If a trip over the border has been on your mind lately, the holidays are the perfect time to go for it. Victoria’s Inner Harbor is full of festivities that will make the winter holidays with your mini me extra special. From dazzling light displays, to memorable museum moments and brunch with Santa himself, we’ve tracked down everything you need to see and do during a Victoria weekend getaway!

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photo: Brian Burger via flickr

A Different Way to Play
Strolling around the Inner Bay is the easiest way to get in the holiday spirit. Lights abound at The Parliament Building and The Fairmount Empress, both of which are lit up for all to see starting at dusk nightly during the month of December. The harbor boats are on board too, with their own nightly light show that starts at 4 p.m. and runs from the day after Thanksgiving through Dec. 30. Enjoy these sparkly sights with your sidekick from a horse drawn carriage. You’ll find them clip clopping down the main stretch, and they make a memorable family adventure, as your fam goes from one Christmas attraction to the next.

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photo: The Butchart Gardens Facebook page

A Glorious Holiday Garden
If Christmas lights are your thing, a trip to Butchart needs to top your Victoria holiday to-do list. The beauty of the garden’s summer blossoms are definitely rivaled by their family-friendly Magic of Christmas light display that runs from Dec. 1, 2016- Jan. 6, 2017. Each of the gardens on the 55-acre property is ablaze with colorful lights that sparkle and shine during dark winter nights. And while your kiddos marvel at this magical experience, they can also be on the lookout for each of the 12 Days of Christmas, hidden along the stroller-friendly trails. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you find the partridge in a pear tree right out of the chute, and that your lighted walk is coming to an end when you finally spot the twelve drummer’s drumming on your way out.

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photo: The Butchart Gardens Facebook page

Carolers and musicians set up outside the Blue Poppy Restaurant to entertain visitors throughout the day and into the evening. While you listen, your sidekick can watch the electric train make its way ’round and ’round the track and pose for a pic or two in the main plaza. And the smell of hot cocoa and other Christmas-themed treats make ducking into the coffee shop or restaurant even more inviting on cold winter nights. Remember to bundle up and dress for the weather on this nighttime adventure!

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photo: The Butchart Gardens Facebook page

While the nighttime lights are the big draw at Butchart, we suggest coming earlier in the day to take advantage of the outdoor skating rink with your little adventurer. No need to bring skates from home; they rent them at the outdoor rink for $3 a pair, and the price for skating is just as cheap. Plan to spend $5 for adults and $3 for kids 12 & under. Skate in the late afternoon, then grab some grub for an early dinner before heading out at dusk to check out the lights. This visit can definitely take up a chunk of your weekend, in a good way.

Good to Know: Booking your trip to Butchart through Clipper Vacations makes this journey super easy. Hop on the bus outside the Empress and get dropped off near your hotel on the way back. Just remember to pack a few kid distractions for your crew to fill wait times and travel times on the bus.

Trees with All the Trimmings
Another local holiday favorite is Victoria’s Festival of Trees that benefits the B.C. Children’s Hospital. 2016 marks the 25th year these expertly decorated trees have been on display at The Bay Centre and at the Fairmont Empress. The trees will make their seasonal debut on Nov. 16 and will be on display through Jan 5, 2017 at the two locations. Your sidekick will love touring these beauties because it’s a chance to gawk at more than 75 Christmas trees with inventive themes like Afternoon Tea, Teddy Bears and even Minions. And you’ll love it because it’s one tree you didn’t have to decorate, but get to enjoy anyway! Don’t forget to get in on the scavenger hunt for Sunny the Bear while you’re admiring the trees at The Bay Centre. Your little sleuth will get a kick using clues to track him down and it makes for a good distraction if his interest in the trees starts to wander.

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photo: BC Children’s Hospital Festival of Trees Facebook page

A Royal (Museum) Christmas
No trip to Victoria is complete without a visit to the Royal B.C. Museum. And while the current exhibit Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age is sure to be spectacular, it’s the festively decorated Old Town that looks like it walked off a page from A Christmas Carol, that will capture your mini’s imagination. Adding to the magic are pictures with Santa, scheduled for Dec. 2-4, 9-11 and 16-18, 2016 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on each of those days. Expect to wait for a short time before you get to see him, but know he’ll have enough time to hear Christmas wishes whispered in his ear and take a great photo with your kidlet.

