During Christmas time, a stroll around The Butchart Gardens can feel like you’re trouncing through the glowing, twinkling stars of the Milky Way. With more than 300,000 lights on display each holiday season, The Gardens put on quite the show. It’s hard not be as giddy as a little kid as you stroll through a wonderland of lights splashed in a rainbow of colors.
Delight in Fabulous Winter Time Fun
The first thing you’ll notice in The Gardens during the holidays is the glistening surface of the 5,000 sq. ft. open air ice rink. Christmas music fills the air as you lace up a pair of skates (you can either rent a pair or bring your own). On the rink, you’ll hear the familiar sound of blades on ice as you glide underneath a canopy of softly, twinkling lights. After enjoying a good skate, head to the Coffee Shop for a much-needed breather. Grab a hot chocolate and a house-made gingerbread or shortbread cookie and find a spot to cuddle up next to the fireplace.
Not feeling the rink? Make a trip over to the Children’s Pavilion to take a spin on the only carousel on Vancouver Island, the Rose Carousel. Kids scramble and race through the menagerie of thirty hand-carved and brightly painted animals, including zebras, camels, lions, bears, ostriches and orcas before hopping on for a ride. A little insider tip, if you stop by The Gardens to catch the Light-Up Ceremony at the Rose Carousel on December 1st, you will be treated to free carousel rides all day long, and, of course, the dazzling lights displays.
Wander Through a Colorful Palette of Dazzling Lights
Hit the gardens at precisely the right time (about 4:00 p.m.), and catch the magical transition from day to night. The sun dips below the horizon in a flaming ball of brilliant yellow and orange. Then, one by one, the lights click on, slowly filling the grounds with an illuminating glow.
With an awe-inspiring display stretched before you, it’s hard to know where to look first. Colored lights take over the usual garden displays, showcasing the different features, but still allowing a good sense of the various garden beds, even in the darkness. Strands of glistening fairy lights create flowing sapphire rivers and waterfalls as well as outline paths and arches. Trees, shrubs and plants get their own special treatment and are wrapped in lights or spotlighted in an array of vibrant hues by uplights.
Signs direct you to the start of your self-guided tour, which winds through the separately-themed gardens. Use the “Magic of Christmas Walk” checklist from the Visitor’s Center as a guide and make a game out of your trek through the sparkling grounds. See if you can spot all the enchanting 12 days of Christmas displays. Look carefully, as it is easy to be so captivated by the lights that you can easily forget each display in The Gardens is designed from a verse in the song. A little hint, don’t just focus on the lights. Buchart’s arts department has taken weeks to dream up their own imaginative takes on each day, using everything from model birds to mannequins.
That flock of trendy looking hens sipping cafe au late in front of the Eiffel Tower? The French hens. The random group of birds clutching tiny phones in their claws and beaks? Calling birds. With two displays down, and ten more to go, you continue your journey. Strolling along, you can’t help but find yourself softly singing the words to the song. Don’t worry about finding the displays in order. Trying to pick each day out from the rest of the gardens is part of fun. If you’re lucky enough to find them all, the kiddos (12 years old or younger) will be rewarded with a special gift from the Visitor Center.
A Festive Feast Delivered Through Spectacular Sips and Eats
After a couple of hours of exploring The Gardens, there’s a good chance your feet could use a little rest. As you make your way up the path toward the Piazza, the faint strains of a classic Christmas carols catch your ear, instantly bringing back childhood memories of bygone times around the Christmas tree. Stop and listen to the sweet sounds of the carolers or stick around to hear the toe-tapping tunes of the festive brass band (the two groups alternate every half hour between 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.).
From the Piazza, head inside the cozy, former Butchart residence (now the Dining Room restaurant) to warm up and dine on a delicious dinner featuring rich, hearty comfort food. Butchart’s exceptional culinary team works months in advance to carefully craft and test the various holiday menus. Winter time favorites include the wild B.C. salmon fillet and the carved AAA beef tenderloin, which are each served with a side of fresh, locally-sourced seasonal vegetables.
When it comes time for dessert, we recommend indulging in the decadent, baked Alaska or the smoked chocolate cake. Whichever option you choose, you will be treated to delicious goodness. Kids get their own special menu, which is filled with pictures that your little Picassos or Monets can creatively color. By the time they finish their works of art, their own mini feast arrives, featuring a choice of chicken strips, a grilled cheese sandwich or pasta.
If you arrive earlier in the day, cozy up with the special seasonal afternoon tea. Be sure to make reservations, as this tea is very popular. Munch on holiday-themed tea treats such as a rotisserie chicken salad and fig chutney, sausage roll with cranberry mustard and truffled egg salad. Desserts also receive a festive kick with cranberry spice cake trifle, gingerbread meringue with white chocolate ganache and eggnog flan. There is also a seasonal menu for little ones, with tasty treats such as strawberry Nutella French toast pinwheels and chocolate-dipped shortbread that will leave them begging for more.
When it comes time to leave The Gardens, you can’t help but turn around and take one last, longing look to capture a mental snapshot of the amazing and brilliant displays. It is hard to do The Gardens justice in single evening. This is one family-friendly holiday adventure you’ll easily make an annual tradition for years to come.