Enjoy Canada’s Mediterranean. The “off season” is roughly October to April each year and Nanaimo experiences mild, rainy winters – much like Seattle, Vancouver and other Pacific Northwest temperate rain forests. Snowfall does occasionally occur during winter but don’t let that stop you visiting as it makes our beautiful scenery even lovelier.
Canada is rated 8th in the World’s Most Peaceful Countries. Iceland was rated #1 but then you would have to visit Iceland. On Vancouver Island, we consider ourselves quite well mannered and peaceful, except during hockey games, then watch out.
Nanaimo, located mid Island on the east coast, is 55 km (34 miles) across the Salish Sea (Straight of Georgia) from Vancouver and 110 km (68 miles) north from Victoria at the most southern tip of the Island. It is Vancouver Island’s 2nd largest city with some 85,000 residents.
Nanaimo, known as the harbour city, has a large protected natural harbour and is a key transportation hub for Vancouver Island.
Getting to Nanaimo is Easy and Relaxing
- Take a leisurely ferry ride from Vancouver on BC Ferries – the trip alone, which takes about 1.5 hours, is very relaxing. Do nothing but chill out watching the views, or enjoy a casual meal or a gourmet coffee. You can enjoy the trip from comfortable chairs indoors or enjoy the open deck outdoors. Keep an eye out for Pacific White-Sided dolphins or the majestic Killer Whale pods which call this area home. More information on schedules: http://www.bcferries.com/schedules/mainland/hbna-current.php
- Travel to Nanaimo by helicopter which takes a mere 20 minutes from Vancouver. Plus, you get a beautiful aerial view of the west coast, the Gulf Islands, and Vancouver Island.
- Fly into Nanaimo Airport. (YCD). It is small and friendly with modern passenger facilities. – about a 15-minute drive south of Nanaimo. It has daily flights that include Vancouver and Calgary. There are also float plane flights to the Nanaimo downtown harbour.
- Drop by on your boat or yacht. Guest moorage available at Nanaimo Port Authority’s Visiting Vessel Pier, the Nanaimo Yacht Club, Stones Marina and Newcastle Island. All except, Newcastle Island, are a short walk to downtown Nanaimo.
Enjoy Nature by Walking or Hiking Around Nanaimo
- Take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront of the “Harbour City”. You can start at the south end which has a marina for pleasure boats adjoined with commercial fishing docks. Going north you will pass a coffee shop, ice cream stores (hard to get by without going in), gourmet tea store, ticket counters for the sea planes and a restaurant. You will come to the Swy-A-Lana Lagoon, a fishing pier and a children’s park. The walkway (4km/2.5mi) continues towards the ferry terminal at Departure Bay.
- Experience one of Nanaimo’s many trails – in fact some 170km (106 miles) – from parks to cycle routes. Many are suitable for walking, rollerblading, and biking. The more popular ones are Parkway Trail, Walley Creek Trail, E&N Trail, and Harbour front walkway. The well-liked nature trails include Cable Bay trail, Neck Point Park, and Westwood Lake.
- Take a nature walk at Neck Point Park off Morningside Drive – right on the water (Gulf of Georgia). Number of options for long or short walks that are both interesting and beautiful. Lots of places to sit and relax – great views of boats going by and the mountains across the gulf. This is an impressive nature park that is accessible to most people.
- Pipers Lagoon Park is a local favorite for a walk with nature. You will get a great view of the islands and departing BC Ferries by the Departure Bay entrance. You can walk around the island and as a bonus get a closer look at Shack Island, home of original cottages from early residents.
- Visit the Newcastle Island, Saysutshun (Au’ si:em siyeyu), a Marine Provincial Park – just a 5-minute ferry ride from Maffeo Sutton Dock on Nanaimo’s waterfront. There are great views of Nanaimo, the harbour and the mountains. Camping and boat docking is available. There are no cars and very little development on the Island, so you really get to enjoy nature. More information: https://www.newcastleisland.ca/
- Enjoy a walk around Westwood Lake off Westwood Road – great views of the lake on this moderate trail. It takes about an hour to walk around the lake trail. The trail loops around the lake close to shore and has a beautiful lookout. The trail is just over 5km (3.5 miles) and is well maintained. It is an easy walking trail except a steep section at the west end of the lake. Also has shorter loops at the south end.
