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Hip Hotel: Fairmont Empress: Victoria BC is One Hip, Walkable City for Families

Photo: Tourism Victoria, Photographer Deddeda Stemler

I admit it, I LOVE Victoria, BC. Just a short ~2 hr ferry ride from Seattle on the Victoria Clipper with great shopping, food and exceptionally friendly people, it is the perfect hip weekend getaway for families, girlfriend getaways, or a romantic couples retreat. I’ve been to Victoria for each one of those occasions. This trip, we were invited to attend the Victoria Symphony Splash event by Tourism Victoria with our family.  On August 1, the The Inner Harbour in Victoria was a spectacular sight. The streets were lined with rows of people, picnic blankets were spread on every square inch of grass with kids running about, and balconies were filled with couples dining al fresco in their fine dresses, suits and champagne. 

I am most proud of this trip because we did the whole trip WITHOUT ANY KID GEAR. That’s right folks, no car seats, no pack-n-plays, no stroller (okay this was a mistake). Just our bags, a backpack for our two year old and our cute little shoes. It was awesome. Victoria prides itself on being a walkable and active city and we can attest that you can jump on the ferry, kid-gear free. (If you do have a toddler, might I suggest bringing a small umbrella stroller or renting one from Cycle BC or your arms will be killing you from carrying them like ours were). 

We stayed at the historic Fairmont Empress Hotel with beautiful views of the Inner Harbour. The hotel is the best place to stay if you will be viewing the Symphony Splash event.  You can literally walk out the front door of the hotel and sit on the grass to watch the music, sunset and the fireworks at dusk. Year-round, the hotel is within walking distance to great boutique shops, cafes and restaurants and has an indoor pool in what the kids affectionately called the “dungeon.” If you are considering visiting for the Symphony Splash event next year, make sure to book a Harbour View room so in case your kids crash out early like mine did, you can still watch and listen to the music from your room. There are so many fun things to do in Victoria with kids. You will find lots of valuable information on the Tourism Victoria Website. In addition to the standard tourist attractions, here are a few of our favorites: 

Hip Tips for Enjoying Victoria with Kids: 

  • Take a 45 min pedicab tour around the city at night. Not only can you rest your kids’ tired legs and do some people watching, but you can also get some fun insider tips and stories from your cycling tour guide. The kids will love being pulled in the little buggy and you get a locals perspective on the city.
  • Show up at the Inner Harbour at 10:45 am every Sunday to watch the Victoria Harbour Ferries weave in and out together in a sychronized Water Ballet. I’m not kidding when I say this is pure talent. I have a boat and know how hard it is to navigate these things around in the water – these harbour ferry drivers make it look easy and elegant.
  • Go Boutique Shopping on LoJo: One of my favorite things to do in Victoria is find the hip shops and cafes and meander through the streets. The options are endless, but head to Lower Johnson Street (otherwise known as LoJo) to find locally owned boutiques and one of my favorite Canadian companies, lululemon. I also discovered a new great shop for yoga wear – One Tooth yoga fashion. One Tooth has very stylish yoga wear that is also affordably priced. One of my new favorite stores is the new Hip Baby store in LoJo. We LOVE the ModernUrbanGuides for more ideas on where to shop in Victoria. Check them out!
  • Eat at Pagliacci’s for Amazing Italian Food: Most nights at Pagliacci’s you will find a line out the door and they open for dinner at 5:30. They don’t take reservations, so here’s a hip tip: show up at 5:15 to get a seat. We did this and got right in.
  • Take the Harbour Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf for Fish and Chips: Fisherman’s Wharf is full of neat shops and eateries and the Harbour Ferries come every 15 min. Eat at BarbsPlace  for the best fish and chips and then walk across the pier to Jackson’s Ice Cream Float for some ice cream. Most days your kids can feed the resident seal and if you have younger kids, just up the dock is a new playground with a cool slide and play area for kids.
  • Go for a run or walk along the Harbour. In my press packet of goodies from Tourism Victoria, was one of my favorite handouts – a map of running and walking routes in downtown Victoria sponsored by the Downtwon Victoria Business Association and Capital Bike and Walk Society. My husband and I are training for a marathon, so this was a perfect map to help us navigate where to go to get our mileage in during our trip. Get your run/walk map here.
  • Take a break for sweets for you and the kids: Stop by Roger’s Old Fashioned Soda Shoppe and Chocolate Store to satisfy the sweet tooth. Grab a cup of coffee or some gelato at Mirage Coffee  just up the block on Government Street. 

I could go on for hours…These are just a few of my favorite things to do in Victoria with Kids. What are yours? Let me know if I can help you plan your next trip to Victoria in style! 

Here are a few upcoming events in Sept/Oct in case you are considering a fall weekend getaway to Victoria! 

SEPTEMBER

Sept 19, 2010 – Feast of Fields

With a wine glass and napkin in hand, visitors wander the picturesque property sampling the gourmet offerings of over 50 of the island’s top chefs, wineries and micro-breweries while enjoying a delightful day in the country. For more information visit:  www.feastoffields.com.

Sept 23-26, 2010 – Rifflandia Music Festival

This powerful and important West Coast event for bands and audiences alike showcases over 50, local and Canadian musicians at handful of venues throughout the city. www.rifflandia.com

October

October 10, 2010 – Royal Victoria Marathon  – Named one of the Top 10 destination marathons in North America and a “Must-Do 26.2 Run Far Away Close To Home” by Runners World Magazine, the Royal Victoria Marathon celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2009.  One of the most popular and scenic running events on the west coast,  this major sporting event attracts over 10,000 runners and walkers from across Canada and the United States who participate in the marathon, half-marathon, 8k road race and kid’s fun run. For more information visit: www.runvictoriamarathon.com.

October 16-17, 2010 – Art of the Cocktail – A two-day celebration of the art, craft and tradition of the cocktail, guest’s will be able to wander the tasting room sampling a variety of delectable cocktails while catching tips from guest mixologist’s, authors and representatives in ongoing demonstrations. www.artofthecocktail.ca

End of Oct – Ghosts of Victoria Festival

The Old Cemeteries Society takes participants on a spooky tour of some of Victoria’s most haunted sites.  www.oldcem.bc.ca

Salmon Run at Goldstream Park – Every autumn millions of Pacific salmon forge their way up the myriad streams of the Pacific Northwest to spawn and die. In Victoria, 60,000 chum salmon appear about mid-October, and may be seen for around nine weeks.  For more information visit: www.goldstreampark.com

Note: I was a sponsored guest invited by Tourism Victoria. We received complementary accommodations at the Fairmont Empress, but were not required to express a certain opinion about the hotel or my visit. A big thank you is in order to Tourism Victoria, Victoria Clipper and the Fairmont Empress for their wonderful hospitality and the thoughtful time they put into suggesting activities for our family to do while in Victoria. It was a spectacular trip that I happily recommend to my friends and readers!

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