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18 Unmissable Things to Do in Wellington, New Zealand

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As the capital of New Zealand, you can be sure there are many things to do in Wellington for any type of traveler.

The city is well known for its creative community, a world-class food scene, and being central to some awe-inspiring nature spots.

It’s the gateway to the Waipara Valley wine region, and the final stop on the North Island before taking the ferry crossing to the South Island.

But if you’re not sure what to do in Wellington New Zealand, then you’ve come to the right place. Below are some of the most unmissable attractions you cannot skip.

Things to Do in Wellington

Despite most tourists skipping Wellington on their visits to New Zealand (Queenstown and Auckland seem to always hold more sway for some reason), there really is a TON to do here.

Here are some of the best attractions in Wellington you cannot miss…

1. Visit Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

EXTERIOR OF Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

New Zealand’s National Museum is Te Papa, which is free to enter. Here you can learn all about the country’s history, geography, and native people, and enjoy tons of great multi-media displays and exhibits.

It also has a vast collection of fossils and dinosaur bones, as well as art galleries showcasing native New Zealander art work.

2. Check out the Views from Mount Victoria

views of wellington cityscape from mount victoria

Getting to the Mount Victoria lookout is an absolute must thing to do in Wellington.

There are several ways you can get to the top if you don’t feel like hiking, such as catch a bus, train, or ride the historic Wellington cable car. There are several bus networks that go to Mount Victoria, you can find the schedules here.

However, if it’s your first time to Wellington, then riding the Historic Cable Car is the way to go. Actually, it’s not really a cable car, but a funicular railway, that was built in 1902.

The journey is only 5 minutes from the bottom to the top, but it travels at a constant grade of 20% and goes through 3 tunnels and over 3 bridges. If you want to learn more about its construction, you can do so at the Cable Car Museum.

To take the cable car, head down to Lambton Quay (Wellington’s major shopping area) and catch the red cable car up to the Wellington Botanical Gardens.

From the top, you can get fantastic 360-degree views over Wellington.

3. Relax in Wellington Botanic Garden

red tram going don through the wellington botanical gardens with city views

The Wellington Botanic Garden is tranquil escape from the city, with its sprawling green lawns, vibrant plants and flora displays, and serene walking trails.

Take a seat on one of the many benches scattered throughout the garden and unpack a picnic.

With stunning views of the city skyline and the picturesque Wellington Harbour, the garden provides the perfect backdrop for relaxation.

If you have an interest in science and space exploration, check out Space Place at Carter Observatory, the botanic garden’s planetarium.

4. Walk Along the Wellington Waterfront

sailboats at the harbour
Lambton Harbour

Walking along the Waterfront is an easy free thing to do in Wellington and is a great way to see the natural beauty of the city.

The waterfront area is quiet and peaceful, overlooking the gentle Lambton Harbour. Look out over the boat docks, beaches, and grab a drink from one of the cafes.

You can even kayak or sail in the harbor.

5. Admire the Parliament Building

A large building
NZ Parliament

Wellington is New Zealand’s capital, meaning you can find all of its important government buildings here.

If you’re interested, they do free hour-long tours of Parliament every day. Even if you don’t take a guided tour, though, stroll over there to see the Executive Wing anyway, which is aptly nicknamed “The Beehive.”

The Parliament Building is a unique work of architecture, since it combines four buildings that were built at alternating periods.

The most notable section is the Parliament House which was built in 1922 in an Edwardian neoclassical-style Parliament House, and The Beehive, which was added in 1977, followed by Bowen House which was built in 1991. The oldest section of the building is the Parliamentary Library which was built in 1899.

Despite being built at different times, the overall aesthetic is coherent and blends beautifully.

6. Visit Weta Cave And See LOTR Film Props

Another top attraction is the Weta Cave in “Wellywood.” Wellington is the heart and soul of New Zealand filmmaking – it’s home to Peter Jackson, director of the wildly successful “Lord of the Rings” movies, after all. 

Jackson also has all his studios in Wellington, and much of the props and set of the LOTR franchise ended up at Wet Cave – a museum of film-making memorabilitia.

If you’re planning to visit New Zealand for Lord of the Rings experiences, then a visit to the Weta Cave in Miramar will give you a taste of film in New Zealand.

To learn more about the films and to relive your hobbits moments, consider taking a Weta Workshop Tour.

7. Take the Kids to Wellington Zoo

chimpanzee sitting on tree branch in zoo

If you’re looking for fun things to do in Wellington with kids, then seek animal encounters and a fun day out at the Wellington Zoo.

