Wellington is an ideal city for visitors. With an amphitheatre of windblown hills at its back and the Wellington Harbour at its feet, the city is compact and easily walkable, yet brimming with things to see and do. It has the rare quality of feeling both neighbourly and cosmopolitan. Include a night or two in your New Zealand travel itinerary and let yourself be charmed. Here’s our list of some of the best things to do in Wellington.

 


 

1. THE WATERFRONT 

Solace in the Wind sculpture on Wellington waterfront
Wellington waterfront is lined with sculptures like Solace in the Wind by Max Patté. © Black Sheep Touring Co.

Wellington’s waterfront is one of its greatest assets. The pedestrian precinct is a popular place to walk, run, and ride. Sculptures, boat sheds, galleries, cafes, bars, and New Zealand’s national museum (see below), line the way from historic Queen’s Wharf to the golden beach of Oriental Bay. In summer, it’s the site of food stalls, markets, and festivals, with beanbags scattered about to encourage you to while away the afternoon.


 

2. CUBA STREET 

Cuba Street fountain and shops in Wellington
Cuba Street is a great place to shop, eat, drink, and people-watch. © Catherine Jemmett

Cuba Street, a renowned hipster hangout, is a fantastic place to roam with great cafes and restaurants, designer and vintage clothing boutiques, second-hand bookshops and record stores, galleries and tattoo studios, street performers, and a cheeky water fountain that will have you playing dodgems with passersby to stay dry. On Friday and Saturday nights, look out for the red lanterns of the Night Market for international food stalls, live music and a festive, neighbourhood vibe.


 

3. CABLE CAR & BOTANIC GARDENS

Wellington cable car leading up to the Botanic Gardens
The historic cable car gives access to the Botanic Gardens and beyond. © Max Francis

Wellington’s iconic red cable car takes you up to the Botanic Gardens and the Carter Observatory which tells the story of New Zealand’s night sky. Exiting the cable car, there are three main paths and a number of unpaved pathways that meander through themed gardens and amongst sculptures, fountains, waterfalls, a duck pond and a pioneer cemetery, taking in views across the city and harbour as you stroll. Catch the cable car back down or amble down on your own accord. The cable car departs from the well-signposted Cable Car Lane in the Lambton Quay shopping district.


 

4. ZEALANDIA

Kaka parrot at Zealandia Wellington
Lush native forest and rare wildlife thrive just minutes from the CBD.

This predator-free wildlife sanctuary just a 10-min drive from the CBD offers an easily accessible chance to walk in the habitat of rare native birds like kaka, saddleback, takahe, and kiwi. Many of the 30 species have not been seen on the mainland for over 100 years. A range of guided tours are available, including a free 45-minute tour of the valley and a night-time kiwi-spotting tour, or take yourself on a walk through over 30 kms of tracks. A free shuttle to the sanctuary departs near the i-SITE and from the top of the cable car.


 

5. LEEDS STREET 

Brightly lit Golding's Free Dive bar Leeds St Wellington
Fairylit bars transform the laneway into a nightlife hub.

For those who love the thrill of the hunt, some of Wellington’s best finds are tucked away down dead ends and alleyways. Leeds Street, a block from Cuba, is a brick-lined laneway that once housed Hannahs shoe factory. Loading docks are now home to intimate bars and restaurants, and the great Leeds St Bakery, perfect for the morning after. Or look for the little flag in the adjoining Eva St alcove which signals the charming and eminently Instagrammable Fix & Fogg window, serving up hearty porridge topped with a choice of its renowned nut butters (also for sale by the jar).


 

6. TE PAPA

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Wellington
Te Papa is a treasure trove of New Zealand cultural and natural history. © Te Papa

Te Papa means ‘container of treasures’ in Maori, the perfect name for this waterfront ark holding New Zealand’s natural and cultural riches. This is no fusty, old museum like the ones your parents dragged you to. Immersive displays and technology invite you to engage with New Zealand’s stories. It also hosts acclaimed international exhibitions that draw visitors from near and far. General admission to the museum is free.


 

7. MT VICTORIA 

View of Wellington city from Mt Victoria
The summit of Mt Victoria provides panoramic views of the city and harbour. © Black Sheep Touring Co.

On a clear day, Mt Victoria offers panoramic views across the city, harbour and surrounding hills and is a great place to take in the sunrise or sunset. From the trailhead at the end of Majoribanks St, it’s approximately a 30-min climb through the tranquil, bush-clad Town Belt to the lookout (follow the purple signage). For Lord of the Rings fans, a deviation leads to the filming site where the Hobbits hid from the black riders. From the summit, descend to Oriental Bay and reward yourself with an ice cream before returning along the waterfront. If you want to forego the climb, its an 8 min drive from town to the lookout carpark at the summit, or catch the #20 bus from Courtenay Place.


 

8. WETA WORKSHOP 

Weta Cave at Weta Workshop Wellington
The Weta Cave is the gateway to Weta Workshop's behind-the-scenes tours.

This is another must-do for Lord of the Rings fans. The Workshop is based in the film-industry precinct of Miramar, a 15-min drive from the CBD. As you make your way to Weta, it’s hard to believe this suburb of modest weatherboard villas is where Academy-Award-winning magic happens. Or perhaps that’s entirely fitting for these masters of miniature and CGI. Get past the cave trolls on guard at Weta Cave for a behind-the-scenes tour of the Workshop where the tricks of the trade are revealed and you can satisfy all your Middle Earth merchandise needs, from collectables and clothing to The One Ring.



 

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