Downtown harbour in Victoria as the sunsets. A collection of boats are in the water, the Parliament buildings are seen in the background.

Victoria to Nanaimo: An Accessible Getaway

4-6 days, 190 km (118.06 mi)

A Vancouver Island road trip for travellers with special mobility needs.

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There’s lots to see and do in BC’s capital city of Victoria. Attractions ranging from lush gardens, pathways, and expansive parks, to museums, galleries, and restaurants are available to travellers with mobility considerations.

The Cowichan Valley, located between Victoria and Nanaimo, offers great wine touring opportunities, and the city of Nanaimo is home to a beautiful waterfront and many don’t-miss food and drink options.

Please note: The information below is based on research and conversations with businesses at the time of writing. For current information—and to ensure that your particular needs can be met—we strongly recommend that you contact each business directly.


Part 1


Getting Here & Getting Around:

From Metro Vancouver, Victoria is accessible by BC Ferries, BC Ferries Connector coaches, public transit buses to and from BC Ferries terminals, and by local airlines. Helijet asks that anyone flying their helicopter service make prior arrangements with reservation agents.

Accessible transportation services at Victoria International Airport can be pre-arranged. Some private charter companies also offer accessible transportation when arrangements are made in advance. For example, Wilson’s Transportation and CVS Tours and both have vehicles equipped with wheelchair lifts.

Two people entering the Ferry Terminal at Swartz Bay, including one wheelchair user, on Vancouver Island

People entering the Ferry Terminal at Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island /Jordan Dyck

Two seaplanes rest in the water along a doc at the Seaplane terminal in Victoria. The dock itself is wet, and the sky is overvast.

Victoria harbour seaplanes | Tanya Goehring

Heading to Victoria directly from Washington State? You have options. The Victoria Clipper leaves from Seattle, making the crossing in two hours and 45 minutes. The vessel is wheelchair accessible on the ferry’s main deck.

From Port Angeles, the M.V.Coho sails to Victoria in 90 minutes. There are no elevators on the vessel, but you can arrange wheelchair service in advance.

Accessible Victoria Accommodation Suggestions:

Victoria offers a range of accommodations offering accessible features, including Parkside Hotel & Spa, Coast Victoria Hotel and the iconic Fairmont Empress. For a list of accessible places to stay, use the “Wheelchair Accessible” filter on Tourism Victoria’s accommodations page.

Accessible Options for Exploring Victoria:

Victoria’s iconic Inner Harbour is home to a flat waterfront path (accessible via a ramp on either end) with views of boat and seaplane traffic, great people-watching opportunities, and an ideal vantage point to check out the heritage buildings that surround the harbour. The mountains of Washington State can be seen in the distance.

Three people walk along the pathway in the Inner Harbour on a cloudy day towards the Parliament buildings.

Inner Harbour | Tanya Goehring

Among the notable waterfront buildings is the Steamship Terminal Building with its distinctive white pillars, now home to the Bateman Foundation Gallery of Nature. See the world’s largest collection of works by renowned artist and naturalist Robert Bateman, and be inspired to champion the preservation of our natural spaces.

Across the street sit the Parliament Buildings, the home base of the provincial government, called the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. See what happens inside these impressive buildings on a guided tour. In summer, you may find staff dressed in historic costumes. Don’t forget your camera!

One wheelchair user and another person move along the pathway in front of the Parliament buildings in Victoria.

People visiting the Parliament Buildings /Jordan Dyck

Joining a sightseeing tour is an efficient and convenient way to see some of the city’s highlights. Gray Line Victoria and CVS Tours offer scheduled, narrated tours that take you to the Inner Harbour, Beacon Hill Park, Butchart Gardens, and many more stops. Vehicles are wheelchair accessible in the summer months, and accessible tours can be made available at other times of year by request.

