city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada

Nanaimo is the central hub city of Vancouver Island in BC, Canada. It is the second largest city on the island and has the second biggest harbour. In many ways it is the smaller cousin of Victoria. Like much of Vancouver Island it has moved from being primarily an industrial town to a tourist city that attracts a large number of retirees from the rest of Canada.

Nanaimo as seen from nearby Newcastle Island

Understand edit

The Indigenous peoples of the area that is now known as Nanaimo are the Snuneymuxw. An anglicised spelling and pronunciation of that word gave the city its current name.

The first Europeans to find Nanaimo Bay were those of the 1791 Spanish voyage of Juan Carrasco, under the command of Francisco de Eliza. They gave it the name Bocas de Winthuysen.

Nanaimo began as a trading post in the early 19th century. In 1849, the Snuneymuxw chief Ki-et-sa-kun ("Coal Tyee") informed the Hudson's Bay Company of coal in the area. Exploration proved there was plenty of it in the area and Nanaimo became chiefly known for the export of coal. In 1853 the company built the Nanaimo Bastion, which has been preserved and is a popular tourist destination in the downtown area. Coal mines were established in the Nanaimo harbour area.

The gassy qualities of the coal which made it valuable also made it dangerous. The 1887 Nanaimo Mine Explosion killed 150 miners and was described as the largest man-made explosion until the Halifax Explosion. Another 100 men died in another explosion the next year.

An internment camp for Ukrainian detainees, many of them local, was set up at a provincial jail in Nanaimo from September 1914 to September 1915.

In the 1940s, lumber supplanted coal as the main business although Minetown Days are still celebrated in the neighbouring community of Lantzville.

Chinatowns edit

Nanaimo has had a succession of four distinct Chinatowns. The first, founded during the gold rush years of the 1860s, was the third largest in British Columbia. In 1884, because of mounting racial tensions related to the Dunsmuir coal company's hiring of Chinese strikebreakers, the company helped move Chinatown outside the city limits. In 1908, when two Chinese entrepreneurs bought the site and tried to raise rents, in response, and with the help of 4,000 shareholders from across Canada, the community combined forces and bought the site for the third Chinatown at a new location, focused on Pine Street. That third Chinatown, by then mostly derelict, burned down on 30 September 1960. A fourth Chinatown, also called Lower Chinatown or "new town", boomed for a while in the 1920s on Machleary Street.

Climate edit

Like much of coastal British Columbia, Nanaimo experiences a temperate climate with mild, rainy winters and cool, dry summers. Nanaimo is usually shielded by the mountains of central Vancouver Island, so that summers are unusually dry for its latitude and location—though summer drying as a trend is found in the immediate lee of the coastal ranges as far north as Skagway, Alaska.

Heavy snowfall does occasionally occur during winter, but the mean maximum cover is only 0.2 metres (7.9 in).


Nanaimo
Climate chart (explanation)
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See the Nanaimo 7 day forecast at Environment Canada
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Get in edit

By boat edit

Most travelers to Nanaimo will arrive from Vancouver.

BC Ferries edit

BC Ferries, toll-free: +1-888-223-3779. Operates coastal ferries in British Columbia.     There are three car ferries at three different Nanaimo terminals:

