That’s where the ferry comes in, right?
Nanaimo’s a major access point to Vancouver Island, thanks to two ferry terminals from the Vancouver area, but it’s a shame to treat it as just that, a pit stop on your way through. Next time you’re heading our way, spend a night or two, and we guarantee it’ll be worth it.
1. We made a whole trail around a dessert
There must be custard in the veins of Nanaimoites, because we reserve a very special place in our hearts for the layers of chocolate, custard, and coconut base that make up the Nanaimo bar. In fact, it’s a pretty contentious topic. Ask locals about their custard preference (whether they use Bird’s custard powder, responsible for the yellow colour of the center, versus another) or the best spot to get an authentic bar and you’ll leave with a laundry—or grocery—list of recommendations.
A treat alone simply wouldn’t do either; the variations of the Nanaimo bar stretch as far as soaps, pedicures, milkshakes, and lattes—you name it.
Fun Fact: One of the frequently asked questions we get is, is there a bar called the Nanaimo Bar? You bet there is.
2. We’re all about chasing waterfalls
If you’re a waterfall bucket-lister, or better yet an avid Instagrammer, you can knock off a total of four in our fine city. They range in difficulty too; opt to take some time hiking in the forest behind Nanaimo to find Ammonite Falls, or stop for a coffee before going for a stroll along a boardwalk at Beach Estates Park, right in the heart of the city.
3. We take every chance to get out on the water
Like retrievers near a swimming hole, Nanaimoites love to get out on the water. We’ll dip our paddles in Long Lake, peddle chili boats across the harbour, and dunk our heads under the waters of Westwood Lake. You can even call to have paddle boards and kayaks delivered to whichever waterfront location you’d like to explore.
4. We really like our craft breweries, and locally sourced food
Like many islanders, we’re proud locavores when it comes to our food and drink. Local farmers grow hops for the brewery and veggies for the restaurants, and the restaurants stock the local wines and brews. We’ve got some of the best seasonal produce at our farmer’s markets and we’re not shy about it.
It would be a shame to simply stop for a bite to eat while in Nanaimo; you’re better suited booking in for a tour of the local food and drink, or check out the BC Ale Trail.
5. We’re a hub for live music
Thanks to an impressive venue in the harbour, Nanaimo is home to the Vancouver Island Symphony. It’s no small feat compiling the myriad of shows and the calibre of performers that make up the programs at the Symphony, and it’s known for bringing in big names in an intimate, acoustically supreme theater. The Port Theatre also brings in acts from all genres, so check out the schedule to see what’s playing while you’re in town.
Our homegrown talent is impressive too, and you can find musicians playing the open night mic at Nanaimo’s old bank café, The Vault, or gracing the stage of the Queens or the Dinghy Dock Pub.
6. We’re cutting edge, but rooted in a diverse history
It’s actually because of our transportation hub status that Nanaimo gets the perks of innovation and design, like our new cruise and Helijet terminal. That doesn’t mean we forget our historical roots though. From First Nations to coal mining, we celebrate and honour the cultures and people that defined the city. Fly in style or arrive via cruise ship, then step back in time to explore our roots at the Nanaimo Museum or Newcastle Island.
7. We have some of the weirdest, and best festivals.
We race bathtubs, and we had a pirate mayor. Nanaimo has one of the weirdest festivals out there: athletes rig up bathtubs with motors and race around the ocean (we should note that they’re pretty sophisticated tubs). It draws thousands to watch, and our former mayor with an affinity for pirate fashion used to kick it all off from the harbour.
If you’re a bit more of a land lubber, may we suggest bringing your pupanion down to Maffeo Sutton Park for a beer (whether you share it is up to you), at Festival Nanaimo’s annual Hops & Hounds.