Last Updated on May 8, 2023

Nanaimo is a city and ferry port on the east coast of Vancouver Island. It is rated the second-largest city on the island. It offers scenic oceanfront views, along with spectacular mountain views.

Its busy harbor is home to events such as the Bathtub Race and an abundance of outdoor activities including kayaking, hiking, and golf. Nanaimo is the gateway to island adventures and is easily reached by ferry or floatplane from downtown Vancouver or by scheduled ferries from Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen.

Typical of West Coast communities, Nanaimo offers natural beauty at every turn, with vast recreational potential. Nanaimo also has one of the longest shorelines in Canada and a forested mountain backdrop just outside downtown. From Nanaimo, you can go from the wilderness to the city center in just a few minutes, giving you ample time to enjoy your passions.

If you are looking to find natural wonders, festivals, or culinary joys, Nanaimo is the place to visit.

Harbourfront Walkway

The Harbourfront Walkway is an excellent place to take a stroll past coffee shops, ice cream parlors, marinas, and through Maffeo Sutton Park. It is a multi-use trail along the Newcastle Channel and downtown waterfront.

There are plenty of restaurants along the way for a bite to eat or to rest your feet.

The pathway begins on Front Street (near the Ferry Terminal) and weaves its way along the harbor for 5.6-kilometers as it ends at Cypress Street.

Newcastle Island – Saysutshun

The Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park (known as Saysutshun) is accessible by foot passenger ferry or boat. It is located within Nanaimo’s Harbour and is a breathtaking place, with spectacular panoramic views of the Harbour City and the Coast Mountains.

It is a place of natural beauty, history, and Coast Salish culture. This tiny island is the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

It provides a stunning environment for campers, hikers, kayakers, birdwatchers, and anyone who enjoys nature. Explore the island trails to discover panoramic views, sandstone quarries, and remnants of yesteryear’s coal sites. 

Nanaimo Museum

Located in downtown Nanaimo on the traditional territory of the Snuneymuxw First Nation is the Nanaimo Museum. It is an influential community facility offering diversified interpretive programming while exploring our area’s history and heritage.

Take the time to meander through the Community Galleries and Exhibits, learning about Nanaimo’s diverse history. These exhibits will weave a story of how each industry shaped the city, including the First Nations’ history.

Visit the gift shop and look for memorable keepsakes. You can browse unique gift items such as local history books, jewelry, crafts, decor, carvings from local Nanaimo First nations artists, old-fashioned toys, and much more. All proceeds from sales support educational programming.

Vancouver Island Military Museum

Located in downtown Nanaimo’s waterfront district is the Vancouver Island Military Museum. Come and browse through more than 25 exhibits and displays showcasing Canada’s military history and traditions.

In the last quarter-century, the Museum has created impressive military memorabilia compilations and artifacts from the War of 1812 right through Canada’s Afghanistan involvement.

You will learn about the Red Cross’s vital work as well as St. John’s Ambulance, the Salvation Army, the RCMP, and the critical role played by the Merchant Navy in wartime. Explore Women’s evolution in the Armed Forces, from Nursing Sisters during the Boer War to present-day operations in all Armed Forces branches.

Nanaimo Bar Trail

Did you know that the deliciously creamy and chocolatey Nanaimo Bar originated in Nanaimo? The City of Nanaimo has created a self-guided trail of Nanaimo Bar treats, experiences, and souvenirs for you to explore.

There are 34 venues in total, so take your time and enjoy this sweetness. It might be a good idea to take some home to enjoy later. Nanaimo Bars are a must at Christmas time.

Pipers Lagoon Park

Nanaimo is home to a few famous waterfront parks. Pipers Lagoon Park showcases scenic trails with incredible ocean viewpoints, making it a perfect place to enjoy sunrises and sunsets.

The city built the park on an isthmus that extends out to a rocky headland. This 8-hectare park features twisting trails that lead to various seaside lookouts.

From the projection, you will have a great view of historic Shack Island and Neck Point Park. Bird-watching enthusiasts and birds are abundant, including seagulls, sandpipers, horned grebes, loons, kingfishers, oystercatchers, and great blue herons name a few.

Pipers Lagoon Park is also an excellent spot for beachcombing, swimming, or kite flying.

Colliery Dam Park

Colliery Dam Park
© Kim Jackson

The Colliery Dam Park is one of Nanaimo’s larger destination parks, especially in the summer, offering a fresh-water swimming spot. Built in 1910-11 by the Western Fuel Company, the Colliery Dams supplied water for coal washing and use by minors, mules, and horses in the mines.

You will find two small lakes with a bridge in the middle and lots of trails to explore.

