Originally published October 20, 2017 | Updated October 26, 2018

“Crunch.” “Crunch.” “Crunch.” The satisfyingly squeaky crunch of fresh powder breaks the silence as we stroll through a world blanketed in snow.

It’s a crisp December evening, and a quick ride on the Victoria Clipper V has landed us in British Columbia’s capital city for a much-needed holiday escape. The rare dusting of the fluffy white stuff has caught the city of off guard but in a state of glee, turning Victoria into a winter wonderland. The perfect remedy to recent damp and gloomy back in Seattle.

Book our Seattle to Victoria overnight & Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights package to join in the festivities!

Nothing could make the experience any more magical. Except, perhaps, some holiday lights, which is how my travel companion and I found ourselves traipsing through a frozen parking lot at the famous Butchart Gardens. We were on a mission to check out The Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights display and to indulge in a little festive goodness.

Delight in Fabulous Winter Time Fun

A few steps into the grounds and the glistening open-air ice rink immediately catches our eyes. A canopy of lights twinkle overhead. Christmas tunes floating gently through the chilled air. It’s easy to fall into in a Zen-like state, with one single repetitive thought around whether anything could be more festive or stunning.

Butcharts' frosty skating rink offers no shortage of holiday cheer. Credit: Brenna Ciummo
Butcharts’ frosty skating rink offers no shortage of holiday cheer. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

Souls warmed, we swing by The Gardens’ coffee shop to grab a cup of steaming hot chocolate. Paired with a fresh, house-made shortbread cookie, it’s the perfect energy bump to fuel our journey through the grounds.

Wander Through a Colorful Palette of Dazzling Lights

A mere five minutes in, an awe-inspiring display of more than 300,000 lights stretches before us. Even with the night sky partly covered with snow clouds, it feels like wandering through the twinkling stars of the Milky Way. The only challenge for the evening is determining where to focus first to soak in the dazzling display of lights.

(Insider tip: Visit The Gardens at about 4:00 p.m. to catch the magical transition from day to night. Watch as the sun dips below the horizon in a flaming ball of brilliant orange. Then, one by one, the lights click on, slowly filling the grounds with an illuminating glow.)

Pathways, flower beds, trees and shrubs are all adorned in Christmas lights. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Pathways, flower beds, trees and shrubs are all adorned in Christmas lights. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Evergreen boughs and fairy lights rim the paths. Not far from The Garden’s Dining Room Restaurant, silvery-blue icicles melt off a sapphire tree. A little further down the road, a tree drips with golden pears and a faux partridge nestled in the middle. I nudge my companion, and exclaim, “A partridge in a pear tree!” Remembering that The Gardens are decked out in a 12 Days of Christmas theme.

(If you have little ones in tow, be sure to pick up a “Magic of Christmas Walk” checklist from the Visitor’s Center and use it as a guide to pick out all the scenes from the song. 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.)

More imaginative scenes appear along the way toward Butcharts’ crown jewel, the iconic Sunken Garden. Those two caged birds? Turtledoves. That flock of trendy looking hens sipping cafe au late in front of the Eiffel Tower? Three French hens. The random group of birds clutching tiny phones in their claws and beaks? Four calling birds.

Five golden rings light up the Sunken Garden lake. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Five golden rings light up the Sunken Garden lake. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Reaching the top of the Sunken Gardens, we soak in the breathtaking vista. A kaleidoscope of lights fills every inch of the spectacular garden with glittering rivers and streams of lights flowing through the grounds. Snow heaped on top of lighted plants makes bushes look 100 times more vivid. Follow the trail and check out the remaining 12 Days of Christmas, each display just as impressive as the last.

Dazzling lights in a kaleidoscope of colors add drama to the trees and shrubs in the Sunken Garden. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Dazzling lights in a kaleidoscope of colors add drama to the trees and shrubs in the Sunken Garden. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

A Festive Feast Delivered Through Spectacular Sips and Eats

Before long, the former residence of the Butchart family is back in sight, the Butchart Dining Room Restaurant. Ready to give the feet a rest and quiet our rumbling stomachs, we duck inside for dinner. One of The Gardens’ hidden gems, the warm and inviting restaurant serves up some of the tastiest dishes around. Butcharts’ exceptional culinary team works months in advance to craft and test the various holiday menus. It’s no surprise the spot has received numerous accolades for its cuisine.

Sparkling lights frame The Dining Room. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Sparkling lights frame The Dining Room. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

Cozy up next to the restaurant’s roaring fire and feast on the wild B.C. salmon fillet or the carved beef tenderloin. Whichever your pick, don’t skip out on dessert. I highly recommend indulging in the apple tarte tatin. Brimming with cinnamon covered apples and married with Canadian whiskey ice cream, it’s ooey gooey perfection. (Insider tip: If you arrive earlier in the day, enjoy the special seasonal afternoon tea. Munch on holiday-themed tea treats such as a rotisserie chicken salad and fig chutney, cranberry spice cake trifle and peppermint chocolate meringue that will leave you begging for more.)

Following dinner, we wander back out to the Piazza to catch classic Christmas carols, immediately bringing bring back childhood memories of cherished memories around the Christmas tree (Insider tip:  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.)). As one last stop, we pop into The Butchart Seed & Gift Store and snag a tin of Butcharts’ 100th Anniversary loose leaf tea and packet of poppy seeds. Last-minute Christmas shopping = success.

Listen to carolers among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Credit: Brenna Ciummo
Listen to carolers among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Credit: Brenna Ciummo

When it comes time to leave The Gardens, I realize we’ve yet to see one final display, the 12th Day of Christmas. At the car, I take one last, longing look to capture a mental snapshot of the brilliantly lighted grounds. Looking up, I realize I haven’t missed the last display at all, it is right there in front of me. A row of 12 drummers line the top of the archway to The Gardens, offering a cheery send-off until my return visit next year.

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Featured Photo: The Butchart Gardens