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Living in Victoria vs. Nanaimo: Where to Live on Vancouver Island

Posted by Ron Neal on Monday, July 31st, 2023 at 2:22pm.

Comparing Victoria and Nanaimo

This article delves into the contrasting lifestyles offered by the city of Nanaimo and Victoria, two picturesque cities located on British Columbia's Vancouver Island. From the enchanting historic charm of Victoria to the laid-back coastal ambiance of Nanaimo, prospective residents seeking a change in scenery will find valuable insights into these coveted destinations. Discover the unique characteristics, amenities, and opportunities that await those considering moving to Victoria or Nanaimo.

Victoria Economy vs. Nanaimo Economy

Of the two cities, Victoria has a slightly higher cost of living and a larger and more complex economy. Victoria residents earn a higher median income and enjoy access to a more varied job market. On the other hand, Nanaimo's smaller scale and slower pace offer a favourable environment for small businesses and startups.

Cost of Living

With the island locations, mild weather, and easy access to endless outdoor recreation, it's no secret that both Victoria and Nanaimo are among the more expensive places to live in Canada. However, Victoria is the more expensive of the two, especially regarding housing, and Nanaimo is actually one of the most affordable cities on Vancouver Island. An individual pays around $3,850 a month to live in Victoria, including housing, transportation, and groceries. It's worth noting that Victoria's geographical area is much more expansive, so there are significantly more options for housing.

Homes for sale in Victoria list for a median price of more than $1.1 million, while Nanaimo's median listing price is closer to $900,000.

Prices on other expenditures are more comparable, although expect to spend just slightly more in Victoria. As a bustling tourist destination, restaurants, bars, and attractions all cost a bit more, albeit for a broader selection. Nanaimo's smaller footprint also helps alleviate transportation costs, while utilities and shopping are nearly identical.

Job Market

Victoria has an abundance of job opportunities combined with a competitive market. The city has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and relocating to Victoria for work is common. As the urban hub of Vancouver Island, it attracts regional headquarters and corporate administrative work. The most prominent industries in Victoria are tech, tourism, administration, and education.

Nanaimo is a smaller hub with less abundant job opportunities; however, the city is an excellent fit for entrepreneurs. The biggest industries include construction, healthcare, and retail, while almost half of new business licenses are issued to home-based enterprises. This represents an increase of over 4% in the past two years. Nanaimo's lower accommodation costs and its surrounding natural beauty make it a peaceful backdrop for remote workers and small business owners. Vancouver's big-city amenities and expanded infrastructure are just a direct ferry ride away.

Top Industries and Biggest Corporations

In the last few years, Victoria has experienced a rapid expansion in technology-related industries. Tech now comprises one of the largest areas of employment in the region, providing some 16,000 jobs. Large companies include Japanese-owned Fujitsu, which creates IT-based tech, and Harris Computer, a large software development company. Other significant employment opportunities in Victoria have hospitality and tourism-related service work, the University of Victoria, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, and public administration. Coupled with many smaller companies, job opportunities here are pleasantly varied.

In Nanaimo, large companies have a much smaller presence. Four companies city-wide employ more than 500 people, while in stark contrast, almost 90% of businesses have fewer than 20 employees. As a result, Nanaimo has a more innovative, self-starter, local business-focused atmosphere than Victoria. Timber is still the largest industry in Nanaimo and is shipped all over the world. Along with commercial fishing, the Department of Defence, research companies, local credit unions, and health care are just some of the industries contributing to Nanaimo's economic development.

When comparing the overall cost of living and job markets, Victoria and Nanaimo offer contrasting qualities for long-term quality of life. Here's a quick comparison between the two cities:

  • Victoria has a larger economy, with more job offerings
  • Smaller Nanaimo fosters entrepreneurship
  • Housing and entertainment costs in Nanaimo are slightly lower
  • Day-to-day expenses are comparable

Victoria Commutes vs. Nanaimo Commutes

Commuting in Victoria and Nanaimo, BC

Victoria and Nanaimo have very different city layouts. Victoria's denser interior core includes a large concentration of condos close to businesses and has a more comprehensive public transportation system. Alternatively, Nanaimo is smaller, and more spread out, with an elongated shape that's difficult to traverse without a car. However, its slower pace also means less traffic to contend with.

Traffic Patterns and What to Expect During Rush Hour

Nanaimo rarely experiences traffic—typically only during construction- or accident-related road closures. Businesses are also interspersed throughout the city, so there's no concern about rush hour here. The main areas of congestion occur in the city center, around Terminal Ave. Nevertheless, the flow of vehicles is rarely at a standstill.

On the contrary, Victoria experiences a more predictable traffic pattern. With many residents living in the suburbs, vehicles driving in Victoria regularly flow in and out of the city. Rush hour occurs on weekdays from 6:00–9:00 a.m. and 3:00–6:00 p.m.; keep in mind working hours are earlier than on the mainland. The most significant congestion area occurs west towards the Township of Esquimalt, mainly because this area is connected only by bridges, and the narrowed lanes create congestion.

