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Where to Stay and Eat in Victoria, BC

Choices for everyone in beautiful Victoria
 

The Empress Hotel, overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor, is one of the iconic images of this lovely city.

Part Two of a three part series on Victoria, BC; part one gives you introductory information and details of how to get to Victoria, and part three offers suggestions of what to see and do during your stay.

 

 

Whether you're looking for modern chic and charm or stately grandeur, and whether your budget is $100/night or $1000/night, there's a good accommodation choice for you in Victoria.

And no matter what your food preferences may be, the chances are you won't go hungry during your stay, either.


Where to Stay in Victoria

There is a very wide range of tourist accommodation options in and around Victoria, but we usually end up staying at the same one or two places every time we visit.

When choosing a place to stay in Victoria, you should ensure you're centrally located so you can conveniently walk around the city without needing to drive between your hotel and downtown.

When we're in Victoria, we usually choose to treat ourselves to a room with a harbor view, although we have noticed that the amount of time we actually spend looking out the window and enjoying the beautiful view of the harbor is minimal.  However, it adds to the overall 'feel good' factor and just knowing it is there, on the other side of the curtains, even if we don't spend all day gazing out the windows, or sitting on the verandah, adds to the overall ambience and appeal of this lovely city.

Our favorite hotel, offering what we feel to be the best mix of indulgence, comfort, location, view, and value is the Hotel Grand Pacific.

Hotel Grand Pacific

The Hotel Grand Pacific is is a imposing modern building on the inner harbor, opposite the Coho ferry terminal, and close to everywhere in downtown.  Originally built in 1989, it was extensively added on to in 2001, making it into the L shaped structure it now is.  The hotel has 308 rooms and suites on ten levels, many of which offer great views over the inner or outer harbor.

Room rates are reasonable, and service is good but not great (their Achilles Heel being the seeming perennial inability of the hotel to have a room ready to check into, no matter what time we arrive - before or after their specified 3pm arrival time).  The food is good in the restaurants and there is a nice cozy bar/lounge.

We generally choose to treat ourselves to a suite - the rates aren't outrageously high, although they are seasonally dependent (summer is most expensive), and you get a much more special experience for only a little more money.  These are lovely large two room units, and usually have a balcony you can sit on and enjoy the outdoors and views from.  When booking, request a suite on as high a level floor as possible, for obvious view related reasons.

On one occasion we had problems with noisy guests above us.  We complained, and soon after the noises subsided, and upon waking the next morning, we found a note slipped under the door with a handwritten apology from the duty manager and two free breakfast coupons - coupons that were all the more classy because they prominently said on them 'Tip IS included'.  What a nice touch.

Parking is available in the basement (extra fee charged) and if you have an over-height vehicle, they arrange for you to park over the road at an adjacent hotel behind their hotel, the Royal Scot (which is a nice enough three star hotel, but with no views).  Wired broadband internet is available in all rooms, free of charge (and these days they now provide internet cables to go from the socket on the desk to your computer, formerly they didn't).

They have all the usual hotel facilities including bars, restaurants, fitness center and spa, so there's plenty to indulge yourself with at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

Fairmont Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel (see picture at the top of this page) is one of Victoria's best known icons, and is currently a part of the Fairmont group of hotels.

The hotel was originally built in 1908, with major renovations and additions to the hotel in 1966 and 1989.  These days it has 477 rooms and suites, with a profusion of different room types, some of which can be quite small and disappointing.  Rooms do not have air conditioning, which can occasionally be a problem in the hottest days of summer, and neither do they have internet access other than in some public areas and in a few of the more expensive rooms and suites.

The hotel gets mixed reviews from its guests, and perhaps the fairest way to describe it would be as an expensive and somewhat idiosyncratic experience.  You'll often pay more for a regular room at the Empress than you would for a suite at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

Possibly it is a hotel that is best enjoyed by admiring from the outside, but if you pay the hefty premium for one of their better suites, you'll be assured of a wonderful stay, a great room, and lovely views.

Having afternoon tea at the Empress is quite popular, even for non-guests seeking to recreate the experience of a formal 'posh' afternoon tea, English style.  The cost is seasonal - $44 at present (April 07) and $49 from May 1, plus tax and service - quite a lot for a cup of tea, a couple of scones and assorted other cakes, but it is served in a stately manner in a lovely room and you are paying for the ritual experience more than the simple food itself.

Bedford Regency

The Bedford Regency is one of our favorite hotels in winter, because most of their superior rooms come complete with fireplaces, and even the firewood to burn in them too.

