Newcomers and travelers who’ve not been here in a while are equally delighted at the remarkable urban revival this historic city–the third oldest in B.C.–had undergone in the last decade. Get to know it intimately on self-guided walking tours through downtown streets lined with heritage storefronts, bars, art galleries, and boutiques. Stop in at a museum to explore ancient Coast Salish traditions, Canadian military history, or a replica 19th-century coal mine. Pick up ice cream and stroll the Harbour Walkway while watching floatplanes come and go. Take in a show at the Port Theatre or catch a free concert in the park. Picnic on nearby Newcastle Island, or participate in numerous festivals. Those who love to meet local artisans are welcome on Gabriola Island, just a short ferry ride across the water. As for the city’s ultimate sweet spot, pick up a copy of the Nanaimo Bar Trail map from any info centre to discover bakeries, cafes, spas, bars, and shops offering their own creative spin on the city’s namesake treat.
See Nanaimo Through The Eyes Of Travellers
Things to see and do in Downtown Nanaimo
- The iconic Bastion, built in 1853/54 as a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost, stands sentinel over the harbour. Live the history (and cover your ears) when its cannon is fired from May to September at the stroke of noon.
- Connect with the locals and stroll along the Nanaimo Harbour walkway with its eclectic shops and eateries.
- Catch the ferry to Newcastle Island. Rich in First Nations and industrial-age history, this downtown marine park caters to families with its beaches, playground, geocache treasures, hiking and bike trails, and a well-equipped campground.
- Voted the Best Street in Canada in a national competition, downtown’s elegant, curving Commercial Street is a prime spot for walking tours, window shopping, dining, art galleries and satisfying meals before or after shows at the Port Theatre.
The heritage buildings in the revitalized, hillside Old City Quarter house a dozen eateries and more than 20 unique boutiques, galleries and specialty shops.
- Visit the Nanaimo Museum for a vivid overview of regional history ranging from the ancient roots of the Snuneymuxw First Nation to the town’s 19th-century origins as a coal mining boomtown and on to its evolution into a modern city. The first-rate gift shop is a highlight. Across the road is the Vancouver Island Military Museum.
- Enjoy destination dining on the harbourfront and, just a short ferry trip away on Protection Island, a renowned floating pub/restaurant that offers splendid city views.
- Follow the Nanaimo Bar Trail, a delectable journey to 34 stops offering variations on the city’s legendary treat – traditional, cupcake, deep-fried, cheesecake, milkshake and martini styles included.
- Take a series of self-guided historical walking tours through the downtown area. Maps are available at the Nanaimo Museum and the tourist information kiosk at the Port of Nanaimo Centre.
- Get out on the water with guided marine tours, boat rentals, charters, dinner and sunset cruises, sailing excursions, and sightseeing tours. Nanaimo is a prime stopover for pleasure boaters on regional excursions through the Discovery Passage, the Gulf Islands and the San Juans. Boaters who moor here receive Tourism Nanaimo’s Come Ashore package of city information and special deals.
Things to see and do in the Greater Nanaimo area
- Explore the Cedar Yellow Point Artisan Trail’s kaleidoscope of art studios, farms and favourite foodie destinations in the pretty countryside south of the city. Tour a cranberry farm and take home preserves, cranberry salsa and hand-picked berries.
- Get outdoors in some lovely settings on Nanaimo’s hiking trails. Piper’s Lagoon is an easy seaside stroll. Panoramic views to the mainland and beyond are one of the rewards in climbing Mount Benson. A slew of other well-maintained trails – Parkway, Trans Canada, E&N and Colliery Dam included – welcome sneakers, walking shoes and sturdy boot.
- Cycle or walk the trails, view local wildlife and have a picnic at Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park, home to Vancouver Island’s last remaining coal “tipple” (a device used to load coal onto railroad cars).
- Take a trip to Nanaimo’s only vineyard and sample fine varietals, including a Cabernet Franc named in honour of the city’s popular long-time mayor, the late Frank J. Ney (the man responsible for launching Nanaimo’s famed bathtub races).
- Visit an adventure elements park to zipline across a canyon, bungy jump off a bridge, ride the giant swing, and – don’t look down! – navigate a thrilling treetop obstacle course called “monkido.”
- Visit Gabriola Island to experience a relaxed yet engaging lifestyle one short ferry ride removed from the mainstream. Chill out on the beaches, marvel at the sculpted sandstone geology and visit numerous galleries and home studios on “The Island of the Arts.”
- Bomb down a variety of mountain biking runs on the Doumont and Abyss trail networks while pausing occasionally to appreciate the views.
- Experience the wonders of the Salish Sea while scuba diving in local waters. Explore three sunken ships (“artificial reefs”) teeming with marine life. Descend the vertical walls at Dodd Narrows (rated the #2 dive site in B.C.)
- One of Nanaimo’s best-kept secrets is the 85-foot Ammonite Falls, a beauty spot reached from two trailheads in Benson Creek Falls Provincial Park.
- Have fun with the family in all kinds of Nanaimo settings. Beban Park features a 25m swimming pool, BMX track, and ball fields. Bowen Park is known for its outdoor pool, disc golf course and tennis courts. Oliver Woods Community Centre has an outdoor work-out area, playground, and drop-in programs. And the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre offers splasharound fun in BC’s largest wave pool.