The holidays are here! Brilliant blubs are found on nearly every street corner and your calendar is rapidly filling up with holiday decorating, parties and shopping. Yet perhaps all you really want is some quality downtime and a chance to embrace this cozy time of year. A chance to press pause for a moment and share stories with friends over well-crafted cocktails. A chance to roam around aimlessly to soak in pretty lights and the magic of the season.

If there was ever a North American city suited to proving a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season while still providing plenty of festive activities to keep you in the spirit, Victoria, BC is a prime candidate. A 2-hour and 45-minute scenic ride through the Salish Sea aboard the Victoria Clipper ferry lands you in this charming city.

From indulging in local cuisine to sipping on a warming cuppa tea or gazing at thousands of sparkling lights, Victoria is the perfect place to transform winter’s chill into a trip full of holiday goodness.

Soak in a stunning Seattle sunrise as you cruise out of Pier 69.
Soak in a stunning Seattle sunrise as you cruise out of Pier 69.

Day 1

10:45 a.m. – Victoria Clipper arrives from Seattle into Victoria’s Inner Harbor

11:30 a.m. – Saveur

Off the boat and through customs, it’s time to tackle the first order of business. Brunch! A less than 20-minute walk from the Clipper terminal on Government Street brings you to the buzzy French restaurant Saveur. Practically across the street from the bustling Victoria Public Market, it’s hard to think of a better locale for a spot renowned for incredible fresh eats. And oh, does it deliver.

Award-winning chef Robert Cassels knocks it out of the park with seasonal tasting menus sourced straight from Vancouver Island. Each colorful, meticulously presented dish presents as a piece of art. We won’t blame you for whipping out your phone to snap a shot for Insta.

2:45 p.m. – Hotel Grand Pacific

Adequately fueled, make a quick stop at the elegant Hotel Grand Pacific to drop your bags. A seaside gem mere minutes from the Clipper terminal, the majestic property offers no shortage of striking views along with award-winning dining and a top-of-the-line athletic club. These swoon-worthy digs may be the closest you’ll come to melding classic architecture with modern amenities.

While the property’s plush, complimentary robes and stunning vistas beg for a quiet night in, reading and watching the lights of the Parliament Buildings and Robert Bateman Center dance across the waters of the Inner Harbour, it’s still early and there is lots of city to exploreBook this hotel with Clipper, learn more.

Spoil your sweetie with a water view room, a bottle of sparkling wine and a decadent chocolate surprise. Credit: Hotel Grand Pacific
Spoil your sweetie with a water view room, a bottle of sparkling wine and a decadent chocolate surprise. Credit: Hotel Grand Pacific

4:00 p.m.  – Butchart Christmas Lights Tour

Once you do make your way back outside, catch a motor coach in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel and transport yourself to the gates of the world-renowned Butchart Gardens in under 60-minutes. With 55-acres of glittering winter wonderland stretching out before you, the only challenge is determining what to tackle first: the dazzling displays on The Butchart Gardens Christmas Lights Tour or the glistening open-air ice skating rink. With colorful, dancing lights bringing the scenery to life and decking out the grounds in a 12 days of Christmas theme, there are few places more magical.

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

7:45 p.m. – Dining Room Restaurant at The Butchart Gardens

Need to quiet a rumbling stomach and give the feet a rest? Head inside The Dining Room Restaurant for some of the tastiest and most festive dishes around. Warm, cozy and inviting, it’s one The Gardens’ hidden gems.

Score a coveted table by the crackling fire and dine on the Saanich Peninsula pork loin chop or dig into the Brant Lake Wagyu beef bavette if you really want to splurge. Just be sure to save room for dessert. With treats such as the Baileys liqueur-filled chocolate bon bon as well as eggnog entremets, they are absolute perfection.

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

10:00 p.m. – Fairmont Empress Veranda

Keep the cozy vibes going and duck out on the Empress hotel’s sprawling, harbor-facing Veranda and cuddle up next to a roaring fire pit. Stay extra toasty with a hand and soul-warming mug of mulled wine, spiced cider or hot cocoa while noshing on freshly-roasted s’mores.