This park is well-loved by dog walkers, with the path around the upper dam being a designated dog off-leash area. You will find some steep trails and a narrow bridge crossing along the upper dam trail.

Two parking lots lead you directly to a bridge between the two dams. Depending on when you visit, there is a spectacular waterfall.

This park is a place to get back to nature, enjoy the scenery, read a book, or do a little people-watching. While taking a moment to reflect, I sat down on a bench by the water, watching a lady throw balls to her dog in the water. It was the perfect spot.

Neck Point Park

Neck Point Park is another waterfront park in Nanaimo and is recognized as an environmentally sensitive area. It is also acknowledged in the community for its historic, scenic, and natural features.

After acquiring additional land in 2009, the park now provides visitors with 36-acres of a waterfront setting to explore. Visitors will find rugged rock cliffs, pebble bay beaches, and winding trails through Garry Oak groves.

The park is an excellent neighborhood for those wanting to capture the spirit of Nanaimo and enjoy the west-coast life.

The park is a favored spot for scuba divers, giving an access road that allows for drive-up diving. Divers like to tell tales of an impressive array of sea life off the rocky headlands at the end of the park’s namesake “neck.”

There is a deep-water rock-wall face that is assumed to be home to a friendly octopus. The park’s northern region is a great spot to watch for Orca, Sea lions, and otters.

Bowen Park

Bowen Park is in the heart of the city with most of the 36-hectare park remaining undeveloped. There are a series of informative trails that meander along the Millstone River.

A stroll leads to a scenic waterfall and fish ladder. Make sure you visit the duck pond.

There is also a fantastic rhododendron grove with over 350 different species.

Some of the amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, sports fields, tennis courts, two playgrounds, to name a few. Want to have a picnic while visiting this park? They offer two covered picnic shelters.

The Bastion

The Bastion has acknowledged that they are the most recognizable landmark in Nanaimo. It is the last remaining wooden Hudson’s Bay Company bastion in North America. This historic building is the city’s oldest structure and recognized as a Municipal Heritage Site.

In 1853, construction was started on the Bastion and completed the following year. It has amazingly survived multiple moves, renovations, and changes in ownership.

The Bastion now stands as one of the most enduring and iconic symbols of Nanaimo.

Protection Island

Protection Island is a small island located north-east of downtown Nanaimo. Its history of coal mining includes an operating mine between the late 1800s until 1938. This island was originally known as Douglas Island. It was named after the first Governor of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.

The island was renamed Protection Island in 1960. There are approximately 350 full-time residents. They commute by boat, ferry, or kayak every day to work or school on the mainland. Transportation on the island is mostly golf carts.

Take the time to stroll around the island. It has stunning beaches, tree-laden parks, and an abundance of birds and wildlife that call the island home.

Protection Island is home to Canada’s only registered floating pub, Dinghy Dock Pub. Why not stop by and have some lunch? You can enjoy the best views in town while your kids have fun fishing through a hole in the deck. Or you can savor a refreshing beer on the sunny terrace while watching for otters, seals, or herons. If you are visiting at night, enjoy live music while you watch the lights of downtown Nanaimo flicker in the distance.

Chasing Waterfalls near Nanaimo

Did you know that Nanaimo is home to amazing waterfalls?

  • Benson Creek Falls is a 2.9-kilometer out and back trail located near Lantzville that features a waterfall and has been rated moderate. The path is best known for hiking, walking, and nature trips. Dogs are also able to use this trail.
  • Ammonite Falls Regional Trail is a 4.8 kilometer moderately trafficked out and back trail near Nanaimo that features a waterfall and rated moderate. The path is popular for hiking and nature trips.
  • Chase River Falls at Colliery Dam Park – The falls are beautiful and not far from the parking lot. This park and waterfall are close to downtown Nanaimo, giving it the ideal place to get back to nature.
  • Bowen Park Falls – After parking in the lower section of the park, take a stroll towards the river while following the running water’s sound. The trees lining the falls have changed colors during autumn, giving it the perfect place for photo opportunities.
  • Beach Estates Park Trail is a 1.8-kilometer moderately trafficked out and back trail near Nanaimo that features a waterfall and is excellent for all skill levels. The path is primarily used for hiking, walking, trail running, and nature trips and best visited from April until October.
  • Stocking Creek Falls is in Stocking Creek Park, not too far from Chemainus. It takes approximately 25-minutes from Nanaimo. There are many trails to explore along the river. You will find a wooden staircase and platform overlooking the falls. Being close to a waterfall is a magical experience. You can also go behind the waterfall if you want. Spend some time exploring the trails. You never know what you will find.