They don't call it the "hub" city for nothing – Nanaimo is a major connection point for Vancouver Island travel. There are three BC Ferries terminals here, multiple floatplane companies, a major charter bus depot, and lots of highway. The list of resources below should help you to get around.
Check out our list of Maps of Nanaimo
BC Transit operates our regional buses, which generally run between 7am and 11:30pm on weekdays and Saturdays, and between 8am and 8pm on Sundays and holidays (except Christmas Day and Good Friday). Most runs are on intervals of an hour or a half-hour, or every fifteen minutes, depending on the time of day.
Nanaimo bus drivers tend to be more friendly than the drivers in many other cities. Note, however, that the transfer system is not like in Vancouver; your transfer is only good in one direction of travel.
The largest taxi service in Nanaimo is AC Taxi (250-753-1231). They have 3 wheelchair-friendly taxis, and their cars are mostly hybrids. In a 2008 internet forum conversation, AC Taxi was overwhelmingly favoured over their competition, Swiftsure (250-753-8911).
Greyhound and Laidlaw operate daily bus services out of the terminal by the Howard Johnson Hotel just north of downtown Nanaimo, beside Maffeo Sutton Park. These buses connect Nanaimo with Victoria, Vancouver, and the rest of North America. You can also take the bus to the north of the island (Port Hardy) or to the west coast (Tofino and Ucluelet).
This map shows the bus terminal's location in downtown Nanaimo:
The railroad is the oldest highway up Vancouver Island, and you can still use it to travel between Victoria and Courtenay.
The "dayliner" passenger train leaves Victoria every morning* at 8am and arrives in Nanaimo around 10:35 ; it leaves after a 15 min break, and arrives in Courtenay around 12:45. Half an hour later, the train makes the return journey to Victoria, pausing in Nanaimo from 3:10 to 3:25. (*On Sundays, all times move forward by two hours, so that the train does its run later in the day and arrives back in Victoria at 8pm. Note too that our info may be outdated; you should confirm times with VIA before planning your trip.)
The passenger train is currently the only regular user of the rail line, so there've been some challenges in the effort to keep the railway intact, rather than seeing it sold off for other purposes.
There are three BC Ferries terminals in Nanaimo. Two of them serve major routes between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and the third terminal is the one connecting downtown Nanaimo with Gabriola Island. All three ferries are equipped to carry pedestrians and vehicles.
Departure Bay Ferry Terminal – Located on the east (coast) side of central Nanaimo. Connects with Horseshoe Bay, north of Vancouver. (Schedule)
Things to do near this terminal: There are a couple parks (Beach Estates and Barney Moriez) within 5-10 minutes (walking), as well as two pubs and a fine restaurant. Here is a map with details.
Duke Point Ferry Terminal – Located on a peninsula across the water from downtown. Accessible by travelling south from Nanaimo, then east at the community of Cedar. Connects with Tsawassen, south of Vancouver. (Schedule)
Things to do near this terminal: The terminal is right beside Jack Point Park, which is a gorgeous marine area with small cliffs, arbutus groves, wildlife, and views.
Gabriola Island Ferry Terminal – Located beside Port Place Shopping Centre in Downtown Nanaimo. Connects with Descanso Bay on the west shore of Gabriola Island. (Schedule)
Things to do near this terminal: The terminal is right in downtown Nanaimo, next to Port Place Mall, museums, galleries, and other downtown shopping.
The BC Ferries are a tourist attraction in their own right, offering comfortable, unforgettably beautiful passage across our distinctly Pacific Northwest waters.
Budget rental car has 4 locations: At the airport, downtown, near Country Club Mall, and near Woodgrove Mall.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car (near Diver Lake) (250) 751-1200
National Car Rental (Pickup at Nanaimo Airport and at the seaplane/ferry terminals near Departure Bay)
Rent A Wreck (Downtown Nanaimo) - Discounts for students. (250) 753-6461
Hertz Car Rental (Nanaimo Airport)