10+ Unique Things to Do in Nanaimo

Venture back in time at Petroglyph Provincial Park. Unveil Nanaimo's deepest secrets etched in stone—but what ancient tales linger undiscovered? Read on...
Date Published
March 8, 2024

Table of Contents

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Ever wonder if there’s a place brimming with so much charm that even the trees whisper secrets of the past? Well, my friends, pack your bags, because Nanaimo is calling your name! This gem on Vancouver Island is the hotbed of history, nature, and yes—the indulgence of a good Nanaimo bar. But we’re not just talking about a sweet treat; we’re talking about a city where you can literally taste the local culture, ride the waves of adventure, and stroll through historical corners so picturesque, you'll coax your phone into camera mode faster than you can say 'Petroglyph Provincial Park.'

Imagine leisurely wandering the Old City Quarter, a place so quaint that it feels like a warm hug from your grandmother. And how about teasing your taste buds at the local weekend markets, or sipping on a Nanaimo bar cocktail after a scenic drive that makes your heart sing louder than a Canadian folk song? We’re diving into more than just the city's underwater wonders here. Indeed, we’re about to unwrap all the must-do activities that make Nanaimo the unspoken hero of Vancouver Island’s travel scene. Ready to embark on a tour of Nanaimo that might just change your 'to-do' list into a 'must-do' one? Let the journey begin!

Unearth Nanaimo's Heritage at Petroglyph Provincial Park

Get ready to walk in the footsteps of the past at Petroglyph Provincial Park, where the ground whispers stories from centuries ago. This isn't just any park; it's a time capsule etched in stone, where you get to be the explorer uncovering ancient secrets. Let's talk about what makes Petroglyph Provincial Park a must-visit amongst Nanaimo historical sites.

First off, you get to witness authentic petroglyphs—these aren't your everyday rock drawings. These are sacred testimonials created by the region's First Nations, and they have stood the test of time, beckoning history buffs and culture enthusiasts alike.

This park isn't about flashy attractions; it's about connection. Imagine touching the same rocks that indigenous people carved symbols into thousands of years ago. You feel the grooves and marks that tell tales of a time we only grasp through these remnants.

Take your time here. Spend a good hour or two just soaking in the serenity and the mystery. It's perfect for families, and guess what? Little ones turn into junior archaeologists right before your eyes. They're not just learning history; they're living it!

The area is quiet, usually not too crowded, allowing for that peaceful, reflective experience that's quite rare these days. But don't worry if you're not a solitude seeker. The vibes of this place are great for groups looking to delve into Nanaimo's roots together.

And when you're done, remember this park sits in a pretty strategic spot. You're close enough to make a day of it, exploring more nearby Nanaimo historical sites or hitting the road for one of those scenic drives near Nanaimo.

In short, Petroglyph Provincial Park is where you level up from tourist to time-traveler. Who needs a Delorean when you've got these ancient engravings, right? Pack your curiosity, maybe a sketchpad, and definitely your sense of wonder, and dive into the deep history that's literally carved into the land of Nanaimo.

Delight in Local Flavors at Nanaimo's Weekend Markets

Picture this: you stroll through rows of vibrant stalls, each one bursting with the freshest fruits, the most aromatic of cheeses, and homemade goodies that make your taste buds do a happy dance. That's the Nanaimo weekend markets for you. It's not just a market; it's a feast for the senses. And, oh boy, are you in for a treat with the Nanaimo local cuisine!

These weekend markets are where all the magic happens. You'll meet the farmers who grow the rainbow of veggies you're ogling and the artisans who bake bread so heavenly it could be a food group on its own. Wondering what to try first? Do not— I repeat, do not— miss out on the Nanaimo bar, a no-bake dessert that's a triple threat of chocolate, custard-flavored butter icing, and crumbly coconut base. And while you're at it, grab a jar of local honey, so good you'll wanna bear-hug the bees.

Now, don't rush this experience. Take your time. Rub elbows with the locals, sip on some handcrafted island cider, and let the live music set the beat for your market adventure. This is prime time to savor Nanaimo's edible treasures, folks. And whether you're a foodie family, a culinary couple, or a sassy singleton in search of that perfect bite, the weekend markets are your go-to.

