Growing up, I spent large portions of my summer vacations in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. These visits mostly consisted of gorging on cherries from my paternal grandmother’s cherry tree and helping my maternal grandmother bake banana muffins and tidy up (because vacuuming 1970s shag was way more fun than vacuuming the carpet at home), but my family always made time to take an evening walk downtown to see the vendors and street performers in the Inner Harbour.
When it came time to pick a vacation spot for this summer, the choice was easy. I could practically hear the West Coast calling my name. Visiting Victoria as both an adult and a tourist was a vastly different experience than the vacations I remembered from my childhood. My old favorites -The Royal BC Museum & Imax and Munro’s Books on Government Street- were just as wonderful as I remembered, but exploring the city guided by my own interests led to the discovery of new experiences, shops, and restaurants to revisit and treasure. Here is a handful of my new favorites, which are definitely worth checking out if you decide to visit Victoria:
Constructed between 1904 and 1908, the Empress Hotel is Victoria’s quintessential landmark. It epitomizes the early 1900s architecture that dominates Victoria’s downtown core, as well as the city’s proud Victorian influence. The hotel is famous for its Afternoon Tea, with several sittings scheduled during the day, wherein guests can sample the hotel’s eponymous blend of tea complimented by delicate finger sandwiches and pastries. The Empress also plays host to Victoria’s annual Venetian-style Masquerade Ball every fall, an event not to be missed if you have a love for the theatrical and want to add something extra special to your vacation.
Completed in 1898, the Parliament Buildings act as the seat of government for the province of British Columbia. Guided tours of the building are offered between Monday and Friday at no cost, which give visitors a chance to learn about the history of British Columbia, as well allowing them to marvel at gorgeous Victorian interior. Fun fact: The gate featured in the above photo is only opened during royal visits, as it leads to an entrance that members of the Legislative Assembly and the public are not permitted to use.
Located on Johnson Street, near the entrance to the Market Square shopping district, Still Life comes in two varieties: For Him and For Her. The shops sit across the street from each other and each stocks high quality clothing, shoes, accessories, bags, and fragrance from brands such as Brixton, D.S. & Durga, and Filson. Each is its own experience -the change rooms in Still Life for Her are whimsical fabric tents and Still Life for Him has a quiet, laid back atmosphere that immediately creates a sense of comfort- and both are worth checking out.
Also found on Johnson Street, the Regional Assembly of Text features locally designed post and greeting cards, as well as stationary and a small selection of books, hand picked by the staff. In addition to stocking adorable local products, the shop features a letter writing station, where visitors can choose from a variety of papers and envelopes to use when composing their letters on a typewriter. Visitors can also make their own customizable button’s at the shop’s button making station. It’s absolutely a must visit for stationary lovers.
Serving British inspired fare made from ingredients sourced by local producers, the Guild Freehouse is a restaurant where a meal is meant to be savored. The starters, such as Scotch Egg and Salt Cod Fritters, are tasty enough that visitors might be tempted to order a variety to share, but the mains, like the Pork Shank & Warm Potato Salad and the Shepherd’s Pie, are more than worth saving room for. The Guild’s menu is complimented by an extensive beer menu, which features the option of ordering a flight of a few smaller beers for sampling. Given the added temptation of the dessert menu, it wouldn’t be amiss to plan for multiple visits.
Fresh and bursting with flavor is the best way to describe the food at 10 Acres. The organic produce served in the restaurant comes from its own farm, from which locals can order and purchase produce through 10 Acres’ market, and the proteins, such as the ones in 10 Acres’ outstanding Sooke Trout and Roasted Game Hen Salad dishes, are all from Vancouver Island. While the menu might change depending upon what’s in season, the unforgettable farm-to-table experience and homey atmosphere at 10 Acres are constant.
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By Ally Stuart