Welcome to New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. With its beautifully restored old homes clinging to the hillsides that overlook the city and its harbour, Wellington is packed full of attractions. Down on the waterfront you will find the fascinating Museum of Wellington City and Sea in the magnificent old Harbour Board Bond Store, complete with its opulent 1920s board room and a complete teak cabin from an 1879 steamship.
The city’s modern architecture complements the city’s history, with the bow of the sailing ship Inconstant, which was rediscovered during restoration work on Lambton’s Quay, on display in its original location under a glass floor in the Old Bank Arcade. It is not far to New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa. This futuristic multi-storeyed complex is one of the largest new museums in the world, featuring numerous interactive displays.
If you’re visiting Wellington for the day or for a long weekend, you’ll not be short of things to do so we have pulled together our top 5 things to see and do in Wellington:
Top 5 things to do in Wellington
1. Entertainment and culture
Wellington takes pride of place as one of the main entertainment and cultural centres in the country. The city is home to the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, as well as a number of professional theatres and the national opera. You will find some of the country’s best theatres, galleries, restaurants, bars and cafes in Wellington and there is usually an event taking place most weekends. Our favourite three Wellington events include:
HSBC Rugby Sevens – Every Year Wellington plays host to the New Zealand leg of the Rugby Sevens World Series and 2016 is a big year as sevens makes its debut at the Olympics in Rio. Held over two days at the end of January, the whole city seems to be gripped by rugby fever and some of the fancy dress outfits are worth the day out themselves!
World of WearableArt (WOW)
Held annually in September, the World of WearableArt show is an iconic event throughout New Zealand attracting people from all over the country and worldwide to marvel at the amazing creations. The show is all about flamboyance – creating wearable pieces of art to wow the audience and each year the entries seem to get bigger and better.
Visa New Zealand Festival – the New Zealand Festival celebrates the world’s top international artists as well as presenting the work of some of New Zealand’s rising stars in the art world. For three weeks the capital will be transformed into a global cultural zone showcasing music, theatre, dance, artists and writers.
2. Botanic Gardens
Many cities have botanic gardens but the best thing about the gardens in Wellington is how you get there. Take the iconic Kelburn Cable car from the heart of the city up to the botanic gardens and get amazing views back over the city as you take the ride. The gardens are beautiful as you would expect and there is something for everyone up there including a world-class, hands-on children’s garden, helping children to explore, discover and connect with plants.
The gardens contain collections from all over the world including an Australian garden, exotic forest, rock gardens, ornamental grass and more. There are also several self-guided walking tracks through the gardens and a lovely café where you can grab a drink before heading back to the hustle and bustle of the city.
3. Lambton Quay and downtown
Lambton Quay sits at the heart of downtown Wellington and is the main shopping hub in the city. Featuring all the major high street brands from around the world, this is a great place to spend a few hours shopping, people watching and taking in some of the beautiful historic buildings in the city.
Wellington on a Plate
Lambton Quay is also a great place to grab a bite to eat and a drink, day or night. With a wide range of food from street eats to gourmet dining, Wellington has a great food scene and this is reflected by the annual Wellington on a Plate event that attracts people from all over the country to sample the delights of the region. Like many places in New Zealand, Wellington has really embraced the ‘local’ culture with many restaurants sourcing all their ingredients from the surrounding areas. There is a definite pride in the city.
It is said that Wellington has more restaurants and bars per capita than New York and with rich farmland to the north and the ocean on the doorstep, the supply of fresh and delicious ingredients make Wellington a foody heaven.
4. Te Papa Museum
We’ve already mentioned it but Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum is a must on any visit to Wellington. It’s a fascinating wonderland full of fun and interesting artefacts for minds of any age. The thing that makes Te Papa different from so many museums in the world is the interactive and innovative nature of the exhibits, telling stories of New Zealand’s unique geological, biological, cultural and social history.
Another great thing about Te Papa – general admission is free and although you may be required to pay for some of the touring exhibitions, all the cool stuff is free for you to wander round and explore. How good is that??
5. Mount Victoria
New Zealand has its fair share of panoramic lookouts whether you are in the city or out on the road so it only seems right that we should add another to the list in Wellington. A trip up Mount Victoria offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the harbour so get your cameras as the ready at the Mount Victoria lookout.
This is a great place to head to if you need a time out from the world and the hustle and bustle of city life. Take an hour or two to watch the ferries coming in and out of the harbour, some making their way across or back from the South Island. You can also check out the planes flying in and out of Wellington International Airport which makes for great viewing on windy days as they wobble their way onto the runway! You can drive to the top of Mount Victoria but we would recommend walking through the city’s greenbelt and maybe grabbing some fish and chips on your way to enjoy at the top.
The Best of the Rest
As with any top 5 list, there are always going to be things that get missed off so making a notable mention, we should also include:
- Museum of Wellington City and Sea
- Oriental Bay
- Basin Reserve
- Colonial Cottage Museum
- Old Wooden Parliament Buildings
- The Beehive
- The National Library
Wellington is crammed with awesome things to do and a great way to spend a day, weekend or week.
New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries from Wellington