- The Morrell Nature Sanctuary is open year-round and has educational programs. Society. The sanctuary is on 111 hectares (278 acres) of beautiful forest owned by The Nature Trust. Features a small lake, a rocky viewing point above the forest and a children’s trail. Open year round at 787 Nanaimo Lakes Road. Also connects to Westwood Lake for a longer hike.
- Nanaimo has an abundance of parks to enjoy and chill out. (880 hectares of City parks). Very beautiful in the fall when the leaves to turn to the golden yellows and browns. Check out two of the larger parks: Bowen Park and Beban Park. More information: https://www.nanaimo.ca/parks-search/Parks/ParkList
- For the adventurous, you can hike, even in winter with snow on the ground, to the summit of Mt Benson where you will see spectacular views of Nanaimo, the costal mountains and the Straight of Georgia. Elevation 1,023 m (3,356 ft). The trailhead is located on Benson View Road (off Kilpatrick Road, off Jingle Pot Road, off Highway 19). This is not for the faint of heart – plan on 5 to 7 hours to hike up and down. More information: https://www.rdn.bc.ca/mount-benson-regional-park
The Arts & History in the Nanaimo Area
- The “Arts District” along Commercial Street in downtown Nanaimo hosts heritage buildings, artist studios, a museum, and native art. Also in the downtown area is the 800-seat Port Theatre , which hosts concerts, theatre, dances, and more.
- Nanaimo is home to the professional Vancouver Island Symphony. Experience up close and personal the live symphonic music at the Port Theatre in downtown Nanaimo during the fall and winter months. The Symphony also has educational and children’s programs. Real fun at the rehearsal sessions. More information: vancouverislandsymphony.com
- TheatreOne offers live theatre with an emphasis on Canadian works, staged readings to encourage new writers, Just Kidding for Kid theatre, Fringe Flicks independent film series, and the annual Bite of Nanaimo gourmet food festival. More information: theatreone.org
- Enjoy wonderful performances at the Port Theatre on Nanaimo’s downtown waterfront. The theatre offers a wide range of events, music, dance, theatre, comedy, Vancouver Island Symphony, meetings, and conferences. Ticket Centre located on the Front Street side of the building. More information: porttheatre.com
- The Nanaimo Museum, located in the heart of the downtown, has many wonderful activities, events, and attractions. The museum offers award-winning exhibits, a gift shop as well as popular meeting and reception spaces. The museum also has feature exhibits from the National Gallery, the Canadian History Museum, and the Vancouver Art Gallery. More information: http://nanaimomuseum.ca/
- The Nanaimo Art Gallery at 150 Commercial Street in downtown Nanaimo has exceptional exhibitions of local and contemporary art. It is part of the larger Nanaimo Arts Centre. Enjoy lectures, workshops and activities for all ages. Local art offered for sale. More information: http://nanaimogallery.ca/
- Vancouver Island Military Museum in Nanaimo’s downtown close to the Port Theatre. With more than 25 displays and exhibits, it is considered to be BC’s most significant Military Museum. More information: http://www.vimms.ca/
- The Hudson’s Bay Company Bastion is a historical octagon-shaped building on Front Street in downtown Nanaimo. It was built in the mid-1800s to defend the nearby coal mining operations. Now designated as a local heritage site. The exhibits inside can be viewed in the summer months.
Nanaimo Family Fun
- Take the kids to a Children’s Water Park and public indoor pool at Beban Park, at 2300 Bowen Road. They will love the lazy river, a tot pool, and spray features. For teens and adults, there is a water slide, full-length pool, diving boards, steam room, and hot tub. Also, there is exercise equipment and a weight room.
