There’s no doubt that Vancouver Island, British Columbia is one of the most stunning places to visit in Canada. Surrounded by the ocean and easily accessible by air or sea, Vancouver Island is filled with quaint towns and vibrant city centres surrounded by breathtaking landscapes. Nanaimo, British Columbia is the second largest city on Vancouver Island after Victoria and known for its stunning natural beauty, heritage town centre and gorgeous harbour-front walkway. Nanaimo is where you can find numerous provincial parks with forested hiking trails, rushing rivers and waterfalls, peaceful lakes, and stunning vistas from mountain tops. Known as the Harbour City for the extensive harbour in the heart of downtown, Nanaimo has long been an important part of Vancouver Island’s economic health. In recent years the harbour-front walkway has become one of the biggest draws for visitors and locals alike. Nanaimo is also a hub for incredible restaurants, breweries and distilleries and so many outdoor activities that you’re sure to leave this incredible city with many things left on your to-do list! For the perfect accommodation near Nanaimo, book one of the incredible EMR Nanaimo properties! And, because there are more amazing experiences in Nanaimo than there is time to do them, we’ve made a handy travel guide of the very best, not-to-be-missed, things to do in the Harbour City! Looking for even more stuff to do and insider tips? You can also have a look at our blog to find great articles all about Nanaimo and Southern Vancouver Island!
Known as Saysutshun by the Snuneymuxw, the Coast Salish Peoples from this area of Vancouver Island, Newcastle Island offers visitors a natural, historical, and cultural experience as well as breathtaking views of the Salish Sea, Coastal Mountains, and the Harbour City. Newcastle Island makes for a perfect day trip or overnight stay with easy access via foot-passenger ferry ride or boat. Here you can find idyllic campsites, walking trails, cycling routes, and tidal pools. You can also visit one of the many historical sites including ancient Snuneymuxw village sites, old coal mines, fish saltery and sandstone quarries.
Tour the Nanaimo Museum
Located downtown Nanaimo, the Nanaimo Museum offers visitors and locals the opportunity to interact with and understand Nanaimo’s history through galleries and exhibits outlining the shared histories of the area. With a dynamic facility and dedicated staff, the Nanaimo Museum has welcomed top ranking, feature exhibits from across Canada as well as having an impressive and important permanent collection for guests to explore.
Explore Neck Point Park
This beloved oceanfront park is a local hotspot where you can find perfect picnic spots, incredible beachcombing at low tide, gorgeous walking trails and stunning views across the Strait of Georgia to the Sunshine Coast. This park is also a popular spot for scuba diving with an access road and deep waters perfect for drive-up diving and a multitude of sea life for divers to discover!
Walk the Nanaimo Bar Trail
You can’t visit Nanaimo without trying the city’s most famous invention: the Nanaimo bar. This confection has become popular throughout Canada and is a unique combination of a crunchy, chocolatey, coconutty base, smooth creamy centre, and hard chocolate ganache top. If you’ve got a sweet tooth and want to sample all the many types of Nanaimo bars there are in the city, you can follow the Nanaimo Bar Trail – a self-guided tour around the city trying different bars from classic recipes to creative interpretations!
The Nanaimo area is known for its incredible array of outdoor adventures and one of the most popular for visitors and locals is kayaking! Renting a kayak to explore the shores of Nanaimo might be one of the best and most memorable ways to spend a day in this beautiful city. You can find many kayak rental companies and easily launch a kayak from one of the many points throughout Nanaimo. From the comfort of a kayak, you can easily explore nearby Newcastle and Protection Island, the estuary, lagoons, and the breathtaking Gabriola Island. With so much to explore in these waters, you can paddle in the ocean for a few hours looking for orcas, sea lions, marine birds and other sea life or plan an exciting multi-day excursion.
Explore Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter
Nestled in the heart of Nanaimo, just steps from the downtown core you can find the original economic centre of the city: The Old City Quarter. Now home to an eclectic collection of locally owned and operated businesses set in revitalized heritage buildings and carefully designed new developments, this area is like walking into Nanaimo’s past! Here visitors can find everything from boutiques and metaphysical shops to some of the best restaurants and cafés in the city!
Drop by a Farmers Market
Central Vancouver Island, where Nanaimo is located, is one of the top agricultural regions of the Island producing incredible fruits and vegetables, ethically raised meats, vivid blooms, and gorgeous handmade products. With such abundance, it’s no wonder that the Nanaimo area is also home to numerous farmers markets! One of the most beloved markets is in Pioneer Waterfront Plaza on Front Street, in downtown Nanaimo. Located right next to the historic Bastion – the last standing Hudson’s Bay Company bastion in Canada – this market is a lively place to spend an afternoon searching for fresh ingredients and unique gifts! For information about other farmers markets in the area, check here!
Take a Seaplane Tour
One of the most unique aspects of Canadian coastal life is how we get around. Seaplanes are a regular part of life here in Nanaimo and while they are regularly used by locals travelling to the mainland, Harbour Air, Vancouver Island’s main seaplane operator also offers incredible scenic seaplane tours that fly over downtown Nanaimo, the nearby Gulf Islands like Gabriola, and the Salish Sea. If you want to go farther afield and explore the Sunshine Coast or the Mainland, Harbour Air offers flight to Sechelt and Vancouver too!
Discover Pipers Lagoon Park
Pipers Lagoon Park is another one of Nanaimo’s famous waterfront parks that is a local favourite. This large, narrow park is built on an isthmus that extends out to a rocky headland where you can catch incredible sunrises, sunsets and get beautiful views of Shack Island. In this park you can explore the meandering trails that lead to various seaside lookouts, swim on either side of the isthmus in the summertime and beachcomb all year ‘round. This park is a popular bird watching site with many different species gathering on the shores and surrounding water.
Explore Further Afield
There’s no doubt that there’s even more sightseeing to do outside of Nanaimo centre! Whether you’re looking for day trip ideas or wanting to head out for a few days to explore another part of Vancouver Island, we’ve got the list for you!
Perched on the very southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria, the capital city of British Columbia, Canada, is a stunning place to visit. From overflowing gardens filled with blooms and endless seascapes to world-class dining and interesting heritage sites, Victoria is worth the drive when you’re staying in Nanaimo.
Located on the far west coast of Vancouver Island the charming towns of Tofino and Ucluelet are hubs of outdoor recreation, art and dining and the best place in Canada for surfing!
With a beautiful trail that loops around the lake, freshwater swimming in the warm months and clean washrooms it’s no wonder that Westwood Lake is a popular local destination!
This 50 cm wide crack in the middle of the ground 1 km in on the Extension Ridge Trail is a local mystery – no one knows exactly how far it goes down or how it came to be but if you like hiking and geological mysteries it’s a must-see!
Just a fifteen-minute drive south of Nanaimo you will reach these little resort towns. Here you can find expansive sandy beaches, incredible ice cream and friendly locals!
Looking for an adrenaline rush for the whole family? Visit Wildplay! With ziplines, axe throwing and treetop obstacle courses you’re sure to find something exciting for everyone!
This unique, floating, family friendly restaurant on the edge of Protection Island is one of the most surreal dining experiences you can have near Nanaimo! Grab a bite and enjoy the views of the Strait of Georgia and Nanaimo Harbour!
These stunning falls are located within Benson Creek Falls Regional Park and are worth the moderate hike to reach them. The trail is relatively easy to begin but the last stretch is steep and difficult in places but there are ropes in place to help you get to the top!