You betcha, there's something here that'll tickle your fancy. And before you know it, you're not just walking away with a bag full of organic kale. You're leaving with stories and a smile as wide as the Island's horizon. And honestly, isn't that what life's all about?

So rally up your gang or go solo, make a day of it, and sink your teeth into the best island eats around. Trust me, your belly and your Insta feed will thank you. And if you wanna dive deeper into the foodie scene, check out these tasty joints for more Nanaimo delights. Because hey, the more, the merrier, right?

Immerse in Tranquility with Nanaimo's Scenic Drives

So, you've found yourself in the midst of Nanaimo, and you're itching for a soul-soothing adventure? Scenic drives near Nanaimo are your ticket to bliss. Imagine rolling down the windows, the sweet ocean breeze tangling through your hair, with each curve in the road revealing a view more stunning than the last. Ever heard of a 'natural high'? Well, you're about to experience it first-hand!

First things first, buckle up for a ride on the Vancouver Island's Parkway. With its lush emerald forests and mountain vistas, you might as well be driving through a postcard. You’ll feel as if time’s slowed down, just for you. And just when you think it can't get any more picturesque, you'll find yourself gazing out at the shimmering waters of the Strait of Georgia.

Splitting your gaze between the road and the scenery might just be the toughest thing you'll do here. Whether you're riding solo, with your partner, or wrangling a car full of kiddos, this drive is a crowd-pleaser. It’s the kind of place where memories are made without even trying.

Here’s a pro tip: carve out a few hours for this drive. Sure, you could rush through it, but why would you want to? You'll want to stop for those photo ops – there's no way you'll resist snapping a pic or fifty. Plus, snapshot stops are perfect for stretching your legs or, who knows, an impromptu picnic!

And if you're up for a detour, let the signs guide you towards the smaller townships dotted along the way. You can get a feel for the local culture, snacks included. Taste the local charm just as much as you breathe in the nature. If you’re asking me, this drive is as rejuvenating as a full night’s sleep.

So grab a coffee, queue up your favorite tunes, and let Nanaimo's exquisite drives take you on a journey where the rhythms of the island lull you into pure, unadulterated Zen. Trust me, you won’t just take in the view, you’ll become a part of it.

Discover the Charm of Nanaimo's Old City Quarter

Imagine strolling down a street where every brick and corner whispers the tales of yore, while modern day artistry springs from every nook and cranny—welcome to Nanaimo's Old City Quarter! It's where history shakes hands with contemporary charm, and let's just say, it’s a handshake you want to witness.

Now, you might be wondering, "What's so unique about the Old City Quarter?" It's the blend, folks. The ambiance is a rare mix of quaint and hip, with historical buildings housing trendy boutiques and vibrant art studios. You've got your local artisan shops brushing shoulders with funky eateries, and trust me, this place has character etched into its very essence.

Are you itching to explore some green spaces? The Old City Quarter has parks that are perfect for that mid-day picnic or a serene meander. And for the culture vultures, the art galleries here will dazzle you with creations from local talents.

Spend an afternoon hopping from one gallery to another. Feel the creativity pulse around you. And when the hunger kicks in after indulging in the artistic feast, fear not, for this neighborhood offers some of the most exquisite dining spots where you can satiate your appetite.

Want to know the best part? The Old City Quarter is ideal for everyone. Whether you're going solo, tagging along with your family, or out and about with your friends, this place caters to all. It’s a slice of Nanaimo that pleases art enthusiasts, history buffs, and foodies alike.

So, how long should you spend in this charismatic enclave? Give yourself a couple of hours; soak in the vibes, treat yourself to some unique finds, and maybe even banter with a shopkeeper or two about the lore behind their storefront. The Old City Quarter is not just a pit-stop, it’s a journey through time with a dash of modern zest.

Oh, and before you go, remember to check out some of the Nanaimo art galleries — they're an absolute must-see. With artworks as diverse as the foliage in the parks, they're bound to leave you spellbound and perhaps, even inspire your inner artist.

