With its twinkling lights and European-style architecture, Victoria is a natural source for pre-holiday cheer. But we’re here to argue for a post-Christmas visit. That weird, quiet lull between Christmas and New Year’s is actually the perfect time to escape to the Island. Here’s where to eat, stay, play, and eat some more… and be home in time to ring in the new year.

Where to Eat in Victoria

festive pub

Bard and Banker

If snuggling up in a curved leather-tufted booth with a bowl overflowing with mussels in white-wine sauce sounds like your idea of a good time on a cold winter’s day, the Bard and Banker handily delivers. Even in the summertime, the room—a bank-turned-pub decked out in mahogany and golds—just feels like Christmas, but come the holiday season, the Bard turns it up with all the trimmings. Plan for a three-hour boozy lunch for maximum effect: the wine list is solid (heavy on the B.C. picks), though Guinness feels like the right move here. bardandbanker.com

The Pacific Restaurant

Perhaps inspired by a certain other high-end hotel resto in town (more on Courtney Room later), the Pacific Restaurant is going through an elaborate makeover—a chic renovation is in the process of turning a more traditional dining room into a richly textured, on-trend seafood-forward foodie destination. (Rumour has it that the resto is rebranding to “Fathom,” but you didn’t hear it from us.) Though it’d be easy enough to fill up on the plush milk buns—served with honey cashew butter, rosemary, rock salt and bee pollen, $9), the squid-ink spaghetti vongole is a winning main, topped with a generous portion of tiger prawns and trout caviar ($38). Chef Peter Kim (formerly of Blue Water, Glowbal, Fairmont and Seaside Provisions) takes plenty of inspiration from Japanese cuisine: the halibut is served with miso custard and potato tobiko dumplings ($40), while the buttery sablefish (also $40) comes on a plate of mind-bending “nori sand.” Grab a window seat as you tuck in to scope out the majestic Empress and watch the sailboats drift around the harbour. hotelgrandpacific.com

Courtesy the Ferris Grill

Ferris Grill and Garden Patio

Ferris is old-school Victoria in the best way possible—not the tea-drinking, drove-on-the-left-side-of-the-road-for-decades Oak Bay kind of old-school, but the down-to-earth, never-sell-out, crunchy-‘90s kind of old-school. It’s cozy and warm in the brick-lined room, with comfort-food dishes to match: the menu is a happily eclectic mix of soul-warming (but Oceanwise!) seafood laska ($27), mile-high plates of beef-cheek pappardelle in spicy tomato ragu ($27), and hearty, warm cauliflower salad dusted with pecorino ($19). Of course there are abstract landscape paintings from a local artist on the wall, alongside posters promoting something called “Pug Halloween.” Order up a Kazuki Negroni ($13, made from Vancouver Island’s own Sheringham Kazuki gin) and settle in for the evening; tell everyone you’re a local. ferrisoysterbar.com

Courtesy the Courtney Room

The Courtney Room

After a couple of years of ups-and-downs, the Courtney Room (located in the Magnolia Hotel) is back in full form—perhaps its best iteration yet, with Chef Brian Tesolin (formerly of Hawksworth) at the helm. The room brings the French brasserie vibes, but the menu is pure West Coast innovation. We’re not afraid to say it: the tasting menu ($110, add $90 for excellent wine pairings) is an essential Victoria dining experience. Put yourself in Tesolin’s hands and await a parade of fascinating, irresistible treasures, all inspired by seasonal ingredients from producers like Two Rivers Meats, Working Culture Bread, and Littlest Acre Organics. While dishes change regularly, expect fare like tender oysters served up in cascade hop mignonette, marinated Italian burrata with sumac cracker and house-made preserves, side stripe shrimp in a rose-hip and tomato consommé, or duck breast in a decadent black-sesame gomae. Melt-in-your-mouth roasted Hokkaido scallops compete for attention next to flavour-bomb grilled celeriac and delicate foraged mushrooms. A meal that will have you muttering things like “outrageous” under your breath. thecourtneyroom.com

Bear and Joey

Meade Design Group crafted Bear and Joey’s Instagram-bait interiors, decking out the Aussie-inspired café in soft pastels and mid-century-meets-Art-Nouveau touches. But you might not even notice the cute interiors: the brunch menu is pretty distracting. The savoury-and-sweet bread pudding ($19) is the sort of photogenic and indulgent meal that inspires both a post-breakfast social media post and a nap, topped with apple chutney and bacon sugo; even the porridge ($17.5) is beautiful, topped with housemade granola, whipped marscapone and seasonal poached fruits. If you see the rotating pikelet on the menu (an Australian take on a Dutch Baby), don’t hesitate—just order a Bear and Joey shaft (a boozy coffee shot that Victoria claims is a local specialty) if you need a boost of energy to make it through the hearty, heavenly dish. bearandjoey.ca

