Fairmont Empress Hotel: A Regal Retreat in Victoria, BC


Situated on the picturesque shores of Victoria's Inner Harbour, The Fairmont Empress stands as an iconic symbol of luxury and history. This historic hotel, often referred to simply as "The Empress," has been a cornerstone of Victoria's hospitality scene for over a century. 

History of The Fairmont Empress Hotel

The story of The Fairmont Empress begins in the late 19th century when Canadian Pacific Hotels sought to establish a grand hotel on Canada's west coast. The hotel was designed by architect Francis Rattenbury (who also designed the iconic British Columbia Parliament Buildings), whose vision was to create a landmark that would rival the finest hotels in Europe. The Empress officially opened its doors on January 20, 1908, and quickly became a magnet for royalty, celebrities and dignitaries visiting the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, The Fairmont Empress has undergone several renovations and enhancements to maintain its status as one of Canada's most revered hotels. There have been three major renovations over the decades. Notably, the hotel underwent a major restoration that preserved its Edwardian architecture while modernizing its amenities.  The most recent renovation included removal of ivy from the facade and the addition of the covered grand entrance. The Empress Hotel remains a significant presence on Victoria's waterfront and was recognized as a National Historic Site in January of 1981. It continues to embody its heritage while offering contemporary luxury to its guests, making it truly one of the best hotels in downtown Victoria.

Things to Do in the Area

Guests at the Empress enjoy what is arguably the best location in the city with the Royal BC Museum and Parliament buildings on one side, the inner harbour causeway directly across the street and the main downtown core on the other side. The hotel boasts an astounding 464 guest rooms and suites, many of which with magnificant harbour, city and garden views. And of course, the highlight for many guests is Afternoon Tea at the Empress. It's a tradition that is enjoyed by more than 400 guests daily and dates back to the hotel's opening. An unforgettable experience not to be missed! Read more about Tea at the Empress.

The prime location of the Empress offers guests easy access to a wealth of attractions and activities:

1. Inner Harbour: The hotel overlooks Victoria's bustling Inner Harbour, where visitors can enjoy leisurely strolls along the waterfront, take scenic boat tours, or simply admire the views of the Parliament Buildings and the iconic Empress Hotel itself. 

2. Royal BC Museum: A short walk from The Empress, the Royal BC Museum showcases British Columbia's rich natural and human history through engaging exhibits and displays.

3. The Butchart Gardens: Board a bus directly in front of the Empress and be whisked away to Butchart Gardens where you'll enjoy a stunning display of floral beauty across 55 acres of meticulously landscaped grounds.

4. Whale Watching Tours: Victoria is renowned for its whale watching opportunities, with various operators offering excursions to spot orcas, humpback whales and other marine wildlife.

5. Downtown Victoria: The hotel's central location means guests are within walking distance of Victoria's vibrant shopping districts, restaurants and cultural attractions.

Basket of hanging flowers with Empress hotel in background

Amenities at The Fairmont Empress

The Fairmont Empress offers a comprehensive array of amenities designed to ensure a comfortable and memorable stay for its guests:

1. Dining: The hotel boasts modern and sophisticated dining options showcasing the best of British Columbia's farmers and artisans. They utilize locally sourced and seasonal ingredients that are fresh and abundant in the Pacific Northwest. And of course don't miss the elegant afternoon tea service, a quintessential Empress experience. 

I have personally enjoyed several dining experiences at the Empress and there are simply no words to convey the impeccable service and exquisite cuisine. There is a reason the Empress will always be considered one of the best hotels in downtown Victoria. 

2. Willow Stream Spa: The hotel's spa offers a range of rejuvenating treatments, from massages to facials, providing a sanctuary of relaxation amidst the bustling city.

3. Health Club and Indoor Pool: Guests can stay active at the hotel's fitness centre or unwind in the indoor pool and whirlpool.

4. Meeting and Event Spaces: The Fairmont Empress features versatile venues for weddings, conferences, and special events, complete with personalized services and catering.

5. Concierge Services: The concierge team assists guests with arranging tours, transportation, and reservations, ensuring a seamless experience during their stay.

Other features of the hotel include:

  • Many rooms with water views
  • Pet-friendly; amenities include bed basket, food and water dishes, dry food, bottled water, treats, pet waste disposal bags, and litter boxes
  • 3 designated wheelchair accessible rooms
  • Elevators
  • Onsite parking ($35 nightly) with some availability for over-height, recreational vehicles or trailers
  • High-speed internet available in rooms for a fee (join the loyalty program to get it for free)
  • Onsite business centre
  • Onsite spa
  • Outdoor garden and picnic areas
  • Air conditioned rooms
  • Limited number of BMW bicycles available first come, first serve or rent from a local nearby vendor
  • Laundry services
  • Upgrade to Gold services to access a harbour-view terrace, complimetary breakfast and afternoon snacks
  • The hotel can provide you with a list of reputable and certified babysitting services to use during your stay


  • Check-in from 4:00pm; early check-in subject to availability and a fee
  • Check-out by 11:00 am; late check-out subject to availability and a fee
  • Minimum check-in age is 19
  • Rollaway/extra beds are not available
  • Cribs/infant beds are not available
  • Pet waiver form must be signed upon checking-in
  • Pets fee is $25 per night; 2 per room
  • No unattended pets to be left in the room
  • All pets to be leashed or carried through the lobby and public areas

Guest Comments

Overall guests at the Empress Hotel give the property a rating of excellent. They loved the historic ambiance and grand architectural features, cleanliness of the hotel, polite and professional staff, the well manicured gardens and the perks such as complimentary bicycles. Guests value the hotel's central location, highlighting its convenience for exploring Victoria's attractions on foot.

Guests found the rooms and the gym to be a bit small and some were disappointed to learn that parking and WiFi was not included in the room rate. Note: WiFi is free when you sign up for their loyalty program. 

The Empress Hotel in Victoria BC lit up for the holidays

Useful Information

For travelers considering a stay at The Fairmont Empress, here are some additional details:

1. Booking: Reservations can be made directly through the hotel's website or through various online travel agencies.

2. Transportation: The hotel is approximately a 30-minute drive from Victoria International Airport, with taxi and shuttle services readily available.

3. Special Packages: The Fairmont Empress often offers special packages, including spa retreats, romantic getaways and family-friendly options.

4. Sustainability Initiatives: The hotel is committed to sustainability practices, such as waste reduction and energy conservation, aligning with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts' global initiatives.

The Fairmont Empress is more than just a hotel; it's a destination steeped in history, elegance and unparalleled hospitality. From its storied past to its modern amenities and superb location, The Empress continues to enchant visitors seeking a luxurious retreat in Victoria, BC. 

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