It’s a warm summer evening in Victoria, the picturesque capital of British Columbia. I’m strolling along the Inner Harbour, where a steady stream of seaplanes and boats crisscross the water. My son is mesmerized by all the activity, but my attention is caught by the majestic buildings across the street: the elegant Fairmont Empress, built in 1908, and the stately B.C. Parliament Building–our destination. It feels like I’ve stepped back in time, with horse-drawn carriages passing in front of the beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture.
I’m pulled back to the present as a street performer starts up his act near us: juggling while balanced atop impossibly tall stilts. A crowd starts to gather and we watch for a few minutes before continuing on. There’s a number of performers along the water’s edge from a hipster band playing soulful indie music to a woman painted copper from head-to-toe, standing as still as a statue. My son is delighted by all this free entertainment, so we take our time and let him set the pace.
We’ve just filled our bellies with the best fish ‘n chips I’ve ever had (I’m seriously contemplating going back to Red Fish Blue Fish tomorrow for more), but when we pass by a food truck selling ice cream cones piled high with soft serve, we can’t resist getting some for dessert. We’re still licking our ice cream, catching the melting drips, as we head up the stairs from the harbour to the B.C. Parliament Building. Free tours are offered here daily, but we’re in it for the outside view. We’ve heard that every night at dusk, over 3,300 light bulbs illuminate the building.
So we hang out on the lawn while we wait, people watching while our son burns off some energy running around in the grass. The anticipation builds as dusk approaches, then suddenly all the lights come on at once. There’s a collective gasp, and a magical spell is cast over everyone there. It’s truly romantic and beautiful, like a scene out of a movie. I’m charmed, and our son is equally entranced. We take it in for a few minutes, snap some photos to capture the moment, then head back to our hotel with full bellies and happy hearts.
This is why Victoria, BC tops my list of amazing weekend getaways. It’s a kid-friendly destination and fun for adults, too. With a charming, historic downtown, an amazing foodie scene, top-notch tourist attractions, and an abundance of natural beauty, there’s plenty to keep the whole family happy and entertained for a weekend (or longer). Here are my musts for hotels in Victoria (and things to do) for your next weekend getaway or family vacation.
Where to Stay in Victoria
Any parent knows that the accommodation can make or break a trip when you’re travelling with kids. The Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort checks all the boxes: a convenient location (right on the harbour in the heart of Victoria), reasonable prices, a spa, and fitness centre for the adults, and all kinds of fun amenities for the kids. There’s an indoor saltwater pool, nightly storytime in the lobby (complete with milk and cookies!) and babysitting services. Playpens, cribs, and highchairs are free to borrow, and they even fold the towels into cute animal shapes for a playful touch. The hotel also has a great onsite restaurant called LURE where kids under six eat free. It features fresh, local food, and has a beautiful waterfront patio.
Mom tip: It’s worth getting a room with a water view. Your kids will be entertained by watching the seaplanes and boats coming and going below.
Day One: Explore Downtown Victoria
Make sure to wear some comfortable shoes, because today’s activities are all within walking distance of the Delta hotel. First up, head across the bridge to Willie’s Cafe & Bakery. Located in Old Town, where colourful Victorian shop fronts hold indie boutiques and restaurants, Willie’s was British Columbia’s first bakery (founded in 1887). It reopened in 1999 and serves up yummy breakfast classics, such as omelettes, skillets, french toast, and pancakes, as well as a large selection of creative eggs benedicts.
Mom tip: The atmosphere at Willie’s is totally kid-friendly, but if you’d rather grab something to go, you can also order pastries and an espresso from the counter at the front.
Next, head down Wharf Street to the Inner Harbour where you can watch seaplanes coming and going, admire the yachts and sailboats, be entertained by musicians and street performers, and enjoy picturesque views of the Fairmont Empress and the B.C. Parliament Buildings.
Fish ‘n chips are a must in Victoria and my favourite local hotspot is conveniently located right in the Inner Harbour. Red Fish Blue Fish is a casual outdoor eatery that’s popular with tourists and locals alike. There’s almost always a long line, but it goes fast and it’s right on the wharf, so kids will have fun running around and watching the boats while you wait. Another tip: have one adult stand in line while the other keeps an eye on the kids. I recommend the B.C. Halibut fish ‘n chips and the chipotle coconut chowder.
After you’ve fueled up on lunch, choose from two of Victoria’s most popular kid-friendly attractions. There’s the Victoria Bug Zoo, where kids can hold stick insects, get up close and personal with giant tarantulas, observe glow-in-the-dark scorpions, and check out Canada’s largest ant colony. There’s also the Royal B.C. Museum where kids learn about the history of British Columbia all the while being left in awe by the life-sized woolly mammoth, not to mention the underwater world in Ocean Station, a Victorian-era submarine. Both are awesome and highly-rated.
Next up, continue walking to Fisherman’s Wharf. Stroll among the colourful houseboats (Canadians call them float homes), treat yourself to an ice cream cone at Jackson’s, and watch the playful seals that are always hanging out by The Fish Store (but note that seal and wildlife feeding is prohibited). If you’re hungry, there are a number of inexpensive restaurants in Fisherman’s Wharf where you can get burgers, tacos, seafood, and more. It’s like a floating food court, so everyone in the family can choose what they want.
