Perched on the eastern fringes of New Zealand’s south island, the city of Christchurch combines coastal charm with a distinctly English look and feel.
Named after the cathedral college of Christ Church at Oxford University, Christchurch is New Zealand’s most English city, reflecting these origins with pretty parks, a landscaped river bank, and numerous Gothic Revival and Edwardian buildings. Sadly, the legacy of the terrible earthquake of 2011 can still be seen across much of the city – but its energy and resolve has endured. If you’re visiting Christchurch and would like to start planning your trip, get inspired by our list below of 12 unique things to see and do.
Soak up mountain views from a glass-enclosed gondola
The snowcapped mountains that surround Christchurch represent some of New Zealand’s most impressive natural scenery, and visitors can see them in all their glory during a glass-enclosed gondola ride. Taking 10 minutes each way, your cable car offers panoramic views of the mountains, as well as the plains, city, and harbour below. It’s a journey that will put your daily office commute in the shade as you take in the remarkable vistas. At the summit, you can browse a souvenir shop or grab refreshments at the café, and there are also numerous popular walking trails, including one to the rim of an extinct volcano.
You can book Christchurch gondola rides at GetYourGuide
Take in some culture at a museum
Located in the heart of the city, Canterbury Museum is one of Christchurch’s most renowned cultural venues. Home to an extensive collection of historical, cultural, and natural specimen objects – including the world’s most comprehensive selection of objects discovered in the Antarctic – the museum is a hugely popular attraction with both locals and visitors alike, and the perfect indoor option for one of the city’s rainy days. Exhibit highlights include the largest skeleton of a Moa flightless bird ever found, and original Antarctic Sledges used to transport passengers and or cargo in the icy region.
66 Gloucester Street, Christchurch Central City / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Explore tranquil botanic gardens
Established in 1863 with the ceremonial planting of an English oak tree, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are widely considered the green heart of the city. Over the years, natural wetlands and sand dunes have been transformed into an elegantly cultivated 21-hectare park, with more than 10 different gardens framed by mature trees and expansive lawns. As well as the outdoor gardens, there’s also a conservatory complex displaying everything from cacti and succulents to tropical orchids and carnivorous plants.
Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch Central City / Mon-Sun 7am-6.30pm
Enjoy alternative art at an open-air Gallery
The amalgamation of street art that makes up the Brockworth Street Art Gallery is one of Christchurch’s most original cultural venues. Unlike conventional graffiti that so often blots the urban landscape, the visually arresting murals that flank a small path running alongside a railway line feature professionally-crafted artwork for public enjoyment – whether they are actively seeking it out or simply passing by. Either way, the open air gallery attracts a steady stream of daily visitors who stop to admire this celebration of Christchurch’s creative spirit.
33 Riccarton Road, Riccarton / Open all hours
Let your hair down at a street festival
Each year to coincide with Labor Day weekend, the streets of central Christchurch give themselves over to a hugely popular music festival. For five full days, the Christchurch Big Band Festival sees Big Bands (a type of jazz orchestra popularised in the early 19th century) and swing dancers from across New Zealand liven up the streets with scheduled performances in front of packed crowds of revellers. As well as the live music, there are also street parades and workshops. Most shows and events are free, but some are ticketed.
Venues across central Christchurch / October each year
Catch some live music
Despite its somewhat inconspicuous setting in the confines of a converted warehouse, The Darkroom has been at the epicentre of Christchurch’s live music scene since 2011, when it became one of the city’s first entertainment spots to open after that year’s devastating earthquake. Today the venue plays host to several gigs each week as well as regular comedy events, with one stipulation: that the music be original. Vintage furniture and dark, moody walls add to the ambience, providing a fitting aesthetic for local and touring musicians to perform indie rock, dance, metal and other genres.
336 Saint Asaph Street / Thurs-Sat 7pm-Late Closed Sun-Weds
Step aboard a historic tramway
The first trams began to operate in Christchurch in 1882, powered by steam or pulled along by horses. Trams continued to operate in the city until 1954, when buses replaced the system. However this quaint and historic form of city centre transport was brought back in from the cold in 1995, utilising over three kilometres of heritage track, along which the pretty burgundy and beige trams once again trundled. Today there are plenty of ways to experience the charm of the Christchurch Tramway, with hop-on hop-off services as well as evening dinner tours available.
Go punting down the river
One of the most unique ways of experiencing Christchurch is from its waterways. There are number of companies that offer Avon River punting tours, with excursions hosted by expert guides who dress up for the occasion in traditional Edwardian attire while propelling handcrafted flat-bottomed boats gently through the water. Along the way, you’ll get to admire some of the city’s most scenic landmarks and attractions, including the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens, which teem with spectacular flora.
Be transported into an icy wilderness
Experience the wonder of one of the world’s great wildernesses without leaving Christchurch at the award-winning International Antarctic Centre. Designed for all ages, visitors can enjoy a huge variety of interactive exhibits and displays. Climb aboard an all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle, feel the blast of an Antarctic storm, take the polar plunge ice water challenge, and hang out with real life penguins. There’s also the chance to watch the movie ‘Beyond the Frozen Sunset’ that plays on a loop on a giant HD screen.
Corner Roy Place and, Orchard Road, Christchurch Airport / Mon-Sun 9am-4.30pm
You can book admission tickets to the centre at GetYourGuide
Experience the thrill of swimming with dolphins
The waters surrounding Akaroa Harbour, situated southeast of Christchurch, are home to a large number of dolphins who routinely read their heads to the delight of onlookers. But as well as admire these majestic creatures from afar, there’s also the opportunity to get even more up close and personal as part of an organised dolphin-watching boat tour. When your captain has located a pod, you can don your wetsuit, mask, snorkel and flippers then slip into the water. Since these endangered marine mammals are completely wild in their natural habitat, touching them is not permitted, but you’re free to duck down beneath the waves and swim among them.
You can book a swimming with dolphins tour at Viator
Hike along a scenic Bridle Path
For outstanding views over Christchurch and its surrounding s, the Bridle Path Walk is hard to beat. The ambulatory path takes around three hours to traverse – including the return journey – and offers a more physically challenging alternative to a gondola ride up the mountain. Quite steep at various points, the hike to the top is tough but rewarding, with incredible panoramic vistas your reward on reaching the summit. For amateur walkers who may not be confident using a map, the track is well marked throughout.
Marvel at Christchurch from above
Christchurch is a sight to behold from any vantage point, but there’s nothing quite like admiring the city and its scenic locale from the sky. One of the most enthralling ways to do so is during a helicopter tour that sees you soar above the city ad your pilot regales you with fascinating stories and facts. Tours tend to place a particular focus on the devastation of the 2011 earthquake, as you look down on the enduring ruins of Christchurch cathedral and vacant apartment blocks and your captain tells you all about the city’s rebuilding efforts. The return route tends to skim the outskirts of Christchurch, including the suburbs of Sumner and Redcliffs, for a different perspective on the city.
You can book Christchurch helicopter tours at Viator