Whether you’ve come by ferry or airplane, Nanaimo is your gateway to a Central Vancouver Island adventure!
You’ll find all the amenities you’d expect in a mid-sized Canadian city, including accommodations that range from safe, affordable family motels to high-end luxury resorts.
And the setting is spectacular! The Harbour City, as Nanaimo is sometimes called, rises from the sparkling Strait of Georgia to forested inland mountains, offering a full range of activities with stunning views.
Yes, that’s the real ocean out there with tides, fish, crabs and all that stuff. That means you can go for a swim, snorkel with the harbour seals, paddle a kayak or paddleboard, go on a catamaran cruise and book a fishing charter.
From the Nanaimo waterfront you can catch a car ferry to Gabriola Island, one of the scenic Gulf Islands. You can also take a small passenger ferry to Newcastle Island, part of the Saysutshun/Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park. A stroll around Newcastle, one of the most unique parks in B.C., offers beaches and carved sandstone cliffs, as well as mature Douglas fir, Garry oak and arbutus trees. There’s camping, an adventure playground and a café. Keep an eye out for the albino raccoons!
NANAIMO HARBOURFRONT WALKWAY
A favourite of locals and visitors alike is a stroll along the 4.4-kilometre waterfront walkway. It features panoramic views of the Strait of Georgia and Coast Mountains, as well as boutique shops, outdoor cafés, ice cream shops, Nanaimo’s largest playground, Maffeo-Sutton Park and Swy-A-Lana Lagoon.
Prominent on the waterfront is The Bastion, erected in 1853 as part of a fortification by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Every day at noon, May to September, the bagpipes start to wail and The Bastion cannon is fired. Once the smoke has cleared, you can tour The Bastion. See if you can spot any marauding Spanish ships!
OLD CITY QUARTER
Just inland from The Bastion, off Bastion Street, is the downtown historic and art district featuring restaurants, boutiques, art galleries, and the Nanaimo Museum, where you can learn about the local Snunéymuxw First Nation and the city’s coal-mining days. Had enough history? Casino Nanaimo’s 400 slot machines are just around the corner!
What do people really like to do when they’re on vacation? Shop! And Nanaimo may have more malls per capita than any city in Canada, including two of Vancouver Island’s largest: Woodgrove Centre and Nanaimo North Town Centre.
Mountain bikers will enjoy the challenging Fine China Trail or the more sedate mixed-use trail around Westwood Lake. Street cyclists can get through the busy city on the E&N Trail or the Parkway Trail. Best to pick up a map from a Visitor Centre or a local bike shop.
There are hundreds of trails in the area from the scenic stroll around Newcastle Island to the intermediate hike to spectacular Ammonite Falls to the definitely challenging hike/climb up Mt. Benson, where you will discover spectacular views of Nanaimo and the Strait of Georgia. The Visitor Centre has trail brochures and information on guided tours. Also, there are great views from Vancouver Island University — and you can drive there!