Whether it’s cultural sites and attractions, foodie adventures, live sports, or eating out, there are a huge amount of great things to see and do in Wellington.
The New Zealand capital is a compact city that enjoys a waterside setting, with sandy beaches and a bustling harbour at the beating heart of everyday life. Inland, colourful timber houses sit perched on surrounding hills, while the city is also renowned for its vibrant creative scene, fuelled by top-notch food, wine, craft beer, coffee and cultural events. If you’re planning a visit and would like to start building an itinerary for your stay, we’ve picked out some of the most unique landmarks and activities and attractions awaiting you.
Soak up stunning hillside views
Jaw-dropping views and some of the region’s finest walking trails reward those who venture to the summit of Mount Victoria. Part of the Wellington Town Belt – land set aside in 1841 for a public recreation ground – it delivers stunning 360-degree vistas of the city, the harbour and the ocean, serving as an idyllic perfect backdrop for the steady stream of walkers, joggers and mountain bikers who flock here throughout the year. More recently, the site was also a filming location for the first movie in the famous Lord of the Rings movie trilogy directed by former Wellington resident Peter Jackson. The peak can be reached in just under an hour on foot from the city centre.
Visit a fascinating museum
Wellington is a treasure trove of culture and history and no institution does more to promote, preserve and celebrate this rich heritage than Experience Wellington. By operating six acclaimed arts, cultural and science institutions – City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Capital E, Wellington Museum, Nairn Street Cottage, and the Cable Car Museum – they tell the stories of Wellington in a way that’s both educational and engaging for ‘tamariki’ (Māori for ‘children’) and communities beyond.
City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, Te Ngākau Civic Square / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Wellington Museum, 3 Jervois Quay, Queens Wharf / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
These aren’t the only museums in Wellington worth visiting. Located on the city’s spectacular waterfront, Te Papa Tongarewa Museum is a veritable goldmine of artefacts and exhibits spanning the country’s geographical, artistic, social and cultural history. Attracting more than 1.5 million visitors every year, New Zealand’s national museum also offers a wide range of interactive elements to enjoy, making it fun for all the family, while a solemn display honouring victims of World War Two is guaranteed to tug at the heartstrings.
55 Cable Street, Te Aro / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
For something completely different, be sure to check out the National Tattoo Museum. At the risk of sound like an old curmudgeon, nowadays it’s hard to walk more than a few metres without seeing someone adorned with elaborate body ink, but this museum celebrates forms of anatomical decoration with a somewhat richer heritage than your average. Here, visitors can learn all about the fascinating history of Maori and Pacific tattoo traditions, as well as the distinctive body art techniques and styles that originated in New Zealand. The museum also houses an impressive assortment of tattoo-related artefacts, tools, and illustrations.
187 Vivian Street, Te Aro / Sun-Thurs 12pm-5.30pm Fri-Sat 12pm-8pm
Explore an expertly preserved fortress
The restored Wrights Hill Fortress was used to produce many of the sound effects for the famous Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. But the landmark, which dates back to the end of WWII, is also a unique place of interest in its own right, thanks to its incredible network of tunnels, as well as its original gun pits and radio rooms, that have been lovingly preserved over the past 30 years. Today the site generally only opens to visitors on national public holidays, although private tours can also be arranged.
50 Wrights Hill Road, Karori
Book onto a Cave to Coast tour
There’s enough to see in and around Wellington to keep you occupied for weeks, and building a manageable itinerary can be a challenging task. One of the smartest ways around this is to book yourself onto a guided tour that allows you to take in multiple landmarks and places of interest in the most efficient, time-effective way. Among the most popular organised excursions is the Cave to Coast Tour, which includes a scenic coastal drive and a visit to the Weta Workshop Weta Cave, as well as stop-offs at several city centre attractions. The tour price includes all transport, Weta Cave Shop admission, and lunch at a seaside café.
