Road trips are a great way to explore Vancouver Island, mainly because there is so much to see along the way. And the one from Victoria to Nanaimo is a must while visiting Vancouver Island.
Although travelling from Victoria to Nanaimo is a relatively short journey (1.5 – 2 hours), you miss out on some spectacular sights along the way if you drive straight through.
This is why I’ve put together an itinerary of an extensive road trip from Victoria to Nanaimo. Whether you are visiting for the first time or the 100th (or possibly even a local), I highly recommend taking your time to ensure you make the most of this route. You never know what you might discover.
Days 1 – 3 – Victoria
Victoria is one of those cities you can spend a week in and still not see everything. But to ensure you hit the highlights, I recommend at least three days – especially if it’s your first visit.
Top Attractions in Victoria
- Royal BC Museum – a natural and human history museum presented through three different galleries located in the heart of the city. Due to the recent government announcement of a complete overhaul of the museum, this will be the last summer to enjoy it! So, if you haven’t gone to the museum lately, you best get there soon.
- The Butchart Gardens – a top tourist destination just outside of Victoria.
- Victoria Bug Zoo – home to some of the world’s rarest insects, arachnids and other creepy-crawlies.
- Beacon Hill Park – a 200-acre beautifully landscaped park with wild peacocks and a petting zoo.
- Miniature World – tiny themed dioramas and displays representing historical times and fictional worlds.
If you have more than three days or want to pack in as much as possible, here are a few more ideas.
Recommended Accommodations in Victoria
- The Fairmont Empress – even if this hotel is over your budget, make sure to take a stroll through the lobby and main hallways. And if you have the time, I highly recommend high tea.
- Delta Victoria
- Hotel Grand Pacific
Looking for Vacation Rentals? We’ve got you covered:
Top Vacation Rentals in Victoria
From Victoria, make your way towards the Cowichan Valley. Driving north along Highway 1, you will pass by quaint towns and experience breathtaking views of the sea and the Gulf Islands. A notable spot along the Malahat is Goldstream Provincial Park.
Days 3 & 4 – the Cowichan Valley
Highlights of the Cowichan Valley
- Malahat Skywalk – Vancouver Island’s newest attraction, provides incredible ocean views.
- The Kinsol Trestle – One of the tallest free-standing and most spectacular timber rail trestle structures globally.
- Stop for ice cream in Cowichan Bay at the Udder Guys
- BC Forest Discovery Centre – Chronicles the history of logging in BC.
- Pacific Northwest Raptor Centre – Located in Duncan, this bird exhibit has fantastic flying demonstrations.
- Cowichan Lake & River – if you are here during the summer months, I highly recommend tubing down the Cowichan River.
- Chemainus – a charming seaside town that is an absolute must-see.
Recommended accommodations in the Cowichan Valley
Nanaimo / Ladysmith
Days 4 & 5 Nanaimo
From Chemainus, continue to head north towards Nanaimo. A notable spot to stop for a few hours is Transfer Beach in Ladysmith if time allows. And DON’T pass through Ladysmith without stopping at the Old Town Bakery!! Their cinnamon buns are so delicious and popular that your best bet is to order ahead of time.
- Visit the Yellow Point area and stop for a bite to eat and drink at the Crow & Gate Pub
- Wild Play Element Parks – For the thrill-seeker!
- Westwood Lake Park – is one of Nanaimo’s best-loved parks.
- Romper Room – for some fantastic indoor rock climbing.
- Have lunch at the Dingy Dock Pub and Restaurant (kid-friendly) – Canada’s only floating pub.
- Saysutshun (Newcastle Island) – is a great place to swim, explore, or kayak.
- Take the ferry across to Gabriola Island – one of the Gulf Islands in the Strait of Georgia.
If you have more time to spend in Nanaimo, read 48 Hours in Nanaimo for even more ideas.
Recommended accommodations in Nanaimo
For Vacation Rentals, check out this link:
To conclude your trip, BC Ferries has two ports in Nanaimo. The Duke Point terminal will take you back to Tsawwassen (the same port you would have travelled from to Victoria) or the Departure Bay ferry, which takes you to Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.
Have I missed one of your favourite spots?
Please leave a comment below if you feel I should have included another must-see attraction or destination for this extensive road trip from Victoria to Nanaimo.
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But hey , don’t bypass Ladysmith. Funky downtown with Island renown bakery, vegan restaurants and one of a kind boutiques. Winter time Ladysmith lights up the town like no other – Festival of Lights a must see.
Also, one of the warmest waters for swimming, easy access kayaking, SUP – rentals at Transfer Beach. Kid friendly. 3 Marinas including working Fisherman’s where you can sometimes buy fresh catch of the day.
And hiking; Holland Creek Trail, Heart Lake, Christie Falls, Thistle Mine for starters.
Yellow Point is also technically Ladysmith and there are so many attractions there!
All wonderful suggestions! Thank you, Nicola.
If going further north I recommend Qualicum Beach, the falls on the Little Qualicum River are a must see, especially in the spring. Milner Gardens are lovely and a nice comparison to Butchart Gardens. The beaches of Parksville are the best on the island.
In Nanaimo, public access to the ocean for nature walks are available at Neck Pt. and Pipers Lagoon. Morrell Sanctuary is a hikers delight and easy enough to walk with children. Buttertubs is a great place to take little ones and you can see many birds. No dogs allowed there, however.
All excellent suggestions, Jim. Thank you. For anyone reading this comment, all of these wonderful suggestions have been written about in various articles. To find information about each one, just enter the name in the search bar.
In Victoria, I really enjoyed the Robert Bateman Gallery.
We were just in that area and attended a play in Chamainus. Delightful! There are also a variety of hikes out of Ladysmith if time permits.
Aren’t the plays at the Chemainus Theatre spectacular? We’ve attended quite a few, and I am always so impressed. Yes, there are some great hiking trails around Ladysmith. Many of which I have still yet to explore! Thanks for the great suggestions.
We like to stop in Ladysmith to kayak
That’s a great idea! Do you rent them from Sealegs Kayak Adventures at Transfer Beach?
Whoa! Consider departure point from Port Angeles, WA via the Blackball (Coho) ferry! That’s our planned ferry to Victoria.
Yes, indeed! When travelling to Victoria from Washington, the Black Ball ferry is great! The ferries mentioned were for travellers leaving Nanaimo. 🙂
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