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Discover Victoria's Charms
The capital of British Columbia, this waterfront city boasts the mildest climate in all of Canada. Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island and below the 49th parallel, Victoria rarely receives snow in winter and its summer is so comfortable that many of the rooms in the city's most venerable hotel, the Fairmont Empress, lack air conditioning.
If you're thinking of visiting, these are some of Victoria's most romantic places to see and things to do.Continue to 2 of 12 below.
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Check into a Romantic Victoria Hotel
Two Victoria hotels hold special appeal for couples: A block and a half from the Harbor, the 64-room Magnolia Hotel & Spa has a cozy, boutique feel. Thanks to its location, decor, and staff, it's a comfortable, amenity-rich perch for lovebirds exploring the capital of British Columbia. And since there are no facilities to coddle children, it primarily appeals to couples on a honeymoon or romantic getaway.
An iconic spot directly across from the waterfront, the opulent Fairmont Empress (check rates) has been enchanting couples since 1908. Exquisitely preserved, with its brass and woodwork burnished to a high shine, the Fairmont welcomes families and business travelers as well as romantics. It contains several very good restaurants, a swoon-worthy jewelry store, a gym and an indoor heated pool and whirlpool area.
Both hotels have spas; the Fairmont's is more extensive. Both also offer complimentary wi-fi; each floor in the Magnolia has its own connection. The Fairmont provides wi-fi free to members, and there's no charge to join.Continue to 3 of 12 below.
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Stroll the Victoria, Canada Waterfront
The Inner Harbor of Victoria, picturesque and easily accessible, is the city's hub. Stroll down to the waterfront to take in the views and shoot a few selfies and scenic shots to commemorate your visit.
A variety of boats bob in the calm waters. Ferries, whale watching vessels, and float planes all moor and depart from the Inner Harbor. The city is also a popular port of call for Alaska-bound cruises.Continue to 4 of 12 below.
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Take a Walking Tour of Victoria
Victoria is a great walking city, flat and laid out on a grid. It's small enough to cover all of the harbor area in a day, leaving time for shopping, visiting galleries, and stopping for a meal.
You'll certainly want to visit the tiny Chinatown. The second oldest in North America (after San Francisco), Victoria's is home to narrow (only 3 feet wide in some spots) Fan Tan Alley, where long ago drunken sailors were "shanghaied" and woke up on an unfamiliar ship and put to work basically as slaves. Today it's dotted with shops stocked with Oriental gew-gaws.
One shop, Silk Road Tea, is exclusively devoted to tea and has a spa attached. It’s located on Government Street, close to the entrance to Chinatown. To put the tea sets, teaspoons, and accessories they offer to use, a huge variety of tea, both loose leaf and in bags, is for sale.Continue to 5 of 12 below.
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Go Shopping in Victoria
Set off on foot to do some window shopping. Victoria is an amalgam of small stores and has one modest shopping mall, the Bay Centre.
When you want some sweets for your sweet, pop into Roger's at Empress Square, which has been creating fine chocolates for more than a century.
For women who believe they can never have quite enough accessories, there's She She Shoes and She She Handbags on Trounce Alley, which is prettily lit up at night.
Those who like to craft their own fashions and accessories can find supplies at two lovely stores, the spacious and well-stocked Beehive Wool Shop and the Button & Needlework Boutique, which has a large and uncommon selection of interesting buttons.Continue to 6 of 12 below.
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Visit Victoria Artisans
If you appreciate the creativity of small designers and retailers, make a beeline for the boutiques along historic LoJo (lower Johnson Street).
Looking for a unique and beautiful piece of jewelry? Perhaps a special engagement ring, or a set of wedding bands no one else wears? Melissa Caron has a storefront across from the Magnolia hotel, where she sells sculptural rings, pendants, earrings and other adornments.
The self-taught jeweler, who picked up her first pair of pliers more than 20 years ago, describes her style as "a blend of art nouveau, Victorian, with hints of medieval, botanical. I try and stay true to the designs that come naturally to me and intuitively carve or hand-build each piece."Continue to 7 of 12 below.
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Take Tea at the Fairmont Empress
For more than a century, the tea lobby of The Fairmont Empress (check rates) has served England’s most beloved ritual to royalty, celebrities, dignitaries, and visitors like you.
In a refined space decorated with vintage furnishings, chintz upholstery and antique tapestries, guests taking Afternoon Tea can look out on the picturesque Inner Harbor for the quintessential Victoria experience.
Sip Empress Tea created specifically for The Fairmont Empress or another beverage of your choice. All tea is served in dainty William Edwards china with a sterling silver service.
