The #1 goal of Vancouver Island View is to get locals out exploring their own backyard. So whenever I am writing an article, I always have my fellow neighbours in mind. However, it’s not lost on me that this site has great appeal to tourists visiting our beautiful Island too. And at the moment we are at the start of the busy tourist season.
This particular post will focus on Nanaimo, or as it’s officially known, the Harbour City.
Unfortunately, Nanaimo still tends to be a location travellers pass through while on their way to other destinations. But in doing so, many fantastic places to see and explore are missed.
With a revitalized downtown core that offers a plethora of unique shopping and dining options, great walking, hiking, and biking trails, and attractions that will please any history buff, Nanaimo has much to offer.
I am here to show you that Nanaimo is more than worth the stop!
48 hours in any one place is never enough time to see everything, so please don’t go crazy trying to fit everything in. Time away from home is supposed to be an enjoyable, relaxing experience. So if you decide to forego dinner in one of the suggested restaurants for a picnic on the beach instead, or maybe skip the walk for a nap under the trees, it’s quite okay! It’s your holiday, so enjoy it at your own pace!
If you’re a local reader, this post might just highlight a location you wish to re-discover. Feel free to chime in on the comment section below to offer your own travel advice for Nanaimo!
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission which helps keep my blog up and running but it won’t cost you a penny more)!
48 hours in Nanaimo: Making the most of your two-day trip
You spend the day in and around the downtown core today. So find a parking stall in one of the many parkades and purchase a ticket for the day (don’t worry, it’s extremely reasonable). Before you do anything else, start your day off right with a great cup of coffee! There are several coffee shops in the area, but I recommend the following:
Maffeo Sutton Park in the Spring
Maffeo Sutton Park and Harbour Front Walkway
Walk towards the water and find the Harbour Front Walkway. This multi-use paved trail follows the Newcastle Channel and downtown waterfront. Follow the trail to Maffeo Sutton Park, Nanaimo’s signature park. Along the way, you will pass by a few trendy shops and eateries (feel free to poke your head into a few of them). This small shopping and dining area is considered the Waterfront District.
Maffeo Sutton Park is a great year-round destination for all types of activities. Many of Nanaimo’s festivities and community events are held here, and locals use it for playground playdates and picnics.
Some of the great features of this park include a number of public art pieces to ogle, huge playground, salt-water swimming lagoon (called Swy-A-Lana), covered stage, washrooms, and ferry access to Newcastle Island.
If time allows, and you are up for more walking, I highly recommend taking the ferry passage over to Newcastle.
Places to Eat
Depending on how long you stay at Maffeo Sutton Park, and especially if you made the trip over to Newcastle, you might be a tad hungry by now. There are several great lunch (and dinner) options within walking distance to the park.
- Gina’s Mexican Cafe – serves delicious classic Mexican dishes and equally good margaritas. If the weather is nice, they have a patio to sit and enjoy the view.
- From Maffeo Sutton Park, Gina’s Mexican Cafe is a four-minute walk. It’s located at 47 Skinner Street. (Head back up Front Street and then walk up Chappel. Look for a pink and blue building).
- The Nest Bistro – For delicious meals with a French and/or Italian influence, check out The Nest Bistro. All of their food is made fresh using local and organic ingredients when possible. They, too, have a great patio.
- The Nest is also located on Skinner Street (77 Skinner Street), just down from Gina’s Mexican Cafe.
- White Sails Brewing – If you are just looking for snacks and a place to wet your whistle, then check out White Sails Brewing. They are a craft brewery with a great tap-room.
- Located across the street from Maffeo Sutton Park, at 125 Comox Road.
- Pirate Chips – For some good poutine and a kid-friendly restaurant, check out Pirate Chips. (They have a deep-fried Nanaimo bar, that I’ve been told is really good too).
- This one is located at #1 – 75 Front Street (a 4-minute walk from Maffeo Sutton Park)
Next up is a bit of a history lesson. Stroll along Front Street until you come to the structure shown above.
The Bastion was built in 1853 by workers of the Hudson’s Bay Company. A restoration of this famous Nanaimo landmark took place in 2010, however, the majority of the timbers and other components are original. It’s the last remaining wooden Hudson’s Bay Company Bastion in North America.
There are three floors to explore. The first floor shows a representation of the sales and trade operations of the 1850’s. The second floor depicts what the Bastion was like as a defensive structure. And the third floor showcases many artifacts from that era.
It’s open 7 days a week from the May long weekend through to Labour Day. During that same time period, a cannon firing ceremony takes place daily at noon.
For further exploration of Nanaimo’s history and heritage, visit the Nanaimo Museum. This museum offers plenty of exhibits to explore, including, the popular award-winning, Coal Mine exhibit. You will also be able to take a look at the historical impact of the local forest industry, see what life was like in a traditional longhouse, and view a replicated mid-1920’s school room (to name a few highlights).
