Nanaimo, BC: The Harbour City of Vancouver Island

Nanaimo downtown and convention centre

Nanaimo downtown and convention centre

Nanaimo, BC is a picturesque destination located along the east coast of south-central Vancouver Island. Known as the Harbour City, Nanaimo features breathtaking views, a stunning, island-sheltered harbour in the heart of the city, and an incredible range of attractions and activities. It is no secret why this city has grown to become one of the most desirable destinations in all of British Columbia.

Nanaimo is Canada’s sixth-largest city, and it makes for an ideal vacation spot if you are looking for outdoor adventure, fishing, world-class scuba diving, boating, hiking, and nightlife. Previously known as the “Hub City”, Nanaimo is centrally located and just 111 km (69 mi) north of Victoria with a fast-growing population of nearly 85,000.

Offering numerous opportunities for year-round sports and recreational activities in addition to a revitalized downtown area, this is an all-purpose port city that caters to both recreational and commercial needs, including fishing boats, freighters, sail boats, tugboats, and yachts of all sizes.

Parks and Beaches

Nanaimo’s gorgeous waterfront is the perfect spot for many exciting outdoor activities, including swimming, windsurfing, snorkeling, and boating.

Some of the most popular waterfront beaches and parks include Swy-A-Lana Lagoon, Piper’s Lagoon, and Departure Bay. Westwood Lake and Long Lake (home of the Nanaimo Canoe and Kayak Club) are freshwater lakes located nearby, both of which feature great beaches and summer lifeguard service. You will also find additional swimming spots just 15 minutes south off of Nanaimo Road.

Some of Nanaimo’s most respected and frequently used assets are its outdoor spaces. The city has more than 631 hectares of city parks (including 13 destination parks and 12 dog off-leash areas), 140 kilometres of trails, two outdoor amphitheatres, and 65 playgrounds.

Golf Courses

Whether you are a golf fanatic or a beginner, there are numerous options for you to take a swing in Nanaimo. The Nanaimo Golf Club is located above Departure Bay and boasts breathtaking views of BC’s Mainland Coast Mountains, Georgia Straight, and the Gulf Islands. Other golfing options include the Fairwinds Golf Club in nearby Nanoose Bay and the Morningstar Golf Course, which was rated as one of the top 10 best public golf courses in BC by Score Golf Magazine in 2009.

Arts Scene

Named the Cultural Capital of Canada in 2008, Nanaimo has plenty to offer when it comes to arts, culture, and history. The buzzing city’s thriving arts scene is highlighted by its many art galleries, heritage sites, the Nanaimo Museum, and the ongoing celebration of First Nations culture. You will also find plenty of opportunities to catch some live music, attend a show, dance, and so much more!

Additionally, the 800-seat Port Theatre downtown offers a broad selection of cultural events and entertainment. The Vancouver Island Conference Centre, which is downtown as well, serves as the perfect location for conferences and seminars.

Boating and Bathtubs

Nanaimo is a boater’s paradise, and for good reason. The protected, scenic waters, beautiful marinas, piers, and numerous outfitters that offer boat rentals as well as guided tours make this the perfect destination if you are looking to get out on the water. Moorage is available for boats of all sizes at the Nanaimo Yacht Club, Stones Marina, Nanaimo Port Authority’s Visiting Vessel Pier, and Newcastle Island and Marina.

Nanaimo fishing boats

Nanaimo fishing boats

All marinas and moorage are located just a short distance from the waterfront parks and downtown Nanaimo. Don’t forget to check out the internationally famous Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race, which usually takes place during the last weekend of July.

Scuba Diving

Nanaimo is known for many things, one of which is its first-class scuba diving. With a thriving sea life and an abundance of sunken ships, deep sea treasures, and stunning coral reefs, it is no wonder why people travel from all over the world to dive Nanaimo’s waters.

In fact, this city is home to three incredible wreck dives: the 1977 HMCS Saskatchewan, the HMCS Cape Breton, and the Rivtow Lion. Divers will also spot octopus, sea lions, seals, and wolf eels, or snorkel with the friendly seals at Snake Island. Finally, expect to be mesmerized by the brilliantly coloured sea coral, purple starfish, and orange sea pens, to name a few.

Walking and Biking Trails

Nanaimo is home to numerous walking, hiking, and biking trails, both within the city and just outside. Westwood Lake, featuring 6 km (3.7 mi) of trails, is a favorite amongst locals and visitors alike. One of the most popular trails for hikers and mountain bikers is the Parkway Trail, which boasts 20 km (12.4 mi) of trails as well as an extended trail free of traffic.

How to Get to Nanaimo

There are several different ways to get to Nanaimo, the most popular being by ferry. The city is a major ferry destination, linking Vancouver Island to the BC Mainland and Vancouver.

BC Ferries offers several routes to and from Nanaimo, including a scheduled service between Horseshoe Bay on the north shore of Vancouver to Departure Bay, and from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal just south of Vancouver to Duke Point. There is also ferry service from downtown Nanaimo to nearby Newcastle Island, Gabriola Island, and a specially operated one to Protection Island.

BC Ferry travelling to Nanaimo

BC Ferry travelling to Nanaimo

Additional ways to get to and from Nanaimo include the following:

  • By plane – The Nanaimo Airport is about 20 minutes south of the city, and has daily flights between Nanaimo to Vancouver, Abbotsford, and Langley on the mainland.
  • By float plane – Service is available from the Nanaimo harbour to the downtown Vancouver harbour as well as the Vancouver International Airport river terminal. It is roughly a 20-minute (and very scenic!) flight.
  • By car – Nanaimo is about 111 km (69 miles) from Victoria, which also boasts a major ferry terminal and an international airport.

Next time you are planning a vacation, come enjoy Nanaimo, BC! From our stunning waterfront and beaches to our parks, live theatre, swimming, golfing, scuba diving, mountain biking, and hiking, we have something for everyone.

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