If bus tours aren’t for you, Victoria is a great city to explore from the ground, with many interesting neighbourhoods to discover. Check out the historic Old Town district with its colourful Victorian-era storefronts, and tour the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

Prominent local historian John Adams offers a variety of insightful tours to such historic neighbourhoods as Chinatown, James Bay, and Old Town/Bastion Square. Come See Victoria offers themed tours, including History & Architecture, Victorian Characters, and Historic Pubs. Tours are led by Dave Mason, an entertaining and knowledgeable guide; Mason can make adjustments to tours, based on specific needs. We recommend that you take note of tour itineraries and inquire with each operator; while some neighbourhoods are mostly flat (for instance, the city’s downtown area), there are exceptions (for example, Bastion Square has many stairs). For people with restricted mobility, it is recommended to reach out ahead of time to make special arrangements.

Gate of Harmonious Interest in Chinatown and shops line the streets in Chinatown. Red lanterns hang from wires above the streets.

Gate of Harmonious Interest in Chinatown | Tanya Goehring

If you’re a foodie, you’ll find temptation everywhere in Victoria. Tourism Victoria’s dining guide can help you find the best spots to suit your palate.

Accessible Victoria Attractions:

Want to discover Victoria on your own? Start at the Royal BC Museum to learn about 550 million years of natural history and 9,000 years of human history. Permanent exhibits include the First Peoples Gallery, Natural History Gallery, and Modern History Gallery, and the museum regularly hosts touring exhibitions from Canada and around the world. Note that there are a few areas on the museum’s third floor, such as the interior of the replica HMS Discovery, that are not wheelchair accessible.

Two people look up at a collection of three totem poles at the Royal BC Museum.

Two people at the Royal BC Museum Credit: Jordan Dyck

A side view of the Fairmont Empress hotel. Several tour busses are parked in front and the Canada flag flies from the top of the hotel. A tree is in the foreground of the camera lens

Fairmont Empress hotel | Tanya Goehring

Victoria Miniature World, located at the stately Fairmont Empress hotel, is a popular attraction, as is Beacon Hill Park‘s more than 80 hectares (200 acres) of parkland, immaculate flower beds, and unique Gary Oak ecosystem. The park holds important history, as well as cultural and spiritual significance to the area’s Indigenous population, including an ancient burial ground.

Fisherman’s Wharf is the place to enjoy fish and chips on a floating dock surrounded by colourful floating homes, and the Victoria Public Market showcases locally produced cheeses, meats, and direct-from-the-farm produce, as well as homemade pies, French pastries, fresh flowers, and more.

Part 2

Detour North to Sidney

The seaside community of Sidney, 30 minutes from downtown Victoria, is worth a short visit on your way north. En route, stop at Butchart Gardens, a national historic site. This former rock quarry is bursting with colour year round, and in the summer, the splendour of the garden is enhanced by live performances and fireworks. Christmas lights at the gardens are an excellent draw, and a decadent afternoon tea adds to the experience at any time of year. Most public areas are wheelchair accessible; some pathways are narrow and have a steeper grade. Check here for more details.

The nearby, wheelchair-accessible Victoria Butterfly Gardens are also worth a visit, with thousands of butterflies on display alongside tropical critters and colourful plants.

A person on an iPhone snaps a photo of the gardens on a sunny, summer day.

Butchart Gardens | @harbourair via Instagram

Stop for lunch at Church & State Wines, one of the largest wineries on Vancouver Island. Their Tasting Bar and Bistro is open March through December (reservations are recommended). Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse is home to 1,300 apple trees with more than 50 varieties of heritage apples; the Ciderhouse tasting room overlooks the ocean and the orchard and is open year round. For something a little stronger, stop at Victoria Distillers, where artisan spirits are named after local landmarks. Book a tour to learn about the distillation process, complete with a cocktail-making demonstration.

Close up of a bottle of Sea Cider in a metal container with ice and other beverages.

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse | @seaciderhouse via Instagram

When you reach Sidney, visit the waterfront Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea for an inside look at the creatures that call the Salish Sea home. Peer into dozens of aquarium habitats, check out marine mammal artifacts (including an intact orca skeleton), and view a collection of local Indigenous artwork. The facility is accessible and a wheelchair is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Part 3

Duncan and Chemainus

Accessible Chemainus Accommodation Suggestions:

For a good night’s sleep in the area before continuing on to Nanaimo, the artfully decorated Best Western Plus Chemainus Inn is a great option.