Indulge in the Unique Nanaimo Bar Cocktail Experience

Picture this: you're meandering through the charming streets of Nanaimo, and then – bam! – you spot a cozy hub that's buzzing with energy. Your curiosity leads you right into the heart of a dessert-turned-drink phenomenon, the Nanaimo Bar Cocktail. It's a flavor fiesta that's got locals and visitors raving.

So, where do Nanaimo dining experiences rank when it comes to must-tries? Right at the top! Get ready to take your taste buds on a culinary joyride. The Nanaimo Bar Cocktail blends the iconic Canadian dessert with a spirited twist that's absolutely unique to this vivacious city. It's a concoction that you won't find just anywhere, making it a must-try on Nanaimo culinary tours.

Dive into the dessert-inspired indulgence that starts with a creamy base, swirls in chocolatey notes, and finishes with a grace of coconut on the rim. This isn't just another happy hour; it's a taste of local heritage served up in a glass. So, grab your pals or cozy up solo at a bar with a view – it's time to sip the essence of Nanaimo in cocktail form.

And while you're reveling in the sweet side of life, why not pair that iconic drink with some savory local fare at nearby eateries? Whether you're in the mood for freshly-caught seafood or a hearty artisan meal, you've got it all within reach.

Here's the scoop: a Nanaimo Bar Cocktail is delightfully rich, so you'll want to give yourself time to savor every sip – maybe post-dinner or as a decadent nightcap. It's a hit with anyone who's got a sweet tooth and a love for the uniquely local.

And when you're done toasting to the day's adventures, remember that you're in the perfect spot to stroll around and see what other nighttime whimsies this vibrant city has in store for you. Cheers to Nanaimo, where every drink tells a story!

Experience Seaside Serenity on Nanaimo's Coastal Walks

Ready to get those legs moving and spoil your senses with the splashin' awesomeness of the ocean? You've got to stride it out on Nanaimo's coastal walks! With the breeze in your hair and the rhythm of the waves for company, these walks are a feast for the soul—and guess what? You don't need to be a marathon champ to enjoy them.

Picture yourself wandering cliffs that give you peeks at playful seals, breaching orcas, and maybe a curious eagle or two scouting from above. This isn't just a walk; it's an all-out nature's theatre in action. Bring your best walking shoes and a good camera because you’ll want to capture every moment. While you're at it, leave room for unexpected picnics in coves that look like they've been lifted from storybooks.

A coastal walk is tailored for pretty much everyone. Whether you’re solo, entangled in romance, or with your tiny humans in tow, these paths are safe and soul-lifting. If this is your first time, bank on spending a couple of hours here. But let me tell you, once you start, you might just want to stay all day. And it's not just what's in the sea that's the attraction—oh no! The trails are laced with lush, local greenery that begs for a deep inhale and a slow exhale.

Take a breather on a bench, make friends with the local dog walkers, or just sit on a rock and let the symphony of tides settle your thoughts. You’re in the arms of coastal serenity—a world away from the hubbub, yet right next to Nanaimo’s charming offerings.

When the stroll works up your appetite, fear not. You're never too far from a cozy cafe or a hearty meal that celebrates Nanaimo's freshest catch. And if the tides of hunger hit hard, just follow the whispers of the water—they’ll lead you right to a seaside eatery. If your home-cooked dinner calls, wrap up your coastal quest with a sunset that paints the sky in shades you'll talk about for days.

So, what do I recommend? Slip on that hoodie, pack some snacks, and take every step with a heart open to oceanic wonders—it's going to be so much more than just a walk.

Embark on an Ocean Adventure with Nanaimo Kayaking

So, you're in Nanaimo and you want to level-up your adventure game? Grab a paddle because kayaking in Nanaimo is not just a sport; it's the way to become one with the ocean. Every stroke through the sparkling waters is like a conversation with the sea life beneath and the horizons that kiss the sky ahead.

