What to do

It’s the many options from sea to sky that attract visitors to Nanaimo, where pedals push you over trails and the soles of your boots take you down to the base of rainforest waterfalls. And yet all will find the stillness to rejuvenate when kicking back on the beach to watch the ferry dock, or enjoying a cold handmade beverage at one of 4 craft breweries.

When you’re ready to feel the ocean air, set sail from Nanaimo’s harbour—one of Vancouver Island’s most industrious and beautiful ports—on a catamaran, fishing boat or hovercraft. It’s just one of the ways to catch a glimpse of Nanaimo’s locals—the wildlife of British Columbia who call the Salish Sea home. Get up close and personal with the harbour seals when you dive off Snake Island with a knowledgeable guide.

Sample Nanaimo’s culture, history and unique way of life – play hard, relax well and enjoy beauty in 360 degrees. Browse our activities by theme above, or keep reading to learn about the top ten things to do in Nanaimo.


Top 10 Things To Do in Nanaimo

1. The Nanaimo Bar Trail

So you’ve got a sweet tooth, do you? Follow this self-guided tasting trail to discover all the secret variations of the legendary Nanaimo Bar dessert. Your taste buds will love you!

2. Snorkel with Harbour Seals

Ever wondered what it feels like to swim with seals? Well, now’s your chance to find out! Take a boat charter from the harbour to meet these playful pups in their natural habitat. No experience or gear required – just a swim suit.

3. Catamaran Cruise

With the wind in your hair and the sun on your face, sailing has got to be one of the purest forms of escape. Relax and let your skipper attend to the sails while you take in the sights, wildlife and action of the Nanaimo Harbour. Your vessel awaits!

4. Craft Beverages And Culinary Tour

Welcome fellow wine snobs, beer fanatics and bonafide foodies from far and wide – we can’t wait to share our tasty vittles with you! Book a culinary, craft beverage and/or Estate Winery tour with one of our fun and knowledgeable local guides to treat your palate to the Island’s finest. Learn more about the BC Ale Trail.

5. Historic Cannon Firing

Did you know that Nanaimo was originally established as a Hudson’s Bay Company trading hub? These 19th century cannons were part of the original defenses, and are still functional! You can watch the daily cannon firing ceremony – accompanied by bagpipes – on the waterfront at 12 noon, May thru September.

6. Discover Downtown

Find quaint shops, heritage buildings, culinary experiences and attend an event in Diana Krall Plaza or the Old City Quarter historical district.

7. Artisan Trail

For the ultimate artisan experience, we recommend driving along the Cedar Yellow Point Artisan Trail loop. There’s plenty of beautiful stops along the way, providing a chance to visit farms, meet local growers, and chat with artists who are famous for crafting one of a kind creations!

8. Fishing And Crabbing Charter

Whether you are an experienced fisherman or have yet to feel the thrill of catching a meal on a hook, Nanaimo & Region’s fishing and crabbing charters will not disappoint! One of our local guides can get you out on the water, where you’ll be able to catch fresh seafood and bring it ashore for a feast!

9. Paddles Up

Nothing clears the mind and calms the spirit like a good paddle. The protected waters of the Nanaimo region’s lakes and harbours are full of secret coves and inlets to explore by kayak, canoe or paddle board. This is one of the best ways to spot rare wildlife or catch the perfect coastal sunset!

10. Nanaimo’s Natural Wonders

With some many nature-rich parks to chose from in the Nanaimo region, peace and quiet is never hard to find. Common favourites include the tidal lagoon at Pipers Park, sandstone rock formations at Malaspina Galleries, the Abyss fault line, and Ammonite Falls. Ask a local about their favourite natural wonders!

Nanaimo is Your Homebase

Nanaimo is a gateway to Vancouver Island, with an airport, marina, two BC Ferry ports and sea plane terminals. The city is an ideal place to set up basecamp for your Vancouver Island adventure.

Head North to Parksville, and spend the day at one of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Stop at Coombs Market on the way back, to catch a glimpse of the famous goats on the roof. Keep heading west to take in the ethereal beauty of Cathedral Grove, ancient forests.

Head South to the Cowichan Valley, and enjoy a tour your taste buds will thank you for. The Cowichan region is rich in wine and culinary delights.

Popular Vancouver Island destinations are close enough for a daytrip: Tofino is a 3-hour drive, and Victoria can be reached by car or bus in under 2 hours. Port Hardy, in Vancouver Island North is just under 4 hours away.

Book Your Stay Now

What’s Your Travel Type?

Have you ever wondered what type of traveller you are? Whether you’re more of a history buff, or perhaps a thrill-seeker? Destination Canada created this quiz to help you better understand exactly what type of traveller you are. If you’d like to see an itinerary that matches your traveller type, check out our custom itineraries.

Free Spirit

Free Spirits are most likely to be seen at a tourism hot spot, participating in a group tour, or dining out at a top restaurant.

Cultural Explorer

Cultural Explorers are most likely to be seen exploring heritage sites and museums. CE's also love to interact with locals.

Authentic Experiencer

Authentic Experiencers are most likely to be seen in nature reserves, hiking and enjoying the great outdoors, at a heritage site or a museum.