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With quaint streetscapes that look like something straight out of London, a stream of impressive ships sailing through the harbour and a dizzying array of British influences on everything from tea to gardens to cocktails, the waterfront city of Victoria, B.C. is fit for a queen. And a prince, princess and duchess come to think of it, seeing as how Will and Kate have brought their adorable brood to this charming city found on Canada’s serene Vancouver Island.
Once thought of as a sleepy city where people go to retire, Victoria has seen a huge transformation of late that’s seen droves of families and young professionals trade in their fast-paced lives and head to the country’s west coast to enjoy the mild weather, laid-back lifestyle and ocean views it’s famous for. Just a quick ferry ride away from big cities like Vancouver and Seattle, Victoria is a popular stop on the cruise ship circuit and ideal for romantic weekend escapes or a girls getaway, thanks to attractions like spas, an inventive culinary scene, wineries and golf courses galore. Basically, it’s the next best thing to being in the UK, without making a trip across the pond.
Thinking of planning your own weekend away? Here are five things to do in Victoria that are sure to make you feel like royalty.
Stay at the Fairmont Empress
Rated as one of the most iconic hotels in the world, this impressive property is perched right on the waterfront, granting spectacular views of the inner harbour and British Columbia Parliament Buildings. Named in honour of Queen Victoria, the Fairmont Empress is as regal as it gets, and has hosted nobles including King George VI and Queen Elizabeth back in the 1930s, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip in 2002 and Prince Charles and Camilla a few years later. Winston Churchill paid the property a visit during prohibition (sipping his gin out of teapots, natch), and Hollywood royalty including Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby, Barbra Streisand and Harrison Ford have also checked in to this special spot.
The “Castle on the Coast” underwent a royal restoration in 2017, unveiling updates including the plush Q at the Empress Restaurant, and a six-metre long, floral-shaped chandelier that drips down from the grand front entrance in a nod to Victoria’s designation as the ‘City of Gardens.’ Today, guests enjoy five-star service, luxurious suites, and amenities like a full gym and pool area. Click here to book
Tour the Victoria attractions in style
One perk of having a royal title is getting to sightsee in style, and a fabulous way to explore the Victoria tourist attractions is from above, far away from the crowds. Harbour Air offers scenic flights that conveniently depart right from the waterfront, heading west to Discovery Island near Oak Bay, and travelling over Elk Lake before heading back into the peninsula. Guests onboard the seaplanes will want to keep an eye out for stately spots like the world-famous Butchart Gardens and Craigdorroch Castle, before descending back into the inner harbour for an aerial view of the houseboats in Fisherman’s Wharf and white sailboats anchored in the bay.Click here to book
A private driver is a must for nobility, especially when said-driver takes them directly to a winery. Enter Tesla Tours, which offers customized excursions to the vineyards, craft distilleries, estates and gardens in the surrounding Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Valley from the comfort of a sleek, luxurious Tesla Model S or Model 3.
A highly-knowledgeable, professional driver picks up guests up wherever they please, and the rest of the day is completely tailored to their interests—even including drop-offs at the airport or ferry terminal should they so desire. Most people choose to spend the day wine touring, as there are more than 50 to choose from in the area including Church and State, which has a rather royal ring to it. And since the younger members of the aristocracy are into protecting the environment, they’d surely approve of the fact that Tesla Tours uses solar panels to offset their operations, making it a carbon-free, eco-friendly way to travel.
Indulge at the Victoria spas
Get pampered like a princess at one of the city’s many spas, such as Spa Magnolia which offers invigorating HydraFacial treatments that remove impurities while rejuvenating skin with cleansing, hydrating and moisturizing serums.
The oceanfront Boathouse Spa at the Oak Bay Beach Hotel is the ultimate place to unwind, offering relaxation massages, manis, pedis, bodys wraps, acai antioxidant facials and salt glows. The real draw however, is the three heated outdoor mineral baths overlooking the Salish Sea, which are the perfect place to get some R&R.
Back at the Fairmont Empress, treatments in their Willow Stream Spa are inspired by the nature of Vancouver Island and use natural products sourced from the region. Try the Salish Sea Summer Soother, where a seaweed body gel is applied over the whole body, followed by a light facial mask with fruit enzymes and a hydrating sea kelp facial moisturizer. The hour-long experience ends with a massage using sea silk oil.
Enjoy a cuppa
There’s nothing those Brits love more than their tea, and there are plenty of places to have a cuppa in Victoria. Since 1992, the Silk Road Aromatherapy and Tea Company has been creating award-winning, loose-leaf teas made with organic botanicals that are rich in antioxidants, making it one of the city’s most beloved spots. Its bright storefront in vibrant Chinatown features a tasting bar for sampling their premium brews, along with an in-house spa which uses their 100 per cent natural body products.
A leisurely afternoon spent gossiping over afternoon tea is a royal staple, and the best place in Victoria to tuck into dainty pastries is at—you guessed it—the Fairmont Empress. The hotel has been serving delicacies like cucumber sandwiches and sweet scones paired with clotted cream in their elegant Lobby Lounge since 1908, making it one of the must-do Victoria activities. The treats are paired with a selection of 21 loose leaf teas including the incredibly rare Tong Mu Phoenix Lapsang Souchong blend…or, channel Queen Liz and enjoy a glass of champs instead.
Drink Empress Gin
Speaking of afternoon tipples, royal watchers know the Queen Mother was fond of her gin, and in a nod to the family the Empress 1908 Gin was created in a collaboration between the Fairmont and Victoria Distillers. Blending botanicals like juniper, ginger root and rose with the signature Fairmont Empress Blend Tea, the purple-hued spirit immediately got everyone’s attention thanks to the infusion of butterfly pea blossom, which transforms into a blush pink or dark indigo tone if tonic or citrus are added.
Tasting just as incredible as it looks, even those who typically shy away from gin will want to give this one a go, especially if it’s in an Empress 75 which pairs the 1908 with Veuve Clicquot champagne and is topped with juicy caviar beads. Order it from Q at the Empress, or head to the Victoria Distillers headquarters in nearby Sidney for one of their daily tours which includes a sample flight of their spirits. There’s also a beautiful lounge where bartenders craft creative cocktails that blend the gin with the likes of white cranberry juice, sparkling wine and berries, creating what just might be the prettiest drinks you’ve ever laid eyes on. Because when it comes to getting the royal treatment, nothing but the best will do.
Globe Guide explored Victoria as a guest of Tourism Victoria and the Fairmont Empress. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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Victoria is one of my favourite Canadian cities and now I have new reasons to visit!
I hadn’t been there in so long, and was totally blown away! Isn’t it just the best?!