I recently set off for Vancouver Island in search of a little R&R. ‘The Island’, as locals know it, is a pretty popular retreat for Vancouverites looking to escape the hubbub of the day to day. You simply drive (or walk on) to one of a few ferry terminals, and enjoy a pretty relaxed, short ferry ride over. Once you’re there, the opportunities are pretty endless. You can explore the interior, head to beautiful Tofino and Ucluelet, or enjoy some time in Victoria, British Columbia. So the latter is just what we did.
Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia
Early in the morning and in need of a caffeine fix, we drove to Tsawassen ferry terminal, south of Vancouver. You park up and wait to drive onto the ferry, which costs around $92 return for two people in a standard vehicle to Swartz Bay, Victoria. Onboard, there are plenty of cafes and places to grab a coffee. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the views for the 1.5 hour journey! The views alone are quite a treat.
Sidney, Vancouver Island
Our first pit stop of the trip was Sidney, just 4 miles from Swartz Bay ferry terminal. It’s a cute little town right on the coast of the Salish Sea on the way to Victoria. Although there’s not a whole lot to see here, there are some adorable and quirky boutique stores and cafes. Having dodged the ferry breakfast in favour of waiting, we researched for a decent brunch spot. Introducing the Pier Bistro! Fully decked out in nautical theme with friendly staff and the promise of good food, we placed our orders.
I had the crab cake benedict while Jordan went for standard eggs benny, and both were bloody delicious! We went for a walk after settling up, all along the coast and the pier. There’s a fish market next door that must be an amazing place for stocking up for dinner. A number of adorable restaurants and a distillery are also along the coast. It threw me back to visiting Sidney a few years ago, walking along the pier in freezing temperatures. I’d recommend stopping here for a quick bite to eat and a coffee before your next stop.
Island View Beach, Vancouver Island
Realizing we were a little early for checkin at the hotel, we went to Island View Beach on the way to Victoria. It’s the perfect place for a quiet beach stroll, with beautiful views (hence the name) and things to explore. On the shore of the Saanich Peninsula, from the beach you can see across to Mount Baker in the USA and the Gulf Islands.
It’s an interesting beach – walking along, you can spot all kinds of rubble and tiles. It seems as though a house was demolished a few years ago and washed up on the beach.
We spotted the funny shape snaked seaweed we saw in Ucluelet on our last visit. It’s surprisingly satisfying to walk on along and pop them!
Further along the beach, we saw an intriguing looking hut and went to go and check it out. It turns out this area has been inhabited by the native Tsawout First Nation for many years. They’ve been living off seafood and plants, which we surmise is who this hut belongs to. We popped by to take a peek inside. I had a quick Google and can’t find too much online about it – do you know any more than we do!?
It was amazing how intact and historic it was inside. It felt almost like something from the Wild Wild West!
It’s a beautiful beach that’s good for stretching your legs after the ferry across from Vancouver.
Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia
We drove on down to our lodging for the night – the iconic Fairmont Empress in Victoria, British Columbia. It overlooks the city’s harbour and recently underwent a huge refurbishment to modernize the hotel while retaining its important heritage. We chose to stay there thanks to our amazing time at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, and this hotel didn’t disappoint. It’s known particularly for its famous afternoon tea. Served in its classy Lobby Lounge since 1908 when the hotel opened, the hotel is one of the most desirable in Victoria. Here are a few snaps of our room.
Gold Lounge, Fairmont Empress
You may recall our stay at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise in Banff. Arriving for our stay at such an iconic and beautiful hotel, we were kindly upgraded to the Gold Lounge. This gives you full access to a luxurious lounge with snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and an honesty bar. You also get a specially located room in a premium position within the building. At the Fairmont Empress, we were lucky enough to check in at the Gold Lounge once again!
Seeing as the Fairmont Empress is famous for its afternoon tea, it was lovely to see a wide selection of teas on offer. You can choose one of the amazing loose leaf teas and make your own teabags. I’m pretty sure we worked our way around a fair few of the tea selection!
We sat and relaxed in the Gold Lounge for a while, with a cuppa and some snacks. After a few teas, we went to explore a little more of Victoria. That evening, I indulged in a little purple gin (how cool is that colour!?) and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge.
We sat and enjoyed our food and drinks while watching the sun set across the Harbour. Afterwards, we walked around Victoria by night.
Victoria, British Columbia
Many people don’t realize that Victoria is British Columbia’s capital city. You’re not mistaken in thinking it’s a lot smaller than neighbouring Vancouver, but much of the province’s history is in Victoria. In the south of Vancouver Island, it’s steeped in British culture and heritage. You’ll see it in the architecture, from Craigdarroch Castle mansion to the formal outdoor settings of Butchart Gardens.
One of the most iconic areas of Victoria is the famous Harbour. You can walk around it and watch the boats bobbing up and down, while enjoying the scenery. The Harbour’s surrounded by some famous buildings, including the Parliament Building, Royal British Columbia Museum, and the Fairmont Empress itself. Around the city, you’ll also spot totem poles, some amazing architecture, and acres of beautiful parkland.
After a quick swim and a dip in the hotel’s jacuzzi, we wanted to see the city by night, too. Victoria’s Parliament Buildings are particularly famous for their pretty light display in the dark.
If you’re passing through Victoria, make sure to stop off at the Bard and Banker for a drink. It’s a Scottish pub that reflects Victoria’s colonial roots, and it’s so cosy and pretty inside. The perfect stop-off for walking around the city and seeing the beautiful, historic architecture.
Arriving back to our room, the beds had already been made up thanks to the hotel’s turndown service. A lovely touch to end the day!
Snow in Victoria, British Columbia
After a wonderful night’s sleep, we woke to snow falling outside. Despite being in Canada, snow is pretty unusual in Victoria, as it’s the warmest city in Canada. The concierge at the Gold Lounge even told us Victoria only has one snow plow for the whole city! Nevertheless, there’s something really cool about having a hot shower while watching the snow falling outside.
We stocked up on breakfast and tasty coffees. There’s pretty much anything you could want – fresh fruit, cereal, granola, bacon, eggs, and waffles. My favourite!
We took a final glimpse of the snow falling over Victoria and the harbour before leaving. It’s always tough to say goodbye the Gold Lounge after another amazing night in a Fairmont. How cool is this wintery scene of Victoria?
Our plan was to head to the incredible looking Wild Renfrew resort near Port Renfrew for a night of R&R. Unfortunately, the snow had other intentions for us! With a particularly snowy road up to Port Renfrew, we decided to turn around and go back to Vancouver. If you’ve been to Port Renfrew, let me know your recommendations! Hopefully we’ll get there another day.
Here’s a little glimpse of the snowy coast from our journey anyway. Victoria, it’s been a real pleasure!
Have you visited Victoria, British Columbia before? What are your favourite things to see and do in the city?