three students pose with the city of Nanaimo in the background

Things to do in Nanaimo

September 18, 2023
Author: Becky Duarte

Get to know your new hometown

VIU’s main campus is in the harbourside city of Nanaimo. If you’re new to the area, it’s a good idea to spend some time exploring the city. One of the most helpful ways I dealt with homesickness as a new, international student was by familiarizing myself with the places around me. Even simply learning the names of a few key streets or taking long, aimless walks helped me better understand my new environment and feel a little less lost. Here are a few places to explore in Nanaimo.

Maffeo Sutton Park, downtown Nanaimo


Nanaimo is known for its natural beauty and this includes many, many parks to enjoy. Beginning with the places nearest to the university, Buttertubs Marsh and Colliery Dam Park are quick and peaceful nature walks. Each are about a 20-minute walk from VIU. Further away is Bowen Park, where you can picnic by the river, throw a frisbee around and play volleyball, football, tennis, basketball or check out the disc golf course.

For ocean views, Maffeo Sutton Park in downtown Nanaimo is especially enjoyable with opportunities to watch passing seaplanes and occasional open-air movie screenings. Pipers Lagoon is perfect for a breezy stroll on the path between the lagoon and the ocean. A minor trudge over a rock bluff takes you to a viewpoint perfect for enjoying an evening sunset. Sugarloaf Mountain is also a must-visit. Here, a quick five-minute hike up a few stairs leads you to a quiet, beautiful viewpoint of the city and Departure Bay. A few other honourable mentions are the Cable Bay Trail, Beach Estates Park, Bastion, Jack Point and Biggs Park. To learn more, visit the City of Nanaimo’s Find a Park website.

Four people stand next to a sign on a tree that points up


If hikes are your thing, you’ve chosen the right place to live. Ammonite Falls is not too far from the main city and is a moderate hike for beginners. It trails through a forested area and ends with a beautiful waterfall. The Englishman River Falls is a 45-minute drive away and is slightly more challenging. There are waterfalls at the end of this trek as well, and more of a picnic feel to the surroundings. And last but not least is Mount Benson, which is one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done. Although it is long, steep and tiring, it is by far the most rewarding, as the highest point has a breath-taking view of the hills and mountains to the west, as well as the city and Gulf Island. On a clear day you can also see the Mainland.

three people lounge in an inner tube in a lake


To simmer down after the Mount Benson hike, you can jump into Westwood Lake. There is a trail that wraps around the lake if swimming is not of interest to you. People also fish, paddleboard or just tan on the sandy beaches. It’s the perfect place to be on a hot summer day. Departure Bay Beach is another sandy beach to cool off in on a warm day, or you can do a polar plunge on a cold one. Blueback Beach further north is a reward for the effort it takes to climb out of it (lots and lots of stairs). However, the quiet, peaceful, sandy beach is definitely worth the mini workout.

Indoor fun

The city’s downtown area and Woodgrove Centre in the north end are good places to pass time. Downtown, there are lots of restaurants to choose from, ranging from Indian to Italian to Mexican. You can stroll through the quaint streets, walk along the harbour and browse the many interesting boutiques. Whether you’re in the mood for a quick bite or pint, there are restaurants, cafes and pubs all around. The Old City Station Pub is a particular favourite for its décor, prices and livestreaming of big football games.

Woodgrove Centre is the city’s largest mall. It also has a movie theatre, so you can break up your shopping trip with a movie if you want. There are plenty of restaurants nearby.

two people sing into microphones

Music and dancing

On campus there’s a student pub with food, drinks and, on Thursday nights, live music. Every Thursday is open mic night until midnight.

To get a taste of Nanaimo’s nightlife, you’ll want to head downtown. Get your dance on at Level Two and Evolve. The Old City Station Pub and The Corner Lounge have live band performances every now and then. The Queen’s is known for its local artist entertainment. You don’t have to look far to find a bar with karaoke as well.


Indoors or out, Nanaimo has something for everyone. What’s your highlight?


Rebecca Duarte is a first-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in Digital Media Studies. She moved to Canada in January 2023 for the experience of studying abroad and living life outside India. She enjoys travelling, watching movies and playing board games.

Related Posts

Got an article idea for the blog? Email

Sign up for our blog