When Britain’s young Royals unpack their suitcases inside Victoria’s grand Government House, they’ll have a jam-packed multiday roster of British Columbia and Yukon engagements ahead of them
But if the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and their toddlers – could sidestep the shackles of protocol and don incognito disguises (fleece is recommended), they might be able to really discover a city Travel + Leisure readers recently deemed one of the best in Canada.
The trick, though, is to know where to go. I was a two-time university student in Victoria, lived in the city for several years and continue to visit frequently so I have more than a few suggestions for where my fellow Brits should hang out while they’re here.
First up, they’ll need to entertain young George and Charlotte. My favourite family-friendly attractions here are under-the-radar gems. With its chatty show-and-tell vibe, Victoria Bug Zoo is a compound-eye-popping fusion of enthusiastic experts and live creepy crawlies – including mesmerizing leafcutter ants (complete with their own queen).
Miniature World is just a few steps away. This immaculate old-school attraction recalls the innocent time before we needed escape rooms and Pokemon Go to entertain ourselves. It’s lined with hundreds of intricate models and diminutive dioramas, and the royal couple should make sure to assess the accuracy of its detailed Buckingham Palace replica.
Hopping on a whale-watching boat tour is also de rigueur for Victoria vacationers – presumably Wills and Kate would favour the aptly named Prince of Whales operator – but when it comes time to eat, there’s much more than endless tiers of dainty cucumber sandwiches to keep regal visitors well-fuelled.
Royal or not, fish and chip-loving Brits need to arrive off-peak to avoid queuing at Red Fish Blue Fish, the wildly popular freight container seafood servery near the waterfront foot of Broughton Street. But if it’s raining, try Fishhook on Fort Street for steaming bowls of coconut-infused chowder plus the kind of hearty, open-faced tartine sandwiches even a caviar-loving aristocrat would fall for.
When sweet treats are required, Fort Street is also the home of the irresistible Crust Bakery. It’s well worth dispatching a bodyguard to collect a mid-morning order of salted caramel doughnuts here. Alternatively, and just a few steps away, local legend the Dutch Bakery makes the kind of dinosaur-shaped and sprinkle-topped chocolates a three-year-old like George (and a 47-year-old like me) always love.
Afternoon tea? The Royal Family could probably teach most North Americans how to make the perfect cuppa – offers of Red Rose should always be met with a swift head-chopping, for example. But while Victoria is well-steeped in traditional tea-serving spots, there’s also a delicious fully vegetarian approach at Chinatown’s elegant Venus Sophia tearoom (don’t miss their amazing lavender vanilla scones).
From here, the royal couple could nip around the corner to Government Street’s Silk Road Tea for some packaged concoctions to take home – their Imperial Earl Grey Black Tea seems appropriate. Souvenirs, of course, are tricky for family members that have been gifted everything over the years. But while the Queen has likely received more than her fair share of diamond-encrusted beaver sculptures from Canada, there are several lesser-expected prezzies the Duke and Duchess could buy in Victoria.
Lower Johnson Street’s quirky Regional Assembly of Text offers the chance to make your own message buttons – I’d suggest “Let’s party like Henry VIII” for Prince Harry. Kate could also pick-up a cool made-in-B.C. Smoking Lily dress for sister Pippa Middleton from the nearby Milkman’s Daughter boutique.
The older Royal Family members are even harder to buy for – Prince Charles is unlikely to thank them for a neon-hued “I Heart Victoria” T-shirt. Instead, they should drop by the Robert Bateman Centre’s gift shop and snag a handsome print by one of Canada’s foremost nature artists. And how about the Queen? An indulgent box of Victoria Creams from Government Street’s Rogers’ Chocolates might hit the spot – rum variety recommended.
By this stage, our fleece-clad undercover Royals will have been on their feet for hours. Among Victoria’s best restaurants, a restorative farm-to-table dinner at OLO is recommended. But if they’re craving a hearty breakfast the next morning, they’ll just have to queue with the plebs at the ever-popular Jam Cafe: reservations are not accepted, no matter who you are.
But the secret to a great royal visit – and something Wills and Kate will likely be daydreaming about during their endless itinerary of dignitary meetings – would be the chance to sidestep their eagle-eyed minders and sneak off for a big Victoria night out.
An inventive cocktail or three at Little Jumbo would kick off the evening splendidly. But since this is a craft beer capital, the pair should also grab a pint at the Drake on Pandora Avenue. This downtown tavern pours local brews from Hoyne, Phillips and Driftwood breweries among others. I’d suggest Phillips’ Blue Buck for William and, if available, Belle Royale from Driftwood for Kate. Hopefully, they won’t drink too much and cause an international incident.