Updated October 23, 2019

“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 ferry 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 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.

Nothing could make the experience any more magical. Except, perhaps, some Christmas lights, which is how my travel companion and I found ourselves traipsing through a frozen parking lot at the famous Butchart Gardens. On a mission to check out The Butchart Gardens Christmas 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 float gently through the chilled air. It’s easy to fall into 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 cozy up by the fire with a steaming hot chocolate. (Psst – kiddos under 12 years-old can trade in a home-made paper snowflake for a free cup of 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 we’re 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 Butchart’s 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, with each display 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 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. Butchart’s 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. 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. They immediately bring back childhood memories from  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 Butchart’s 100th Anniversary loose-leaf tea and packet of poppy seeds. Last-minute Christmas shopping = success.

Listen to the brass band play among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Credit: The Butchart Gardens
Listen to the brass band play among the trees at The Butchart Gardens. Credit: The Butchart Gardens

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 next year’s return visit.

Additional Trip Planning Information

What is the best way to get to The Butchart Gardens from Seattle?

With daily departures from Pier 69 in downtown Seattle, the Victoria Clipper high-speed catamaran provides a quick and scenic ride to the heart of downtown Victoria, BC in just 2 hours and 45 minutes. Clipper Vacations offers a Victoria Clipper with The Butchart Gardens Christmas Lights package including a hotel stay plus a city tour and transportation to and from The Gardens.

Is The Butchart Gardens open in December?

Yes! The Gardens’ gates are open from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and you are welcome to explore the grounds until 10:00 p.m. On Christmas day, The Garden’s open at 1:00 p.m.

How much is admission to The Butchart Gardens?

Admission to The Butchart Gardens changes depending on the season, with prices ranging from $16 -$29 USD per person for adults and $2 – $3 USD per person for children. Clipper Vacations also offers motor coach tours to The Butchart Gardens, including admission to The Gardens Christmas lights display plus a city tour. Prices range are $60 USD per person for adults and $21 USD per person for children.

How long do you need at The Gardens?

Plan on at least 2-4 hours to view all the lights, ice skate and listen to the carolers or brass band.

How many Christmas Lights do The Butchart Gardens have?

Each holiday season, The Gardens come to life with more than 300,000 lights spread throughout the 55-acre grounds.

When are The Butchart Gardens Christmas Lights?

The Butchart Gardens’ Magic of Christmas lights display begins with an annual Light Up ceremony on December 1st at 5:00 p.m. A flick of a switch transforms the grounds into a stunning wonderland filled with twinkling lights. A longstanding family tradition, the festivities run through the holiday season to January 6th.

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Featured Photo: The Butchart Gardens