At Christmastime, a stroll around The Butchart Gardens can feel like you’re floating through the glowing, twinkling stars of the Milky Way.
We all know friends and family can cause a bit of holiday stress each year. And while a bright idea may be to get out of the house for some fresh air, an even “brighter” idea is to head down to Pier 69 in Seattle and hop aboard the newer, bigger, better Victoria Clipper for a fun and easy cruise over to Victoria, B.C. to visit The Butchart Gardens.
At Christmastime, a stroll around The Butchart Gardens can feel like you’re floating through the glowing, twinkling stars of the Milky Way. With more than 300,000 lights on display each holiday season, The Gardens puts on quite the show. It’s hard not be as giddy as a kid as you stroll through a wonderland of lights splashed in a rainbow of colors.
Delight in wintertime fun
The first thing you’ll notice in The Gardens during the holidays is the glistening surface of the 5,000 square-foot open-air ice rink. Christmas music fills the air as you lace up a pair of skates (you can either rent a pair or bring your own). After enjoying a good skate, head to the Coffee Shop for hot chocolate and a house-made gingerbread or shortbread cookie and find a spot to cuddle up next to the fireplace.
Not feeling the rink? Make a trip over to the Children’s Pavilion to take a spin on the only carousel on Vancouver Island, the Rose Carousel. Kids scramble through the menagerie of thirty hand-carved and brightly painted animals, including zebras, camels, lions, bears, ostriches and orcas before hopping on for a ride. An insider tip: if you stop by The Gardens to catch the Light-Up Ceremony at the Rose Carousel Dec. 1, carousel rides are free all day.
Wander through a colorful palette of dazzling lights
Hit the gardens at precisely the right time (about 4 p.m.), and catch the magical transition from day to night. The sun dips below the horizon in a flaming ball of brilliant yellow and orange. Then, one by one, the lights click on, slowly filling the grounds with an illuminating glow.
It’s hard to know where to look first, as the display stretches out before you. Colored lights take over the usual garden displays, showcasing different features, but still allowing a good sense of the garden beds, even in the darkness. Strands of glistening fairy lights create flowing sapphire rivers and waterfalls as well as outline paths and arches. Trees, shrubs and plants get their own special treatment and are wrapped in lights or spotlighted in an array of vibrant hues by uplights.
Signs direct visitors to the start of a self-guided tour, which winds through the different themed gardens. Use the “Magic of Christmas Walk” checklist from the Visitor’s Center as a guide and make a game out of your trek through the sparkling grounds. See if you can spot all the enchanting “12 days of Christmas” displays. Each display in The Gardens is designed from a verse in the song. A little hint: don’t just focus on the lights.
Buchart’s arts department has taken weeks to dream up their own imaginative takes on each day, using everything from model birds to mannequins. That flock of trendy-looking hens sipping café au lait in front of the Eiffel Tower? The French hens. The random group of birds clutching tiny phones in their claws and beaks? Calling birds. If you’re lucky enough to find them all, the kiddos (12 years or younger) will be rewarded with a special gift from the Visitor Center.
Enjoy a feast of festive sips and eats
After a couple of hours of exploring The Gardens, there’s a good chance your feet could use a little rest. Make your way up the path toward the Piazza, where you may hear the sound of classic Christmas carols. Stop and listen to the sweet sounds of the carolers or stick around to hear the toe-tapping tunes of the festive brass band (the two groups alternate every half-hour from 5-9 p.m.).
From the Piazza, head inside the cozy, former Butchart residence (now the Dining Room restaurant) to warm up and enjoy a delicious dinner. Butchart’s exceptional culinary team works months in advance to carefully craft and test the holiday menus. Wintertime favorites include the wild B.C. salmon fillet and the carved beef tenderloin, which are each served with a side of fresh, locally sourced seasonal vegetables.
When it comes time for dessert, there’s decadent, baked Alaska or smoked-chocolate cake. Kids get their own special menu, which is filled with pictures for little Picassos or Monets to creatively color. If you arrive earlier in the day, cozy up with the special seasonal afternoon tea. Be sure to make reservations, as this tea is very popular. Munch on holiday-themed tea treats such as a rotisserie chicken salad and fig chutney, sausage roll with cranberry mustard and truffled egg salad. Desserts also receive a festive kick with cranberry spice cake trifle, gingerbread meringue with white chocolate ganache and eggnog flan. There is also a seasonal menu for little ones, with tasty treats such as strawberry Nutella French toast pinwheels and chocolate-dipped shortbread.
When it comes time to leave The Gardens, you can’t help but turn around and take one last look to capture a mental snapshot of the brilliant displays. It is hard to do The Gardens justice in single evening. This is a family-friendly holiday adventure that could easily become an annual tradition.
Butchart Gardens Holiday Lights run Dec. 1-Jan. 6. Book your Clipper Vacations Butchart Lights Holiday Lights Tour including Victoria Clipper round trip cruise, hotel and Gardens tour.