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Victoria, BC: Centennial Square Christmas

Christmas In Victoria B.C.: A perfect holiday

Victoria, British Columbia, captivates visitors with it charming British influence, gorgeous gardens, parks, museums, fabulous shopping and lovely hotels and B&Bs. This harbor city is especially enchanting during the season when Christmas bacchanalia prevails and the city becomes a traveler's holiday destination. From artisan holiday markets to decorated Victorian Castles and Festive Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel, Victoria offers an abundance of enticing activities.

As dusk settles on a clear, crisp evening, brightly colored lights twinkle across the city, while the sound of carolers' echoes in the distance. Excited shoppers pause to exclaim at whimsical holiday window displays and the air is filled with the tantalizing aroma fresh-baked pastries. It is Christmas time in this beautiful and magical, northwestern city of Victoria.

Afternoon Tea and Christmas Trees at the Fairmount Empress Hotel

The Fairmount Empress Hotel is known globally for its beauty and history, as well as a splendid Afternoon Tea. However, during the month of December each year, the Empress features a scrumptious Festive Afternoon Tea served in the lovely grand Tea Lobby. With the gentle sounds of live holiday piano music and a warming fire in the hearths, it is time to relax and enjoy the delectable desserts created by Executive Pastry Chef D'oyen Christie and delicate savories by Sous chef Graham Smith. Several of the treats include rum-cured Christmas cake, vanilla bean Scottish shortbread and mince meat apple tart that melts in your mouth.

After your sumptuous tea, take a stroll around the Fairmount Empress and admire the hotel's annual Festival Of Trees. This year, 78 remarkable Christmas trees line the hotel's halls with themes to make you laugh, sigh at the beauty or garner a smile with the shear creativeness.

If you need some spirits to mark the occasion, visit the hotel's elegant but cozy Bengal Lounge for their tempting 1908 martini. It is a tea-infused vodka that tastes similar to a sweet, iced tea but with more kick.

For holiday activities in a Victorian theme, Craigdarroch Castle and the Royal BC Museum both offer a wonderful period experience.

Christmas in the (Craigdarroch) Castle

Craigdarroch Castle, located on Joan Crescent, was originally built between 1887 to 1890 for Robert Dunsmuir, a Scottish Coal Baron. Although Dunsmuir passed away before his castle was completed, his wife and children lived in the castle with its some 36 rooms. Today, 29 of the castle rooms are open for viewing and during the month of December each year, the castle is decorated in breath-taking, full Victorian Christmas Splendor. Make sure to visit Craigdarroch Castle's website under events and programs for their holiday calendar of events that include, a one-man-act of a Christmas Carol, holiday music and family night tours.

Royal BC Museum


Have you ever wondered what it was like at Christmas in the 1800s? The Royal BC Museum invites guests to explore Christmas in Old Town. This permanent exhibit with authentic artifacts was designed to represent life in Victoria's late 1800s. The town features wood-cobbled streets, a silent movie theater, a hotel to walk around, numerous shops, a post office and apothecary. For the holiday season, the museum decorates the town in a traditional Victorian style that will delight visitors of all ages. Make sure to visit the historical Helmcken House that lies adjacent to the main museum for an Old-Fashioned Christmas. It is one of the oldest homes in Victoria and belonged to a physician and one of Victoria's founding fathers, John Helmcken.

Artisan Fair

To find just the gift is often a challenge, but if you visit the Out Of Hand Annual Artisan Fair in Victoria, your search may be over. Located on Douglas Street in the Crystal Gardens, the popular Christmas market presents unique hand-made items and artisan foods, as well as gorgeous and fashionable apparel. These well-made fine crafts are stunning and the artists' work is juried before their acceptance into the market. One such artist, Diane Jordens, stops everyone in their tracks with her amazing display of Toad's World. Jordens grew up in Victoria and hails from a long line of master Polish tailors. Her animal character dolls are inspired by Beatrix Potter, the ballet mice from the Nutcracker, Puss n' Boots and a host of other memorable tales. These exquisite characters are completely hand-sewn with detailed, fairy-tale outfits and charming faces; perfect for the gift that will enchant on Christmas morning.

Downtown Hotels at Christmas

Many of Victoria's downtown hotels present annual holiday themes and events for visitors. A burgeoning tradition by locals and visitors is to start at the Inn At Laurel Point for the National Gingerbread Showcase and then continue on to the next holiday themed hotel. The Fairmount Empress Hotel displays their lovely Festival of Trees, The Grand Pacific charms with Bear Ware and the Chateau Victoria delights with prize-winning holiday decorations. In addition, Chateau Victoria presents their popular annual Pancakes with Mr. and Mrs. Claus for family fun; proceeds from the event are donated to Times Colonist Christmas Fund.

Take an Evening Stroll

A stroll in the evening reveals the city's illuminated holiday grandeur, especially in Centennial Square. Each year, the square is transformed with multi-colored lighted trees, interactive wall displays, ice skating rinks and this year, a 65-foot tall, brilliantly lit ferris wheel. Take a ride to the top for great city views and photos. Moreover, Government Street and Fort Street offer a host of excellent holiday shopping but are even more impressive at night with awesome Christmas lights and intriguing window displays. And, make sure to keep your eye out for Father Christmas, who also likes to take strolls along the city's downtown streets.

If You Go

If you go, here are a list of shops and cafes you won't want to miss: Roger's Chocolates, Murchies Tea and Coffee, Munro's Books, Silk Road Tea Room, Chintz & Company, and the incomparable Patisserie Daniel on Cook Street (the best French pastries in Western Canada).

For a comfortable and scenic way to arrive in Victoria by car or foot, take the Black Ball M.V. CoHo Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria's inner harbor. The passage is 90-minutes and there are incredible photo opportunities from the snow-capped Olympic Mountains to whale watching year-round, especially in spring and fall.

For a comprehensive list of holiday events, sites and exciting activities and promotions, check out Victoria's fantastic Advent Calendar.

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Patrice Raplee
is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular guest on Travel radio talk shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her photographs and articles have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure. Photos courtesy of Patrice Raplee.

December 4th 2012

© 2012