Between the drive and ferry rides, Victoria is only a few hours away from Vancouver, BC. So it is possible to do for a day trip. If you can though, it makes a wonderful weekend away. I find during the Christmas season places take on a magical feel to them with the special events and the twinkling lights decorating almost everything you see. Victoria is no different. Streets, homes, shops, trees, boats, and even the Parliament Building, are beautifully decorated. While I made the trip specifically for a few appointments, I did fit some fun things in too. Here are a few things to do in Victoria, BC including a few in December that make for a truly special festive experience.
Catching the Ferry
I won’t go into too much detail about the ferry to Victoria, you can read all about it here, but I will give you some additional info for the area around the two ferry docks.
You can decide to pre-book your ferry crossing for an additional cost or you can show up, sit in line, and take your chances like I did. With two different outcomes. I arrived at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal at about 9:45 am for the 11 am Sunday morning crossing. I made it on. While I waited, I walked around the Tsawwassen Quay Market. Inside you will find quite the assortment of places to shop or eat at, including some big names like Starbucks & Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
On the return trip to Vancouver, my luck wasn’t as good. I was close to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal just before 4:30 pm for the 5 pm Monday night crossing when the sign on the highway told me it was full. I decided to take the next turn-off, which was for Sydney, to spend time there before the next sailing (7 pm). There are quite a few places to eat and shop at on the main street in Sydney but a lot of them closed at 5. I did pick-up some wonderful Christmas baking at the Sydney Bakery though. Including an amazing Candy Cane Shortbread cookie with icing on top. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up taking any pictures before I shovelled it all in my mouth. Sorry.
Hotel Grand Pacific
Obviously finding things to do in Victoria is important, but you also need a place to stay if you are going for the weekend. While the Hotel Grand Pacific (website) was one of several hotels recommended to me, I chose it because it consistently had some of the best reviews. The most common positive review was its cleanliness and I can tell you, I was impressed with that also. Part of the hotel has been renovated but that’s not the part I stayed in. Even so, the room itself was quite nice, it was clean, and wasn’t in overly bad shape. Except for the balcony, I felt it was in desperate need of some attention. I can only imagine what the renovated rooms looked like.
I booked the most basic room, which I believe was the City View Room, but I was given an upgrade. The hotel’s website has a Hot Deals section that I recommend checking out because they might have something offered that you can use.
Hotel Grand Pacific is wonderfully located on the water front across the street from the ferry to the USA (Port Angeles). Oh, and across from a Starbucks. The Royal BC Museum is also only about one-two blocks down the road too. And the hotel is beside the Parliament Building, which is the view my room had. Well, that and the Empress and the water. The only thing I can say that annoyed me about this hotel and my experience there, is the walk from the lobby elevator to my room. I think I had to walk the entire length of the floor to get to my room when I exited the elevator. The hotel is quite large. Still, not a big deal when I consider the cleanliness of the hotel, the helpful & friendliness of the staff, and how nice the lobby was. Especially all decorated for the Christmas season.
There isn’t any street parking or free parking for that matter but for a fee you can park in the parking lot under the hotel (accessible from the road behind the hotel). There is a restaurant located on the ground floor which I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to eat in, but it looked very nice. As a guest, you also receive complimentary access to the Victoria Athletic Club located right in the hotel. You might have a few more people swimming or working out with you than other hotels but it means they offer other features not available at those other hotels.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Hotel Grand Pacific and I will be staying there again.
One of the popular things to do in Victoria is afternoon tea. I had my first afternoon tea in London in 2016 and I now love it. It’s kind of like eating an assortment of tapas. Depending on the place you eat it at, you can be served an assortment of mini sandwiches, scones, mini pastries, mini desserts, mini treats, and even chocolates. I never drink the tea but I love having all these little offerings to eat instead of eating an entire meal of one thing. Of course, I always love the selection of sweet items.
The one downside to afternoon tea is they aren’t always vegetarian friendly. This means I give-up items or whoever is with me will compromise so we trade and both give-up items. Obviously, when I found out Venus Sophia (website) had a Vegetarian afternoon tea I was super excited. Also, for the month of December they offer a special Christmas afternoon tea. So of course I went with the Christmas one. It definitely was not vegan though because there was a lot of cheese or cream cheese in the sandwiches.
Venus Sophia is a large, cute tea room conveniently located in Chinatown. It is also a winner of Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for the last three years. I loved my afternoon tea there and will be visiting again to try their regular one offered throughout the rest of the year. The other bonus, Venus Sophia is like half the price of the Empress’s afternoon tea. So, for half the price I was able to eat all the food served.