The repast starts with a coupe of strawberries and cream and is followed by three tiers of bliss. Choose the crustless sandwiches on the lower level first, then move up to the scones with butter and jam on the center tier, and finish with the cookies and chocolates on top that are prepared in-house daily.Continue to 8 of 12 below.
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Stop and Smell the Roses in Butchart Gardens
Once an exhausted limestone quarry, Butchart Gardens has bloomed into 55 acres of display gardens and is a National Historic Site of Canada a 35-minute drive from downtown Victoria. Beyond its fragrant Rose Garden, it intoxicates with a seaside Japanese Garden, an Italian Garden, a sunken garden and a wide variety of colorful flowers and plantings throughout.
For more than a century, these expansive gardens, where something is always in bloom, have lured lovers. Plan to arrive before noon (book tour) so that you can savor Afternoon Tea in Butchart Gardens’ Dining Room. Before heading back into the city, pause for refreshment in the Italian garden, where there is a gelateria.
Scheduled entertainment takes place on the Concert Lawn and a fireworks display is featured on every summer Saturday night.
Even in winter, Butchart Gardens is worth a visit; from mid-January till the end of March, a "spring prelude" indoor garden is assembled. It's also the only time the Gardens permits weddings to take place. In the indoor garden, guests are surrounded by flowering cherries and beds of daffodils and tulips.
Then from March to May, close to 300,000 bulbs emerge from the earth in a well-choreographed order to bring forth spring and summer's flowers, and the season begins anew.Continue to 9 of 12 below.
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Appreciate the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
The scenery of Victoria isn't the only balm for the eyes in this pretty town. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria features a permanent exhibition of the work of Emily Carr, a hometown favorite, and you can trace the evolution of her work through a series of paintings.
The Art Gallery itself is a uniquely charming space. It contains an historic 1889 mansion adjacent to its seven modern galleries. The mansion can be rented for weddings, and photographs posed on the beautiful wooden staircase make for timeless mementoes.
The Gallery Shop features handmade pottery, jewelry, scarves and other crafts by local artisans. And the Gallery's Asian Garden encompasses the only authentic Japanese Shinto Shrine in North America, which is set among bamboo and Japanese maples.Continue to 10 of 12 below.
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Go Whale Watching in Victoria
From April through October, when the Victoria Whale Watch Tour (book online) operates, the waters surrounding the city are a magnet for whales. A trained naturalist accompanies this journey in a Zodiac or motor yacht. Marine and wildlife on view include orcas, sea lions, elephant and harbor seals as well as cormorants and bald eagles.
If you're lucky and your companions quiet, you may hear the haunting song of the whales. Hydrophones can pick up and amplify the Orca whales communicating with each other.Continue to 11 of 12 below.
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Drinking and Dining in Victoria
Confession: Other than our scrumptious Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Empress, we weren't impressed by food in Victoria, not at the hotel where we stayed nor in Chinatown. Admittedly, it was a small sampling on a short visit.
I always believe that if you can eat what's caught or grown locally, you stand the best chance of having a good meal. Just the sight of the harbor can make you hungry for the ocean's bounty. From fresh oysters, to Dungeness crabs to Pacific Coast salmon, the local catch is available at many restaurants.
Cognoscenti advised me that The Blue Crab is the place for the best seafood in town, so consider it when deciding where to dine.
If you're more interested in drinking than dining and beer's your preferred liquid, consider a Pickle Pub Crawl, which makes 11 stops (the Blue Crab is one). Participants are entitled to disembark four times and the ferry runs start at 10 am and the last one is at 5:30 pm.Continue to 12 of 12 below.
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Victoria After Dark and Beyond
When the sky turns dark, the Legislative Buildings light up and for a moment you may just think you're in Disneyland. Fortunately, you're not! It's quiet here, and you can find a bench to look up at the stars and listen to the water gently lapping at the shore.
On Discover the Past Tours with historian John Adams, you can visit the Harbor, Red Light District, and Chinatown and learn about the ghosts said to haunt the historic stone warehouses along Wharf Street. Then head to Johnson Street, which was the heart of Victoria’s old red light district. The tour finishes with the story of Chung, a Chinese boy who cut off the head of his girlfriend.
True romantics may want to visit Victoria around Valentine’s Day, when the town celebrates in a big way. Government Street gets lined with red and pink lights and there are eight designated Kissing Spots (no one caught kissing elsewhere will be prosecuted).
Of course, Victoria can be a jumping off point for couples to experience more of the nature and seaside attractions of Vancouver Island. Sooke, with its romantic oceanfront inns and artisans studios, draws beach fans. The Gulf Islands, just a ferry ride away, offer plenty of time for the two of you to revel alone in nature.