- Oliver Woods Community Centre has a wide variety of indoor functions from a preschool to fitness studio to two gymnasiums. Onsite childcare is offered. More information: http://www.nanaimo.ca/schedules/parks-recreation-culture/
- Kids fun house at Jumping Jimmy’s. It is an 8,000 sq ft play area for kids up to age 15. Features include a large play structure, toddler’s area, air hockey, games room, football, climbing wall and a craft area. In addition, there is a café, gift shop and party rooms. More information: www.jumpingjiminys.com
- Hit the links! Nanaimo enjoys a comfortable climate even in the off season so you can golf almost year-round or fine-tune your game at a driving range. Plus, the green fees drop and there are likely no wait times to tee off. Some of the local clubs also have casual dining and special events. More information: golfmax.ca/Golf-Courses/Nanaimo-British-Columbia-Golf-Courses.shtml
Swimming & Scuba Diving in Nanaimo
- World class scuba diving in Nanaimo’s cold, clear waters. Jacques Cousteau called this area “the best temperate diving in the world, second to only the Red Sea.” Nanaimo is home to three amazing wreck dives, one of which is considered to be the world’s largest artificial reef. One of the wreck sites is suitable for beginning divers. Nanaimo has several pro dive shops to help you with your equipment, diving tips, and charters.
- Indoor Swimming at the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre – featuring an Olympic length pool, wave pool (one of the biggest in Western Canada), water slides, diving boards and more. In addition, adults can enjoy the steam room, hot tub, or dry sauna. There is a weight room and fitness equipment. The centre is located within the Larry McNabb Sports Zone near Vancouver Island University. More information: https://www.nanaimo.ca/facilities/Details/147-Nanaimo-Aquatic-Centre.
- Unwind while you enjoy a kayak trip in the calm waters of the Gulf Islands (east of Vancouver Island). Paddle with otters, seals, eagles, and more from a kayak. Great opportunity to try out sea kayaking. You can take a guided trip that begins and ends from Cedar-by-the-Sea, just minutes south of Nanaimo. A gourmet lunch is provided by the operator, Wildheart Adventure Tours. More information: kayakbc.com
Winter Activities in Nanaimo
- Catch a hockey game with the Nanaimo Clippers, a Junior “A” ice hockey team. The Clippers are part of the BCHL (BC Hockey League) with a rich history and a faithful following. Games are played at the Frank Crane Arena.
- Enjoy ice skating and more at three public ice arenas. Numerous options including learn-to-skate programs and community events. Facilities: Frank Crane Arena, in the Beban Park complex; Nanaimo Ice Centre with two NHL-size ice rinks and the Cliff McNabb Arena is located within the Beban Park complex has an NHL size ice surface that is used by a variety of sports groups.
- When the snow falls, enjoy the winter activities such as snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. Check a local visitor centre for details.
Winter Wonderland in the Nanaimo Area
- Beban Park arena winter wonderland skating over Christmas holidays. Admission is only $1 (a loonie to a Canadian) with free rental of skates and helmets. Many, many other activities for all ages. More information: https://www.nanaimo.ca/recreation-parks/recreation-facilities-schedules/activity-guide
- Ladysmith (a 20-minute drive south of Nanaimo) has a magical winter wonderland of sparkling lights and colour. The revitalized downtown core turns into a Festival of Lights that begins in November and runs till January. Even boats and yachts participate.
Shopping in and Around Nanaimo
- Shop till you drop in the many shopping malls along the highway through town including Woodgrove, the largest mall on Vancouver Island, is home to over 140 stores and services including Hudson’s Bay, Old Navy, Walmart, Save On Foods (3 locations in Nanaimo), Sport Chek, and Chapters.
- Check out the shops and casual eateries in Nanaimo’s historic Old City Quarter. You can relax here in the few blocks that are home to a mix of specialty retail shops, restaurants, and services. Definitely go at a slow pace.
- Although very laid back, Nanaimo does have a nightlife. There are a number of performance spaces and nightspots around the city including The Cambie, The Queen’s, and The Nanaimo Bar.
- Take in one of the latest movies at either the Avalon (Landmark Cinema) at the Woodgrove Shopping Centre or the Galaxy (Cineplex) at the Nanaimo North Town Centre (Rutherford Mall) – both modern multiplex cinemas with the most recent Hollywood films plus very comfortable seating. We feature some of the finest performers and performances in Canada.
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