While only 63 kilometres (~40 miles) apart, Nanaimo is a great jumping-off point for people who want to experience the hustle and bustle of Vancouver as well as the laid back lifestyle enjoyed here on the island. To get more from your stay in Nanaimo, consider a day-trip across the Strait to explore Vancouver and the lower mainland.
Fly or Ferry, Which Will You Choose?
Start your trip by planning a new experience: go there one way and come home another. The flight to Vancouver is about 25 minutes from harbour-to-harbour aboard a seaplane from Harbour Air or Sunshine Coast Air or a helicopter via Helijet, and the ferry takes about two hours from Duke Point to Tsawwassen, and a little less if you go from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay.
Catch a sunrise sailing and then fly back, into the sunset, or start with a quick flight and end your day with a leisurely cruise. Each trip promises a different experience, with unique views and the opportunity to meet other travellers.
See The Sights Of Stanley Park
From the Departure Bay ferry terminal in downtown Nanaimo, you can drive or walk onto the ferry to Horseshoe Bay, a cute community on the north side of Vancouver. A quick 16-minute drive or a 33-minute bus ride will bring you to Stanley Park, where you can hike or bike the Seawall, visit the Vancouver Aquarium, check out the totem poles and carvings at Brockton Point, or feed the birds at Lost Lagoon.
South of Nanaimo is the Duke Point ferry terminal and a two-hour crossing that brings you to Tsawwassen, a familiar access point on the lower mainland. Take the ferry over to explore the new Tsawwassen Mills outlet centre, a massive shopping centre featuring premium fashion brands, factory outlets, and restaurants.
Once you’re done in the Mills, take a bus to Bridgeport Station. Catch a show or try your luck at River Rock Casino, then ride the Skytrain into downtown Vancouver, exploring the shops of Robson Street, the restaurants and pubs in Yaletown, or dive into the arts and crafts of Granville Island.
When it’s time to go back to your room in Nanaimo, you can go back the same way you came, enjoying a delicious meal in the Pacific Buffet with a spectacular view of the ocean, or keep going north towards Horseshoe bay, to catch the ferry back to the Island with delicious meal in Nanaimo to end your day.
If seeing the world from the top of a glacier is on your bucket list, you can get there easily from Nanaimo. The Departure Bay – Horseshoe Bay route will get you there easily by car in about three and a half hours, but you might want to take a bit longer to admire the Stawamus Chief in Garibaldi provincial park, and Brandywine Falls just a bit south of Whistler.
There aren’t any direct flights from Nanaimo to Whistler, but you can fly to the Vancouver harbour or drive to Victoria harbour and catch a seaplane to a little lake in Whistler Village. Explore the town for a few hours, and then head back to Nanaimo to think about the glorious day you had across the Strait.