Along the Way:

Head north to Duncan, known as the City of Totems. Each pole has a story to tell, and you can see more than 40 of them all along a self-guided tour.

This region is home to award-winning wineries, including Enrico Winery, Unsworth VineyardsCherry Point Estate Wines, and Blue Grouse Estate Winery. Another must-visit is Merridale Cidery & Distillery with its delicious craft ciders and celebrated spirits. Note that Merridale’s courtyard, tasting room, eatery, and farm store are wheelchair accessible, but other areas of the farm are not.

Outside of then Merridale Cidery. There is a gazibo, several wooden chairs painted red and white, and a wooden building that houses the cidery.

Merridale Cidery & Distillery | Jordan Dyck

Another great way to tour the area’s wineries, distilleries, and breweries is on a guided tour with Cheers Cowichan Tours aboard their wheelchair-accessible bus.

For some local history, visit the BC Forest Discovery Centre, a 40-hectare (100-acre) open-air museum. See a 107-year-old train, a variety of heritage buildings, and an expansive collection of logging artifacts. Most of the museum is accessible, with the exception of a couple of heritage buildings.

An eagle lands on a handlers protected arm.

The Raptors | Jordan Dyck

Get up close and personal with powerful birds of prey at The Raptors, a centre created to educate and promote the conservation of these beautiful birds. Flight demonstrations are held daily, though check their website before visiting as the centre is closed for two months in the winter. Some of the trails here are not paved and can be challenging for wheelchairs; it’s best to consult with staff ahead of time.

Twenty minutes north of Duncan, the community of Chemainus is best known for its collection of murals depicting local history. Follow the yellow footprints that mark the path to the murals, or pick up a self-guided tour map at the Visitor Centre, which also houses a museum. It’s a little-known fact that some of the mural artists painted their own faces into their artwork; Visitor Centre staff can tell you more.

A woman walks past a mural of Indigenous People.

Mural in Chemainus | Ben Giesbrecht

Beer lovers should visit Riot Brewing , home to some of the best beer on the Island. And if time permits, take in a performance at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, a vibrant professional theatre committed to advancing the arts on Vancouver Island.

Part 4


Accessible Nanaimo Accommodation Suggestions:

If you’re spending a night or two in Nanaimo, try the Best Western Northgate Inn, Coast Bastion Hotel, or Ramada by Wyndham Nanaimo Hotel. Each has a limited number of wheelchair-accessible rooms.

Accessible Nanaimo Activity Suggestions:

Nanaimo is a lovely harbour city with many wheelchair-accessible pathways perfect for watching seaplanes take off and land, and boats come and go. Browse your way through the Old City Quarter, with its boutique stores housed in the heritage buildings. Watch for the plaques that tell the stories of Nanaimo’s colourful past.

Sunset at the Nanaimo waterfront. A seaplane rests on the water by the dock. There is a walkway around the water and a variety of buildings framing the water's edge.

Nanaimo waterfront | Harbour Air Seaplanes

Visit Nanaimo Museum to learn the history of local Indigenous Peoples, the city’s coal mining history, and fun facts, like how bathtub racing was born here and is still going strong.

Thirsty visitors should stop by Arbutus Distillery for some expertly crafted artisan spirits and cocktails. Make sure to try the kombucha. Follow the BC Ale Trail to White Sails Brewing and Wolf Brewing, and move on to some of the city’s accessible dining experiences. Try the fresh, locally sourced daily special at Gabriel’s Gourmet Cafe, sample the French pastries at Mon Petit Choux, and have a pint at Crow and Gate Pub, which claims to be the first neighbourhood pub in BC.

Part 5

From Nanaimo

Return to Vancouver via BC Ferries or by air. If time permits, keep exploring BC.

Please note: The information above is based on research and conversations with businesses at the time of writing. For current information—and to ensure that your particular needs can be met—we strongly recommend that you contact each business directly.

Header image: Victoria’s Inner Harbour | Reuben Krabbe

Last updated: June 23, 2020

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