Imagine this: it’s early morning, the water is calm, and you're slicing through the crystal-clear waves with a group of fellow paddlers or maybe all on your lonesome in the serene silence of the Pacific. Your arms might protest just a little, but trust me, the views of the coastal mountains and wildlife—like, oh, those charming sea otters and majestic eagles—are absolutely worth it. And here's the kicker: this isn't just a summer fling; kayaking in Nanaimo is a year-round romance.

Wondering which part of the ocean you should claim? Check out the diverse tours offered by local experts for beginners or seasoned kayakers alike. You can go from the bustling inner harbor right into the heart of the Salish Sea—every cove, in this case, really does have a silver lining.

And don’t worry if you’re not already best buds with kayaking. Nanaimo's water sports providers are super friendly and will help you get the hang of things in no time. Before you know it, you’ll be talking tides and trading paddling tips with the locals at the pub later.

Here's the plan: set aside at least half a day for your ocean adventure (trust me, you won't want it to end) and don’t forget to smother on that sunscreen. From heart-pumping action for adrenaline seekers to tranquil escapades perfect for families and couples, kayaking around Nanaimo caters to all. You got kids? Bring 'em. You want to impress a date with your active lifestyle? This is it, chief.

Still got energy left after conquering the waves? Tie up your kayak and explore the nearby eateries that line the shore. Nothing works up an appetite quite like a day on the water. Now, shove off and let the rhythm of the paddle set you free—Nanaimo's kayak scene is calling your name! And hey, for more info to get you started, dive into the details here.

Connect with Nature on Nanaimo's Hiking Trails

Imagine swapping the sound of city traffic for the symphony of birds chirping and leaves crunching under your feet. Oh yeah, that's the stuff. You can make that a reality on Nanaimo's hiking trails. Strap on your comfiest shoes, grab a water bottle, and let's hit the paths less traveled where the air is crisp and the views are nothing short of Instagram-worthy.

Nanaimo's got a trail for every kind of nature-lover. Want to feel like a rugged explorer? There's a rocky path for that. Prefer a gentle stroll surrounded by ancient trees? Oh, Nanaimo's got plenty.

  • Ammonite Falls: Your trek will reward you with a stunning waterfall that seems like it's straight out of a fairytale. Bring the fam; kids go nuts for this stuff!
  • The Abyss: It's not as scary as it sounds. It's an easy-peasy trail leading to some seriously cool geological formations. A selfie here is a must!
  • Mount Benson: For those looking for a bit of a challenge, scaling the summit of Mount Benson offers jaw-dropping panoramic views.

You'll want to carve out at least a couple of hours to fully enjoy these trails. They cater to solo adventurists, outdoor-obsessed families, or lovey-dovey couples looking for a picturesque hike.

And for the love of fresh air, don't rush through it. Take your time; let the scenic vistas sink in while you munch on a trail mix, it's okay to pretend you're in an adventure movie.

Feel like extending your commune with nature? There's always a nearby cozy spot to refuel with a good meal because, let's face it, hiking is fantastic, but so is eating.

So, remember, while you're in Nanaimo, let the great outdoors captivate you. Every trail tells a story, and yours is just waiting to be walked. Ready to plan your hiking adventure? Check out these amazing Nanaimo hiking trails and start plotting your course!

Dive Into Underwater Wonders Scuba Diving in Nanaimo

Imagine yourself sinking beneath the clear blue surface of the Pacific, where the dance of underwater life awaits. Got that image? Good, because scuba diving in Nanaimo is not just an activity; it's an experience that etches itself into your memory. Whether you're a seasoned diver or trying it for the first time, Nanaimo's ocean is an all-access pass to an underwater wonderland.

Breathe in... and out. You're floating now, gravity doesn't apply to you here. As you descend, a new world unfolds. Colorful fish dart through swaying kelp forests, and starfish cling to the ocean floor in a mosaic of vibrant hues. Sunlight filters through the water, playing kaleidoscope patterns all around. And you're in the middle of it all, discovering Nanaimo's exquisite snorkeling spots one breath at a time.