From mid-May to the beginning of September, the Museum is open 7 days a week, from 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. At any other time of year, it is closed on Sundays and some Stat Holidays.
The Nanaimo Museum is located at 100 Museum Way.
If you are a military buff, you may want to stop at British Columbia’s most significant Military Museum. The Vancouver Island Military Museum showcases over 25 displays and exhibits depicting Canada’s Military history and traditions.
You will find a collection of artefacts dating back to the War of 1812 all the way to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
The Vancouver Island Military Museum is open Monday – Friday, from 10:00 – 3:00, as well as Saturdays, from 11:00 – 3:00.
It can be found at 100 Cameron Road.
Perhaps shopping is more your style. Well, you are in luck! Nanaimo’s downtown core has a great selection of unique shops to peruse through. The area offers three distinct shopping districts.
- The Arts District – located in the city core (in and around the Nanaimo Museum and Conference Centre). This is where you will find a good selection of art galleries, cozy bookstores, boutique clothing shops, and plenty of dining options.
- The Old City Quarter starts at the corner of Wallace and Fitzwilliam Street. This area is home to some of Nanaimo’s best shops and restaurants. Here you will find an eclectic mix of businesses, including plenty of boutiques, home decor stores, and metaphysical/new age shops. And with options that include everything from cupcakes to craft beer, there is also something for every palette.
- The Waterfront District follows along the Harbourfront Walkway (mentioned near the beginning of the post). This small area offers a row of trendy shops and dining options.
If you happen to be in Nanaimo on a Friday, make sure to head to the Downton Farmer’s Market. This is where you will find fresh produce, baked goods, preserves, and a variety of local artisan-crafted products.
- Open every Friday (May – early October), from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm
- Located at the Pioneer Waterfront Plaza on Front Street (beside the Bastion).
For the Adventurous
If you are feeling adventurous, head to Breakout Nanaimo. It is an exciting live game room, that provides a challenging experience. You and your team will be locked in a room for up to 60 minutes, with the sole purpose of trying to escape before your time runs out. You will be given clues, riddles, and items to help you do so.
This adventure is suitable for couples and/or groups (including kids).
Breakout Nanaimo is located at 101 – 132 Wallace Street (in the Old City Quarter).
A few of our favourite dining options in and around the downtown core include,
- The Firehouse Grill – located in a heritage building in the heart of downtown (7 Victoria Road), the Firehouse Grill offers guests the most flavourful menu options. Expect fresh West Coast flare and traditional Sushi items topped with new sauce creations and spice variations.
- Le Cafe Francais – located within the Art District (153 Commercial Street), this cozy restaurant offers an authentic French menu. It’s open for dinner only (5:00 – 9:30 pm), Tuesday – Saturday.
- Asteras – located in the Old City Quarter (347 Wesley Street), this authentic Greek restaurant is known for its delicious traditional food.
- The Dingy Dock Pub & Floating Restaurant – located via a short ferry boat ride to Protection Island. Although they serve your typical pub fare, the experience is well worth the excursion. It’s the only floating pub and restaurant in Canada, and the kids will get a kick out being able to fish right out of the fishing hole on the restaurant patio!
Need a Place to Stay?
Coast Bastion Hotel – This recently updated hotel is located in a prime location! It is within walking distance to all of the above-mentioned activities and restaurants.
There are plenty of options for you for your second day. So this part of the post will be broken up into two sections: South Nanaimo and North-Mid Nanaimo. If you are travelling home on the Duke Point Ferry (or live South of Nanaimo), utilize the suggestions for South Nanaimo. If you live North of Nanaimo, or are travelling home on the Departure Bay Ferry, use the Mid-North Nanaimo suggestions.
This would include anyone who lives South of Nanaimo, and/or those heading home on the Duke Point Ferry (or leaving Nanaimo via float-plane). Read on for some great ideas to keep you occupied before you head home.
Cedar Farmers Market
If you happen to be in Nanaimo on a Sunday, make sure to take a drive out to the Cedar Farmers Market. You will find over 70 vendors selling meat, fish, honey, baked goods, crafts and handmade wares (plus so much more!). There is always live music to enjoy too.
The market is open every Sunday (May – October), from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. This is a really popular market, so for the best selection, make sure to arrive earlier in the day.
The vendors are located in the large grassy field in front of the Crow & Gate Pub on Yellow Point Road.
Great Eateries in the Area
- The Crow & Gate Pub – This English-style pub serves pints and classic grub in a cozy environment. It was the first built neighbourhood pub in BC and is now a well-known Nanaimo landmark. The decor consists of exposed beams, massive stonework open fireplaces, and heavy wood trestle tables. Scattered throughout the pub, you will also find authentic memorabilia from the U.K.
