The “Great Canadian Weekend”™ features customized itineraries of the nation’s finest destinations prepared by Vacay.ca, the Concierge to Canada™. Travellers looking to get the most out of their stay will want to follow these tips and ideas from our travel experts. The series continues with a trek to British Columbia’s capital.”
Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
VICTORIA, BRITISH COLUMBIA — The first-time visitor to Victoria will partake in the most famous activities of this gorgeous provincial capital that cradles its inner harbour with care and grace. An itinerary with a stay at the Fairmont Empress Hotel and a half-hour drive to renowned Butchart Gardens is what a Vancouver Island tourist must do on their initial stay. Like many Canadian destinations, however, Victoria will entice you back and when you return you will want to explore beyond the typical tourist fare.
Here’s how to spend a Great Canadian Weekend Getting to Know Victoria:
DAY 1 IN VICTORIA
FRIDAY, 4 PM, CHECK-IN, MAGNOLIA HOTEL
Address: 623 Courtenay Street
Driving distance from Swartz Bay ferry terminal (where visitors from British Columbia’s mainland usually disembark): 31 kilometres (31 minutes of driving time)
What you should know: One of the finest boutique hotels in Canada, the Magnolia impresses in all the ways a property in this class should. Its tastefully decorated rooms were recently renovated. The furniture is graceful, with plush beds and big comfortable chairs, some of them with peek-a-boo views of the water. Room-darkening curtains and free, dependable WiFi add to a pleasant stay. Best of all, though, is the attention to detail from the staff, led by general manager Bill Lewis, one of the brightest and tech-savvy hoteliers you’ll meet. When a frequent guest requested additional weights for his workout, the Magnolia listened and upgraded the fitness-room selection. The Magnolia’s occupancy rate is at an enviable 87 per cent because of such service. The 63-room hotel is not on the water, like the Fairmont or the Delta Ocean Pointe, but it’s two blocks from the wharf and in a good location to access other attractions.
Cost: The rates start at $185 per night, but those prices can climb above $300 during the peak summer season.
Bonus feature: I had lost my iPhone charger and Lewis pointed out that the in-room telephone units are equipped with USB attachments, a handy feature.
FRIDAY, 5 PM, STROLL GOVERNMENT STREET
Distance from hotel: Less than two blocks.
What you should know: The city’s main shopping street for tourists, Government is where you’ll find knick-knacks, tacky T-shirts and lots of orca souvenirs, as well as well-known boutique stores such as Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government St., open til 6 pm) and Rogers’ Chocolates (913 Government St., open til 8 pm from Thursday-Saturday). The views from Bastion Square, which adjoins Government Street, are always a treat.
FRIDAY, 7:30 PM, DINNER AT CATALANO
Address: 623 Courtenay Street
Distance from last destination: Less than two blocks.
What you should know: On the ground floor of the Magnolia Hotel, Catalano is a newly opened restaurant with exceptional flavours. Visits to Italy and Spain inspired chef Aaron Lawrence to serve cuisine from those nations in this large, bright space. Despite the European influence, the food is locally sourced and that keeps some of the flavours distinctly west coast, including grilled local octopus ($12) and seared albacore tuna ($15). Although Catalona serves cicchetti, the Italian form of tapas, the share plates are not small. The pappardelle ($22) with braised short ribs, porcini mushrooms and pancetta is a fantastic entree. Cocktails from one of Victoria’s most well-regarded bartenders, Solomon Siegel, add to the experience.
Cost: Entrees are $17-$30, while the appetizers are $8-$20.
Late-night option: The Irish Times was named one of Vacay.ca’s top Irish pubs in Canada in 2012 and it’s only three blocks away on Government Street. The Bard & Banker is an outstanding pub, also on Government Street.
DAY 2 IN VICTORIA
SATURDAY, 10 AM, ROYAL BC MUSEUM
Address: 675 Belleville Street
Distance from last destination: 500 metres, or four blocks
What you should know: British Columbia museums are leaders in human history collections and this Victoria facility is likely the province’s best. Galleries feature First Nations artifacts that include massive totem poles and exquisite artwork from the Haida, who are among the finest craftspeople in the world. Should a rain shower dampen your vacation, a visit that includes an IMAX movie should brighten the mood and pass the time nicely.
Once you’re finished at the museum, meander around the inner harbour, where local artists often set up shop, or visit the retail market activity on Bastion Square, where craftspeople have congregated for decades between Wharf and Government streets.
Cost: Adult entry to the museum is $21.90; children 6-18, college/university students and seniors, $15.75; family pass, $61.75. Museum and IMAX passes cost $31.40 for adults; $33 for seniors and children 6-18; $33.85 for college/university students; $129.35 for families.
