Looking for amazing things to do in Hamilton? Look no further, we’ve got you covered.

The riverside city of Hamilton is one of New Zealand’s most underrated cities. Caught in the shadow of the country’s biggest city, Auckland, many people overlook Hamilton for the big city lights of the City of Sails, however, we’re here to convince you to add Hamilton to your list of up and coming destinations in New Zealand.

Hamilton is one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing cities and with that growth has come a huge range of new things to see and do in Hamilton. Whether you are travelling with the family and looking for fun family things to do in Hamilton, or you’re on a weekend away and looking for a thriving nightlife, Hamilton has it all.

Where is Hamilton?

Before we dig into the best things to do in Hamilton, let’s start out with a few key facts about the city. Hamilton is located around an hour and a half south of Auckland by road, straight down SH1.

The city is located in the Waikato region and is the biggest city in the region. It is home to the University of Waikato and is a popular destination for students from around the country.

Hamilton is New Zealand’s largest inland city and the longest river in the country, the Waikato River, flows for 16 kms through the city. The river is an integral part of the city and has become a real attraction with businesses locating to waterfront locations and lots of activities in and around the water.

Whilst Christchurch might be known as the Garden City, Hamilton is not far behind and is home to 145 parks and gardens making it an extremely green city.

Over the past decade, the city has turned into a thriving hub, attracting lots of young people to the area where they have found cheaper housing than in Auckland and great access to travel around the North Island. The city offers a vibrant combination of fine dining and nightlife options as well as an eclectic mix of leisure, lifestyle, and activity choices.

All of this means there is no shortage of things to do in Hamilton and, with the help of our Go Explore fans, we have pulled together a list of 11 of the best things to do in Hamilton.

Let’s do this!

11 amazing things to do in Hamilton and around

This is our guide to the best things to do in Hamilton and includes lots of family-friendly activities and some very cool action activities. We’ve had some great tips from our GO Explore fans as well as scouring the internet for some great advice on TripAdvisor and other leading sites for ideas for the best things to do in Hamilton.

1.      Hamilton Gardens


Let’s kick things off with the biggie! The Hamilton Gardens are one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand and one of the biggest drawcards for Hamilton. The gardens were formed in the 1960s and started out at a modest four hectares. Over the past sixty years, that has grown to over 54 hectares of flora and fauna with the gardens continuing to grow and expand every day.

The Hamilton Gardens are not, unlike many gardens in the country, botanic. They instead focus on different cultures and regions of the world which is one of the reasons they attract thousands of visitors every year.

The Gardens are family-friendly and dog-friendly making them a great option for locals and visitors alike. There are plenty of places in the park for alfresco dining so pack a picnic and enjoy the views across Turtle Lake. Alternatively, there is a smashing café in the Gardens serving up some Kiwi classics so you will not be short on options.

2.      Waikato Museum

You will find a great museum in most cities in New Zealand and Hamilton is no exception. The Waikato Museum has exhibitions, events, and programmes that tell stories of this great region, and these include visual art, social history, Tangata Whenua and science from touring exhibitions as well as the museum’s own collections.

The museum is located on the banks of the Waikato River, in the heart of Hamilton’s south-end cultural precinct. With 13 galleries and 25 new exhibitions annually, the museum is a great place to spend a few hours, not only learning more about the Waikato region but New Zealand as a whole. There are over 100 public events held annually at the museum so keep an eye on their website for upcoming events and plan your trip around one of these fantastic events.

Discover some of New Zealand’s best museums.

3.      Hamilton Zoo

 

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We love a good zoo and Hamilton Zoo is home to over 600 native and exotic animals. Whilst Auckland Zoo often draws the crows, New Zealand is home to a number of zoos and animal sanctuaries and Hamilton Zoo is a great place to take the family to get up close and personal with some pretty amazing wildlife.

Hamilton Zoo is home to dozens of exhibits and rare species, some of which are unique to Hamilton Zoo including Msaka, Kudu, Romeo, and Itanya the African painted dogs and Jamuna the red panda.

As well as self-guided tours around the zoo, there are plenty of activities going on throughout the day including meet-the-keeper talks and animal encounters at the park where you can get up close with lemurs, giraffes, and rhinos.

4.      Hot Air Ballooning

The Waikato region is one of the best in New Zealand for hot air ballooning and is also home to the annual festival, Balloons over Waikato which will be taking place from 15-19 March 2022.

For many people, hot air ballooning is a bucket list activity, and it is something you can do all year round in Hamilton (depending on the weather). The Kiwi Balloon Company is one of the best when it comes to taking you up in the skies. Setting off from one of Hamilton’s Lakes, you will arrive early in the morning to watch the set-up and the inflating of the balloon before taking to the skies.

The adventure will take you over the city, farmlands, and the mighty Waikato River and on a clear day, you can see the mountains of Ruapehu, Pironga, Te Aroha and Taranaki. The peace and tranquillity will take your breath away and once you are back on terra firma, you will enjoy a glass of bubbles and snacks.