Cuddle up on the Terrace and watch the Inner Harbour fade into the night. Credit: The Fairmont Empress
Cuddle up on the Terrace and watch the Inner Harbour fade into the night. Credit: The Fairmont Empress

Day 2

9:45 a.m. – John’s Place

A Victoria breakfast institution for more than three decades, there’s a good chance you’ll find a line outside the eclectic John’s Place. But the lineup of home-style favorites ranging from made-from-scratch bread to sausages is more than worth the wait. Plus, there are plenty of photos of staff, friends and celebrities papering walls from floor-to-ceiling to keep you occupied.

If you order one thing, make it the famous cream cheese syrup-topped Belgian waffles. Deliciously sweet, they are heaven on a plate.

Made-from-scratch dishes hit the spot at the popular John's Place.
Made-from-scratch dishes hit the spot at the popular John’s Place.

11:30 a.m. – Johnson Street Shopping

Stroll one block over to Johnson Street to discover a lineup of picturesque, candy-colored storefronts and the perfect shopportunity to cross a few things off your holiday gift list. Stop in the stylishly-low tech Regional Assembly of Text to pick up adorable handmade cards and buttons or head to Little Gold for a carefully curated selection of jewelry and accessories.

If you’re after unique threads, pay a visit to Flavour Upstairs or pop back up the Government Street to Duchess and Duke for vintage gems at great prices. Creating a winning fashion formula for your trendiest friends and family members has never been easier.

Pick up a variety of delicate baubles in downtown Victoria’s unique boutiques. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
Pick up a variety of delicate baubles in downtown Victoria’s unique boutiques. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

1:00 p.m.  Sült Pierogi Bar

Hearty and comforting, there’s something about a steaming plate of pierogis that make them the perfect companion on a cold winter day. At the rich-wood filled Sült Pierogi Bar, chef and owner Troy Barnaby’s unique menu stretches way past your traditional heavy cheese and potato fare. Focused on taking an eastern European class and re-imaging with flavors from all over the world and Canadian-sourced toppings, the restaurant is on track to forge a new Canadian cuisine.

Opt for the classic roasted garlic, potato and triple cheese-filled Squeaks or try the spinach, jalapeno, green onion, cream cheese and whipped potato Hulk Smash. Yum!

Slurp up a plateful of pierogis at Sült.
Slurp up a plateful of pierogis at Sült.

2:00 p.m.  – Christmas in Old Victoria Walking Tour

Indulge in the city’s English vibes and amble past the city’s most iconic buildings decked out in lights on a walking tour of Old Victoria. Not only is it a great way to immerse yourself in the history of the region, but you’ll also get into the other kind of holiday spirit – the paranormal kind – as your guide shares tales both heartwarming and humorous.

If accounts of a First Nations legend, a Christmas Day brawl at Fort Victoria and a memory from Emily Carr’s childhood don’t leave you grinning from ear-to-ear, we don’t know what will. Book this tour with Clipper, learn more.

See Victoria's historic buildings dressed up in festive decor. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria
See Victoria’s historic buildings dressed up in festive decor. Credit: Destination Greater Victoria

4:00 p.m. – Lights of Wonder

Haven’t quite gotten in enough Christmas lights? A swift free horse-drawn trolley ride will not only give you a scenic break but will also land you in the heart of Centennial Square for one dazzler of a holiday display.

A massive, light-driven exhibition, Lights of Wonder transforms the square into a sparkling valley of lights. A glowing orca pays homage to the region’s majestic coast. A larger-than-life crown brings the city’s namesake to life, a pulsing river of glistening koi brings luck to the community. All the while a towering 40-foot-tall Christmas tree takes center stage amid the winding maze.

If the lights weren’t enough, there are plenty of opportunities to eat, drink and be merry with stands full of hot chocolate, pretzels, bratwurst and more as well as performances by Theater SKAM. The best part? Admission to the event is completely free!

6:00 p.m. – The Local on Wharf Street

For an extra dose of yuletide cheer, grab dinner and drinks at aptly-named The Local on Wharf Street, a favorite haunt of Victoria residents. With low-lighting and tasty, shareable small plates, the watering hole is already an ideal spot to dine on a winter’s night. Married with maxed out holiday decor, the space feels like you’ve stepped into an old Christmas movie.