  • 1 Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal, 680 Trans-Canada Highway (north end of Highway 1).     Connects with Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal in West Vancouver. Ferry crossing is 1 hour and 40 minutes. The ferry departs slightly less frequently than once every 2 hours. First and last departure times vary seasonally with typical inbound and outbound daily first departures being around 6:15 am and last departures being around 10 pm or 11 pm. This is the more scenic of the two ferries from Nanaimo. Located in urban Nanaimo about 5 km north of downtown Nanaimo.
    • Public transit
      • Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal is served by bus routes operates by BC Transit on the following routes:
        • Routes 20 and 20A travel between downtown Nanaimo and Woodgrove Exchange (in north Nanaimo) via the ferry terminal
        • Route 25 travels a large single direction loop around Nanaimo, starting at Woodgrove Exchange, stopping at the ferry terminal, stopping in downtown, stopping at Vancouver Island University (VIU), and then ending at Woodgrove Exchange.
      • Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal is served by several of TransLink's bus routes including:
        • Route 250, connecting to downtown Vancouver. Enables connections with Burrard station (SkyTrain Expo Line) at its stop on Georgia St at Burrard St, and with Granville station (SkyTrain Expo Line) and Vancouver City Centre station (SkyTrain Canada Line) at its stop on Georgia St at Granville St
        • Route 257, a limited stop service connecting to downtown Vancouver. Enables connections with Burrard station (SkyTrain Expo Line) at its stop on Georgia St at Burrard St, and with Granville station (SkyTrain Expo Line) and Vancouver City Centre station (SkyTrain Canada Line) at its stop on Georgia St at Granville St
        • Route 262, connecting to Lions Bay and parts of West Vancouver
    • Intercity buses
      • IslandLink Bus and Tofino Bus both stop at the Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal. See by bus below.
    • Parking options
    • Amenities
      • Wi-Fi: Free service at the ferry terminal. Not offered on the ferries.
      • Washrooms: Available in the terminal and on board ferries.
      • Eating and shopping: A coffee shop is in the terminal. A cafeteria style-restaurant and a gift shop are on board the ferrie
  • 2 Nanaimo (Duke Point) ferry terminal, 400 Duke Point Highway (south end of Hwy 19).     Connects with Vancouver (Tsawwassen) ferry terminal in Delta. Ferry crossing is 2 hours and the ferry departs every 2.5 hours. Inbound and outbound ferries' normal daily departure times are at 5:15AM, 7:45AM, 10:15AM, 12:45PM, 3:15PM, 5:45PM, 7:15PM, and 10:45PM, except that on Saturdays, the last departures are at 5:45PM, and on Sundays, the first departures are at 10:15AM. The route is a quicker option than Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) route to Nanaimo, if traveling from areas south of Vancouver. Nanaimo (Duke Point) is located in an industrial area on a peninsula southeast of downtown Nanaimo, 15 km from downtown.
    • Public transit
      • Vancouver (Tsawwassen): Translink bus route 620, travels between Tsawwassen and the Bridgeport station (SkyTrain Canada Line).
      • Nanaimo (Duke Point): Not available, expect an expensive taxi fare.
    • Parking options
    • Amenities
      • Wi-Fi: Free service at the ferry terminal. Not offered on the ferries.
      • Washrooms: Available in the terminal and on board ferries.
      • Eating and shopping: A coffee kiosk is in the terminal. A cafeteria style-restaurant and a gift shop are on board the ferries
  • 3 Nanaimo (Nanaimo Harbour) ferry terminal, 160 Front Street.     Connects with 4 Gabriola Island (Descanso Bay) ferry terminal, the north most of the Southern Gulf Islands. Crossing time is 20 minutes with departures are every 35 to 70 minutes.
    • Public transit
      • Nanaimo (Nanaimo Harbour): BC Transit has many routes nearby as the ferry terminal is in the downtown area.
      • Gabriola Island (Descanso Bay): There is no public transit on Gabriola Island.
Reservations edit
  • Are available for ferries serving Nanaimo (Departure Bay) and Nanaimo (Duke Point)
  • Can be completed on BC Ferries' website or by phone.
  • Are a generally good idea, as ferries can fill up. If you book far enough in advance and prepay with saver fare is available, you may even pay less than showing up at the terminal. Otherwise, reservations increase the cost of the trip, between increasing cost between $2.50 extra and $17, depending on which option you choose.
  • Drivers must redeem their reservation at the ferry terminal at least 30 minutes before the scheduled sailing or they lose their guarantee to be on the sailing and are given the same priority as anyone else showing up at the ferry terminal without a reservation.

The base fare to travel to or from Nanaimo (Departure Bay) and Nanaimo (Duke Point) ferry terminals are the same.

Hullo edit

5 Hullo, 100 Port Dr. Operates daily passenger only ferry trips between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver, taking 1.25 hours each way. A single carry-on-sized bag and a personal bag are permitted with passengers, and otherwise there is an additional charge per bag. Compared to BC Ferries, Hullo has the advantages of the trip to or from Vancouver being faster and that there will be WiFi on board, but the least expensive fare on Hullo is more than double the fare to travel on BC Ferries.

Bus route 20 operates to this Hullo's Nanaimo ferry terminal and Hullo also has a free shuttle between the ferry terminal and downtown Nanaimo.  The nearest public transit to Hullo's Vancouver ferry terminal is about 400 metres away.

By plane edit

Main airport edit

  • 6 Nanaimo Airport (YCD IATA), 3350 Spitfire Rd., Cassidy, +1-250-924-2157, fax: +1 250-245-4308. The Nanaimo airport is about 20 km from downtown Nanaimo. Public transit service connects the airport directly to Duncan, Ladysmith, and Nanaimo from Monday to Saturday.    

Main airport destinations edit

FIights to Nanaimo from Vancouver (30 minutes) and Calgary (1.75 hours).