SATURDAY, 1 PM, LUNCH, RED FISH, BLUE FISH
Address: 1006 Wharf Street
Distance from Royal BC Museum: 550 metres, or five blocks
What you should know: Co-owner Kunal Ghose was a contestant on Season 2 of Top Chef Canada. His popular eatery has lineups that are usually at least 25 deep. The casual street-food favourite on the waterfront always manages to satisfy. Diners will have their pick of seafood treats, but don’t pass up the fish tacos (as little as $5 for one).
Cost: Menu prices range up to $20 (two pieces of fried halibut and chips), although most choices are less than $10.
SATURDAY, 3 PM, WHALE-WATCHING CRUISE
Address: Prince of Whales, 101-812 Wharf Street
Distance from last destination: 120 metres, or 1 block
What you should know: Guide Mark Malleson records orcas for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Center for Whale Research. He has a lengthy catalogue of the killer whales he has spotted during his more than 15 years tracking these royals of the sea. A ride with him aboard a zodiac isn’t likely to disappoint. Prince of Whales provides thermal suits, gloves and toques so you can keep warm, although the three-hour tour is not uncomfortably cold. Be warned: The waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait can be choppy. If you’re prone to seasickness, carry medication such as Dramamine.
Cost: The zodiac tours cost $110 per adult, $100 for seniors, $95 for teenagers (13-17), $85 for children (8-12). Other charters are available, as well. Check the Prince of Whales website for details and schedules.
SATURDAY, 7 PM, DINNER AND BEERS AT CANOE BREWPUB
Address: 450 Swift Street
Distance from last destination: 800 metres, or 8 blocks (12-minute walk)
What you should know: The ninth-ranked brewpub in the nation in the inaugural Vacay.ca Top 24 Brewpubs in Canada Guide last year, the Canoe Brewpub is in one of the most beautiful settings in the city. Its exquisite patio provides western exposure to the inner harbour, a spot that’s away from the bustle of seaplanes and boating activity. You will see kayakers and maybe even an otter or seal swim by as you sip some outstanding craft-brewed beer and sample one of the best pub menus you’ll find anywhere. You can’t go wrong with Wild Salmon ($24), served with potatoes and wilted spinach. For beer, opt for the Beaver Brown Ale ($6.50, 5.4% alcohol/volume).
Cost: Dinner entrees range from $22-$25, while burgers ($13.50) and fish and chips ($19) are also on the diverse menu.
DAY 3 IN VICTORIA
SUNDAY, 9 AM, STROLL BEACON HILL PARK
Distance from Magnolia Hotel: 650 metres, or six blocks
What you should know: Walk off your breakfast at Catalona at this charming urban park that will lead you to the tallest totem pole in the world. It stands at 127 feet, 7 inches, a surprising sight to find in this compact little city.
SUNDAY, 11 AM, TOUR FAN-TAN ALLEY AND CHINATOWN
Distance from last destination: 1.4 kilometres (20-minute walk or 5-minute drive)
What you should know: Walk toward Chinatown and drop in on Fan-Tan Alley, reputedly the tightest commercial street in the world (although visitors who’ve been to Bangkok may think otherwise). You’ll find craft shops, boutique retailers and a funky record store that might send you back to the ’80s.
SUNDAY, 1 PM, BRUNCH AT WILLIE’S BAKERY & CAFE
Address: 537 Johnson Street
Distance from Fan-Tan Alley: 300 metres, 3 blocks.
What you should know: Willie’s serves breakfast and lunch each day until 5 pm during its peak business season (May 1 to October 31). You’ll enjoy Huevos Rancheros ($12.95) and some of the most delicious Eggs Benedicts in British Columbia. Go for the Pacific ($13.95) option that features smoked salmon and spinach.
SUNDAY, 3 PM, CRUISE ALONG BEACH DRIVE AND THROUGH OAK BAY
What you should know: After retrieving your stored luggage at the Magnolia, drive away from the inner harbour and loop around Beach Drive, which takes you through the community of Oak Bay and gives you glimpses of some of the finest houses on Vancouver Island, as well as spectacular water and mountain views. Once your eyes are satisfied, make your way back to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal for the 90-minute sailing to Vancouver.
Note: It’s highly recommended to make reservations with BC Ferries for the sailing you want and to arrive one hour prior to departure. In summer, the traffic between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland of BC spikes and drivers without reservations can wait two sailings or more before getting on board a boat.
BC Ferries one-way fares: $51.25 for an automobile and $15.50 for each adult passenger ($7.75 for children from 5-11). Reservations cost $15 if made at least seven days in advance of sailing. The fee is $18.50 if you book less than seven days before your departure.
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