5.      Taitua Arboretum

 

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This one is a bit of a hidden gem for us that often gets overshadowed by other activities in Hamilton, however, nothing escapes the people of TripAdvisor. The Taitua Arboretum ranks as the number two activity in Hamilton behind the Hamilton Gardens and is definitely something to add to your Hamilton to-do list the next time you are in town.

The Taitua Arboretum has a collection of mature trees covering 20 hectares. Started in 1973 by John and Bunny Mortimer as a place to provide shade and shelter to animals in the area, the arboretum was gifted to the people of Hamilton in 1997 and is available for everyone to enjoy.

As well as being home to native and exotic trees, the arboretum also features open pastures, lakes, and woodland gardens, all linked by a series of connected walking paths.

6.      Classics Museum

If classic cars are your jam, then Hamilton is a must-visit. The Classics Museum is a celebration of classic cars and features over 100 classic cars as part of their vast collection. The museum is not only home to classic cars, however. You will find an extensive collection of petrol memorabilia – enamel signs, pumps, tins, and oil bottles.

The museum is not just for geeky classic car enthusiasts – there is a little bit of something for everyone in the museum with vintage toys, pedal cars, and scenes from early New Zealand.

7.      Hamilton Lake Domain

 

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Another popular spot according to TripAdvisor is the Hamilton Lake Domain. Coming in at fourth on their list of the best things to do in Hamilton, we think it justifies its place in our list of the 11 best things to do in Hamilton.

It is a huge recreational facility for locals and visitors alike, with lots of water and land-based activities taking place within the domain. Lake Rotoroa caters for water-based activities including yachting, windsurfing, canoeing, paddle boats, model boats, and fishing.

On land, the domain is home to the Gallagher Hockey Centre and also plays host to a number of local cricket teams. Informally, it’s a great space for the whole family and is also home to the Waikato Balloon Festival.

It plays an integral part in many of the activities that take place in the city including concerts and other large-scale events.

8.      Cherry Blossom Festival

Every year, the city plays host to the annual NZ Cherry Blossom Festival. This is a truly magical event and one that you have to attend to truly appreciate the beauty of these amazing blossom trees.

The festival was set up in 2017, inspired by trespassers trying to break in to take photos of the amazing cherry blossoms at the property of Anne Cao and Paul Oulton. Paul moved to the property, now named English Cherry Tree Manor, in 1997 and at the time, there was very little grass at the property. He has since worked tirelessly to expand the garden in all directions and the festival is a chance to share the beautiful gardens with the people of Hamilton and beyond.

9.      Hobbiton

 

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OK, so this one is not technically in Hamilton, however, we did say Hamilton and around! One of New Zealand’s most treasured tourist attractions is Hobbiton, a jewel in the Waikato tourism crown.

Hobbiton provides the opportunity for you to explore the Hobbiton Movie set used in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.

According to the official website, “In 1998, Sir Peter Jackson’s team of location scouts were searching for the iconic rolling hills and lush green pastures of Hobbiton™. An aerial search led them to the Alexander farm, a stunning 1,250-acre sheep farm in the heart of the Waikato. They noted the area’s striking similarity to The Shire™, as described by JRR Tolkien, and quickly realised that the Hobbits™ had found a home.”

Located under an hours’ drive from Hamilton in Matamata, this is your chance to enjoy a second breakfast in a hobbit hole or have a swift pint at The Green Dragon.

10.  Zealong Tea Estate

Widely regarded as a Waikato icon, Zealong Tea Estate is the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand, producing 100% organic award-winning tea, and a world-leading destination for tea, art and hospitality.

Offering serene views, a variety of function venues, public activities and tours, our multi-talented team is dedicated to creating an extraordinary guest experience every day in an unrivaled setting.

This is a pretty unique experience, not only in Hamilton but in New Zealand and for tea lovers, this is a great opportunity to learn more about tea growing and sample New Zealand’s only home-grown tea.

There are lots of events throughout the year and the estate is a great place to enjoy a stunning high tea or sample some delicious local produce at the award-winning restaurant.

11.  Bike Adventures

 

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Like so many cities in New Zealand, Hamilton is an extremely bike-friendly city and that makes it a great option for exploring the city. There are loads of great bikes trails around the city including the Te Awa River route, Waikato River Trail as well as plenty of routes and trails around the city itself.

There are plenty of places to rent bikes in and around the city and the increase in e-bikes have opened up cycling to lots more people visiting the city.

A day spent on the bike is a great way to explore Hamilton at a slower pace, but still with the opportunity to visit lots of the best attractions in the city in a day or two.

Summary

Hamilton is a really cool city to explore and anyone we speak to that has spent any time there has nothing but great things to say about the place. If you are looking for ideas for things to do in Hamilton, hopefully, this list has given you some inspiration to investigate things further and start planning a trip there this summer.

If there are any really cool activities we have missed off our list of the best things to do in Hamilton, we would love to find out more and update our post so please drop us a line in the comments or on our social media channels.

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