Big excursions are always so exciting. We love the flow of planning, preparation, and giddy anticipation for the day we embark on the journey. But let’s be real, we don’t always have enough time or energy to make a big trip happen. To fight that dreaded cabin fever feeling, we like to slip in a weekend getaway or two into our schedule whenever we get the chance.
As Vancouverites, we are situated perfectly within striking distance of so many close destinations. From Whistler, to Portland, to Banff you can’t go wrong. But this time we wanted to stay in British Columbia and take an island journey to Victoria. Although we had both been to Victoria before, there were so many places that we’d yet to visit in the relaxed coastal capitol of BC.
Victoria is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway. The city is beautiful, it’s rich in history and culture, and its quaint seaside location makes for a picturesque and fun spot to explore. Although Victoria is a lovely destination no matter where you’re coming from, it’s an especially ideal spot for a weekend escape from Vancouver because it’s the perfect distance away. The drive and ferry ride together are just long enough that you create some distance between yourself, home, and all the daily details running through your mind, but just short enough for a manageable and enjoyable trip. Each time we do this trip we don’t feel the need to do much planning, rather, we simply hop in the car ready to reset the mind and body with a relaxing weekend away from home.
Something about Vancouver Island just has a way of calming us down. For us, our guard comes down the second we hear the click-clack of our four tires crossing the threshold onto the ferry. Followed by pure Pacific Northwest views of blues, greens, and a strong wind in our faces on the ferry deck en route to Victoria, it really can’t get much better. Although Victoria isn’t too far from Vancouver, the slowed down island atmosphere has a way of making us feel like we’re so far away from everyday life in Vancouver, and we just can’t quantify how refreshing this is for us.
Keep reading to check out the highlights of our weekend trip, as well as our suggestions for the best places to stay, eat, and things to do as you plan your next (or first!) trip to Victoria.
Where we Stayed
Fairmont Empress Hotel
This classic, iconic Victoria landmark is right on the water and situated perfectly to explore downtown. The second we stepped inside, we felt right at home as we were greeted by the hotel dog, a mellow yellow lab named Winston! You’ll feel cozy as you roam the halls, nooks, and crannies of this beautiful expansive hotel and experience its historic aura with nods to the past, and plenty of old photos chronicling its story framed in the halls. Even though the Empress exudes maturity and wisdom of the past, don’t for a second think you’ll have to resign yourself to giving up modern luxuries for your stay – the hotel underwent a $60+ million renovation to interweave some contemporary style and touches to the storied tradition of this lovely place.
Willow Stream Spa
When you’re on vacay, hitting up the spa is a necessity. Right after we arrived I headed down to the spa, which is complete with a mineral bath, sauna, and steam room, so you can be sure to get your relaxation mode fully jump started. Since I was eight months pregnant, I opted for a maternity body massage. And let me tell you, it was such a treat. It was nice to be able to lay on my stomach (thanks to the pregnancy pillow) and it really helped with my back pain and all the knots in my shoulders. Whether you have aches and pains or nasty pregnancy leg cramps, this maternity massage was exactly what I needed recharge my body and mind. They also had all the little touches covered, as they had pecial oil blends that smelled amazing and were safe for pregnancy.
Q at the Empress
On our first night, we wandered through the maze-like halls to sit down for dinner at Q at The Empress. This upscale, classy spot had a relaxed vibe that we really enjoyed. We plowed through some delicious meats and veggies, and followed up dinner by strolling outside to enjoy s’mores on the veranda. This was one of our favorite moments of the trip. So simple, but oh so enjoyable. We chomped down on these fireside treats and sipped on hot chocolate while looking out into the harbor. What a night.
Other Places to Stay While in Victoria
- Oak Bay Beach Hotel
- The Magnolia Hotel and Spa
Where we Explored and Ate
Merridale Cidery and Distillery
After a restful sleep on our first night, the next day we checked out Merridale Cidery and Distillery. If you’re looking for a day trip while you’re on the island, we would highly suggest stopping by this inviting place while you’re out and about. Although I couldn’t test out any of their alcoholic varieties due to the baby bump, Taylor had a great time tasting their variety of ciders. He went with the dry cider flight, which was full on flavor and low on the sugary notes. We were surprised to find out that they are one of the few cideries that make their cider from cider apples – most ciders are made from regular apples. This attention to detail was consistent throughout their offerings, and we really loved their tasty farm-to-table brunch and cider flights (I enjoyed their non-alcoholic flight, which is perfect for pregnant mommas to be or designated drivers alike). Everything was so good, but we loved the hash brown and the turkey pot pie, which had a golden and crispy crust made in house. Beyond the cider and food, they have a beautiful property, which was filled with Christmas decorations that got us into the holiday spirit.
