The holidays are one of the most popular times of the year to visit Vancouver Island, whether it be to spend the holidays with family or simply reconnect with nature. From big cities to small towns, communities come alive with festivities and dazzling light displays. If you’re visiting Vancouver Island this month, here are a few ways to make the absolute best of the season with your family.
The quaint town of Sidney is located just a half-hour from downtown Victoria on the Saanich Peninsula. Sidney is the Island’s gateway, close to BC Ferries’ Swartz Bay terminal, home of the Washington State Ferries’ terminal, and just down the road from the Victoria International Airport. A common hub for coming and going, Sidney is well worth a stop, especially during the holidays.
Bring the whole family to Sidney this holiday season for an evening of fun and festivities. Stroll through the charming main streets, discovering the carefully hand-painted scenes on store windows and cheerful lights strung high above. Carolers can be heard filling the streets with classic holiday melodies, and businesses are buzzing with activity. We recommend grabbing a coffee or hot apple cider and wandering down to the Mary Winspear Centre to view the Festival of Trees, and checking out the unique display of holiday-themed teddy bears at the Sidney Museum. Visit the Sidney BIA website to learn more about all of the upcoming events this month.
Christmas is the fifth season at Butchart Gardens! While the gardens are one of the most sought-after attractions on the Island during the summer, brilliant blooms are replaced with thousands of lights, bringing the Magic of Christmas to life during the holiday season. Take your loved ones and skate beneath a canopy of twinkling lights, sing along with the carolers to your favourite Christmas classics, and stroll through the impressive Twelve Days of Christmas display with a hot chocolate.
The Magic of Christmas display is open from December 1 to January 6, from 9 am to 9 pm each day (1 pm – 9 pm on Christmas Day). For more information about rates and dining, visit the Butchart Gardens website.
For those living in Central Vancouver Island, the Ladysmith Festival of Lights is the area’s annual kick-off to the Christmas season. The town is known for its charming, old-town atmosphere, but once December comes, it transforms into a dazzling spectacle found throughout each neighbourhood, not just 1st Ave. Feeling inspired by a sense of camaraderie, residents harness their inner Chevy Chase in an attempt to outshine their neighbours. Load up the car, grab some hot cocoa, and be sure to include a drive-by or walking tour of Ladysmith with your family.
Holiday Travel Tips
The holidays are one of the busiest times of the year to visit the Island. If you’re coming from the mainland, be sure to plan your travels well in advance to avoid waiting at terminals.
If you’re pressed for time or don’t need a vehicle, flying can certainly be a great (and exciting) option. There are several operators that fly from Vancouver International Airport and downtown Vancouver directly into downtown Victoria and Nanaimo, but bear in mind that weather can sometimes cause flights to be delayed or cancelled, so it never hurts to have a backup plan.
If you’re taking a ferry, it’s strongly recommended to make a reservation to avoid sailing waits. Reservations are limited, so it’s best to book as well in advance as you can. If you can’t plan ahead (or simply prefer to wing-it), then you may want to try and show up for the first or second sailing of the day, or the very last one (although this latter suggestion is certainly more of a gamble).
Lastly, if you’re driving on the Island, be sure your vehicle is outfitted with good snow-rated tires. Despite our warm, coastal climate, the area typically receives a few snow days a year, and lately, those days have coincided with the week of Christmas.