She’s one of the most prominent royal figures in British history, and among her many claim-to-fames is her role as our country’s first queen. Today, we’re one of the few countries in the world to mark her birthday with a public holiday on or around May 24.

And the timing for the first long weekend of the season couldn’t be better. Tourism-related business and attractions are opening up, and nature is putting on a show with new greenery and flowers. It’s also a good opportunity for a weekend getaway to beat the summer travel crowds and peak season costs.

And where better to celebrate the Victoria Day weekend than one of the two cities that bears the name of the honouree herself? Victoria, British Columbia is a city steeped in culture and history, and it’s ready to show off a little for the occasion. If you’re thinking of a trip to Western Canada’s oldest city, we’ve got some tips to get you started:

Victoria Day weekend highlights

Whether you’re after a day of heritage and tradition or an action-packed outing with the family, Victoria’s many holiday weekend events offer a little something for everyone:

- See the story of the Queen and her husband told through dance and music. The Canadian Pacific Ballet is putting on a special performance of Victoria and Albert . Tickets are available through the Royal & McPherson Theatres Society, and range $20 to $60.

- Catch a glimpse of what life was like for soldiers at the Fort Road Hill Historic Military Encampment. This event brings to life British Columbia’s military history — complete with re-enactments, period tents and uniforms and demonstrations of historic weapons.

- Take in some Scottish culture with the 148th Victoria Highland Games & Celtic Festival at Topaz Park. The weekend is packed with music, dance, games and competitions. Stop by the Single Malt Whisky Tasting School, and watch some Haggis Hurling competitions.

- For a taste of “Western” life, try the Luxton Pro Rodeo. Some of the highlights include the Rodeo Dance, saddle and bareback bronco riding, team roping and the Midway which has rides and games.

Of course, no trip would be complete without taking in the famous Victoria Day Parade. It’s the city’s largest parade event, and always a hit with spectators of all ages.

Things to do

Round out your itinerary with some local favourites:

- Indulge in a time-honoured English tradition with a luxurious Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel.

- Find out why Victoria is known as the “City of Gardens”. Visit renowned parks and local gardens like the Pacific Undersea Gardens, Milner Gardens & Woodlands, the Victoria Butterfly Gardens and renowned Butchart Gardens (to name a few).

- Go on a whale-watching tour. The waters around Victoria are home to many species of whales, including the playful orcas. (See Destinations for a whale of a time for more information).

- Enjoy the sites. Take a walking tour through the streets of the downtown area and enjoy the waterfront. The natural beauty of the area is complemented by Victorian-era architecture, including sites like Craigdarroch Castle, St. Ann’s Academy Chapel and the Parliament Buildings. Point Ellice House has a fine collection of Victorian-era items in this historic site, and you can enjoy a traditional high tea in its reconstructed Victorian gardens.

- Get around in style. Splurge on a horse-drawn carriage tour to see the city. Tours seat six people, and range in price between $50 and $240 depending on length. (See the Tally-Ho website for details).

- Dress up and have your picture taken. Don the garb of a Victorian lady, mounted policeman, frontier family or a host of other characters and have a souvenir photo taken. (Yes, they do pets too). See Tony’s Old Time Portrait Studio for details.

- Visit a museum. The city has a variety of interesting museums and galleries covering a wide variety of specializations including the Maritime Museum, Naval & Military Museum, the Royal London Wax Museum and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. If culture peaks your interest, check out The Royal BC Museum.

Save on accommodations

There’s still plenty of time to take advantage of spring deals. Many of the hotels and Bed & Breakfasts in the area offer two night packages until the middle of June. Watch for deals that have a little something extra to offer, like tickets to local attractions, transportation, spa treatments or meals. (See the Special Promotions page for current offers).

In addition to these offers there are other budget friendly choices too:

- There are many options for campers or RVs, including beach and lakeside resorts, provincial parks and even a First Nations Campground with interpretive centre. (Click here for a full list).

- The University of Victoria offers visitor housing during the summer months in one of the residence buildings. The Craigdarroch Guest House which double beds, private bathrooms and amenities such as cable TV, internet access and continental breakfast.

But if you don’t mind spending a night in a dormitory, you can find a room for as little as $45-$55 per night. Rooms have either one or two twin beds, and there’s a common room and shared bathroom on each floor. Cluster Housing Units — which have four bedrooms, two washrooms, a living room and kitchen area — are available for $150 per night — making it a great deal when split among friends. (See the University of Victoria’s Housing website for details).

- There are three hostels near the downtown area that offer private and double rooms in addition to dormitory-style accommodations. Prices range from $30 to $50 per person, per night. (Click here for locations and details).

- Rent an apartment, condo or cottage for less than the price of a hotel room. The space lets you save money by preparing some of your own meals, and you can share it with friends or family members. Watch for special rates until the end of June. (The tourist board website has a directory of vacation rental properties in the area listed here).

If you can’t make it for Victoria Day, don’t worry. Many of the spring deals last well into June, and some additional discounts can be found if you go during the week instead of on a weekend. There many interesting events and attractions to see throughout the year too.

And one last tip… Keep an eye on the weather! If you’re travelling this May you’ll want to know about the “Sunshine Guarantee”. If it rains more than 1.25 cm in one day during your weekend getaway the tourism board will pay you $500.

ON THE WEB

For more information about events, attractions and accommodations visit Tourism Victoria. While you’re there, browse or download the city map and Vacation Guide to find out what’s going on throughout the year.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Steve McBeath

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by:
Elizabeth Rogers