I was six years old the first time my family spent a week in a rustic cottage by the sea, just outside of downtown Victoria, B.C. We spent our days leisurely strolling along the sandy shoreline, sometimes with an ice cream cone in hand, picking up sand dollars and shells. After sunset, we’d cuddle around the bonfire under the most spectacular star-soaked sky.
Until recently, Victoria has always been synonymous with summer in my eyes. I honestly didn’t even think about venturing over once the mercury dropped, but I’m so glad that perspective has changed.
My mother and I recently indulged in the most incredible girls’ getaway in downtown Victoria for three glorious nights. Our mission from Tourism Victoria: to highlight all the great events, places and activities our capital has to offer during the holiday season. Challenge accepted!
While we usually take the ferry when visiting Victoria, which is roughly around a 90-minute trip, we hopped onto a Harbour Air Sea Plane and were at our hotel in less than 35 minutes. If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend booking the latter — the view of our coast line is nothing short of spectacular, and you can’t beat the convenience factor.
With Christmas break quickly approaching, you may be thinking of getting out of town, without venturing too far from home. Or, perhaps you’re thinking of giving your loved one the gift of a romantic weekend away.
Here are just six holiday hot spots and highlights that warrant a visit to Victoria this holiday season.
1- Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase 2016
We followed our noses to Victoria’s Inn at Laurel Point, which is once again hosting Canada’s National Gingerbread Showcase, benefitting Habitat for Humanity Victoria.
This event brings together professional and amateur bakers from across Canada and highlights their creativity, while supporting the work of Habitat for Humanity Victoria. For 2016, the theme is Around the World, showcasing some incredible talent. You have to see with your own eyes what these participants have whipped up with gingerbread, icing sugar and candy. Some have embraced their cultural heritage, while others portray unique travel destinations and adventures.
If you’re thinking about visiting during Christmas break, it’s certainly not too late.
This tasty exhibit is open daily and runs from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., until Monday, Jan. 2, 2017.
For more information, visit www.laurelpoint.com.
2- Butchart Gardens
If you think you love Butchart Gardens during the dog days of summer, wait until you experience it during ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’
I’m talking about thousands upon thousands of dazzling Christmas lights, lush holiday foliage and ice skating, oh my! It has been years since I visited Butchart Gardents, and it would be the first time seeing it lit up for the holiday season. Mom and I cuddled under an umbrella, with hot cocoas in hand, watching all the lights come to life for the first time this year. The annual light-up event was truly a festive sight to see.
As we wandered through the gardens, we enjoy the traditions of the season with the Twelve Days of Christmas displays. Live music was playing carols and laughter could be heard from young children across the way at the outdoor skating rink.
I felt just like I was in a Hallmark Christmas movie, which I was quoted saying in an article by the Times Colonist.
During the Magic of Christmas season, if you are 12 years old or younger, bring a paper snowflake you’ve made and exchange it for a cup of hot chocolate in the Coffee Shop. (Limit of one per day, no substitutions.)
There’s still lots of time to check out this event – The Magic of Christmas runs until Jan. 6, 2017. Note: make sure to allot some time for the gift shop, we spent a good hour checking out all the unique treasures. So many wonderful stocking stuffers and gift ideas.
3- Royal BC Museum
Despite the fact that I have visited Victoria numerous times over the years, I simply cannot go without spending time at one of our country’s greatest cultural treasures — the Royal BC Museum.
Until Dec. 31, visitors have the rare opportunity to see the larger-than-life exhibition, Mammoths! This engaging and interactive look at these magnificent creatures transported me to a time when giants walked among us and humans struggled to survive in a world they had yet to conquer.
If you’re planning a trip to Victoria this Christmas break, you seriously need to experience this for yourself. This is the first time ever in Canada, you are able to see Lyuba, a 40,000 year-old baby woolly mammoth that was discovered in Siberia in 2007.
Another highlight was visiting with Father Christmas in Old Town (my favourite part of the museum), which was all decked out for the holidays. There were plenty of families lined up to have their photo taken and kiddies eager to let the man in the jolly man in the red suit know what they wanted for Christmas.
4- Shop Til’ You Drop
It was a little nippy out down by the water, but that didn’t stop us from partaking in some Christmas shopping during our visit. Our hotel (The Delta Ocean Pointe) was just a quick seven-minute walk from the inner Harbour and shops, which was a huge perk considering both mom and I lack any sense of direction. There was plenty of laughter coming from underneath our big umbrellas as wobbled on cobble stone and wandered along Government Street on the hunt for souvenirs and gifts. After finding a great deal on a gorgeous full-length goose down winter jacket at a funky thrift shop, we stopped by the Hudson Bay Centre to scope out the sale at MAC.
Of course, there was no way we could not stop at Merchie’s for a hot cup of coffee.
Another great spot we discovered was Oak Bay Avenue. Located East of downtown Victoria, Oak Bay is due east of downtown Victoria and is Victoria’s seaside village. We found an eclectic mixture of independent delis, boutiques, bookstores, toy stores and thrift shops.
5- 16th Annual Bear Wear
We didn’t end up being able to experience this due to time constraints, but I have heard so many wonderful things about a beloved Victorian holiday tradition called Bear Wear—a festive display of cuddly teddy bears dressed up in fabulous costumes by local sponsors, businesses, organizations, and individuals.
The Christmas 2016 event marks the 16th year the event has been presented at the Hotel Grand Pacific as a holiday fundraising event for Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island.
The public is invited to stroll through the elegant lobby of the hotel and view the nearly 40 bears. You can vote for your favourite for the People’s Choice Award, and, for a suggested minimum $2 donation, you can enter to win one of them.
Since 2001, Bear Wear has raised $503,000 to support the Foundation’s programs to help children with disabilities and health challenges. Please help us reach our 2016 goal of raising $65,000!
If you’re considering a trip to Victoria this winter break, Bear Wear runs until 4:30pm on Jan.2, 2017.
6- Truck Parade
We were on our way to dinner at a hip new bistro just past Government Street when we were stopped in our tracks by a very special holiday event — the annual Truck Parade. Trucks of all shapes and sizes were decked out in Christmas lights, traveling from Langford to downtown Victoria. There were plenty of onlookers, including lots of little ones bundled up in strollers. I’ve heard that there is also a Lighted Boat Parade that is similar, but, as you guessed it, on the water. Illuminated ships travel along the Sidney coastline while families take in the spectacle from the shore.
Upon doing a little online investigative research, I discovered that the Truck Parade event supports local food banks.
Visit www.ieoa.com for more info.
This is just a small sampling of the activities we had the chance to explore, so I highly recommend you visit www.tourismvictoria.com for more holiday hot spots and hidden gems. Aside from there being far less traffic and tourists this time of year, there truly is just something undeniably magical about Victoria during the holiday season. And with it being off season, chances are you’ll find a great deal on hotel or B&B rates. If there’s an event or activity we’ve missed that you think should be on our list, we’d love to hear all about it in our comment section below. Also, make sure to visit the blog again soon to check for our suggestions on where to stay and where to dine in and around Victoria.