Too busy to research guidebooks? With our "Do It in a Day" feature, you get a ready-made itinerary for a good day's visit to a popular Northwest...
Too busy to research guidebooks? With our “Do It in a Day” feature, you get a ready-made itinerary for a good day’s visit to a popular Northwest destination.
With the weak dollar and high air fares putting the cost of a trip to the real Great Britain out of reach these days, here’s a way to satisfy your appetite for tea and scones close to home.
No need for a car or a week’s vacation time. Spend the night if you can, but if not, do it in a day. Seventy miles across the “pond” — in our case, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca — a slice of Olde England awaits in the British Columbia capital of Victoria.
Getting there takes less than three hours on the passenger-only Victoria Clipper, the high-speed catamaran that travels three times daily in the summer between Pier 69 on the Seattle waterfront and Victoria’s Inner Harbour.
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Book the first sailing out and the last boat back and you’ll have about 7.5 hours to explore this walker-friendly town of waterfront paths, 19th-century buildings and museums, with plenty of places to stop for a spot of tea or a refreshing pint.
Here’s your plan:
7:30 a.m. — Wake-up call
Making the most of a day trip to Victoria means planning ahead to book seats on the earliest sailing. Security screening, customs and immigration checks mean you’ll need to arrive at Pier 69 by 6:30 a.m. for the 7:30 a.m. boat.
The Clipper is basic transportation with seats on either side and in the middle of a lower and upper decks. Going north, views are best from the upper right-hand side. Expect an experience more like riding in an airplane than a cruise ship, and you won’t be disappointed.
If you’re prone to seasickness, heed the deckhands’ warnings and invest in a 25-cent dose of Dramamine. The soda crackers and ginger candy are free, but at a cruising speed of 35 mph, this is mostly a smooth sail when the seas cooperate.
10:30 a.m. — Harbour tour
Your port of call is Victoria’s Inner Harbour, ringed by paved waterfront walkways and three landmarks: the Fairmont Empress Hotel, the Royal British Columbia Museum and the provincial Parliament Buildings.
More on these later. Now that you’ve got your sea legs, skip the bus tours and save Butchart Gardens for another time. Get back out on the water, this time aboard one of the bathtub-size green and white open-air Harbour Ferries (www.victoriaharbourferry.com).
Depending on your appetite, consider the Gorge Tour, a 50-minute cruise through the scenic Gorge waterway where high-priced condos have replaced former shipyards and petroleum tank farms. The tour goes as far as a waterfall near Gorge Park in Victoria’s Upper Harbour, then doubles back and makes a stop at Point Ellice House (www.pointellicehouse.ca), the 1860s home of the aristocratic O’Reilly family. Ask to be dropped off here for high tea ($23) on the lawn and a game of croquet.
Kids along? Take one of the ferries in the other direction for the Harbour Tour, a route that crisscrosses the Inner and Outer Harbour. Get off at Fisherman’s Wharf for British-style fish and chips, a salmon wrap or an order of poutines, Quebec-style fries with cheese curds and gravy. Grab a seat at one of the picnic tables near the houseboats and pretend you’re waterside on the Thames. Watch for seagulls and seaplanes.
1 p.m. — Chinatown
Hop back on the Harbour Ferry or walk along the Harbour Walkway, a scenic waterfront path, to Chinatown for a self-guided Forbidden City Walk (print out a copy at www.victoria.ca/visitors/wlkngt.shtml).
Victoria was Vancouver Island’s first European settlement, but it’s always been a cultural melting pot. Thousands of Chinese immigrants arrived here during the 19th-century gold rush.
The main street is Fisgard, lined these days mostly with restaurants and a few shops selling bamboo baskets and bubble tea. Stop at Silk Road Tea (www.silkroadtea.com) at the corner of Fisgard and Government Street for a sample of iced Darjeeling, then wander into Fan Tan Alley, where art galleries and music shops occupy storefronts that once housed opium and gambling dens.
2 p.m. — Strolling Government Way
With the U.S. dollar’s plunge against the euro and the Canadian dollar, bargains on Irish linens and Scottish wools have disappeared on Victoria’s main shopping street. Splurge instead on smaller pleasures. Browse the side streets for antiques and art, and duck into two classic shops: Rogers’ Chocolates, for more than 40 different chocolate treats priced under $10, and Murchie’s Tea & Coffee, for 12-bag boxes of English breakfast for $4.29.
Detour onto Bastion Square, where you’ll find good buys on jewelry and soapstone carvings by local artists. Pick up healthful picnic fixings or a snack for the boat at the outdoor “chefs” market on Thursday and Fridays when island chefs sell organic fruit and produce for local farmers.
3 p.m. — Celebrating at the Empress
Raise a glass to British Victoria’s ivy-covered Fairmont Empress Hotel, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. If the traditional afternoon tea isn’t in the budget ($54 per person), consider a rest stop in the elegant Bengal Lounge. Oriental rugs cover bare wood floors and ceiling fans spin overhead. Sink into a comfy leather chair and think back to the days when England’s Queen Victoria was the “Empress of India.” Splurge on a martini concocted with the special Victoria Gin, made with juniper berries and rose petals for the centennial ($18), or kick back with a glass of Lighthouse Race Rock ale ($6), each served with a silver bowl of peanuts.
4 p.m. — Culture stop
From the Empress, you’re within a two- or three-minute walk to either the Royal British Columbia Museum (www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca) or the Parliament Buildings. Depending on your time and interest, spend the next hour or so looking through the museum’s collection of Native Peoples art, or catch one of the free guided 30-minute tours of the provincial government buildings (www.leg.bc.ca). The 111-year-old buildings with their 33 copper domes were designed by the same architect who designed the Empress Hotel and the Vancouver Art Gallery.
5 p.m. — Dinner with a view
End your afternoon at Earth-friendly Red Fish Blue Fish (www.redfish-bluefish.com), a favorite local hangout serving ocean-caught salmon, tuna, oysters and scallops from a green and orange shipping container on the harbor. (Look for the pink Victoria Customs House and walk down the stairs to the water.)
Order the BBQ wild salmon sandwich and the curry chips or tempura pickles and relax on one of the barstools facing the harbor, knowing it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the Clipper dock for the 7 p.m. sailing.
Check-in starts at 6 p.m., so save some time to wander back along the Harbour Walkway and pick up a souvenir from one of the local painters, jewelry artists or wood carvers who set up here in the late afternoons.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or email@example.com