Main airport airlines edit

  • Air Canada, +1-514-393-3333, toll-free: +1-888-247-2262. Canada's largest airline with hubs in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal. It operates across Canada and services international destinations.     Flights to Nanaimo from Vancouver and Calgary. The cost to add this onto an Air Canada flight into Vancouver or Calgary is often minimal.
  • WestJet, toll-free: +1-877-952-0100. Canada's second largest airline services with hubs in Calgary and Toronto. It operates across Canada and services international destinations.     Flights to Nanaimo from Calgary.

Seaplanes edit

Seaplanes operate to Nanaimo harbour near downtown Nanaimo

Helicopters edit

  • Helijet, toll-free: +1-800-665-4354. Operates helicopter flights primarily between downtown Vancouver and near downtown Nanaimo (20 minutes), and between downtown Vancouver and near downtown Victoria.    

By car edit

Highways serving Nanaimo:

  • Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway). Travelers reach Nanaimo driving north from Victoria. It is about a 90-minute drive from Victoria. This highway travels to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) ferry terminal and continues at Vancouver (Horseshoe Bay) ferry terminal in West Vancouver.
  • Highway 19. Travelers reach Nanaimo driving south from Campbell River and Courtenay. This highway terminates at Nanaimo (Duke Point) ferry terminal.

By bus edit

  • IslandLink Bus (Stops at Departure Bay ferry terminal), . Operates daily using a hub and spoke bus service with hubs in Nanaimo and Buckley Bay. Trips run non-stop from the hub to the destination area. This system works well if direct travel would run by a hub anyway, but can result in significant detours if direct travel would not pass by either hub. Using this service, the hubs connect to Campbell River, Oyster River, Comox, Courtenay, Cumberland, Bowser, Parksville, Nanaimo, Duncan, and Mill Bay, and Victoria. As of January 30, 2023, service is also available to Port Alberni, Tofino, and Ucluelet, though trip frequency ranges from 3 days per week in the winter to daily in the summer.
  • Tofino Bus (Vancouver Island Connector) (Stops at Departure Bay ferry terminal). Seasonal service operating between May to October with routes daily between Victoria and Tofino, and between Victoria and Campbell River. Both routes travel between Victoria and Parksville with stops in Langford, Duncan, Ladysmith, and Nanaimo. The route to Tofino continues with stops in Coombs, Port Alberni and Ucluelet. The route to Campbell River continues with stops in Qualicum Beach, Bowser, Courtenay, and Oyster River. Some trips only travel between Victoria and Nanaimo. Travel time to Nanaimo (Departure Bay) from Campbell River is 2.75 hours, from Courtenay is 1.75 hours, from Parksville is 45 minutes, from Tofino is 3.75 hours, from Ucluelet is 3 hours, and from Victoria is 2.25 hours.
  • West Coast Trail Express, +1-250-477-8700, toll-free: +1-888-999-2288. Seasonal service allowing hikers of the West Coast Trail to reach the northern (Bamfield) and southern (Port Renfrew) ends of the trail. Operates route that connects Nanaimo with Port Renfrew and Gordon River, a route that connects Nanaimo with Bamfield. Travel time to Nanaimo from Bamfield is 4 hours and from Port Renfrew is 2.75 hours. The routes operate from May 1 to September 30.

Get around edit

If arranged ahead of time, cars can be rented at the downtown harbour, Departure Bay ferry terminal or the Nanaimo airport.

By public transit edit

BC Transit (Regional District of Nanaimo Transit System), +1-250-390-4531. Operates buses connecting communities within the Regional District of Nanaimo, including: Bowser, Lantzville, Nanaimo, Nanoose Bay, Parksville, and Qualicum Bay, and Qualicum Beach. Most routes within Nanaimo operate multiple time daily. $2.50 cash fare, children 5 and under free.     Also operates the following routes between cities:

  • Route 20 between downtown Nanaimo and Woodgrove Centre with a stop at Departure Bay ferry terminal. Travel time between downtown Nanaimo and Departure Bay ferry terminal is about 10 minutes and between Departure Bay ferry terminal and Woodgrove Centre is about 30 minutes.
  • Route 25 does a large clockwise loop around Nanaimo to assist with travel to and from Departure Bay ferry terminal. It is fastest option to travel from Woodgrove Centre to the ferry terminal (23 minutes). It is also useful for travel from the ferry terminal to downtown Nanaimo (about 10 minutes).
  • Route 50 between downtown Nanaimo and Woodgrove Centre (30 min). The fastest option between Nanaimo and Woodgrove Centre.
  • Route 70 between downtown Nanaimo and Duncan (1.25 hours) with stops in Ladysmith and at Nanaimo Airport. Operates multiple times daily from Monday to Saturday,
  • Route 91 between Woodgrove Centre and Qualicum Beach (1 hour) with stops in Nanoose Bay and Parksville. Operates multiple times daily.

