From the sparkling ocean to the majestic mountain and everything in between – there’s lots to explore in Nanaimo. If you’ve got a few hours to kill in the Harbour City there are plenty of adventures to be had.
Whether you are interested in an on-the-water activity, learning about the history of the city or shopping for locally-crafted products check out these best ways to spend a day in Nanaimo – there are enough ideas to last a while!
1. Take a whale-watching tour
Hop on an open-air Zodiac inflatable or covered boat charter to see humpbacks and orcas offshore from Nanaimo. Seals, sea lions and eagles are a bonus. Whale sighting rates are over 90% in this area.
2. Taste the Nanaimo Bar Trail
On this self-guided trail with 40+ stops you can indulge in this legendary Canadian treat in its namesake city. Try an ice cream or latte rendition. There is even a Nanaimo Bar pedicure and other inventive non-edible versions.
3. Go island hopping
In summer, catch a harbour ferry to visit Protection Island’s floating pub or the Indigenous territory of Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) where you’ll find coastal hiking trails, totems, a sandstone quarry, and beaches. Nearby Gabriola Island is a year-round must-see for artist studios and beaches.
4. Stand in the mist of waterfalls
The cascading Ammonite Falls is your stunning reward at the end of a remote 4.5-km forested trail. Three city parks also feature gorgeous waterfalls right near the parking lot. Other local trails take you to a mountain summit, earthquake fissure and suspension bridge.
5. Sample local craft beer
Sip locally inspired microbrews on sunny patios that feature gorgeous views and West Coast fare. Nanaimo’s four craft breweries on the BC Ale Trail each offer a different tasting flight experience. Don’t miss the craft distillery and two wineries.
6. Stroll the seawall path
Along the downtown seawall path you can stop for tidepool exploring, crabbing on the pier, an ice cream cone or a meal as you watch seaplanes and boats come and go. The new Maffeo Sutton Park playground for all ages and abilities includes a custom-designed canoe carved by a local Indigenous artist.
7. Find Indigenous-designed jewellery
Check out the shops along Commercial for the unmistakable designs of local and regional Indigenous artists. The gift shop at the Nanaimo Museum has a great selection of Indigenous art, jewellery, scarves and other merchandise.
8. Paddle in the harbour
Launch your kayak or rent one and paddle from downtown around Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) as seaplanes take off overhead and you look back to see downtown framed by a Mount Benson backdrop. Look for purple sea stars, seals and unique sandstone rock formations.
9. Visit the Nanaimo Museum
Walk through a replica coal mine, learn about the local forestry industry, and see what daily life was like in a traditional Indigenous longhouse.
10. Explore the farm & artisan trail
Head just outside city limits and cruise the country roads on this self-guided tour. The Cedar Yellow Point Artisan Trail takes you to artist studios with pottery, woodworking and glass blowing. At farm stops you’ll see honey bees, cranberry bogs, mini animal breeds and more.
11. Swim in lakes, rivers and the ocean
Take a dip in the calm, sandy Westwood Lake or SUP here with kids. Colliery Dam also draws families. There’s a popular rope swing beneath the Island Highway trestle over the crystal-clear Nanaimo River. For an ocean swim, try Departure Bay or Pipers Lagoon.