Split a plate of small bites while you relax over a glass of wine at the Local. Credit: Luke Connor Visual for the Local
Split a plate of small bites while you relax over a glass of wine at the Local. Credit: Luke Connor Visual for the Local

7:30 p.m.  – Hermann’s Jazz Club

Tucked away on View Street, the cozy Hermann’s Jazz Club is a jewel of a place to watch some of the best music Victoria has to offer. One of the oldest jazz clubs in the city, the spot doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to marrying an intimate setting, great sound and top-notch sips and eats. On top of the relaxed atmosphere, classic Christmas brass and some of the friendliest locals around make for an extra cozy holiday experience.

Day 3

10:00 a.m. – Blue Fox Café

With a late afternoon departure, there is more than enough time for one last stellar brunch. Swing by the hip, brick-walled Blue Fox Cafe, a perennial local favorite. With vibrantly painted walls and a menu boasting whimsical riffs on classic Canadian comfort food, the café hits the mark for both excellent eats and a chill vibe.

Skip scouring the menu and feast on one of the dozen mouth-watering eggs Benny’s to put the Canadian staple to the test. Whether you go with the smoked-salmon forward Eggs Pacifico or the savory Eggs Pico, you really can’t go wrong.

Filled with wild smoked salmon, red onion, fresh avocado and chipotle aioli, the Eggs Pacifico Bennie will make your mouth water. Credit: Katie Schlossberg
Filled with wild smoked salmon, red onion, fresh avocado and chipotle aioli, the Eggs Pacifico Bennie will make your mouth water. Credit: Katie Schlossberg

11:45 p.m. – Christmas at Craigdarroch Castle

Burn off brunch and make the short 15-minute walk up Fort Street to the magnificent Craigdarroch Castle for some old-timey holiday fun. Each year, Castle curator, Bruce Davies, and the museum’s longtime decorator, Sherry Kerr, go all out, filling all 39 rooms and 4 stories of the castle chock-full of holiday trimmings.

Wander through all 20,000 square feet of interior space and experience how wealthy Scottish industrialist Robert Dunsmuir and his family celebrated Christmas more than 100 years ago. Check out glamorous Victorian-era furnishings, exquisite stained-glass windows, vintage toys tucked under the tree, festively decorated mantles and a Christmas feast setting fit for royalty.

(Inside tip: Climb up the 87 steps of the castle’s grand oak staircase to the tower for jaw-dropping views of downtown Victoria and the Olympic Mountains.)

Experience the lives of the Dunsmuirs at Craigdarroch Castle. Credit: Craigdarroch Castle
Experience the lives of the Dunsmuirs at Craigdarroch Castle. Credit: Craigdarroch Castle

2:00 p.m. – Tea at the Empress

Afterward, warm up in the fanciest way imaginable with a festive Tea at the Fairmont Empress. Perched on the edge of the Inner Harbour, stepping into the renowned hotel never fails to enchant. Inside, English tradition meets white cloth service as friendly staff shuttle steaming cups of tea and tiered platters past elegant tables. (Inside tip: Stop by on December 15 or 16 to catch live Christmas carols!)

Every level of the trays are stacked with locally-produced festive goodies, made in-house. Dig into delicious seasonal treats such as mini Christmas fruit cake with marzipan butter frosting, candy cane macarons and roast turkey roulade and more. It’s an experience that is anything but ordinary.

The reinvented Lobby Lounge highlights the original architecture, for a modern take on royal tea. Photo: The Fairmont Empress
The reinvented Lobby Lounge highlights the original architecture, for a modern take on royal tea. Photo: The Fairmont Empress

4:00 p.m. – Clipper Terminal (5:00 p.m. departure)

Back onboard the Clipper, the siren song of Comfort class’ comfy leather seats as well as a warm beverage and a good read, is impossible to resist. Combined with twinkling lights from the shore and collective contented silence onboard, it’s hard to think of a more serene and relaxing way to end the weekend.

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