Tired feet? Hop on the Victoria Harbour Ferry, which will drop you off right in front of the Delta hotel. Spend the rest of the evening relaxing, enjoying the hotel pool, playing games, or watching a movie–whatever your family enjoys. If you have young kids, don’t forget there’s storytime and cookies in the lobby at 8 p.m.
Better yet, if you want to take advantage of the babysitting arranged through the hotel, get dressed up and head back out for dinner at Il Terrazzo, located on the same street as Willie’s, a short walk from the hotel. It’s an intimate, candlelit Italian trattoria with brick fireplaces, patio seating, and amazing food–a lovely and romantic spot to escape for a date. Reservations are recommended.
Day Two: Splurge-worthy Victoria Experiences
Start your morning with a leisurely breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, LURE. Kids under six eat free with the purchase of an adult entree, and kids between 7-12 can order from the regular menu at half-price.
Head to the harbour — you’re taking a whale watching tour! The waters surrounding Victoria are full of orcas, gray whales, humpbacks, and minkes, not to mention sea lions, seals, porpoises, bald eagles, and more. Your chances of seeing whales are excellent from April through October, and the boat ride itself is a fun adventure. Most tours will take you past Race Rocks, an ecological reserve that’s only accessible by boat, with a picturesque black and white-striped lighthouse (one of the oldest in Canada) and a barking sea lion population.
Mom tip: If you have young kids or are worried about seasickness, book a bigger boat like a catamaran or yacht. They’re very comfortable and will have bathrooms on board. If you have older kids and want more of an exhilarating adventure, try an open-air Zodiac boat. Either way, make sure to bring jackets, binoculars, sunscreen, and snacks.
Once your tour returns, head back to the hotel for a shower and get dressed in some fancier clothes. It’s time for another quintessential Victoria experience –.tea at the Fairmont Empress. This graceful hotel has played host to kings, queens, and movie stars over the years. You’ll feel like royalty yourself as you sip tea and dine on savoury and sweet delicacies in the historic lobby lounge while listening to classical music being played on the baby grand piano. Afternoon tea is $75/adult, and “Prince and Princess” tea is $37.50/child (with a menu that’s still fancy and special, but suited to kids). It’s a splurge for sure, but it’s worth the memory.
Mom tip: Before you leave the Empress, consider checking out Miniature World. It features tiny exhibits with scenes from popular movies, historical times, and more. There are also dollhouses complete with working plumbing. Adults are $16, children 5-12 are $8, and kids 4 and under are free. There are also group rates if you have at least five paying guests.
Next on the itinerary: Beacon Hill Park (it’s walkable from the Empress, but you might want to change back into comfy clothes first). This beautiful 200-acre park includes beaches, walking trails, playgrounds, a waterpark, several ponds, landscaped gardens, and a seasonal petting zoo (open March-October). Best of all, it’s totally free! Stroll the gardens and keep an eye out for peacocks (there are several, and they love to show off their feathers) as well as the park’s totem pole (the fourth tallest in the world), and the picturesque pebble bridge. It’s a lot of fun for kids and adults alike You could easily spend a full afternoon here.
Catch a ride to Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian-era mansion that’s over 20,000 square feet and contains over 39 rooms. Constructed in the late 1800s as a residence for wealthy coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, the castle still has lavish furnishings from the 1890s, giving visitors a glimpse at privileged life during that time.
Who’s ready for dinner? Choose from one of downtown Victoria’s many delicious, local restaurants. Some kid-friendly options include Pizzeria Prima Strada, Frankie’s Modern Diner, Noodlebox, Rebar (vegetarian), and Bin 4 Burger Lounge.
Make your way to the B.C. Parliament building. If you’re interested in taking a horse-drawn carriage ride, there are several tours that start and end here, taking you past some of the oldest homes in Victoria along with other historic landmarks.
Before you head back to the hotel, cap off your evening by watching the lights come on at the B.C. Parliament building around sunset. It’s a magical sight that’s not to be missed!
More Ideas For Things To Do in Victoria on your Long Family Weekend:
- Shop and eat at Victoria Public Market
- Check out Victoria’s Chinatown, the oldest Chinatown in Canada
- Indulge in fancy soft serve ice cream at Chocolats Favoris.
- Visit Hatley Castle, a beautiful castle with manicured gardens that was the location for several movies and TV shows (X-Men, Deadpool, Arrow, and Smallville, among others).
- Tour the famous Butchart Gardens and ride the carousel there.
- Explore the Victoria Butterfly Gardens where you’ll find over 3,000 butterflies, flamingos and other tropical birds, and koi ponds. It’s just down the road from the Butchart Gardens and is a favourite with kids.
- Do as the locals do and enjoy a day at Willows Beach (sandy shores and shallow water, as well as a toddler-friendly playground).
- Visit Fort Rodd Hill and the Fisgard Lighthouse–the first lighthouse on the west coast of Canada. It’s a scenic spot, and you can tour the inside of the lighthouse, too!
*Feature image courtesy of Deddeda Stemler. This article was originally published on trivago magazine US.