Nanaimo's spectacular waterfront walkway | Photo Credit Mike Anderson
By Sheliza Mitha
Sitting along the water’s edge, and dotted with grand ferries along its shoreline, it only takes one visit to see why Nanaimo is called “The Harbour City.” This picturesque city on the east coast of Vancouver Island – about an hour-and-a-half drive north of Victoria – presents history, quaint storefronts, spectacular views and pretty beaches.
For my family, our island getaway kicked off with an impossibly idyllic ferry ride from the Horseshoe Bay Terminal in West Vancouver. During an approximate 90-minute ferry ride across the rippling blue Strait of Georgia, we were lucky enough to see some soaring eagles and a few demure seals pop their heads up in the water.
We docked in Nanaimo in the late afternoon, just in time for a memorable dinner in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter. This inviting neighbourhood overflows with charm and is a perfect combination of revitalized historic buildings and modern development, resulting in a unique mix of old and new that captures the spirit Nanaimo. Though we drove to the Old City Quarter, it’s an easy five to 10 minute walk to this part of Nanaimo.
After exploring the shops, we settled in for dinner at the popular Asteras Greek Taverna. This small bit of Greece can be found in a breathtaking century-old heritage home. Close your eyes and step inside, and you could very well be on one of the Greek islands.
Every bit of this eatery echoes authentic Greece, the lively chatter of the intimate tables, the bright and window-filled setting, the warm service and most especially, of course, the food (think savoury moussaka, perfectly grilled prawns souvlaki and other fare).
The iconic Bastion was at the top of our list on the following morning. Situated on the harbour, because – of course – we’re in the Harbour City, the majestic Bastion represents a powerful piece of Nanaimo’s history. Built in 1853, the Bastion sits like a beacon on the shoreline and was skilfully crafted with traditional wood-working techniques by the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Today, as the city’s oldest structure and recognized Municipal Heritage Site – and boasting three floors of important history – the Bastion is an enduring landmark and undoubtedly one of the city’s most popular attractions. Open as of Museum Day on May 18th to September 1st from 10am to 3pm, admission is by donation and well worth a visit. (Please note the Bastion is not wheelchair accessible.)
For a bit more local culture, pay a visit to the nearby Nanaimo Museum. This dynamic gallery features both permanent exhibits that highlight the city’s fascinating history, as well as First Nations heritage and intriguing rotating exhibits – including Nanaimo Mysteries, which explores the particularly dark aspects of the city’s unusual past. On display until September 2, this engaging exhibit reveals cold cases and solved murders that date back 150 years, rumours of hidden treasure and a psychic brought in to solve a missing persons case… and much more. Though Nanaimo Mysteries’ graphic content is not for the young or faint at heart, there’s enough to see and do to make a visit here worthwhile. Admission is $2 for adults, $1.75 for students and seniors, 75 cents for children aged 5 to 12, and children under the age of five are free.
Since no visit to Nanaimo is complete without taking a bite out of the bar, we headed for a scenic stroll along the water’s edge to enjoy the views and the local delicacy – the popular and indulgent Nanaimo Bar. A single bite of this sweet layered treat, made locally by a true Nanaimo baker, made our visit here all the more special. Nanaimo’s very own seawall edging downtown is rife with bustle and strollers and live music on the weekends, making it easy to enjoy some relaxing and entertaining downtime with family before departing for our impending journey up island.
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Published: April 18, 2019
Sheliza is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys blogging about her family’s adventures throughout British Columbia. For the latest on food and travel, connect with her on Twitter via @shelizawrites or visit her at www.copyprose.com.