A Traveller’s Guide to the City of Nanaimo

The City of Nanaimo sprawls over a strip of the eastern coastline of Vancouver Island. It’s a popular tourist destination, with two ferry terminals to bring in vehicles and travellers from Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen from the lower mainland. One airport serves the city with frequent flights from Alberta and Vancouver connecting the city to visitors from around the world. The City has an picturesque shoreline against a backdrop of coastal mountains. There is plenty to see and do in the City of Nanaimo.

A trip to Nanaimo should start at the downtown harbour. Here you can hop on a tour of the harbour, or simply walk around the boardwalk, checking out the shops or enjoy a fresh catch of the day.

A trip to the “old city” of Nanaimo will give you a taste of the olden days. The City of Nanaimo is the third oldest city in BC originally built with the streets radiating out from the shoreline like the spokes on a wagon wheel. Also called “The Harbour City”, Nanaimo was the centre of industry, and of great importance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bastion Nanaimo

Photo Credit: Nanaimo Musem

Walking downtown, you will come across Nanaimo’s iconic Bastion structure dating all the back to 1853 and once home to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Other landmarks include the beautiful Great National Land Building – a circular neo-classical building sitting at a major intersection in the city’s centre. Walking around Nanaimo, visitors picture another era with old storefronts that have been preserved along Victoria Crescent and Commercial Street.

If you choose to walk on a ferry to Nanaimo, you can take one of the many buses served by the Nanaimo Regional Transit. There are also taxicabs serving the city. Please note that while the downtown region of Nanaimo is walkable, the City is spread out over many kilometres along the Highways 1, 19, and 19A, and you’ll need to take a vehicle to leave the downtown region. Other options include a car rental service, or taking a tour bus.

One of the most important festivals of the year is the Nanaimo Marine Festival, held every year in July. The highlight of the festival is always the bathtub races, where bathtubs are converted into boats and raced through the harbour with competitive racers from all around the world.

Of course, when you visit Nanaimo you can’t leave without enjoying a Nanaimo bar. Yes, this is where that no-bake cookie confection was created! The first recipe was found in a cookbook dating back to 1953.

For people who enjoy outdoor activities, the Buttertubs Marsh is located at the centre of the City. This region covers 40 hectares of land, and includes the Buttertubs Marsh Conservation area. There are many public paths to take around this manmade marsh. You can do birdwatching of many species and see other types of wildlife. Another local favourite is Westwood lake with a 5.52km walking and jogging path circling the lake and swimmable beach in the summer.

If shopping is to your liking, you can begin at the northern part of the City of Nanaimo at Woodgrove Centre, and work your way down Island Highway to Nanaimo North Town Centre, then to the Country Club Centre to the south of the City. 

Newcastle Island is directly across from the City. Here you can walk the paths, visit the Bistro or take a cultural tour of the First Nation’s lands.

Before you book your trip to Nanaimo, be sure to plan out your travel itinerary carefully, as you don’t want to miss all this older BC City has to offer!