By taxi edit

By ride hailing edit

  • Uber.

See edit

 
The Bastion
  • 1 Swy-a-lana Lagoon Park (Comox Road & Front Street). Swy-a-lana is a saltwater lagoon that makes use of the tide's natural ebb and flow, creating a home for marine life. An arched foot bridge crosses the lagoon, leading to Maffeo Sutton Park, where you'll find a sandlot playground, a fishing pier, picnic tables, benches and grass fields. Both Swy-a-lana and Maffeo Sutton Parks offer commanding views of the waterfront, Gulf Islands, and coastal mountains.
  • 2 Nanaimo Seawall. S pedestrian walkway that winds along the waterfront from Cameron Island (near Port Place Shopping Centre) to the Nanaimo Yacht Club. Visitors especially enjoy the section of the seawall near the Bastion, where craft shops and restaurants dot the path.
  • 3 The Bastion (Front Street & Bastion Street). 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. Admission is by donation.    
  • Pioneer Plaza -- at the foot of Bastion Street, you'll find markers for a self-guided walking tour of the downtown core.
  • 4 Nanaimo Museum, 100 Museum Way (Vancouver Island Conference Centre), +1 250-753-1821. Covers Nanaimo's history & modern day contributions to Canada's West Coast in the 1,486 sq m (16,000 sq ft) museum in the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. Stroll through time in the 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 the replica Coal Mine exhibit. The museum’s feature exhibits change three times a year and exhibit everything from vintage undergarments to shellfish to the history of radio in Canada. Adults $2, seniors/students $1.75, children $0.75, and children under 5 are free.    
  • 5 Departure Bay Beach, Departure Bay Road. There is a small park for the kids just south of the main beach. Dedicated swimming area during summer months.

Events edit

July edit

  • 6 Bathtub Racing. An annual race of bathtubs that have been converted into boats and race through the harbour of Nanaimo.
  • Nanaimo Dragonboat Festival. An annual 3-day event held in Maffeo Sutton Park. Over 70 teams and 1,400 participants take part in this annual event. 

Do edit

 
Newcastle Island
  • 1 WIldPlay, 35 Nanaimo River Rd, toll-free: +1-855-595-2251. Summer: daily 10AM-6PM. Check website or call for off-season hours.. Bungy Jumping, TreeGo aerial tree obstacle course, and Ziplines. This is North America's first permanent legal bungy jumping site. Ziplining crosses a river canyon. There is also a high-speed "king swing" ride. About 10 km south of downtown.
  • 2 Camping/Hiking on Newcastle Island. Newcastle Island Provincial Marine Park offers spectacular trails through beautiful forests and along its wild coastline. The island used to dig coles in the back days, and many historical places are left to see as well. A 10-minute ferry ride from downtown.
  • 3 Cottonwood Golf Course, 1975 Haslam Rd, +1 250-245-5157. 18 hole golf course located near the airport.
  • Scuba diving. Nanaimo has world famous cold water scuba diving.
  • 4 Nanaimo River Regional Park, 1955 Frey Rd. Go walking, cycling, swimming, and fishing.

Learn edit

Buy edit

Nanaimo is the largest city that can be easily accessed by most of Vancouver Island. As leaving the Island to do shopping is expensive and time consuming, Nanaimo has become the shopping centre for Vancouver Island. According to a 1990 Time Magazine article, it has more square meters of retail space per capita than any other city in North America. Much of this shopping is in the large number of malls and big box retailers on the outskirts of at the north end of the city just south of where Highway 19 and Highway 19A converge, such as Woodgrove Centre. However, most of the interesting shops are in the downtown core.

Eat edit

If you are visiting Nanaimo, you should try a Nanaimo Bar, a delicious dessert that was invented in this city. A Nanaimo Bar consists of a layer of chocolate ganache on top, custard icing in the middle, and a wafer, nut, and coconut crumb base. A number of tourist shops sell Nanaimo Bars along the downtown Nanaimo waterfront, and at least one sells Nanaimo Bar ice cream cones. Nanaimo Bars can also be found in a number of other places, including some grocery store bakeries and at the cafeterias on many BC Ferries sailings, including those connecting Nanaimo with the Vancouver area.