- Open 7 days a week from 11:00 am – 11:00 pm.
- They are licensed to serve people 19 years of age or older.
- Located at 2313 Yellow Point Road
- The Mahle House – Set in a historic home, this upscale (yet casual setting) eatery serves farm-fresh European style plates. The regular menu is an ever-changing collection of dishes that showcase seasonal offerings from local farms and suppliers. Every Wednesday, they offer an adventurous multi-course menu, which is a favourite among locals and tourists alike.
- They are open for dinner (starting at 5:00 pm), from Wednesday – Sunday.
- The Mahle House is located at 2104 Hemer Road
- The COCO Cafe – This cafe is a project of the Cedar Opportunities Co-Operative. Their mission is to operate a successful social enterprise that provides employment, training, and socialization opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. They also happen to have delicious food and coffee! Menu options include speciality coffees and teas, breakfast items, sandwiches and wraps, soups and salads, and daily features.
- Open daily, from 6:30 am – 4:00 pm (closed on Stat Holidays)
- Located at 4A – 1840 Cedar Road
There are many great trails in the South Nanaimo area to walk off all that fantastic food! The majority of them have already been written about in subsequent articles, so I will leave you with links instead of details.
- Hemer Park – located in Cedar
- Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park – located in Cedar
- Jack Point – located on the way to the Duke Point Ferry
- The Dark Side – located across from the Nanaimo airport
For a Bit of Fear Factor
If you are looking to check off one of your bucket list items while visiting Nanaimo, I highly suggest heading to WildPlay Element Park. This park allows you to take a 150-foot plunge towards the Nanaimo River, traverse obstacles at 60-feet off the ground, and soar through the trees on a zipline (to name a few of the options). This place is not for the faint of heart, but it IS an exhilarating experience one will never forget!
WildPlay is located at 35 Nanaimo River Road.
Need at Place to Stay?
Mountainaire Campground & RV Park – This 40-acre campground offers serviced sites near the Nanaimo River.
North and Mid-Nanaimo
If you live North of Nanaimo or are heading home on the Departure Bay Ferry, this section would be best for you.
This area of Nanaimo has many amazing trails and beaches to explore.
Many of our favourites have already been written about in the post entitled, Top 10 Nanaimo Walks. So if you are looking to stretch your legs, this is the place to start!
Departure Bay Area
One area of Nanaimo that doesn’t seem to get much attention, but should, is Departure Bay. It is such a great little area to explore! There is a short walkway that runs alongside the beach, there are benches to sit and enjoy the view, the beach provides great beachcombing opportunities, and there are some cute shops to peruse through just across the street.
If you are looking to bring home a Vancouver Island treasure, make sure to stop in Islandish. This boutique shop is full of beautiful locally made goods, plus many other great items. You can find them at #4-1420 Wingrove Street (just up from Departure Bay Beach).
If the weather is crummy, perhaps you want to head indoors. The following places will help the kids (and you) burn off some excess energy!
- Airhouse Nanaimo – This is an indoor trampoline, BMX, and skateboarding facility. You can’t help but leave tired from Airhouse!
- Located at 4381 Boban Drive
- Great for adults too!
- Romper Room – Located in the same complex as Airhouse, the Romper Room is a fantastic indoor rock climbing centre.
- Please note: Pre-booking your session is required, unless you are an experienced belayer.
- Jumpin Jiminy’s – Is a massive indoor playground, with a huge play structure, air hockey, foosball, toddler’s area, games room, climbing wall, craft corner, gift shop, and café.
- Best for kid’s 12 and under
- Located at #400 – 2980 Island Highway North Rock City.
Recommended Restaurants in the Area
North and Mid-Nanaimo have some great restaurant choices. Here are a few of our favourite:
- Brown’s Social House – For a fun and upbeat atmosphere that serves upscale pub grub and great drink selections.
- Located at Unit 6 – 6338 Metral Drive
- SimonHolt Restaurant – Offers made from scratch Canadian cuisine and a great by-the-glass wine selection.
- Located at 6582 Applecross Road.
- Nori Japanese Restaurant – For great traditional Japanese food and beverages using fresh seasonal ingredients.
- Located at 203 – 6750 Island Hwy North.
Need a Place to Stay?
The Grand Hotel – This centrally located hotel offers guests premier accommodation and amenities.
Phew! I told you there was a lot to fit into two days! (You should probably just stay a little longer) 😉
As mentioned previously, please don’t try to fit all of this into your 48-hour visit to Nanaimo. Instead, use the ideas mentioned as a guideline to the best activities and attractions of the area.
As a local, do you have anything to add to the list? Let us know in the comment section below.
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