Nanaimo

Destination Location

Nanaimo, BC

Overview

A meeting place of different currents – Nanaimo mixes natural splendour with contemporary comfort resulting in one of Canada’s most desirable communities.

The Harbour City serves as a crossroads on Vancouver Island; situated 115 km south of Comox, 115 km north of Victoria and 60 km west of Vancouver across the Strait of Georgia.

Nanaimo’s natural appeal is tied to its history – dating back to the local Coast Salish people, whose influence is evident in the city’s art, culture and traditions. European settlers also left their mark, as the area’s heritage lives on in the original settlement buildings (circa late 1800s) and in the coal mining and logging museums of the Old City Quarter.

Not stuck in the past, Nanaimo’s progressive characteristics give it a distinct identity. From bridge-fishing in the downtown core, to float planes sharing waters with orcas along the waterfront, Nanaimo has a unique personality. Local creativity is displayed throughout Nanaimo’s galleries and farmer’s markets while visual arts, theatre and music are showcased in the Arts District and culminate during summer festivals (including the annual Nanaimo Marine Festival and World Championship Bathtub Race). Renowned cuisine goes beyond the classic dessert bar that shares the city’s name to include inspired fresh produce and salmon drawn from the surrounding area.

Nanaimo’s organic backdrop of forests, water and mountains provides a host of recreational opportunities for casual visitors and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Nanaimo proper is a walker-friendly city dotted with shopping, tours and parks; although biking, hiking and kayaking are all good reasons to spend a day outside of the city limits in search of tranquility or adventure.

Another natural draw is the consistently mild climate – Nanaimo was tied for first, with nearby Victoria, in Environment Canada’s rankings of the most comfortable weather in Canada. The surrounding bodies of water provide Nanaimo with a comfortable summer climate (average August temperature of 18 C) and a bearable winter (average January temperature of 2.7 C). The surrounding water also provides excellent cold-water diving conditions and several shipwrecks to explore.

Sitting on the fringe of urban and at the centre of nature, Nanaimo is a pleasant blend of history, nature and modern amenity. As a primary WestJet Encore destination, Vancouver Island’s second largest city is easily accessible year-round.

Airport served by: YCD

Destination basics

Environment Canada ranked Nanaimo first among Canadian cities (tied with nearby Victoria) for its comfortable weather. The summer months are comfortable, generally seeing a daily high of 20-25 C from June to August. Winter months are comparatively warm to other Canadian cities with the average temperature typically hanging just above freezing during the coldest months of December and January.

Consistently mild temperatures moderated by warm Pacific currents and low precipitation levels promote Nanaimo’s outdoors attitude. Historically, November and December are the wettest months of the year, while July and August tend to stay dry.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Nanaimo
Downtown Nanaimo is the heart of the city and the epicenter of its cultural sphere. As you move away from downtown, the city sprawls before you, speckled with lakes and parks that invite you to make the most of the mild climate and bountiful outdoors.

Downtown
Downtown Nanaimo forms the historic, cultural and culinary core of the city. It is here that you will find the city’s top attractions, entertainment venues, and dining destinations. Downtown’s dining scene promises a myriad of experiences, from fine dining to fast food and everything in between. Experience the city’s past at Nanaimo Museum, the Vancouver Island Military Museum, and the HBC Bastion, or enjoy a stroll along the scenic Harbourfront Walkway. Shop at specialty boutiques like Artzi Stuff, or browse through brand-name stores at the Port Place Shopping Centre. Downtown celebrates the arts too, through live performances at the Port Theatre and art exhibitions at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Head to Casino Nanaimo for some gaming action, or embark on a self-guided tour of downtown’s historic streets. Here, you will also find the departure and arrival points for ferries to Protection, Newcastle, and Gabriola islands.

Central Nanaimo
To the west of Downtown lies the Vancouver Island University and its many attractions. The neighborhood is a thriving center for sports and is home to the Serauxmen Sports Fields, the Serauxmen Stadium, the Nanaimo Ice Centre and the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre. Nearby, Westwood Lake, Buttertubs Marsh, Bowen, and Valley Oak parks are sure to thrill outdoors enthusiasts, while golfers will enjoy the well-groomed greens of the Pryde Vista Golf Course. Infused with the youthful energy of the university nearby, Central Nanaimo is home to a diverse community.