Gingerbread House Display
Besides all the beautifully lite up things to see, there are also festive things to do in Victoria. For example, the annual Gingerbread House Display. The people competing in this are very serious. I thought I was going to walk around, see gingerbread houses, and by the end I was going to be trying to steal pieces off the houses. Of course that would have lead to me running out the door trying to escape security but I was excited to see anyway. In reality, some of these displays were so intricate and extravagant, I forgot they were made out of gingerbread.
Honestly the work and attention these creators did was amazing. I was in awe while also feeling a little sorry for myself and my lack of abilities. Bravo to everyone who competed though, those displays (I can’t even call them houses) were impressive. It’s a lovely way to spend some time in December and enjoy the holiday spirit. Plus, it is free.
Christmas Tree Festival
Another one of the free things to do in Victoria in December is the Christmas Tree Festival (website) that takes place in The Bay Centre shopping mall. The trees are spread out over several floors and they are decorated by different shops and companies with different themes. Honestly, I had time between an appointment which is the only reason I decided to check this. So, I went in without really having any expectation. I’m so happy I checked it out though. The trees were amazing. So much thought was put into decorating them. It was a joy to see and it really helped with the Christmas spirit. You can visit just to see the trees or you can also get some Christmas shopping done while you are there. Either way it’s a lovely way to spend some time and get festive.
When I visited in December one of the things to do in Victoria for me, was to find hot chocolate. I like to think I am something of a hot chocolate connoisseur. I don’t drink coffee or tea, so I look around and try different places and their hot chocolate offerings. Several of the Hotel Grand Pacific employees kindly recommended I try Chocolats Favoris (website). The shop turned out to be a chocolate lovers treat.
I walked in and was overwhelmed with the abundance of selection. I don’t even feel I’m a huge chocolate fan. There was the seating area of course but after that, the rest of the one wall was chocolate bars and treats for sale to take home. On another wall was the fine chocolates and fondue counter. And the third wall? Well that contained the desserts, drinks, soft serve ice cream, and chocolate dips. It was wonderful. It all felt a little Willy Wonka actually.
All About The Treats
I was offered tasting samples of dips and I can honestly say, I want to go back and eat lots of ice cream cones dipped in those gloriously tasting flavoured dips. I especially loved the amazing cookie dough flavour. Normally I don’t eat cookie dough flavoured items, or cookie dough itself but this was so, so good. I also don’t usually eat dipped cones but for those dips, I can make an exception.
The regular hot chocolate was chocolatey & rich without being overly sweet. I enjoyed it even if it doesn’t equal my favourite hot chocolate. Chocolats Favoris also has drinkable desserts that are made with the soft serve ice cream. Think milk shake but with treats added to them.
My favourite item though, and the reason I would head over to Victoria just to visit Chocolats Favoris again, was the Salted Caramel chocolate bar. It has to be the best salted caramel chocolate bar I have ever tasted. I would seriously make a trip to Victoria just to buy more. Of course, then I would also have to have a dipped cone but it’s just a bonus at that point.
Okay before I found the best salted caramel chocolate bar and the vegetarian afternoon tea, one of my favourite things to do in Victoria was visit Craigdarroch Castle (website). I love history and architecture so this place has always impressed me.
Built between 1887 and 1890 for the Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir who made his wealth during the industrial age, this massive house, called a ‘bonanza castle’, is stunning with it’s beautiful stain glass windows and amazing woodwork.
Robert and his sons were involved and had companies in several industries, owned large plots of land, and even had positions in the government. Unfortunately, Robert died before the house was finished but his wife Joan, three of their daughters, and two orphaned grandchildren, lived in it until her death in 1908. The address is even 1050 Joan Crescent. I like to believe the stone posts at the end of the street were once part of the gate to the entire property. The castle was on 29 acres of land that included a tennis court, other buildings, orchards, streams, and even a man-made lake.
One year after Joan Dunsmuir died, Craigdarroch was sold and all the contents were auctioned off. The property was also sectioned off and sold. It then housed several institutions before becoming a museum in 1969.
What makes this castle, or home, different from other historical places I have visited is you are able to see the servant’s areas. The castle is four floors of amazing workmanship, beautiful antiques and a view into the lives of prominent people with money during the Victorian era in Victoria. It is also a peak into the parts of the house where the staff lived and worked. That isn’t some place you normally get to see in other castles and mansions. It really shows the difference between the classes. Plus, because you are shown this normally hidden part, you get to see historic bathrooms. Having spent more than 13 years in the plumbing industry and having a lifelong weird obsession with bathrooms, I thoroughly enjoy seeing them.
The Castle is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm with longer hours during the summer months from June 15th to September 6th. It is closed for December 25th, 26th and January 1st though. If you decide it is the perfect location for your wedding or other event, you can even rent it .
These are a just few of the things to do in Victoria but I will definitely be visiting again. I’ll do and visit other things to share. Victoria might not be a very large city but it has so much history. It also has such an, almost British, feel to it. There are so many things to see and do and it is also quite beautiful.