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Vancouver Island | Sunshine Coast | Gulf Islands


With a pretty waterfront location and more than two dozen parks, the city of Nanaimo is a convenient base for exploring the east coast of Vancouver Island as well as the Gulf Islands. Five native villages used to be located where the city is now— Nanaimo’s name is derived from the Coast Salish word Sney-ny-mo, meaning the "meeting place." Nanaimo continues to be a meeting place on land and on sea as it is the centre of Vancouver Island's highway and ferry system. 

Nanaimo was incorporated in 1874 and is the third oldest city in BC and the second largest on Vancouver Island. The city has a population of 78,271.

Parksville    Qualicum Beach    Coombs

Arts and Culture

Nanaimo offers an accessible harbour and waterfront, cultural festivals, a university with a view and excellent dining. A nice way to begin your visit is to walk the four-kilometre Habourside Walkway that extends from the downtown harbour, past the seaplane terminal, through Swy-A-Lana Lagoon Park (Canada's only man-made tidal lagoon), over the pedestrian bridge, by the Nanaimo Yacht Club and out to the BC Ferries Terminal. Along the way you can enjoy art galleries that feature First Nations art, crafts and enjoyable restaurants.

If you would like to take an arts tour of Nanaimo, you might want to include First Nation's galleries, the contemporary Nanaimo Art Gallery (Malaspina University), Art 10 and the Arts Council gallery. You can also visit the artists’ studios that are scattered throughout the surrounding area—the homes of potters, weavers and dollmakers. In the evening, enjoy the performing arts at the 800-seat Port Theatre, located in the heart of downtown, that hosts international, national and local talent.
Stroll through the Old City Quarter, off Bastion Street, where you can find coffee bars, restaurants, specialty boutiques, an outdoor art gallery, antique stores and more. You may want to visit The Scotch Bakery on Commercial Street—home of the world-famous Nanaimo Bar. 

History buffs will enjoy visiting the many heritage buildings that Nanaimo has preserved. These buildings include Miner's Cottage (1897), the Nanaimo Courthouse (1896), Earl Block (1888-1890) and the Palace Hotel (1889). In the summer you can see artifacts and exhibits at the Bastion, a fortified tower erected on the waterfront in 1853. The oldest remaining structure of its type in North America, the Bastion is one of the few Hudson's Bay Company bastions still standing. The Nanaimo District Museum is also worth a visit and includes petroglyphs and a replica of a Chinatown street.

Getting to Nanaimo

Centrally located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Nanaimo is 112km north of Victoria.

  • By Vehicle: Drive on the Island Highway and watch for the signs!
  • By Ferry: Nanaimo is one of the major ferry terminals that links Vancouver Island with the mainland. You can take BC Ferries operated ferry service between Departure Bay in Nanaimo and Horseshoe Bay on the north shore of Vancouver and from Duke Point in Nanaimo to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal, south of Vancouver. 
  • By Air: The Nanaimo Airport is located just 15 minutes south of downtown and has an average of 20 flights daily between Nanaimo and Vancouver, Abbotsford and Langley. An airport shuttle service, taxis, and car rentals are available. You can also opt to fly into the downtown Nanaimo Harbour seaplane terminal. 
  • By Train: VIA Rail travels between Victoria and Courtenay and stops in Nanaimo. 
  • By Bus: Coach lines operate between Victoria and Nanaimo and will stop in Duncan. 
Outdoor Adventure

Five kilometres north of Nanaimo, you’ll find the Nanaimo Golf Club, an 18-hole course with beautiful water views, and two 9-hole courses—Pryde Vista Golf Club and Eaglequest Golf Centre. 

If you want to stay nearby, kids of all ages will enjoy Bowen Park, a recreation park that features a nature centre, a children's barnyard, duck pond, swimming and wading pools, hiking trails and more. Beban Park, Nanaimo's recreation centre, offers swimming, skating, tennis, playgrounds, basketball, golf, lawn bowling, multi-use trails and playing fields.

Wanting to enjoy the sea? Departure Bay offers long stretches of public beach along the city shoreline. For something closer to the Harbourside Walkway, try Maffeo Sutton Park and Swyalana Lagoon Park for lounging and picnicking. 

If you want to venture out into some of the nearby islands, you can take advantage of the regular ferry service from downtown Nanaimo to nearby Gabriola and Newcastle Islands. If you are paddling in the area look for the sandstone formations! On land, Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park offers over 15km of well-marked interpretive trails. You’ll wander along lakesides, through forests and by historic sites. You can cycle on some of the paths.

Other possible adventures are a strenuous hike up the 3000ft. summit of Mt. Benson, cycling the 6km of paths around Westwood Lake, mountain biking behind Westwood Lake, watching migrating Sea Lions (October to April) at Cable Bay Trail in South Nanaimo and hiking at Neck Point Park, Ammonite Falls and Benson Falls.

General Enquiries    Toll Free: 1-855-595-8989 Tel: 1-250-595-8989
Zima Enterprises Inc. / Travel British
British Columbia, Canada

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