef 2

The story behind The London Chef writes itself. As a struggling young student in the UK, Dan Hayes wrote a letter from his boarding school to a famous seafood chef seeking advice on what life path to follow. This led to Dan’s recruitment to a Cornwall kitchen, his first exposure to the chef scene. Fast forward many years when Dan, by then filling a mentor role himself, was teaching a cooking class in London and fell in love with a student from Victoria named Micayla. Despite her lack of culinary background (she studied criminology), together the couple shared a vision for opening a cooking school back in her native Canada. The idea finally took shape one afternoon after a pub brainstorming session, thanks to a good bottle of rose and a napkin on which they sketched the company blueprint. Today, The London Chef, an inviting, airy space, thrives as a cooking school, catering company, dining room and cafe. Students enjoy demos and hands-on cooking lessons from convivial teachers who keep the tone informative yet fun.

The London Chef


Options for good food and drink in Victoria are limitless. In Chinatown, enjoy coffee treats, soup and wraps at cozy cafe Union Pacific. Take a self-guided tour of Victoria’s Ale Trail at the city’s many micro-breweries including Canoe Brewpub, Restaurant and Marina, Driftwood Brewery, Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub and Swan’s Brewery. Grab fancy evening cocktails at Veneto, or cozy up to the bar at Fiamo.

So what’s the hold-up? We reckon it’s time to go get festive with our neighbors to the north.


*All photos by Corinne Whiting.