Nanaimo still tends to be a location travellers pass through while on their way to other destinations. However, in doing so, many fantastic places to see and explore are missed.
This post will highlight those fantastic locations one should not miss out on. It’s geared towards a short itinerary of 48 hours in Nanaimo, and this article focuses on Day 1.
With a revitalized downtown core, Nanaimo offers a plethora of unique shopping and dining options, great trails, and unique attractions that will please any history buff.
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 perhaps skip the walk for a nap under the trees, it’s more than okay! This is 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.
48 hours in Nanaimo: Making the most of your two-day trip
You spend day one in and around the downtown core. So, find a parking spot 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:
- Serious Coffee – 60 Commercial Street
- Javawocky Coffee House – 90 Front Street
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 that leads to Maffeo Sutton Park. Along the way, you will pass by a few trendy shops and eateries (feel free to pop in and explore). 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, a huge playground, a salt-water swimming lagoon (called Swy-A-Lana), a 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
Serving delicious classic Mexican dishes and equally good margaritas. If the weather is nice, they have a patio to sit at to 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.
For some good poutine and a kid-friendly restaurant, check out Pirate Chips. (They have a deep-fried Nanaimo bar, which I’ve been told is delicious).
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 1850s. 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 schoolroom (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.
Vancouver Island Military Museum
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 artifacts dating back to the War of 1812 all the way to Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Due to COVID, hours of operation have changed. New opening times (until further notice) Wednesday to Friday 10 am-3 pm; and, Saturday 11 am-3 pm.
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. The area offers three distinct shopping districts.
The Arts District
The Arts District is 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
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
As mentioned above, this area follows along the Harbourfront Walkway. 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 Type
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 following.
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 of 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.
Continue your adventure by reading:
48 Hours in Nanaimo – DAY TWO
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Hi Kim> Thank you for listing the Vancouver Island Military Museum on you site. Could I ask you to correct two items.
We have a new web site address. http://www.vimilitarymuseum.ca The old site (vimm) is no longer the contact. Due to COVID our hours of operation have changed. New opening times (until further notice) Wednesday to Friday 10am-3pm Saturday 11am-3pm.
Thanks and Regards. Brian McFadden. Vice President.
Hi Brian, thank you so much for the new information. I will update the article ASAP!
Regard Coffee on Bowen Road has the best coffee in Nanaimo. Also The Buzz Coffee House on Dufferin Crescent 🙂
Day one is centered around the downtown core, which is why Regard and the Buzz weren’t mentioned. But they are definitely great suggestions. Thank you, Marianne!
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Gabriel’s cafe on commercial is very tasty food. Amazing lattes and french pastries at mon petit choux. Top floor of the VIU library for an epic view. BMX track in Beban to help your little people burn off some steam. Riso for a nice dinner in lantzville. Nellie’s Dutch deli for a great sandwich and import food.
All fantastic suggestions! Thank you so much!