Best Winter Activities in Victoria

tower in the snow
Malahat SkyWalk

The Malahat SkyWalk opened mid-pandemic, but luckily the outdoor attraction—30 minutes from Victoria by car—is an ideal activity in or out of lockdown. Picture New York’s Nest, but perched in the West Coast forest, allowing views for miles around: on a clear day, walk up the spiral ramp to find sightlines to Mount Baker and the Saanich Peninsula (the top is 250m above sea level). The walkway from the visitor’s centre to the Skywalk runs high above the ground, placing you among the Arbutus treetops, but if that’s not thrilling enough, you’re welcome to kick back on a vertigo-inducing net at the top of the Skywalk, or whip down the already-Instagram-famous spiral slide back down to the bottom in a few heart-pounding seconds. (A solid selection of beers and coffee are available at the on-site cafes to steel the nerves.) $35 adult admission, malahatskywalk.com

inside a sauna and cold plunge room
Courtesy: Ritual Nordic Spa

Ritual Nordic Spa

Ritual is a Scandinavian spa circuit experience just outside Victoria’s downtown core—think a compact Scandinave Spa. Run through the Nordic relaxation cycle—hot, cold, relax, repeat—at your own pace over the course of a two-hour session, hopping between the cedar sauna, eucalyptus steam room, test-your-mettle cold plunge pool, bucket shower, salt lounge, and fire pit as you see fit. Private sauna suites are available for those who like to loudly curse during the cold-water plunge, or prefer to do their shvitz-ing au naturel. (Bathing suits must be worn in the main, public spa.) Turn your phone off and sweat it out. From $59, rituralnordicspa.com

tea set

Tea at the Empress

Sure, maybe “tea at the Empress” is a Victoria cliché, but sometimes, things are famous for a reason. The quaint ritual—offered since the Empress opened its doors back in 1908—is deeply charming, with over-the-top consideration put into every step. Plan to while away a couple of hours, stationed comfortable by the fire in the grand lobby. Select your tea from a carved wooden book, and receive a tower of delightful little treats to nibble on (what other verb is appropriate for a crustless salmon sandwich, we ask you?), each a surprisingly gourmet experience. If you’ve never said “what an amazing raisin scone!” then brace yourself. Though the British-ish tea service dates back over a century, the Fairmont is no slouch when it comes to sustainability: all of the teas are ethically sourced and traceable “from garden to cup.” $89, or $128 for the ‘champagne tea’ experience, teaattheempress.com

A Taste of Victoria Food Tours

It takes the right person to make a food tour more than just a march through a market, but the affable owner-operator Andy Olson easily delivers. Olson left his job in tech to essentially be a one-man Victoria booster, and the effect is absolutely charming: as he takes you from matcha bar to pierogi restaurant to an Indonesian spring roll stand, hidden in the upper halls of Market Square, you’re truly convinced that each destination is his very favourite place in the city. A former history major, the walking tour also is peppered with a mile-a-minute barrage of facts about Victoria—leave with both a hankering for more Ayo Eat’s peanut sauce and a richer understanding of Canada’s oldest Chinatown. $75 per person for a two-hour tour, atasteofvictoriafoodtours.com

Haunted Manor Mini-Golf

Though Victoria tends to enjoy a more temperate climate than the rest of Canada, frigid winter days still hit. Head inside to sip a spiced cider in the velvet-lined front room of Haunted Manor before braving the kitschy-cool, vintage-horror inspired indoor mini-golf course. The spooky-kooky aesthetic may not be for everyone, but you have to admire the commitment here: each hole runs through a different room of a Victorian-era haunted house (the bathroom offers a particularly infuriating challenge), and during winter, the Halloween vibes are upgraded to a Nightmare Before Christmas-adjacent experience, with flicking strings of light and chilling carols warbling through the air. $25 adult admission, hauntermanorvictoria.com

How to Get to Victoria

Harbour Air

No offense to BC Ferries, but taking the plane just feels so… civilized. From Vancouver, downtown to downtown flights from Harbour Air deliver you right to the Victoria harbourfront so you start your city strollin’ fresh from your flight. Prices starting at $182 one-way, harbourair.com

Where to Stay in Victoria

View from the Hotel Grand Pacific.

The Hotel Grand Pacific

The Hotel Grand Pacific may live in the shadow of the world-famous Empress just a few blocks over, but she manages to bring plenty of upscale elegance of her own to the harbour. Spacious, tastefully appointed rooms tick all the boxes (clean, crisp sheets and waterfront views—what more do you need?) and even during the worldwide hospitality-staff shortage, there’s a fervent dedication to customer service—during a rare Victoria snowstorm, they will do whatever it takes to track you down a cab. Get some cardio in via the impressive, naturally lit lap pool and expansive gym before strolling easily to Victoria’s restaurant district. From $141 a night, hotelgrandpacific.com