Wellington Zoo is not just a place to get up close to animals you wouldn’t normally see in the wild, but a place of conservation and education.

Be sure to check out one of the zoo talks, to learn about penguins, snow leopards, tigers, giraffes, chimpanzees, sun bears, lemurs, and red pandas. They have talks throughout the day, but be sure to check the schedule on their website before you visit.

Another great wildlife home for those interested in animals is ZEALANDIA wildlife sanctuary.

8. Explore the Neighbourhoods of Wellington

a town street
The Miramar neighborhood

Bohemian Cuba Street would be my top area to hang out in within central Wellington, whether you’re looking for great cafes, shopping, or just people-watching, colorful Cuba Street is the ideal place to go.

Another cool neighborhood is Island Bay, a seaside neighborhood with nice hikes out to a seal colony and great views of the South Island on a clear day.

The Mt. Vic neighborhood, which includes the nightlife hotspot Courtenay Place, is also worth a visit.

For incredible views, check out Brooklyn, a neighborhood high up on a hill overlooking Wellington with some great views.

Really, though, Wellington is so small and compact that you don’t have to go very far to experience different neighborhoods.

9. Check Out the Foodie Scene in Wellington

Wellington is known as New Zealand’s “cultural capital” for good reason – there is no shortage of great cafes and restaurants of all sorts here.

Whether it’s Turkish kebabs, Japanese noodles, Italian pizza, French bistros, American burgers, or even Mexican fare, you’ll find it in Wellington.

For the best assortment of international restaurants, head to Cuba Street and the surrounding area.

Some I’d recommend include:

  • Fidel’s – Located appropriately on Cuba Street, this is one of the best places in town to go for coffee. It also has a full lunch and dinner menu.
  • Sweet Mother’s Kitchen – Located on Courtenay Place, this is the spot to go if you’re searching for New Orleans-inspired home cooking. They do good Cajun food for reasonable prices.
  • Monsoon Poon – If you’re in search of Asian-inspired food in Wellington, this flashy restaurant on Blair St. is the place to go.
  • Café Polo – Located in the suburb of Miramar (“Wellywood,” where all the films are made), Café Polo is open daily for breakfast and lunch and aims to support local suppliers, use free range meat and eggs, and serve organic fair trade coffee.
  • Maranui Café – A little further out near Lyall Bay, this 1940s-inspired spot serves good food, smoothies/shakes and coffee, and has a fantastic view out over the water.
  • Burger Fuel – Even though it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of these hip little cafes and bistros, Burger Fuel (located on Courtenay Place) is one of the best places to go if you’re craving a gigantic burger with all the fixin’s.

The true foodie may also want to check out a Wellington Food Tour for a true Wellington food experience.

10. Explore the Nightlife of Courtenay Place

a pedestrian mall
Courtenay Place during the day

For a night on the town, check out Courtenay Place or Cuba Street for some amazing nightlife.

Courtney Place is where you’ll find many of Wellington’s nightclubs and cocktail bars all within walking distance from one another, and places like The Fringe Bar (on Cuba) and the San Fran (also on Cuba) are known for live music and occasional live comedy.

Being close to the Wairarapa wine region, Wellington has some great wine bars along with its pubs and cocktail bars.

The Library on Courtenay Place is known for its cocktails and specialty wines, and the nearby Malt House claims to have the largest selection of beers in New Zealand.

a town street
Cuba Street

If you want something with even more atmosphere, the Hawthorn Lounge on Tory will take you back to the 1920s with is gentlemen’s club-style and big-band music.

11. Hit the Shopping Streets

buildings in a city
Wellington Civic Square

Lambton Quay is Wellington’s most popular shopping area, with a variety of shops and boutiques at all price levels.

As for markets, check out the City Market (indoors) every Sunday morning near the waterfront, and the Harborside Market (outdoors) on the same day.

At both, you can see the work of local artisans, and buy fresh produce and hot food. Both are a great way to get acquainted with Wellington’s food scene.

12. Catch a Wellington Sevens Rugby Tournament

Probably the most popular event in Wellington each summer (February) is the Wellington Sevens rugby tournament.

Rugby is New Zealand’s national sport, but the Wellington Sevens are more about the socializing/partying than the rugby.

For this event, people dress up in ridiculous costumes and party all night in the streets.

13. Take a Trip to Wairarapa Wine Region

martinborough wine village

The most popular day trip out of Wellington would be going to the nearby Wairarapa wine region to tour wineries and enjoy some of the region’s great pinot noirs.

Just an hour’s drive from Wellington, this region offers a unique blend of stunning landscapes and exceptional wines. With its ideal mix of wind, soil, and climate, the Wairarapa Wine Region produces some of the finest wines in the country.