Marvel at a multitude of native plant life
Situated a ten-minute drive north-west of central Wellington, Otari-Wiltons’ Bush is the only public botanic garden in New Zealand that’s dedicated exclusively to native plants. Offering a magical experience for horticulture enthusiasts, it’s the ideal escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, allowing visitors to leisurely explore its vast parameters. Highlights include a cultivated area entirely surrounded by a native bush reserve, an 800-year-old rimu tree, a treetop walkway, and a rock garden.
150 Wilton Road, Wilton / Open all hours
Try your hand at some amateur astronomy
Thanks to its refreshing – literally and metaphorically – lack of pollution, New Zealand is one of the very best places for star-gazing in the world. Space Place at Carter Observatory has been New Zealand’s national observatory since 1977 and since that time has become an important institution for public education. Amateur astronomers can come here to enjoy its world-class planetarium, as well as digital exhibits that transport you to the southern constellations and beyond.
40 Salamanca Road, Kelburn / Weds-Thurs & Sun-Mon 10am-5pm Fri-Sat & Tues 10am-11pm
Sample a range of mouth-watering beers
Wellington boasts a vibrant nightlife scene and one of its most popular after-dark hang-outs is Hashigo Zake. Opened in 2009, and housed in the basement of a historic former police station, the bar has been at the vanguard of Wellington’s growth into a major centre of beer appreciation and brewing in recent years. The perpetually buzzing watering hole offers a chance for patrons to try countless beer styles for the first time, and on Friday and Saturday nights is also a great place to enjoy live music in an intimate setting.
25 Taranaki Street, Te Aro / Tues-Thurs 12pm-11pm Fri-Sat 12pm-1am Sun-Mon 12pm-9.30pm
Modelled after a 1920s gentlemen’s club, the Hawthorne Lounge is another Wellington nightlife staple. Dotted with leather armchairs and green shaded lamps, the intimate little speakeasy positively oozes character, attracting large numbers of loyal cocktail connoisseurs. Dapper staff wearing natty waistcoats and caps are on hand to serve up original and exotic cocktails featuring clean flavours and premium ingredients from what most consider one of the best-stocked back bars the city has to offer.
82 Tory Street, Te Aro / Tues-Sat 5pm-3pm Closed Sun-Mon
Join a guided city food tour
Wellington has a diverse culinary scene and one of the best ways to discover it for yourself is by joining s guided food tour. As part of a small group, you’ll be chaperoned by your guide on foot, stopping at some of the city’s best foodie hot spots to sample a variety of dishes, including several local specialities. Along the way, your guide will regale you with fascinating stories and facts about Wellington’s food history and culture. The tour runs for around 3.5 hours.
Let your hair down at a colourful street festival
New Zealand’s biggest annual free music festival and street fair, Newtown Festival takes place in the heart of Newtown, Wellington’s most diverse and colourful suburb. Held over one day, there’s music, dance, circus, parades, buskers, craft beer, outdoor cafes and stalls selling arts, crafts, and apparel, and international food. Listen to singer-songwriters, cutting-edge indie rock, drum & bass, and alternative electronic music across multiple stages and embark on a voyage of discovery in the charming side streets of Newton during this magical day of entertainment.
Newtown / March each year
Another eagerly awaited event on Wellington’s cultural calendar, the New Zealand Tango Festival has been celebrating the sultry dance style of tango for almost two decades. The week-long festival features expert workshops, immersion courses, and shows, with international masters, performances, special guests, and even a few surprises packed into every moment of the programme. The main hub of the festival is the Te Whaea National Dance & Drama Centre, but events and activities take place at cafes and other venues across the city.
Te Whaea National Dance & Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road / June-July each year
See the city from above
Wellington is a picturesque city from any vantage point, but there’s nothing quite like viewing it from above. Step forward the Wellington Cable Car, one of New Zealand’s only fully operational funicular railways. Tucked away in Cable Car Lane in the city centre, passengers board one of the cabins before being taken on a captivating journey as you descend gently back to the lower reaches of the city. Along the way, you’ll traverse three bridges while soaking up panoramic views of the cityscape, as well as passing through a trio of historic tunnels. From the bottom, you can either head on your way by foot or make the return trip.