Nanaimo, British Columbia

Why Visit Nanaimo?

Nanaimo is the gateway to scenic central and northern Vancouver Island, including Parksville, Courtenay, Campbell River, Port Alberni, Tofino, and Ucluelet. Nanaimo has ferry access to both Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) and Tsawwassen (Delta)

Nanaimo BC- gateway to Vancouver Island

Nanaimo Bay
Nanaimo is Vancouver island’s second biggest city, with a population of 76,000. The city was originally the site of five Native villages who called the gathering place “Snenymo” or “great and mighty people”. The harbour was discovered by Spanish Captain Narvaez in 1791, and was visited a year later by Captain George Vancouver. The Hudson’s Bay Company’s discovery of coal in the area in 1851 helped the town grow quickly, and in 1874 it incorporated to become BC’s third oldest municipality.

The tiny community safeguarded itself against attack by building the Bastion in Nanaimo’s boat basin. Completed in 1853, it served as a storage space, a defence arsenal, and a clerk’s office. It was used for running the township, with cannons at the ready.

Nanaimo waterfront & condos
Unfortunately, in the 1930s, the importance of oil led to coal’s decline. In 1911 the Japanese established a settlement on Newcastle Island that included a successful ship building factory three herring salteries and a cannery, which packed salted herring for shipment to the Orient. A spectacular and controversial fire destroyed the settlement in 1960.

Duke Point & Departure Bay Ferries Sign
By 1938 mining was replaced by logging as the major industry in the region, and a pulp and paper mill was constructed near Duke Point,and Nanaimo’s economy has since diversified evn further. Nanaimo is now known as the “Harbour City”. With two dozen parks nestled around two harbours, the city has one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the country. The heavy industries that once dominated Nanaimo’s waterfront are moving to locations away from downtown.

Killer Whale sculptures, at Duke Point Ferry Docks
Highway 1 from Victoria leaves Vancouver Island at the northern end of the downtown waterfront at Departure Bay to BC Ferries to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver (watch for Highway signs marking “Departure Bay and Trans-Canada Highway 1”) , and at southern end of the waterfront at Duke Point

to Tsawwassen / Delta (watch highway exit for “Duke Point” and Island Highway 19). There is also a passenger-only HarbourLynx high speed ferry that leaves right from downtown, You can also catch a ferry to Gabriola Island, which lies just offshore.

Annual Events




Chinese New Year late January Nanaimo District Museum
Nanimo Beer Festival early April Beban Park
Vancouver Island Festival for Young Audiences mid May various locations
Empire Days Celebration late May Swy-A-L:ana Lagoon, downtown
Canada Day July 1 Maffeo Sutton park, downtown
Nanaimo Dragon Boat Festival mid July Swy-A-L:ana Lagoon, downtown
Bathtubs & Ballyhoo Street Fair mid July Commercial Street
Bathtub Race late July Nanaimo Harbour waterfront
Seafood Chowder Cook-off early Aug Pioneer Plaza
Vncovuer Island Exhibition late August Beban Park
Annual Casns Food Festival early September Old City Quarter 250-754-8787
Infringing Dance Festival mid September various locations, downtown
InGST Film Festival end October The Bay Theatre
Wine Festival end Octoer Beban Park
Festival of Trees end Nov Beban Park

Nanaimo Attractions


VIA Rail Victoria -Courtenay train (the Malahat)

On the Malahat you’ll discover some of the most beautiful countryside in Vancouver Island between Victoria, at the southern tip of the island, and Courtenay, at the northern end. A very pleasant way to discover the Pacific coast! With “Comfort Class” ticket you can get off at Chemainus, Nanaimo, Parksville or Qualicum Beach for the price of one ticket to your final destination. The round-trip between Victoria and Courtenay costs only $58 (purchase seven days in advance, taxes extra, some conditions apply). The Malahat offers one departure per day in each direction. The journey time to Courtenay is approximately 4½ hours.

Noon Gun at Nanaimo's waerfront

Harbourside Walkway

This 4 km long walkway between Harbour Park Mall and Departure Bay Terminal gives views of Newcastle, Protection and Gabriola Islands. The walkway passes the Bastion and the Nanaimo District Museum as well as several park areas.

The Nanaimo Museum

100 Museum Way
Discover Nanaimo^s fascinating history & modern day contributions to Canada^s West Coast in our 1,486 sq m (16,000 sq ft) museum located in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. Stroll through time in our main gallery to get a sense of what life was like for Nanaimo^s earliest settlers & hear stories of the Snuneymuxw First Nation. Feel what it was like below the surface in our replica Coal Mine exhibit. The museum also manages the Bastion, an original Hudson^s Bay Company outpost built in 1853.

The HBC Trading Post in Nanaimo's harbour

The Bastion

corner of Bastion and Front Streets
The Bastion, built in 1853 as an original Hudson’s Bay Company outpost is now a museum that gives great insight into the way of life a century ago. Historic cannons are fired daily at noon throughout the summer.

Historic Buildings

around downtown
The Nanaimo Courthouse was built in 1896, the Palace Hotel in 1889, and Bygone Books in the 1911-vintage Dakin Building.

Farmers Market

Pioneer Waterfront Plaza
April – October

Newcastle Island Provincial Park

Newcastle Island became a Provincial Marine Park in 1961, after the city of Nanaimo acquired the island from the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1955. Take the hourly paddlewheel passenger-ferry to the 750 acre provincial park on Newscastle Island has 18 km of trails for cycling or walking (inlcuding a 7 km trail following the shoreline). Swimming, bird watching and camping are also activities in this park.
Fares: Adults $7.00, Children & Seniors $6.00, Family (Mom, Dad, Children 12 & under) $20.00, Bikes $2.00,
Children under 4 ride free, and well-bahaved & leashed dogs ride free.

Float planes are constantly taking off at Nananimo to service the Gulf Islands and the Sunshine Coast

Seaplane Terminal

at the north end of downtown
Along the walkway toward Fisherman’s Wharf. There is also Lighthouse Bistro, which looks like a lighthouse.

Vancouver Island Military Museum

Rutherford Village Mall
This museum showcases Vancouver Island military traditions, open Monday to Saturday.

Maffeo Sutton Park and Swy-A-Lana Lagoon

This saltwater lagoon creates an interesting marine habitat beside this park, often used for the site of harbourside festivals. The park also has a concert pavillion, playground, and several totem poles, and stunning waterfront views.

Nanaimo Casino

620 Terminal Ave
Late-night casino featuring table games & slot machines, plus a restaurant & regular entertainment.

Nanaimo, British Columbia Area Map