The hotel is in the center of one of the main streets (Government St), and has a mere 40 rooms.  The Garrick's Head pub (see below) is a part of this hotel and dates back to 1867, but we hasten to add that the rest of the hotel is considerably more genteel than its pub.

Alas, only a couple of the rooms have any views worth mentioning, but in winter when the days are short and cold, the warmth of your in-room fireplace may compensate for this, and the considerably shorter distance to the main eating and drinking spots of the city is another benefit.  Rooms are anywhere from little more than C$100/night up to not quite C$200/night.  Wi-fi is free.

Note that the rooms that face the harbor view also look out on to the small lane to Bastion Square outside the hotel.  This is usually noisy at night - smokers from the hotel's Garrick's Head pub congregate and chat outside, and later in the evening, drunks tend to use the alleyway on their way home.  We recommend you request a room with an 'inner courtyard' view instead for much better peace and quiet.

The hotel doesn't offer parking, but there is a public parking building just around the corner that provides a convenient solution.

Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort & Spa

This very grandly named hotel is on the other side of the harbor, but however is closer to downtown than you might think - something that surprised us when we actually stayed there and walked in to downtown.  It is just a very short walk over the Pandora Ave bridge and you're in the middle of the downtown area.

However, while it is a convenient walk to downtown, we did not like the hotel, finding it gloomy and oppressive with unfriendly officious staff (an argument about whether we needed to show photo ID to check-in or not set the scene for an unpleasant experience).

If you do choose to risk a stay here, note also that while the hotel does have some rooms with lovely views over the inner harbor, it also has many rooms that, ahem, do not have such a view, and if you don't pay extra for a harbor view room, you can expect a much less interesting 'back of the building' type view looking out instead into the industrial back side of that part of Victoria.  Note also that parking is underneath the hotel and costs an extra C$15/night (late 2008 pricing).

Worldmark/Trendwest Resort

If you belong to the Worldmark/Trendwest timeshare program, you'll be pleased to know there's a good property in Victoria, at 120 Kingston Street, overlooking the Fisherman's Wharf and Inner Harbor.

Units have two or three bedrooms and all the usual facilities, including small decks with barbeque and, in some cases, hot tubs too.

Where to Eat and Drink in Victoria

Victoria is well endowed with a wide range of eateries and drinkeries, and you are sure to find plenty of sustenance in a variety of different cuisines and styles.

Pubs and Micro-Breweries

Victoria has some English style pubs that are very popular with the locals.  These often attract a fairly young crowd, with many seeming to be students at the local universities.  But older people (such as me!) are also welcome and can enjoy themselves just as much.

One of our favorite pubs is the Garrick's Head, located just off Government Street on the lane leading to Bastion Square.  This is finished to a fairly spartan standard (bare wood floor), and has some tables outside as well as inside.  They have an excellent range of local microbrew beer on tap (which is probably what makes it one of my favorites), and provide inexpensive and inoffensive bar snacks and meals.  An open fire for much of the year adds a bit of character to the place, as do some of the locals, often including an interesting person or two that may engage you in (slightly drunken!) conversation.

Just on the other side of the lane from the Garrick's Head is the Irish Times pub.  This is more upmarket than the Garrick's Head, and offers live music as well as a better range of food.  Perhaps spend some time at both.

There are a number of very good microbreweries in Victoria too.  It isn't just your imagination telling you that beer brewed on the premises often tastes better than bottled or draft beer shipped in from somewhere else.  Typically a locally brewed beer remains 'live' (it continues to develop while being stored) because - unlike most other beers that are shipped in - it has not been pasteurized.  The pasteurization makes a beer more temperature stable and gives it a longer life, but definitely kills some of its defining character as well.

Two of our favorite microbreweries are Swan's Microbrewery and, a little further out of the central downtown (ie too far to walk) Spinnakers, which is Canada's oldest brewpub.

Breakfast

Most people simply eat breakfast at their hotel, but when in Victoria you might want to consider visiting De Dutch Pannekoek House for a distinctive range of allegedly Dutch style pancakes.

Whether they are of Dutch origin or not, their filled pancakes are wonderful and well worth the visit.  There are two locations in Victoria, with the one at 642 Johnston St being most central.  There's no need to book, and casual dress is of course completely fine.  Open 7am - 3pm Mon - Fri, and 7.30am - 3pm Saturday and Sunday.  (250)382-9118.

Afternoon Tea

As mentioned above, afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel is a bit of a tradition for some people.

But if you don't want quite as expensive an afternoon tea, you could go to Murchies, on Government Street, almost next to the Bedford Regency and Munro's Books.  This place offers a wide range of lovely pastries and cakes, plus a huge variety of leaf teas (and coffees), available both in bulk in their adjacent retail shop and to drink in their tea rooms.  Murchies has six locations in BC, although only one in Victoria.

