What to Do in Wellington, New Zealand

What to Do in Wellington

Are you looking for tips on what to do in Wellington, New Zealand?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Amanda Williams who spent 5-months living in Wellington on a study abroad program.

Amanda shares with us her insider Wellington travel tips and knowledge on what to do in Wellington for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

What to Do in Wellington

Despite most people 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.

My highlights would include:

  • Visiting Te Papa, New Zealand’s (FREE!) National Museum. Here you can learn all about the country’s history, geography, and native people, and enjoy tons of great multi-media displays and exhibits.
  • Getting to the lookout atop Mount Victoria. Catch a bus that goes to the top of Mount Vic, where you can get fantastic 360-degree views over Wellington.
  • Riding the Historic Cable car. Head down to Lambton Quay (Wellington’s major shopping area) and catch the red cable car up to the Bontanic Gardens.
  • Walking along the Waterfront. Wellington has a great waterfront area, full of boat docks, beaches, and cafes. You can even kayak or sail in the harbor.
  • Checking out 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 tour, though, stroll over there to see the Executive Wing anyway, which is aptly nicknamed “The Beehive.”
  • Hanging out on Cuba Street. Whether you’re looking for great cafes, shopping, or just people-watching, colorful Cuba Street is the ideal place to go.
  • Visiting 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” films, after all. Jackson also has all his studios in Wellington, and a visit to the Weta Cave in Miramar will give you a taste of film in New Zealand.

If you’re seeking animal encounters, head to the Wellington Zoo or ZEALANDIA wildlife sanctuary.

NZ Parliament
NZ Parliament

Best Neighbourhoods

As I mentioned above, Bohemian Cuba Street would be my top area to hang out in within central Wellington. Other great neighborhoods include:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Miramar
The Miramar neighborhood

Where to Eat 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.
  • The Matterhorn – Serving full meals, drinks, and imaginative tapas, The Matterhorn on Cuba Street has been named NZ’s best restaurant more than once. This is reflected in its prices, but is definitely worth checking out anyway.
  • 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 the offerings at Zest Food Tours for a true Wellington food experience.

Cuba Street
Cuba Street

Where to Drink in Wellington

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

Courtenay Place and Cuba Street are probably the two main spots to go for those looking for a night out, with dozens of places to choose from.

I’m not a big drinker, but 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.

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.

And, if you want a truly unique location, check out Mighty Mighty on Cuba Street, where hipsters and indie artists converge in a kitsch-filled bar where anything can happen.

Seriously, you may find everything from burlesque dancers to tarot card readers here.

Best Area for a Night on the Town

Definitely Courtenay Place or Cuba Street (see the bars/pubs answer above).

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 Bodega (on Ghuznee), The Fringe Bar (on Cuba) and the San Francisco Bath House (also on Cuba) are known for live music and occasional live comedy.

Courtenay Place
Courtenay Place during the day

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, Downtown Backpackers (located in an old historic hotel building), Nomads Capital Backpackers, and Base Wellington.

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 Museum Hotel (a luxury boutique hotel perfect for the art lover near Te Papa).

Markets and Shopping in Wellington

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.

Civic Square
Wellington Civic Square

Finding WiFi

New Zealand in general is not incredibly wi-fi friendly, but Wellington is perhaps the friendliest city in the country thus far.

As well as free wi-fi being offered at all McDonalds locations and a handful of cafes, the city also offers free wireless Internet along the Waterfront.

Events and Festivals in Wellington

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.

You can also catch film festivals, arts festivals, and even fashion events in Wellington – it really does have it all.

what to do in wellington
Lambton Harbour

Getting Around Wellington

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.

Favorite Side Trip

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.

I would also suggest heading up to the beautiful Kapiti Coast (an hour by train from Wellington to Paraparaumu). Here, consider planning a visit to the bird sanctuary on Kapiti Island if you’re a nature lover.

Kapiti Coast
The Kapiti Coast

Best Time of Year 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, you probably want to visit in the summer (though it should be noted that the weather in “Windy Welly” can be unpredictable any time of year!).

How Many Days Needed?

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

Wellington
Wellington at dusk, as seen from Mt. Vic

Websites and Resources

My go-to site for all things Wellington is definitely WellingtonNZ.com.

Getting There and Away

If you’re coming from another country, you’ll most likely want to look to Air New Zealand for flights.

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

Other modes of transports include buses, trains, and the Interislander Ferry, which travels from the South Island town of Picton to Wellington (and vice versa) multiple times each day.

Wellington

Best “insiders” Tip

In Wellington, the “touristy spots” really aren’t that touristy at all, so this question is slightly difficult to answer.

I guess my “insiders tip” would be to make sure you visit!! Wellington is much better than a lot of guidebooks make it out to be.

I Love Wellington because______?

Although it’s a world capital, I also feel like Wellington is one of the South Pacific’s best-kept secrets!

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.

This summer, she’ll be tackling Europe. Follow her journey on her blog, A Dangerous Business, on Twitter @DangerousBiz, or on Facebook.

Craig
Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

32 Comments on “What to Do in Wellington, New Zealand”

  1. Paul / MyPostcardFrom

    Love Wellington!

    Have to agree, Burger Fuel is one of my faves as well. Also enjoyed coffee and lunch at Plum which is next to the water display on Cuba Street.

    Riding the cable car is a must and we also stayed at Downtown Backpackers last year

    Reply
    • I actually ate at Plum last year! It was indeed delicious. And I also stayed at Downtown Backpackers! I loved the old feel of the place.

      Reply
  2. So glad to see Te Papa on the list! This is seriously the best museum we have ever been to! We spent 6hrs in there! Such a shame that many people miss out Wellington, its a great ‘little’ city!

