What to Do in Wellington, New Zealand

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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 tips on things to do 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 to Explore

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

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 in Wellington

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.

Festivals and Events

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 from Wellington

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 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 in Wellington

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

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 for travel to Wellington

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!

Plan Your Trip to Wellington

Accommodation in Wellington

  • Booking.com has 90+ properties in Wellington including hotels, apartments and hostels. You get free cancellation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights to Wellington

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental in Wellington

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

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. Follow her journey on her blog, A Dangerous Business.

Do you have tips on what to do in Wellington?

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What to do in Wellington, New Zealand

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