The beautiful Empress Hotel is a landmark on British Columbia’s Victoria Island that has attracted stylish travelers for close to a century. Many of today’s grandparents (and their parents, as well) stayed in this legendary Canadian establishment in their youth; today’s travelers will find that the hotel has updated their services and amenities while maintaining their original old world glamour and charm.
Any visitor who’s pulled into Victoria harbor by ferryboat knows the Empress: it’s been the grand dame of the skyline since 1908. Its massive peaked roof and majestic facade dominate the view from a tremendous distance.
Completely restored to its English colonial Victorian splendor, its most famous room is the ornate Tea Lobby, where guests enjoy Afternoon Tea accompanied by scones with shantilly cream, tiny tea sandwiches, fresh seasonal berries, and pastries. Children are encouraged to join their parents and grandparents for tea, as part of the Prince & Princess Tea option.
If you’re not pinching pennies, opt for one of the hotel’s two-bedroom suites where grandparents can have their own bedroom, and the family another, with a spacious and elegantly-appointed sitting room in between. When the weather’s gray, head to a glass-enclosed pavilion that houses the heated indoor pool, children’s wading pool, and a jacuzzi.
Victoria is famous for world-class Butchart Gardens, 55 acres of verdant fragrant beauty that can be visited by bus from the hotel.
Bicycling around the island is a popular pastime for sporty families, while those with younger children should stop in at Miniature World (250/385-9731) and its tiny tableaux, right next door to the hotel.
All ages should spend an afternoon at the Royal British Columbia Museum (250/356-7226), a short walk from the Empress, which houses a world-renowned collection of Native totem poles and innovative Native American exhibits. Plenty of shopping opportunities, including a street full of antique furniture, books, and maps, surround the hotel.
Trip Planning Details for a Victoria Island Getaway
The Fairmont Empress Hotel on Victoria Island (866/540-4429 721 or 250/384-8111) is located at 721 Government Street in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V8W1W5. With prices ranging from $$$ – $$$$ in the summer high season, it may not be in your family vacation budget. But do go see it. You can watch whales spouting right across the street from the hotel’s entrance, pause for a tour of the premises (the staff is friendly and welcoming) and, if you’re hungry, we’ve heard the Bengal Lounge’s curry buffet lunch is a must.
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