In these waters, you'll find artificial reefs and historical sunken vessels—creatures of the deep have claimed these as their own. Wrecks like the HMCS Saskatchewan have been deliberately submerged for divers like you to explore. Just imagine: you're not merely swimming; you're time-traveling through history with each kick of your fins.

Each dive site around Nanaimo has its own unique personality. So, who should take the plunge? It’s perfect for adventurous souls, friend squads seeking a group activity, and families with older kids looking for that standout vacation story. You'll want to earmark a full day for this adventure because, trust me, two hours underwater will only whet your appetite for more.

And the best part? You don't have to haul all your gear from home. Local dive shops will equip you for the journey. With expert guides ready to lead the way, all you need is that burning curiosity and the willingness to jump in.

Ready to become part of the ocean's narrative? Get your feet wet scuba diving in Nanaimo. It's more than just a dive; it's Nanaimo's invitation to witness the harmony between nature and history. Dive in, the water's unforgettable.

Find the Best Kept Secrets Thrift Shopping in Nanaimo

Are you ready to unearth some hidden gems while shopping in Nanaimo? Think racks packed with vintage treasures, and picture yourself scoring that one-of-a-kind piece that has your friends going, "Where on Earth did you find that?" Welcome to the world of thrift shopping in Nanaimo, where every aisle and corner is bursting with potential fashion revolutions.

Nanaimo isn't just a pretty face with its scenic ocean views; it's also a haven for vintage clothing shops. This quirky aspect of Nanaimo is a paradise for thrifters, filled with unique finds that will have you looking fashionably eclectic and supporting sustainability all at once. Whether it's retro jackets, antique home decor, or even nostalgic vinyl records—prepare to be wowed.

As you spend a day exploring shops stuffed with history and stories, here's what makes it pure magic:

  • Eco-Friendly Fashion: By choosing to thrift, you're not only snagging a bargain, you're also doing your part for the environment. Reusing and recycling clothes gives them a new life and reduces waste—talk about eco-chic!
  • Local Vibes: Thrifting offers a shopping experience that's deeply connected to the community. These garments have tales woven into their seams, and each unique piece marks a chapter of Nanaimo's own story.
  • Pocket-Friendly Prices: Get ready to stretch your dollars! You can go on a full-blown spree without the guilt of draining your wallet. High-fashion looks at low-budget costs? Yes, please!

So, dedicate a few blissful hours sifting through these curated collections of past decades. For a spot that oozes character and friendliness, and is perfect for trendsetters on a budget, check out the vintage clothing shops hidden around Nanaimo. It's a fantastic fit for singles, groups of friends, and families with teens—whoever you are, there's something here just waiting to be claimed by you.

And remember, it's not just about the clothes—it's about the hunt, the history, and the heart-pounding excitement of discovering your next favorite thing. Ready, set, thrift!

Capture the Night Sky at Nanaimo Astronomy Nights

Are you ready for a sparkling, otherworldly experience? Picture this: You're wrapped up in a cozy blanket, a steaming mug of cocoa in your hand, and above you, the night sky is a canvas splashed with glittering stars. Welcome to Nanaimo Astronomy Nights, where the heavens steal the show and you get a front-row seat to the universe!

Nanaimo Astronomy Nights are not just for the cosmically curious or the aspiring astronomer; they're for anyone who ever looked up and got lost in the wonder of a star-filled sky. And guess what? You don't need to be a rocket scientist to enjoy it – just bring your enthusiasm (and maybe a telescope if you have one).

Why go stargazing in Nanaimo? Well, it's simple:

  • Less light pollution means clearer, more vibrant views of celestial happenings.
  • The accessible locations provide perfect dark spots just outside the city, so you can escape the hustle without a hassle.
  • Local enthusiasts and experts often join, eager to share tales of constellations and space.

Whether you're a seasoned star seeker or it's your first time peering through a telescope, the community vibe is warm and inviting. It's like a cosmic block party, where the stars are the guests of honor, and everyone is welcome.