    Reply
    • I totally agree that Te Papa is one of the best museums I’ve ever been to! I ALWAYS suggest it to people planning to spend time in Welly. Plus – it’s a perfect thing to do if you run into bad weather!

      Reply
  3. But, but you didn’t mention anything Lord of the Rings related LOL! Actually one of the nice things about Wellington is the excellent range of smaller civilized cinemas e.g. Roxy in Miramar, the Lighthouse in Petone, they are smaller, and allow you to take coffee and wine in to the screening with you.

    Also I have a soft spot for Otari Bush in Wilton – free and quite spectacular in places but only a short bus ride from town. Zealandia too if you can a) afford it and b) aren’t going for a real bush walk at some time or c) are really into birds

    Reply
    • I suggested the Weta Cave in Miramar – doesn’t that count as Lord of the Rings related?? Haha. I’m actually a huge LotR fan, but didn’t want to completely geek out in this post!

      Reply
  4. Great post and I love Amanda’s blog. Wellington looks like a beautiful city and I’d love to stop through it sometime.

    Reply
    • Definitely stop through if you ever get the chance!! And feel free to hit me up for more tips. ;)

      Reply
  5. Amanda was the first person I asked for tips when I went to Wellington and her suggestions were spot-on! Had an absolutely lovely time there, wonderful city!

    Reply
    • I’m so glad my suggestions were useful, and that you enjoyed Wellington! Always good to hear.

      Reply
  6. Gorgeous place! It looks very much like my home of Marin County, California.

    Reply
  7. I love your photos! I really regret not going to New Zealand when I was in Australia…now I really must find a time to go back! :)

    Reply
    • Yes, you really must go back!! It’s an amazing country. Every time I’m there, I never want to leave.

      Reply
  8. Wow, Amanda on one of my favourite blogs! Nice! Wellington is great. It’s so windy I saw a roof fly off a house last time I was in Wellington. When I told the locals what I had seen, they kind of just shrugged their shoulders, as if it was nothing out of the ordinary… ha.

    Reply
    • Haha, well they don’t call it “Windy Welly” for nothing!!

      Reply
      • You can tell a Wellytonian by the way they lean! lol. When were you here to see a roof fly off??? March last year or June this year? June was bad even by our standards. having grown up in Wellington & to be more correct Tawa. I would have to say the wind has died down a lot since I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong we still have our fair share of Windy days, but it’s not as bad as it use to be. I have this saying – 100km gusty wind in Auckland is a major distaster & in Wellington a 200km gusty wind is a minor inconvenance. In Wellington a windy day is a walk in the park. Wellington has lots of little treauses of things to find. Somes Is is luvly to visit for a few hours & is an island in the middle of Wellington Harbour. Belmont Regional Park has some amazing walks! Colonial Knob & Kaukau have luvly walks. There are a few short walk in Tawa that are fun. Butlers Irish Chocolate Cafe is a must if you like hot chocolate! If it’s well made then they are the best hot chocolate I have every had. The Southern walk was is a must! Amanda, did you come across Cadillac Diner when you were here (they have since closed down) or Fishermans Table, if you want a cheap meal out then this is nice, they have a range of meals for $15.95 upwards. You can get great day & weekend passes on the train with the Day & Weekend Rovers. Buses also have day tickets for around $13, Gives you unlimited travel after 9am – there are some limits on these.

        Reply
  9. Good job, Amanda. The level of detail in this post is exactly what someone needs to get to know (or make most of) a city. I know you are the go to girl if I have questions about New Zealand.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Ruth! I’ve spent enough time in Wellington to get to know it quite well, I think.

      Reply
  10. Thanks again Amanda for the GREAT tips! And thank you all for the comments. Hope you make it to Wellington sometime soon :-)

    Reply
    • You are very welcome, Craig! I love talking about Wellington, so this was really fun for me to re-visit some of my favorite parts of town!

      Reply
  11. Thanks for the the encouragement, I would really love to visit New Zealand one day. The photos are beautiful.

    Reply
  12. I miss Burger Fuel, it’s been 4 years since I’ve been back in NZ and am now vegetarian but I can’t wait to go back!

    Reply
  13. this is a great post! i hope i can use it for planning a trip to NZ :)

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  14. Wellington is one of the best tourist place in New Zealand. I had some good memories from my last tour.

    Reply
  15. [...] Auf der Webseite von dem 360° Neuseeland Magazin findest du die 7 besten kostenlosen Aktivitäten in Wellington. Für alle, die der englischen Sprache mächtig sind, gibt es eine Zusammenfassung der Sehenswürdigkeiten und Aktivitäten auf dem YTravelblog. [...]

    Reply
  16. New Zealand one of the best country of travel. I visited last year. Wellington in a lovely city.

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  17. Wellington looks beautiful! I would love to explore the area. NZ seems like a fantastic country for outdoors stuff and I would love to see Wellington. Thanks for the tips Amanda!

    Reply
  18. I may be biased because I’m a Kiwi but I love Wellington. It’s such a good size with a proper central city area that functions as the heart of the place.

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  19. Wellington IS oft-overlooked by travellers. It makes an excellent weekend getaway from us Kiwis. Brunch on Courtney Place, a stroll around Te Papa and cocktails at the Matterhorn.

    It’s “hipster central” for New Zealand too. Like a mini-Melbourne.

    Reply
  20. Wormald Restaurant at Cuba Street, Lower Hutt is my favourite Restaurant in Wellington. Beach Babylon is a interesting tourist place.

    Reply
  21. Wow! So many options! Too much to do in one afternoon while waiting for the ferry
    Sam @ Green Global Travel recently posted..BAHAMAS: The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay
    Sam @ Green Global Travel recently posted..BAHAMAS: The Swimming Pigs of Big Major Cay

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