Victoria’s Inner Harbor is a fun, bustling place to be.
Small houseboats and big, fancy hotels line the harbor, backdropped by the striking Baroque revival Parliamentary buildings. Street strollers gather to watch mime artists or listen to bagpipers. The harbor itself, small as it is, hosts fishing boats, foot taxis and big ferry boats as they go to and fro all day long. Paddlers in colorful kayaks skirt along the shore. Float planes drop in to unload passengers. Even the occasional harbor seal bobs up out of the water for a bit of people-watching.
I could spend hours just nursing a cup of coffee here. Indeed, I have.
There’s a traveler’s myth about the Inner Harbor. It’s that when you go to Victoria you have to stay right in the Inner Harbor. At the Fairmont Empress, to be more precise. That’s the drop-dead gorgeous ivy-swathed hotel that’s on all the Victoria postcards. Room rates start around $225 a night.
Go ahead, stay there if you can afford it. Indulge in their world-famous $58 per-person afternoon tea and crumpets, too.
But you don’t have to. Within walking distance to the Inner Harbor are dozens of other great lodging choices, many under $150 a night.
On our last trip to Victoria, we found one.
The Hotel Rialto is in a restored heritage building on Pandora and Douglas, about six blocks from the bustling Inner Harbor. It’s set on the edge of Old Town, right near Victoria’s Chinatown, and across the street from Victoria’s City Hall and Centennial Square. So, while it’s not in the heart of the Inner Harbor, it’s really close. And, we found that when staying here we spent more time browsing the awesome boutiques and shops of Old Town and strolling the streets and markets of Chinatown. (Dim sum for breakfast!)
It’s a boutique hotel and has plenty of luxury finishes, from fluffy robes to down comforters. WiFi is refreshingly free, as it should be in my opinion. Bucking the trend of restored boutique hotels, the Rialto’s decor is less modern than your average boutique hotel, the furnishings more traditional with Italian and Chinese influences, and all extremely nice. Yet the room rates are not luxury at all – a basic Queen room is around $100 US, and their King or Queen suites, while up to $150-$180, are absolutely huge with a full kitchenette, living room, dining area, and spacious separate bedroom. They also offer steep discounts for military, CAA/AAA, and students seniors (and seniors here are 55+).
Off the lobby are two restaurants – a tapas / cocktail bar called Veneto which is pretty swank and totally delicious, and Cafe Breve, which serves up espresso drinks and french pastries. We tried both twice because our room came with vouchers for both for each night we stayed–free pastries with coffee drinks at the cafe and a free appetizer at the tapas place. This little add-on just made me happy.
The service was very attentive, and feels small businessy. In other words, I knew I was not in a chain hotel. This is not a knock at all. The manager and front desk woman knew our names, and we knew theirs. They checked in with us when we came in to ask how we liked our room, and they asked if we needed directions or suggestions on things to do in Victoria.
Free wifi, free pastries, free flatbread, great service, all with a nice-priced room that is gorgeous = great value in the heart of Victoria. We’ll be back.
Hotel Rialto, $89 – $210 a night CAN (varies by season). 1.800.332.9981 or hotelrialto.ca