Have you ever dreamed of having a Nanaimo bar in front of a bar in Nanaimo? Because that’s a pun I could not pass up. Nanaimo is a small city on Vancouver Island in British Columbia known for its lovely dessert.
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But Nanaimo is more than its delicious coconut chocolatey delight – there is an incredible amount of history in this little city. And with the sea to one side and the mountains to the other, the city is surrounded by natural beauty.
Nanaimo is the first stop on Vancouver Island’s eastern shore after disembarking from the Horseshoe Bay (Vancouver) to Departure Bay (Nanaimo) ferry. Some may want to skip right over it and head on to the west coast but don’t listen to those people.
Don’t forget to bring your guide for British Columbia – like this one from Lonely Planet
The Indigenous peoples of the area – Snuneymuxw – are what gave the area its name. It started as a trading post and developed into a coal mining town. The town has diversified since its formation and relies on the many tourists that come through each year.
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So what is there to do in Nanaimo anyway?
For the adventure seekers, many trails are surrounding the city to explore. Or check out Newcastle Island Marine Provincial Park, which is a short ferry ride away.
Nanaimo is known as the harbour city, and the water around the city is home to thousands of marine animals like whales and sea lions. Why not get out on the water on a kayak, or even go snorkelling!
Things to do in Nanaimo
In the city, break out your camera and walking shoes for a short stroll around the downtown.
The Bastion and the 12 o clock gun
Standing like a guard of the harbour, the Bastion is one of the oldest structures in Nanaimo. The iconic landmark was built back in the 1850s. So it’s older than dust. The three floors represent different parts of its history.
On the main floor, you can learn about the history of the Hudson Bay Trading Company, who was a big player in the development of Canada. The second floor shows its history as a defence armament. War and conflict never came to Nanaimo, but it was ready for it.
The third floor was a place of refuge for HBC families. Today it is home to a display of objects and tools that were used in the early settlement days of the mining town.
The main floor is also home to Tourism Nanaimo. It’s open from the May long weekend to Labour Day in September. The cannon outside the Bastion is fired every day during the summer months at noon, a play on when it used to fire to signal a salute to passing ships.
Old City Quarter
Another attraction to Nanaimo is the Old City Quarter. Home to beautiful shops and building in all different colours, the Old City Quarter was the original economic centre of the city.
Be sure to check out the street art and the eclectic shops or just wander around and enjoy the sights.
Much like Vancouver and Victoria, BC, there is a long and rich, and sometimes heartbreaking, history of Chinese immigration. The area known as the China Steps was the epicentre for Chinese business and commerce in Nanaimo during the coal mining days.
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Nanaimo Bar trail
Alright, now to the good stuff. You cannot leave Nanaimo without eating a Nanaimo bar. The coconut custard chocolate dessert bar’s history is a bit mysterious. No one really knows where the origins of the dessert came from, but the first time it was mentioned was in the 1950s in Edith Adam’s Cookbook and published in the Vancouver Sun.
Tourism Nanaimo has a 34-stop Nanaimo bar trail. From the traditional Nanaimo bar to a Nanaimo bar cinnamon bun to a Nanaimo bar pedicure – there is everything related to this delicious dessert.
From the delicious dessert to the history to the glorious outdoors, what do you want to do first on your trip to Nanaimo?