North Nanaimo
Indulge in a shopping spree at North Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre - Vancouver Island’s largest shopping center. The neighborhood is best known as a shopping destination, with a plethora of boutiques and shops to choose from at the Woodgrove Centre, the Nanaimo North Town Centre and the Country Club Centre. Each shopping center also boasts its own collection of restaurants and cafes, giving rise to a diverse culinary offer that includes everything from fine dining at the Hilltop Bistro and Thai food at Kasira, to mountain views and local brews at the Longwood Brewpub.

South Nanaimo
South Nanaimo is where you will find a host of local farms, artisanal shops and exceptional restaurants to explore. Take a tour of family-run farms like Fredrich’s Honey, McNabs, Yellow Point Cranberries and Yellow Point Alpacas, or dine at top restaurants like the Crow & Gate Pub, Coco Cafe, and the charming Mahle House. For shopping, visit delightful specialty shops like Van Isles Soaps, the Jolda Gallery, and the Yonder Wood Studio. These and many other local attractions lie along the Cedar Yellow Point Artisan Trail. The district is also home to the Cotton Golf Course, WildPlay Nanaimo, and the Cedar Community Hall.
Delve into the city’s past at its museums, and celebrate the arts at Nanaimo’s galleries and theaters. From varied nightlife and shopping destinations to gaming and golf, Nanaimo boasts a varied offer indeed.  A year-round schedule of family-friendly festivals, and ample opportunity to explore the outdoors complete Nanaimo’s entertainment offer.

Museums and Galleries
Museums like the Nanaimo Museum and the Vancouver Island Military Museum showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage and colorful past. While Nanaimo Museum offers an insight into the city’s rich and varied past, the Vancouver Island Military Museum chronicles the nation’s military history through a diverse collection of memorabilia, artifacts, and exhibits. The Bastion is another historic attraction that presents the city’s history as a center for the Hudson Bay Company’s coal mining operations, and a transportation hub.

While the city’s museums showcase Nanaimo’s past, its art galleries celebrate the ingenuity of the region’s contemporary artists. Explore the visual arts at the Nanaimo Art Gallery and the Barton Leier Gallery in Downtown Nanaimo, or catch a ferry to Gabriola Island - “Isle of the Arts” - for an encounter with a heady mix of glass art, pottery, paintings, photography and sculpture at the island’s numerous galleries and studios.

Performing Arts
The breathtaking beauty of the Vancouver Island and its surrounds have always inspired artists of every kind, giving rise to a thriving performing arts scene that is centered around downtown Nanaimo. The Port Theatre lies at the core of the city’s performing arts realm, with a diverse cultural program featuring live theater, concerts, and community events. The theater also hosts performances by the Vancouver Island Symphony Orchestra. With an annual season of 12 concerts, these orchestral performances are the highlight of the theater’s varied program. Nearby, the Diana Krall Plaza is downtown’s venue of choice for outdoor concerts and community events. While TheatreOne is the city’s premier professional theater company, the Nanaimo Theatre Group presents community theater at the intimate Bailey Studio. Headliners and the Red Rock Studio present a robust children’s theater program featuring dazzling theatrical performances and broadway musicals at the Vancouver Island University Theatre.

Nightlife
Nanaimo boasts a varied nightlife scene with everything from laid-back pubs, to live music venues and popular nightclubs. If you’re in the mood for a party, head to Koncept for EDM and hip hop music, or the Queens Hotel for live performances featuring indie bands. The Cambie is another popular choice for live music, while the Palace Hotel is known for its student nights. Try Minnoz and the Corner Lounge for a more relaxed, upscale experience, or catch a ferry to the Dinghy Dock Pub for live music and drinks with a view of Nanaimo’s twinkling skyline. The Nanaimo Bar is another popular favorite, with open mic nights, cocktails, and a laid-back vibe for a more casual night on the town.

Shopping
Home to the island’s largest shopping center and a plethora of unique, specialty shops, Nanaimo has something for everyone. The Arts District, the Waterfront District and the Old City Quarter are the city’s main shopping districts, each home to a delightful melange of one-of-kind boutiques and specialty shops. Shop for artwork created by over 60 local artists at Artzi Stuff, sample small-batch chocolates at Cherub, and stock up on handmade, organic soaps from Van Isles. If big-brand names are more your speed, head to Woodgrove Centre, Port Place or Nanaimo North Town Centre for a shopping spree. For fresh, local produce, gourmet foods, and artisanal crafts, browse through the colorful stalls of the Lantzville and Cedar Farmers’ Markets. Other popular markets include the Nanaimo Downtown Farmers’ Market and the Island Roots Bowen Road Market.