Westholme Tea Company
Although I wasn’t able to join Taylor in tasting all the delicious ciders at Merridale Cidery and Distillery, I got to satisfy my never ending tea cravings at Westholme Tea Company. I’m sure you know by now that I am a tea fanatic, and you’ll never catch me with my trusty thermos full of tea. So I was so ready to experience first hand the only tea farm in Canada. That’s right, the one and only! Westholme is a really unique spot. We opened the door into this light, airy studio-like space with a handful of tables and an art gallery in the back. They specialize in serving up limited quantities of Canadian grown tea and that can only be found here – the property holds 800-1000 plants with plants to expand to keep up with the demand. Simply put, the tea was great. They offered their local specialties, plus international varieties to honor traditions. We had three different teas: two green teas (grown on site) – one with smoked maple wood chips, and one with a more woody and roasted flavor (with more stems), and one African rooibus. What puts this spot over the top is the experience. Yes, the tea was great, but sitting in the bright and welcoming space and sipping out of hand built tea cups really reinforced the uniqueness of this Canadian twist on traditional teas. To go with their teas, they offer up some additional goodies. We had a dark chocolate Early grey cake and a raspberry bar (so creamy!), both from local shops. In addition, they serve up local cheeses from the surrounding farms. This is a must visit for tea lovers or anyone looking for a relaxing experience.
10 Acres Bistro + Bar
After returning back to Victoria from a full day tasting our way through some delicious beverages, we had worked up a serious appetite. We decided to stick close to the hotel, so we ventured by foot over to 10 Acres Bistro + Bar. This casual, happening restaurant delivered just what we needed. Tasty food, with plenty of flavor. We went all out. Some appetizers that we loved were the French fries, and the cauliflower and kale with a zesty, tasty sauce. For mains, we tried the grain bowl with vegetables, pulled chicken, curry, and naan, as well as the Bolognese (beef and pork) with garlic bread. Although we would’ve loved to sample the desserts, we were so stuffed that we couldn’t get down another bite. So satisfied, we simply crashed the second we arrived back at The Empress.
Steamship Grill & Bar
Our Friday to Sunday getaway was finally coming to an end. After checking out of the Empress, we had just enough time to grab lunch before our trek back to the ferries. As we took a seaside walk on the calm and quiet waterfront, it his us like a ton of bricks – we’ve got to close this party out with some fish and chips. Because when you’re by the ocean, that’s all the excuse you need to let your guard down and enjoy a plate of fried goodness. We hopped right off the seawall and into Steamship Grill and Bar. They were so friendly, and even let us highjack one of their tv’s so Taylor could catch a glimpse of the Sunday NFL action that was unfolding (he’s addicted). Their fish and chips did not disappoint, and we were pleasantly stuffed as we sadly said goodbye the city that gave us a three-day-dose of mind calming relaxation.
Other Places to Eat while in Victoria
- Red Fish Blue Fish
- A little food cart by the water, serving up their classic fish and chips, as well as chowders, salmon, and even tacones (like a taco wrap). It’s a perfect place to go on warmer days, as you sit on the pier and watch the boats come in. There’s always a long line, so get there early or be prepared to wait for your delicious food.
- Ayo Eat
- A traditional Indonesian hole-in-the-wall is located in Market Square. This tiny takeout window makes this spot memorable, as you can see your food made right in front of you at this tasty gem.
- Just Matcha
- I love their vegan soft serve Matcha and vegan Dole Whip.
- Hey Happy
- Beacon Drive In for the best soft serve ice cream in Victoria
- Kid Sister Ice Cream
- The Dining Room at The Oak Bay Beach Hotel
- The Courtney Room
- Saveur Restaurant
Other Places to Visit while in Victoria
- Historic Chinatown
- It’s home to the narrowest street in Canada, Fan Tan Alley. It was once used for gambling and opium dens but is now transformed into a cute little alleyway filled with shops. Touristy yes, but it’s definitely worthy of a stop on your trip.
- Stroll through Market Square
- Parliament Building
- Take a walk around the grounds or even go on a tour. It’s a pretty spectacular sight for a stroll at night as it’s illuminated with lights, right across from the harbor.
- Royal BC Museum
- Craigdarroch Castle
- High Tea at the Empress
- Butchart Gardens
- Emily Carr House
- Visit the historic home of one of Canada’s greatest artists.
- Whale watching
- Visit baby goats (and even let them climb on you!) at Beacon Hill Children’s Farm.
- Walk down Johnston Street
- Take a spa day at the Boathouse Spa & Baths at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and soak in their amazing mineral pools.
Other Vancouver Island must-sees
Planning your trip to Victoria
- Juan de Fuca Trail
- West Coast Trail
- China Beach
- Sombrio Beach
- Free Spirit Spheres
- Goats on the Roof
- Cathedral Grove
- Mystic Beach
- Abuzi Garden
Ways to get there
- BC Ferries
- V2V Vacations ferry
- Harbour Air