Lunch and Dinner

As befits a place with tourism as a major factor, Victoria is brimming with excellent restaurants.  Here are a few of our personal favorites, and apologies to any of the other excellent restaurants we've omitted to mention.

Generally, you should consider reserving a table at any of these restaurants, but it is probably not always essential, especially Sunday - Thursday.  And so, in no particular order :

Periklis :  Alas, in January 2009 this restaurant was sold after 30 years of being owned/operated by the same owner/manager.  Currently there's no other Greek restaurant to replace it, and no alternate restaurant going into the vacant space.

Rathskeller :  A German restaurant, with German decor inside and serving German food and drink.  This is an atmospheric family restaurant that seems to have been there for a long time.  Live German music on Fridays and Saturdays.   Open for lunch Mon-Sat and for dinner Mon - Sun.  The Rathskeller is on the corner of Quadra and View, a couple of blocks out from the core of the downtown area, but still an easy walk from most places.  (250)386-9348

Bard and Banker :  A relatively new establishment (opened in mid 2008) at 1022 Government St, and is something of a hybrid, combining elements of an English style pub and a sit down restaurant.  It is set in the beautifully restored main banking chamber of what was the Bank of Commerce between 1885-1987, more recently it was a Christmas gifts shop, and now is the Bard and Banker.  Food is moderately priced (main courses C$15-20 in late 2008) and good quality, with some archetypal English style foods such as Bangers and Mash, meat pies, fish & chips, bubble and squeak, and even Yorkshire Puddings, as well as more exotic items such as venison.

A wide range of excellent beers and a full bar for wine, spirits and cocktails round out the food and drink offerings, all being provided by friendly and knowledgeable waiters and waitresses.  Live evening entertainment is provided every night, and on the night visited was a wonderfully unobtrusive jazz trio that added to the ambience without making conversation impossible.  All in all, an excellent experience and recommended.  (250)953-9993.

Topos Ristorante :  A local tells me he considers they have the best calamari and bruschetta on the planet.  Be that as it may, this restaurant is now in a new location, and have an excellent range of home made Italian cuisine, with an attentive owner (Marten Brown) never far away.  Dinner seven nights a week.  1812 Wharf St, (250)383-1212.

Cafe Brio :  This multiple award winning restaurant specializes in fresh and organic produce from nearby suppliers on Vancouver Island, and the menu changes seasonally.  It has an early dinner special - a three course dinner for $28 if you're seated by 6.15pm, and is open for dinner seven nights a week.  Cafe Brio is located at 944 Fort St (between Quadra and Vancouver Sts), a short walk from central downtown.  (250)383-0009.

The Gatsby Mansion Inn and Restaurant :  This restaurant is situated in a characterful 1897 mansion, just a couple of doors down from the Hotel Grand Pacific.  The interior has been carefully restored, and gives a feeling for the elegance and opulence of its heyday in the late Victorian era.  The food - what they style 'west coast fusion' - is as impressive as the surroundings, and the service matches the high quality of the food presented.  Lunch, Sunday brunch, and dinner.  The Gatsby Restaurant is located at 309 Belleville St.  (250)388-9191.

Wild Saffron Bistro :  When you walk into some restaurants, there's no olfactory sensation at all.  When you walk into the small room that is the Wild Saffron Bistro, your sense of smell is immediately assailed by numerous very strong essences coming from the strongly flavored meals being prepared in the kitchen which is open adjacent to the dining room.  And if you have your back to the kitchen and can't see the chefs at work, don't despair.  Big screen televisions show people facing in the opposite direction what is happening in the kitchen, too.  Obviously a restaurant that takes pride in its food, and their pride is justified.  Bizarrely, this excellent restaurant is part of the Swan's Brew Pub and Hotel.  Open Tues - Sun for dinners.  Wild Saffron is located at 506 Pandora Ave.  (250)361-3310.

Fisherman's WharfBarb's Place on Fisherman's Wharf is open seasonally for fish and chips; several other stores along the wharf also provide seafood (and ice cream) and this can be a nice way to spend an afternoon.

Palmers :  English style food, moderately disappointing, and not within walking distance of downtown.  Not worth a taxi ride or the hassle of driving there yourself.

Read more in Parts 1 and 3

Part One provides an introduction to Victoria and information on how to get there.  Part three suggests things to see and do during your stay.


 

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Originally published 20 Apr 2007, last update 19 Dec 2013

 
 
 
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