Restaurants in Nanaimo:

  • 1 The View Oceanside Grill, 70 Church Street, +1 778-441-4229. M Tu 5-9PM, W-F 4-10PM; Sa Su 9AM-2:30PM, 4-10PM. Casual fine dining restaurant; reservations recommended.
  • 2 Gina's Mexican Cafe, 47 Skinner St, +1 250 753-5411. A Mexican restaurant in a bright pink building on the hill in downtown Nanaimo. Excellent food $10-15 for an entree.
  • 3 The Discovery Room, Vancouver Island University (VIU), Building 300, +1 250-740-6338. A secret fine dining restaurant inside of Vancouver Island University, where the university's hospitality and culinary students gain experience.
  • 4 Eve Olive Restaurant, 102-5281 Rutherford Road (turn right from southwest-bound Rutherford Road; reverse course at the roundabout if coming north-east from the highway), +1 250-585-5337, . A 100% plant-based, vegan menu featuring fresh and local ingredients. Dishes range from pasta to pizza to burgers to Thai. Friendly service. A wine bar in case you just want to hang out. Refined wooden interior makes it a cozy date destination. Dinner $45/person including wine, tax, tip.

Drink edit

  • 1 The Old City Station, 150 Skinner St. Has excellent drink specials every day, 20 beers on tap, as well as live music on weekends. It's huge, has a dozen flat panel TVs, aesthetically pleasing, and the menu is excellent because it shares a kitchen with a gourmet dining restaurant, The Green Olive.
  • 2 Power House Living Foods (Power House Living Foods), 200 Commercial St (Downtown Nanaimo). 10AM-6PM. Organic raw vegan foods in downtown Nanaimo. In a city with very limited selection and high food prices this might be an option you want to explore. $10-15.

Sleep edit

 
Painted Turtle Guesthouse
  • 1 Buccaneer Inn (Buccaneer), 1577 Stewart Ave (3 blocks south of Departure Bay Ferry Terminal), toll-free: +1-877-282-6337. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. The Buccaneer Inn features comfortable, plush beds with down duvets in a separate bedroom, full kitchen facilities, ensuite bathrooms, full coffee and tea making facilities, games and books basket and local art all in a spotlessly clean room. Free wireless internet and free use of the front desk laptop, secure gear storage for scuba diving gear, dive gear rinse station, storage facilities for bikes and kayaks, BBQ deck. AAA 2 Diamond and Canada Select 3.5 Star accommodation. Across from 5 restaurants and pubs including waterfront dining. Beautiful walk along Harbourside Walkway to downtown. Central Nanaimo location; great for seeing all of southern and central Vancouver Island including Victoria, Tofino, Oceanside, Chemainus and Comox Valley. $60-199.
  • 2 Coast Bastion Inn, 11 Bastion St, +1 250 753-6601, toll-free: +1-800-716-6199, fax: +1 250 753-4155. An upscale hotel in the heart of downtown Nanaimo. $145-275/night.
  • 3 Painted Turtle Guesthouse, 121 Bastion St (corner of Commercial and Bastion Streets downtown), +1 250 753-4432, toll-free: +1-866-309-4432, . A simple but friendly hostel aimed square at the backpacker set, in the heart of downtown Nanaimo, around the corner from The Old City Station Pub, and The Green Olive: Nanaimo's Premier Shared Dining Experience. Rooms are free of phones or televisions, but free wireless internet covers the hostel. Double room $75/night for two people, Dorm bed $25.25/night; less in off season.

Cope edit

Newspaper edit

Hospital edit

Go next edit

Nanaimo is a hub city for the island, as such it provides good access to a number of locations on the island.

Ladysmith, along the Trans-Canada Highway to the southeast, is a picturesque tourist town.

It is about a 3-hour drive to Tofino and Long Beach Unit of Pacific Rim National Park.

North of Nanaimo is Campbell River, Telegraph Cove and Port Hardy.

The beaches of the Parksville/Qualicum Beach region are a short 20-minute drive from Nanaimo. This region also includes Coombs, offering some wonderful rustic and exotic shopping and this is where you find the goats on the roof. It's a favourite spot for locals and an excellent stop for tourists. It's about a 30-minute drive from Nanaimo.

Routes through Nanaimo
VictoriaLadysmith  S   E   West VancouverVancouver
Campbell RiverParksville  N   E   DeltaVancouver via   


This city travel guide to Nanaimo is a usable article. It has information on how to get there and on restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.