Public Transportation

Victoria's public transit system is much more comprehensive than Nanaimo's. The urban core is well-connected by bus to the suburbs and other outlying areas. Public transit is made even easier by an abundance of pedestrian-friendly walkways and bike trails. Much of Victoria is accessible without a car; biking and walking are typically viable options assuming the weather permits them.

Nanaimo does operate several bus routes, mainly along the edges of the city's elongated shape. Sidewalk and bicycle infrastructure are also more limited, so living in Nanaimo without a car is not as easy as in Victoria.

The average commute time is shorter in Nanaimo, providing you have a car, while Victoria offers more options for commuting that can take longer. As a result, determining which city offers better transportation depends on personal preferences.

What to Do in Victoria vs. What to Do in Nanaimo

Things to Do in Victoria and Nanaimo, BC

Although both cities are on an island and offer many similarities in recreation, there are some notable differences. Victoria's best parks are numerous and beautiful, and they offer abundant amenities. Fans of spectator sports and night owls will discover more offerings in Victoria. However, Nanaimo's appeal is its quiet nature. Whether playing golf or watching a coastal sunrise, much of the city's allure is in the slow-paced experiences in The Great Outdoors.

Outdoor Activities

Both cities, unsurprisingly, have spectacular outdoor attractions at their doorstep. This is Vancouver Island, after all. However, when considering the proximity to the city, Nanaimo offers more options in town. Stunning Mount Benson Recreational Park is less than a 15-minute drive, offering hiking along a scenic lake to waterfalls. Several other wooded and coastal trails also weave around the city, including mountain biking courses easily accessible from town. Plus, traditional and disc golf courses are plentiful near Nanaimo. Nanaimo is also home to many festivals and events in the summer months, including the Vancouver Island Music Festival and the Nanaimo Marine Festival.

Nevertheless, Victoria also offers stunning parks, although visitors should expect a more urbanized feel. Standouts include its numerous coastal preserves, which comprise Victoria's best beaches, rocky shores, and walkways adjacent to waterfront homes. Numerous bike trails weave throughout town, and Thetis Lake Regional Park offers lakeside and wooded trails. Both cities have fantastic outdoor offerings and are excellent hubs for exploring more of the island.


Regarding spectator sports, Victoria is the only city of the two with professional sports teams. It's home to two hockey teams, including the Victoria Royals, who play in the Junior Division of the Western Hockey League. There are also home teams to root for in lacrosse, baseball, and football. Look out for events in other athletic endeavours, like the Victoria Marathon and the annual Ironman race.

Nanaimo doesn't have a set sports calendar, but it does have excellent sports venues that host rotating events. The city has been the site of everything from BMX championships to hockey tournaments. While there may not be a local home team to cheer on, many opportunities exist to catch athletes in action. Plus, the variety of local community-based leagues offers residents a variety of ways to participate in team sports.


Once the sun sets, Victoria is the place to be on Vancouver Island. The city offers a more extensive selection of nighttime entertainment, from upscale cocktail bars and craft breweries to clubs. With a concentration of hotspots downtown, it's easy to organize a bar crawl, hopping from one place to the next. Additionally, Victoria has a happening music scene, with live venues focusing on genres from jazz to electronic. Those looking for a place to dance will find options here, too: the university crowd bolsters the club scene.

While options in Nanaimo are undoubtedly less plentiful, there are some great venues to enjoy come nighttime. Most bars lean towards a casual pub vibe, with lively trivia nights and a welcoming atmosphere. The city also has two nightclubs and a casino. While there may not be a significant event every weekend, it's easy to become a regular at the city's comfortable haunts.

Victoria's larger size and steady tourism give it more cultural entertainment options. Restaurants and bars are typically trendier, much like those in major cities. However, Nanaimo's laid-back feel and beautiful surroundings make it a better choice for residents looking for more sporadic nights out.

Victoria & Nanaimo: Two Vancouver Island Treasures

Victoria and Nanaimo present two alluring options for individuals seeking a change of environment or planning a vacation in British Columbia. Victoria's vibrant cityscape, rich history, and proximity to stunning natural landscapes make it an ideal choice for those yearning to blend urban amenities and natural beauty. Victoria's best suburbs also provide many options for a quieter lifestyle. On the other hand, Nanaimo offers a more relaxed and close-knit community, with its stunning coastal vistas, recreational opportunities, and affordable real estate options. Whether one is drawn to the cultural allure of Victoria or the tranquil coastal lifestyle of Nanaimo, both cities promise a unique living experience that caters to diverse preferences and interests.

If you're ready to move to Nanaimo, call The Neal Estate Team at (250) 386-8181 to reach a local Victoria real estate agent who can help you find your dream Nanaimo home.


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The Neal Estate Group is your #1 source for all of your Victoria BC real estate needs. Get in touch with us online or by phone at (250) 386-8181 to speak with a Victoria real estate buying or selling expert today. With decades of experience as a top selling Victoria REALTOR® and ranked in top 1% globally with over 5,000 transactions and $1 Billion SOLD, Ron Neal & The Neal Estate Group have the industry experience and market knowledge to help you make smart and informed buying or selling decisions. 

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