Wellington bills itself as the coolest little capital in the world, and there are plenty of activities and attractions that help it live up to that title. A compact city, many of the things to do in Wellington are within easy walking distance around the CBD and most of those further afield can be reached by public transport so you can cover a lot of ground even if you only have a few days.
Many of the attractions in Wellington are free or low-cost so you can enjoy your visit without blowing your budget.
With so much to choose from you might be wondering where to start, so we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Wellington to help you on your way.
Museums and culture
Wellington’s iconic museum, Te Papa tells the story of New Zealand and its people. With several floors covering the natural environment, Maori heritage and New Zealand culture as well as a number of special exhibitions throughout the year, Te Papa is a great place to visit for all the family. Be sure to check out the giant squid and the outdoor bush walk.
Located in an old bond store on the Wellington waterfront, the Wellington Museum explores the history of the city and its maritime connections. Learn more about the sinking of the Wahine, New Zealand’s worst ever maritime disaster, and explore some of the quirkier stories from Wellington’s history.
Katherine Mansfield is one of New Zealand’s most famous authors, with her short stories being known around the world. The Katherine Mansfield House in Thorndon, has been restored to its original layout as it was when the author lived there with her parents and extended family. The house contains several period features and a number of items that belonged to the family.
Located at the Basin Reserve - New Zealand’s oldest active Test cricket ground, the New Zealand Cricket Museum is open whenever there is a match on at the Basin and explores the varied history of the New Zealand cricket in all its forms including stories of some of the country’s best players and the best victories.
Locals and visitors alike fill the carriages of the Wellington Cable Car which runs between Lambton Quay and the Botanic Gardens. The short ride offers outstanding views of the city and harbour and a museum at the top explains more about the cable car’s history. Ride both ways or take a one way trip and walk back through the gardens to the city.
Housed in the Carter Observatory in the Botanic Gardens, Space Place is the perfect day out for budding astronomers. The full dome planetarium shows bring the stars alive with a tour of the night sky of New Zealand while the museum offers more information about space and the creation of the universe.
Explore the iconic Beehive building that houses the current parliament offices and the debating chamber as well as the older buildings that make up the Parliament complex. You can take a guided tour of the Beehive and, when government is in session, visit the public gallery of the debating chamber.
Lord of the Rings and more!
Lord of The Rings tours
The Lord of the Rings films introduced New Zealand’s stunning scenery to the world, albeit often under a disguise of computer animation. Movie buffs who are keen to see the original filming locations can take a guided tour around the city and its surrounds covering several important locations. There are several tour companies around the city and greater Wellington area so you will certainly find one that suits your budget and timeframe.
From humble beginnings Weta Workshop has developed into a world renowned, award-winning design and special effects company for Hollywood movies and television shows including Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Thunderbirds Are Go. You can get up close and personal with some of the sculpture at the Weta Cave, or take a guided workshop tour for an in-depth look at the company.
New Zealand’s first zoo, Wellington Zoo house native animals and a range of species from around the world. Compact enough to walk around in a few hours, the zoo is a perfect family day out. Daily keeper talks give visitors the chance to find out more about the animals and you can even get up close and personal with some with a close encounter.
Zealandia is a nature sanctuary in the heart of Wellington working to restore the populations of native wildlife across the country. With more than 40 species of native birds and a range of insects and reptiles, there is plenty to see. Take a guided tour or wander round at your own pace. You can also visit Zealandia at night for a different view including the chance to spot a Little Spotted Kiwi.
Get hands on with some of New Zealand’s marine life at the Island Bay Marine Education Centre. This small centre offers an intimate experience with the chance to learn more about sea creatures in one of the country’s richest marine rocky shore habitats. The centre is open to the public on Sundays only.
Matiu Somes Island is a predator free wildlife reserve which was once home to Maori and was also used as a military defence position. The island can be accessed by a regular ferry service and there are several walks for all fitness levels. Camping is also possible.
The Red Rocks were formed by undersea volcanic eruptions and iron oxide gives them their distinctive colouring. A walkway follows the coastline and extends round to a New Zealand fur seal colony where the seals can often be spotted playing on the rocks and in the water.
Just five kilometres from the city centre, this reserve contains native plants and trees including an 800 year old Rimu. The reserve has a number of walking tracks suitable for all fitness levels. A canopy walkway set 18 metres above the forest floor among the tree tops connects the two garden areas.
With nearly 25 hectares of grounds ranging from native forest to colourful floral plantings, the Botanic Gardens are a haven in the heart of the city. Wander around on your own or take a guided tour.
Around the city
Get spectacular views of Wellington city and the harbour from the Mount Victoria lookout, rising 196 metres above the city. You can drive all the way up to the lookout or walk up through the Town Belt walkway. This lookout is also a great spot for watching the sunrise or sunset.
Heading out of the city centre brings you to Wellington’s bays. Dotted with stunning beaches and tempting cafes, the coast road is a great option for a scenic drive. Don’t forget to stop off for a paddle if the water is warm enough.
In the sunshine there is no better place to be in the central city than along the waterfront. Stroll along looking at the sculptures, hire a pair of roller skates or a bike or take a kayak out on the water.
Cuba Street is Wellington’s bustling bit of cool where locals and visitors gather to shop, drink or dine. Recognised for its vintage boutiques, art studios and eclectic restaurants, Cuba Street is the place to see and be seen. On Friday and Saturday nights the area is also host to the popular night markets with performers, food stalls and artisans.