Casino
Experience the thrill of gaming at Casino Nanaimo. Located in the heart of downtown, the casino boasts a fabulous location by the harbor, within walking distance from some of the city’s top attractions. The casino features table games and slot machines for a varied gaming offer, as well as high-stakes poker tournaments for the more skilled player. After a fruitful day of gaming, treat yourself to a delicious meal and drinks at the casino bar & grill.

Outdoors
With a waterfront location sheltered by the peaks of the coastal mountains, Nanaimo is a haven for those who enjoy the outdoors. Hiking and biking trails riddle the landscape, forming an extensive network that guides you through forests and along the scenic shore of the island. Hike to the summit of Mount Benton for unmatched views of the city, or make your way to the Ammonite Falls nearby. As for watersports, you’ll find ample opportunity to enjoy swimming, paddling, scuba diving, and boating. The harbor offers moorage for just about any kind of watercraft, while divers are sure to relish a chance to explore the three shipwrecks just off the coast. For fishing, choose between crabbing at Maffeo Sutton Park, fresh water angling at Nanaimo’s lakes, and salmon fishing charters. For an adrenaline-pumping adventure, head to WildPlay Element Park for adventure sports like ziplining and bungee jumping, or snorkel, swim and windsurf at Departure Bay. All this and so much more awaits the outdoors adventurer at Nanaimo.

Golf
Nanaimo is a golfer’s dream come true with numerous spectacular courses within city limits and several more just a short drive away to choose from. Top courses within the city include the Nanaimo Golf Club, the Pryde Vista Golf Course and Victoria Golf Club. With a scenic locale and well-groomed fairways, Nanaimo’s golf courses are stellar additions to the city’s entertainment offer.

Festivals
Nanaimo plays host to a variety of festivals and events throughout the year. The Empire Days Celebration marks the start of the festival season with the first cannon firing of the season, followed by a dazzling fireworks display. Soon followed by the Dragon Boat Festival and the much-awaited World Championship Bathtub Race, Nanaimo’s harborfront comes alive in a celebration of summer. For some good old family fun visit the Vancouver Island Exhibition and groove along to the music at the Summertime Blues fest. The Nanaimo Pumpkin Festival is a popular fall celebration, while the Festival of Trees transforms the university campus into a wonderland of lights for Christmas. With so much and more to look forward to, Nanaimo promises family-friendly fun all year round.
Nanaimo’s diversity is reflected in a culinary offer that is deliciously varied. From classic comfort food and fresh seafood to contemporary and international cuisines, Nanaimo’s restaurants showcase fresh, local ingredients in a variety of ways. Sample different versions of the classic Nanaimo Bar, or treat yourself to a culinary tour of the city’s top restaurants. Whether it’s the waterfront location of the Bistro at Westwood Lake, or Longwood’s mountain views, Nanaimo’s best eateries boast stellar locations that make the most of the city’s spectacular surrounds.<

Downtown
Begin your exploration of downtown’s culinary melange with a stroll down the scenic Harbourfront Walkway. Snack on fish & chips at Trollers, or sample Mexican fare on a barge at Penny’s Palapas. Further away, the Lighthouse Bistro is a fine place to treat yourself to seafood, pub grub and BBQ by the bay. As you move inland, you’ll come across numerous dining options with something to suit every taste. Pirate Chips is a local favorite that serves seafood alongside deep fried Nanaimo Bars, while the Nest delivers organic, New Canadian cuisine in a bistro-style setting. For healthy, organic options try Power House Living, or head to 2 Chefs Cafe for a sumptuous breakfast. You’ll find plenty of restaurants serving international cuisines as well. Sample Italian cuisine at La Stella, Japanese at Bistro Taiyo, Vietnamese at Pho A Dong, and Greek as Asteras. Whatever your culinary cravings, downtown is sure to delight. For a dining experience that is truly unique, catch a ferry to Protection Island and make your way to the Dinghy Dock Pub - Canada’s only floating pub and restaurant. Here, dine on hearty, delicious pub fare and relish spellbinding views of Nanaimo as you groove along to live music.

Central Nanaimo
Although Central Nanaimo cannot compete with the culinary extravaganza that is downtown, the neighborhood does offer some fine choices for a casual meal. Here, you will find a number of ethnic restaurants serving everything from Thai and Japanese to Italian and Greek. Mandarin House and Yangs Cuisine are the top picks for simple Chinese fare, while Baby Salsa and Jalapenos serve up classic Mexican favorites. For a taste of the campus life, head to Jumpin’ Java and the Students’ Union Pub at the Vancouver Island University to mingle with the students over coffee and drinks. The Bistro at Westwood Lake is the neighborhood’s top pick for a romantic meal with a spectacular view over the lake.

