Nanaimo is Vancouver Island’s harbour city, backed by forest-covered mountains and flanked by calm seas. Within minutes you can swap the city’s bustling downtown for its green wilderness. Hike through old forests, chase waterfalls or conquer its great peaks. It’s also home to rocky shores, where small coves and rugged outcrops make for great swimming and snorkelling spots. Back in town, it’s all about the food; find quaint cafés in the city’s oldest areas, and eateries that embrace a farm-to-plate ethos.
Base yourself in a Nanaimo hostel downtown, or towards the mountains. Find hostels backdropped by wooded landscapes, mountains and sparkling lakes, as well as city-centre pads housed in early 20th-century buildings. Budget-friendly features like shared dorms and communal kitchens can help you save money, while free luggage storage and laundry services can take the stress out of travelling. Some Nanaimo hostels have free Wi-Fi and TVs, while others embrace a simpler way of life with cosy gas fire communal areas and outside decks.
Downtown Nanaimo is centred around its harbour. Front Street runs all the way along the seafront and is lined with shops, restaurants with outdoor patios and green parks. A short walk from here you’ll find the Old City Quarter along Fitzwilliam Street, which is characterised by colourful panelled buildings built in the 19th century. As you head out of the centre, you’ll see the city’s changing landscapes towards the west at Mount Benson Regional Park and its rocky shores to the north.
Spend a day or two exploring Nanaimo’s downtown area. It’s full of interesting shops, especially of the vintage kind, and charming eateries like French patisseries and cafés selling the famous Nanaimo Bar (a no-bake dessert). There’s also a museum here, which is worth a visit if you want to delve into the city’s history. A 40-minute drive out of town will take you to Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, home to a forest full of towering pine trees and two waterfalls. Along the coastline, there’s Neck Point Park. Its hiking trails pass various swimming beaches and diving spots.
Nanaimo Airport is 18km south of town and has daily flights from Vancouver. You can also arrive by boat from Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay. If you’re coming from Victoria, the Greyhound Canada bus service can bring you into town (around 2 hours). The city’s bus service will help you get around town – they go along the harbour and to the ferry terminal.