Updated: 4 August 2020

Well, 2020 has been a real curve ball so far. COVID-19 has put a real spanner in the works on so many plans, however we are pretty lucky here in New Zealand that a lot of events and activities are back up and running. Auckland is not only New Zealand’s biggest city, it’s also a hub for some amazing free events and festivals throughout the year. Whilst many of these have been impacted by COVID-19, we have added some updates to each of the events and festivals in our list below to let you know when to expect to see them back in the events calendar – mark them in your diaries!

The City of Sails is a fantastic place to visit with so many great attractions and sights to see. Being the country’s largest city, it also attracts a lot of festivals and events every year, many of which are free!

We thought we’d highlight some great examples of these so you can put them on your own to-do lists and save a few dollars at the same time!

1. Auckland Art Gallery Talks and Exhibitions

One of the best places to go to for free events is the Auckland Art Gallery in the heart of the city. The Auckland Art Gallery sits just below the picturesque Albert Park and has a great permanent collection of art and sculptures and also hosts many free exhibitions and talks throughout the year. Some recent examples include From the Archive: Colin McCahon, Frances Hodgkins: European Journeys and My Art Time (free art-making class for kids).

When: These talks and exhibitions are taking place throughout the year and there is already a full calendar of events available on the website so head over there and pick out some great exhibitions for you


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2. Auckland War Memorial Museum Exhibitions

Another great institution of the city is the Auckland War Memorial Museum which, similar to the Art Gallery, has a great collection of art and artefacts for members of the public to enjoy. The museum is also located in a beautiful part of the city at the top of the Auckland Domain with great views of the city. Their exhibitions are also diverse and wide-ranging with something for everyone to enjoy.

When: Like the Art Gallery, the Auckland War Memorial Museum has exhibitions on all year around and post-lockdown, they have been quick to get a full programme back up and running so check it out.


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3. Christmas in the Park

During the festive season, right next to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, in fact, is where one of the biggest free events of the year takes place. Christmas in the Park is a celebration unlike any other that attracts around 100,000 Aucklanders every year. An afternoon and evening of live music and entertainment thrills the crowd which is then capped off by a great fireworks display. The event is free but donations are accepted, the proceeds for which go to a great youth charity.

When: Unfortunately due to the amount of time and preparation that goes into an event like this, the uncertainty around COVID-19 meant that organisers took the very early decision to cancel the event for the first time in 26 years. It will be back on the events calendar for 2021 so watch this space.


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4. Diwali Festival

Auckland is home to a diverse range of cultures including a thriving Indian community who get together every year to celebrate the Diwali Festival. A mid-October weekend of colour, excitement, amazing aromas and entertainment is what members of the public get to enjoy making it one of the most popular events of the year. It’s a great cultural experience and one that’s gone from strength to strength in this, its 18th year.

When: 31 October – 1 November – The Auckland Diwali Festival is one of New Zealand’s largest cultural festivals, celebrating traditional and contemporary Indian culture and Auckland’s diverse Indian communities. They are busy developing this year’s festival programme so watch this space for more details.


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5. Elemental Auckland

From an established festival to one that’s brand new. Elemental, is Auckland’s first winter festival and one that’s been a big hit with the locals. For the entire month of July, there are over 60 fantastic free and ticketed events to choose from all over the city. This includes the likes of light shows, art shows, dance performances, theatre, comedy and more. It’s a great excuse to get out and brave the cold for a whole lot of fun.

When: Usually held in July, this year’s event has been pushed back to October and will be held throughout the month. This month-long festival of arts, eats, and beats celebrates everything that is exceptional about Auckland. Featuring delectable feasts, musical delights and spellbinding tales of Tāmaki Makaurau, Elemental AKL will see the region transformed into an oasis of urban delights this October. Read more.


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6. Lantern Festival

As you can see by this list already, Auckland is a fantastic place for free cultural events as we turn to the awesome Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival takes place during the Chinese New Year and typically boasts over 100 handmade lanterns that are beautifully illuminated to magical effect against the night sky. This alone would be enough to draw the crowds but they also have food stalls galore with all of your tasty Chinese treats (and more) to get stuck into. Don’t forget your camera for this one!

When: Unfortunately the 2020 Lantern Festival was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, however organisers were quick to agree the date for next year and the 2021 Auckland Lantern Festival will be held on Friday 26 February. More information will be available closer to the time.


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7. Matariki Festival

As well as this wide variety of international festivals we’ve also got a few cultural events of our own like the Matariki Festival, a celebration of the Maori New Year. Matariki is actually the Maori name of the Pleiades Star Cluster which rises above our winter skies signifying the start of the Maori New Year. For the best part of a month, there’s a great mix of moving events including workshops, visual arts, films, lectures, dance performances, theatre and more. It’s a great festival where you can learn a lot about an important culture of our country.

When: The Matariki Festival was held between 20 June and 15 July and recently finished. At this stage, there is no reason to expect the festival not to go ahead in 2021. Watch this space for more information.


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8. Movies in Parks

There are some wonderful green spaces in Auckland which are enjoyed by the public in their day-to-day life. They also make great venues for pop-up events like Movies in Parks. Every summer, the Auckland City Council sets up giant outdoor screens in parks all around the city. After the sun sets, the projector gets turned on showing the chosen film for the night. Whether it’s a new release, an old classic or a Kiwi favourite, the atmosphere is always superb with families and friends bringing their picnic blankets and snacks to enjoy in front of a great film under the stars.

When: Movies in Parks did take place in 2020 although it was cut short due to COVID-19. At this stage, no dates have been put in place for 2021 but expect an announcement in the coming months. It usually takes place in January-March and should be the same again next year.


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9. Music in Parks

It’s not just movies that Aucklanders get to enjoy in their beautiful parks – it’s music too. Much like the Movies in Parks, the Auckland City Council organise Music in Parks events across the city which showcase some of the best musical artists from all around New Zealand. A range of different genres are represented across the schedule which means there is always a concert to suit your tastes. With awesome sounds, summer sun and great crowds you’ve got all the ingredients you need for a fantastic day out.

When: Like Movies in Parks, Music in Parks also took place in 2020 and was cut short due to COVID-19. The festival runs from January to April and should once again be back on the calendar in 2021.


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10. Pasifika Festival

The Pasifika Festival is another fantastic highlight in the Auckland events’ calendar as a wonderful celebration of the Pacific Island cultures. Over the course of two days, attendees are able to experience cultural dance and stage performances, traditional clothing and dress, delicious food and a fantastic atmosphere. With the largest Polynesian population in the world, Auckland is the perfect place for such an event which is a great one for bringing different communities together.

When: Pasifika 2020 was an unfortunate victim of COVID-19 and organisers will be keen to ensure it is back on the events calendar for 2021. No date has been set yet, so keep an eye on the official site for more details.


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Some fantastic free events in Auckland!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our picks of the best free events and festival in Auckland. The City of Sails definitely has a lot of things going for it as this list proves. We hope you’ll be able to fit a few of these into your schedules on top of all the other sights and attractions in the city!

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