North Nanaimo
North Nanaimo’s dining options are clustered around the Woodgrove Centre, the Nanaimo North Town Centre, and the Country Club Centre. The neighborhood offers a healthy mix of locally-owned restaurants, alongside national and international chains. For local brews, head to the Longwood Brewpub and enjoy breezy mountain views over drinks. For a healthy alternative to the usual fast food, try Rawmbas, or make your way to Simonholt for live music and an eclectic food menu. Nearby, Pho Boi serves up traditional Vietnamese cuisine, while Nori is Nanaimo’s favored choice for sushi. Venture away from North Nanaimo’s malls to experience fine dining at the fabulous Hilltop Bistro, and classic American BBQ at Smokin’ George’s. For souvlaki and other Greek favorites try Marina’s Taverna.

South Nanaimo
Nestled alongside sprawling farms and orchards, South Nanaimo’s restaurants boast a unique charm and character that is quite unlike the contemporary, urban eateries found elsewhere. Mahle House is by far one of South Nanaimo’s most popular restaurants, serving refined European cuisine within a historic home from the 1900s. For a more casual meal try Coco Cafe, or enjoy the cheerful energy of an English pub at the Crow & Gate as you dine on classic British fare.
Nanaimo

Province: British Columbia

Country: Canada

Nanaimo by the Numbers
Population: 90,504 (City); 104,936 (Metropolitan)
Elevation: 28 meters / 92 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 116.5 centimeters / 45.88 inches
Average Annual Snowfall: 68.7 centimeters / 27.05 inches
Average January Temperature: 3.5°C / 38.3°F 
Average July Temperature: 18.1°C / 64.6°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 120 volts, 60Hz, AC

Time Zone: GMT-8 (GMT-7 Daylight Saving Time); Pacific Standard Time (PST)

Country Dialing Code: +1

Area Code: 250

Did You Know?
Nanaimo is home to the Dinghy Dock Pub & Restaurant - Canada’s one and only floating pub.

The residents race bathtubs! The first World Championship Bathtub Race was held in 1967 and has been a tradition that has been upheld ever since as a part of the annual Nanaimo Marine Festival.

Orientation
Nanaimo is located 110 kilometers (68.35 miles) to the northwest of Victoria and 55 kilometers (34.18 miles) to the west of Vancouver, on Vancouver Island. The city is separated from the mainland by the Strait of Georgia, and is linked to Vancouver and the islands off its coast via ferry. At the heart of the city lies the Buttertubs Marsh, spanning an area of close to 100 acres (40 hectares).
The first Europeans to explore Nanaimo Bay were the Spanish of the voyage of Juan Carrasco, led by Francisco de Eliza in 1791. The area had long been populated by the Snuneymuxw but was not established as a formal settlement until the 1800s when a trading post was founded at the site. In 1849, chief of the Snuneymuxw, Ki-et-sa-kun or Coal Tyee, transported a canoe full of coal to Victoria, sparking the interest of the Hudson Bay Company. The company soon established coal mines at Nanaimo and the city began to take shape. 

A bastion was set up in 1853 to protect the port and the company’s interests, igniting further growth. The bastion still stands today and is one of the city’s most popular attractions. From mid-May through Labor Day, canons are fired and bagpipes are played at the bastion in memoriam of its heyday. At this time the city was known as Colevile Town. In 1860, this name was struck in favor of the name “Nanaimo” - a Westernized adaptation of “Snuneymuxw,” honoring the region’s original Coast Salish people. 

The famed coal baron, Sir Robert Dunsmuir helped establish the first coal mines around Nanaimo harbor for the Hudson Bay Company, and later began an independent mining operation further north at Wellington. Dunsmuir’s company flourished and in 1873 he was contracted by the Provincial Government for the construction of a railroad between Nanaimo and Esquimalt. Completed in 1886 and inaugurated by the Canadian Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, the arrival of the railways marks a new and prosperous chapter in the history of Nanaimo. 

On May 3, 1887, tragedy struck when an explosion in the Hudson Bay’s Number One Coal Mine killed 150 miners, shaking the city to its core. The fire burned for an entire day, and for a time, this was the largest man-made explosion in history.  Although coal mining continued to be a major source of income for several decades more, the lumber industry came to the fore in the 1940s and eventually replaced mining as the city’s top industry. The Harmac Mill near Nanaimo is one of the country’s largest and produces high-quality pulp using a blend of wood fibers. Today, Nanaimo is the island’s largest port and boasts a thriving commercial fishing and aquaculture industry.

Points of interest in Nanaimo

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