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photo: Royal BC Museum Facebook page

The Helmcken House is another Christmas pit stop to make at the museum. On Dec. 17-31, 2016 from noon until 4 p.m. each day, the oldest house in B.C. (found just outside the museum) is kicking it old school with their Christmas display. Expect decorations, music and accounts of the ghosts of Christmas past when they turn back the clock to show what a traditional Christmas celebration in Victoria looked like 100 years ago.

Good to Know: Both of these attractions are included with your museum admission. $24/ Adults; $17/Kids (6-18); ages 3-5 Free.

Savor Sweet Decorations
Similar to the JDRF’s tantalizing gingerbread creations displayed at the downtown Sheraton is Canada’s own National Gingerbread Showcase. This year’s event will be hosted by the Inn and Laurel Point from Nov. 19, 2016-Jan. 2, 2017, and the creations promise to be just as tasty as they’ve been in year’s past. Working with the Around the World theme, professional and amateur bakers will be competing to win the title. Stop by any time between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. to take a gander at these totally tempting creations. Fair warning though, you might want to have an extra candy cane on hand for your sidekick because these are pretty tempting. Yum!

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photo: Habitat for Humanity Victoria B.C. Facebook page

A Beary Holiday Event
Bring your teddy bear loving tribe to Bear Wear (benefiting Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island) at the Hotel Grand Pacific, from Nov. 28, 2016- Jan. 2, 2017. Now in its 16th year, this event features cute and cuddly bears dressed to the nines and engaged in all kinds of silly activities (think rock climbing, gardening and even dancing the Nutcracker ballet). Feel free to wander through and enjoy the bears any time or pair your visit with one of two special events that pack an extra special kid kick. On Dec. 11 at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., Santa will be there to read stories to his adoring fans. And on Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m., 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., join the Alumni Company and Canadian College of Performing Arts as they sing all your holiday faves.

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photo: Blake Handley via flickr

Special Holiday Eats
Saint Nick is planning to stop by the Terrace Ballroom at the Inn at Laurel Point for some QT with the cuties on Dec. 4, 11, & 18, 2016. Sign up for a seating anytime between 11 a.m.–2 p.m. and then dine on some delish eats before breaking out your list to share with the big guy in red. The kiddos will have their own special brunch buffet to choose from ($45/Adults, $22/Kids (6-11), under 5 eat Free) as well as a space to watch Christmas movies while everyone else is finishing up. Make reservations online soon if this is on your list, as seating times fill up fast for this popular event.

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photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Another noteworthy event is the special seasonal Afternoon Tea for kids (ages 5-12) at The Butchart Gardens ($19.95 per person). It’s one of those when in Rome experiences that you’ve gotta try at least once, and it’s a great add on to your family’s Butchart plan. Sandwiches and sweets with total kid appeal will be served alongside traditional English tea, and reservations can be made between noon and 4 p.m., from Dec. 1, 2016-Jan. 6, 2017.

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photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Sleep Tight
There are a ton of great hotels that line the Inner Harbor and Fisherman’s Wharf. But we’re suckers for the ones that cater to our cuties and make life a little easier when we’re traveling with them. The Inn at Laurel Point is a good place to start, especially since they have so many holiday-specific happenings going on right in the hotel. This is where you’ll find the gingerbread houses, sure, but they also have an indoor pool, a scavenger hunt just for kids, and the solid kid’s menu at AURA means you can head back to home base at meal and nap times without missing out on Victoria’s scrumptious cuisine. The Hotel Grand Pacific is another kid cater-ific hotel that makes travel easy. Check out any number of board games or puzzles to play during down time in your room, or take the kids for a dip in the made-for-them pool. They also make snacking super easy with personal choices in the mini-fridge so you relax when you’re packing.

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photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Rooms with a view at The Delta Hotel Ocean Pointe Resort are extra special in winter. You can admire the lights across the bay after the nightly milk and cookie story time with your kidlet in the hotel lobby. Or pull up a seat at LURE Restaurant for a harbor side lunch you know your kiddo will eat. The kid’s menu is simple and has tons of tasty, traditional options. Finally, the Fairmount Empress  is always a sure bet at the holidays, with Christmas trees adoring the lobby and hallways, a splashy swimming pool and a scavenger hunt to boot. Now that’s what we call a good night!

Do you think you’ll plan a weekend getaway to Victoria this winter? Which one of these activities will you try? Tell us in the Comments below.

— Allison Sutcliffe