One of the most notable places to explore is the town of Martinborough, also known as the hub of wineries in the region, where you can enjoy cellar door tastings overlooking the vineyards.

14. Explore the Kapiti Coast

a lake surrounded by hills
The Kapiti Coast

I would also suggest heading up to the beautiful Kapiti Coast (an hour by train from Wellington to Paraparaumu).

With its stunning beaches, rugged coastline, and thriving wildlife, it’s a paradise for nature enthusiasts.

One of the highlights is Kapiti Island, a nature reserve hosting endangered birds and boasting protected waters with abundant marine life.

It’s a great spot to go hiking, bird watching, or just escape from the bustle of city life.

15. Visit the Wellington Museum

boat in museum

For those interested in learning about the history of Wellington, head to Wellington Museum, formerly known as the Museum of Wellington City & Sea.

Situated in the former stagecoach station where the Duke of Wellington stayed in 1815, this museum holds immense historical significance.

It aims to preserve, present, and promote Wellington’s social, cultural, and maritime heritage. You can learn about Wellington’s maritime history, Māori and European settlement, and the growth of the region.

16. Mountain Bike at Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park

For those looking for more adventurous things to do, head to the Makara Peak Mountain Bike Park.

With 40 kilometers of world-class tracks and a dedicated skills area, it offers an incredible adventure for riders of all levels.

The park was once farmland before being transformed into a conservation area in the mid-1990s.

Today, visitors can witness the remnants of its farming era while they cycle through the stunning natural surroundings.

17. See the Seals at Red Rocks

seal on a rock

Red Rocks, also known as Pariwhero, is renowned for its seal colony and rich history.

The reserve showcases remarkable geology and Maori heritage, with the red rocks formed by an ancient underwater volcano.

Today, visitors can walk along the Red Rocks Coastal Walk, a 7.4km trail, which allows them to witness the playful seal colony in their natural habitat.

18. Try Some Craft Beer At Garage Project

New Zealand is best known for its wine, but if you want to try its craft beer scene, head to one of the many micro breweries, such as the Garage Project.

Founded in 2011 by brothers Ian and Pete Gillespie, along with Jos Ruffell, Garage Project has gained international recognition for its innovative brews.

The brewery is nestled inside a former gas station on Aro Street and is where visitors can indulge in a variety of craft beers and learn about the brewing process.

Best Time to Visit Wellington

Unlike some New Zealand cities that have specific “seasons,” Wellington doesn’t really have a best time to visit, since there are things going on year-round.

If you want to catch the best weather, though, Wellington is best visited in the summer.

Though it should be noted that the weather in “Windy Welly” can be unpredictable any time of year!

How Many Days Do You Need In Wellington?

Wellcinton harbor with twinkling lights of the city
Wellington at dusk, as seen from Mt. Vic

You can see all the highlights of Wellington in 2-3 days, but I’d suggest setting aside 4-5 days to really get to know it, and so you can make at least one day trip outside of the city.

Getting To And Around Wellington

a town on a mountain

If you’re coming from outside New Zealand, then you’ll most likely want to look to Air New Zealand for international flights.

For traveling to/from Wellington from inside NZ, check out Air NZ’s Grabaseat site, where you can often nab incredible deals.

When it comes to getting around, Wellington is SUPER walkable, thanks to it being quite compact. You could easily get by with just your feet as transportation if you really enjoy walking.

If not, though, Wellington also has a great bus system that’s pretty affordable. If you’re going further (into the remote suburbs or to other cities), there are also trains.

Where to Stay in Wellington

Wellington has plenty of great hotels, and also quite a few hostels for the budget-minded traveler.

Popular downtown hostels include YHA Wellington City and Hotel Waterloo & Backpackers, located in an old heritage building.

For those searching for true luxury, check out the InterContinental Wellington (the only 5-star hotel in the city), the Bolten Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel near Parliament), or the QT Wellington Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel perfect for the art lover near Te Papa Museum).

Final Thoughts

I love Wellington because although it’s a capital city, it doesn’t feel overly crowded or busy.

I feel like Wellington is one of the South Pacific’s best-kept secrets!

I hope this guide helped you plan what to do in Wellington and gave you some inspiration for what attractions to add to your itinerary.

Bio: Amanda is a small-town Ohio girl with some big travel dreams and aspirations. Whether it’s roadtripping across America or hiking on glaciers in New Zealand, she’s ready for any adventure, be it on the other side of the globe or just around the corner. Follow her journey on her blog, A Dangerous Business.

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What to do in Wellington, New Zealand

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