Grab your friends, your family, or make it a soulful solo trip; there's enough wonder up there for everyone. Expect to gaze upon the moon's craters like never before, spot planets, and if you're really lucky, catch a shooting star – make a wish, why don't you?

By the way, it's not just about staring upward. These nights are a chance to connect – with nature, with others, and with the tiny, sparkly part of ourselves that feels at home among the stars.

So, what's stopping you? Check out the schedule for the next Nanaimo Astronomy Night and embrace an evening under the stars that you'll be talking about for light years to come.

Wander and Wonder at Ammonite Falls

Squeeze into those hiking boots because Ammonite Falls is calling your name! Hidden within Nanaimo's lush forests, this little gem is a slice of paradise for everyone from giddy toddlers to adventurous grandparents.

Trust me, these falls are the real deal when it comes to Nanaimo family-friendly attractions. Picture this: You're trekking through a verdant wonderland, with each step taking you closer to the gentle roar of cascading water. The anticipation builds until—boom!—you're face-to-face with the awe-inspiring Ammonite Falls.

You're gonna want to carve out about half a day for this adventure; this isn't your neighbor’s backyard sprinkler, after all! It's a spot where time stands still, allowing you to soak in the moment and maybe even dunk your head in the crystal-clear water if you're feeling bold.

And who’s going to enjoy this the most? Well, if your fam is all about those Instagram-worthy spots or if you're solo and looking to rendezvous with Mother Nature herself, then Ammonite Falls won't disappoint. And hey, don't sweat it if you forgot your trail mix. You're just a hop, skip, and a jump away from local grub to refuel for round two.

Now, before you set out, be a good scout and check out some tips online on how to best enjoy Ammonite Falls and stay safe while you’re out there making memories. Bring a buddy, keep an eye on the kiddos, and remember: Leave no trace, except for footprints and maybe a few heart emojis on your social feed when you post that stunning waterfall selfie! 🌿💦😊


Q: What are some things to do in Nanaimo today?

A: Discover local events, hit the scenic trails, or explore seafront parks.

Q: What activities are available in Nanaimo this weekend?

A: Check out farmer's markets, attend a live music event, or visit historic sites.

Q: Are there free things to do in Nanaimo?

A: Absolutely, enjoy beaches, walk the Harbourfront Walkway, or visit museums on free-entry days.

Q: What can I do in Nanaimo with kids?

A: Visit the petting zoo, splash in water parks, or have fun at playgrounds.

Q: What are some recommended things to do in Nanaimo according to Reddit?

A: Redditors suggest kayaking, trying local eateries, and exploring cultural events.

Q: What is there to do in Nanaimo on a rainy day?

A: Enjoy indoor climbing, visit art galleries, or cozy up in local coffee shops.

Q: Is Nanaimo BC worth visiting?

A: Definitely, it offers outdoor adventures, cultural experiences, and culinary delights.

Q: What is Nanaimo BC famous for?

A: Nanaimo is known for its delicious Nanaimo Bars and beautiful waterfront.

Q: Is Vancouver Island the same as Nanaimo?

A: No, Nanaimo is a city on Vancouver Island, not the entire island itself.

Q: Is Nanaimo a good place to stay?

A: For sure, it's a great base for exploring Vancouver Island with lots to offer locally.

Final Words

So, we've scavenged through Nanaimo's history, tickled our taste buds with local cuisine, and soaked up some serious tranquility on scenic drives. Remember that charming Old City Quarter? Oh, and let's not forget that unique Nanaimo Bar Cocktail Experience—cheers to that! From seaside strolls to kayaking waves, we connected with nature, dived into the deep blue, and even scored some thrifty finds.

Wrapping up, whether you're gazing at the stars or marveling at Ammonite Falls, your 'things to do in Nanaimo' list should be bursting with new adventures. Get out there and make some memories!

Meet the Author
Aria Ohlsson
Aria Ohlsson, the Instagram storyteller extraordinaire, takes you on adventures through her enchanting narratives. An avid hiker, she scales peaks and weaves tales of mountaintop triumphs. When she's not conquering trails, you'll find her immersed in classic novels, finding inspiration for her next tale.
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