Wellington is an intoxicating city and not just because of its excellent beer and wine choices. Built along the waterfront and surrounded by velvety green hills, this capital city is filled with an array of activities that will entertain nature lovers, history buffs, foodies, hikers, beachgoers, and movie nerds.
Whether you’re staying for 1 day in Wellington or the weekend, this city is a must on everyone’s New Zealand itinerary. It’s pleasantly easy to find things to do in Wellington, you can spend the day in the city visiting cafes and restaurants, wandering the Wellington Botanic Garden and beyond, or you can go exploring in the gorgeous backcountry. Whatever you’re after, I’m here to bet Wellington has something for you.
One Day in Wellington
Regardless of its small size, Wellington pacts a powerful punch when it comes to exciting finding things to do. Whether you’re looking for guided tours or things to do on your own, you can fill your day with a variety of activities to suit your travel style.
Begin your day at one of Wellington’s most known attractions, the New Zealand Te Papa Museum. You can wander around exhibits such as the World of Wearable Art, the Nature Exhibit, a Tattoo Exhibit, plus many many more in and outdoors. Open to the public at 10AM, this museum is free to the public, but with a special pass gets you can get in before, giving you space and freedom to wander around with ease and is a great way to get your day started early!
With an early entry pass you also get a unique introduction to the museum and its exhibits by a professional guide and get exclusive access to the Gallipoli Exhibit. There are other exhibits and even workshops for you to explore.
Take a short stroll over to another classic Wellington tourist attraction: the Wellington Cable Car. As one of the best ways to see the city, and also one of New Zealand’s only functioning funiculars, the ride takes you through 3 historic tunnels and over 3 notable bridges. As you climb and wind your way through New Zealand’s capital you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the stunning city skyline, the sparkling harbour, and the soft rolling hills along the way. Once you get to the top, you can either ride the car back down or you can explore the Wellington sightseeing available here, which we highly suggest that you do.
Space Place at Carter Observatory
Closest to the Wellington cable car, Space Place is worthy of a stop for all ages. Here you’ll find a number of exhibits that will take you through space, teach you about New Zeland’s contribution to astronomy, keep you entertained through interactive galleries.
What makes this space stop so unique compared to space exhibits elsewhere is the combination of space and Maori culture, where you can explore the galaxy through Maori starlore.
Cable Car Museum
If the history of the Wellington cable car is of interest to you, a short stop is available for history seekers at the Cable Car Museum where some of the original cable cars are still housed in original winding house.
Wellington Botanical Garden
Step out of the Space Place and you’re already in the botanic garden! Set across 60 acres of land, the Wellington Botanical Gardens are a treat for nature lovers and is a place where you can truly spend hours in. You’ll be spoiled with a number of garden collections including roses, succulents, tulips and more in a variety of garden houses.
The gardens also offer a number of walking trails (be sure to check out the ones in the Native Bush area) for a peaceful later afternoon stroll.
Continue to explore Wellington’s natural beauty at Zealandia Ecosanctuary, a park that protects the world’s most rare and vulnerable animals. The park is home to 40 different species of birds with more than half being native only to New Zealand! There are various lizards and bugs, frogs and skinks but, fortunately for most, no snakes. There is a free shuttle that takes you to various areas of the park and guided tours are available with an expert guide throughout the day, during twilight, or by torch after the sun goes down.
New Zealand is one of the only countries that doesn’t have any native species which makes this an interesting spot, a great addition to any Wellington itinerary.
Begin to wind down your day by heading back down on the cable car so you can explore the waterfront. A stroll may suffice for you but depending on how much time and energy you have left for the day, you have a couple of other options. A visit to the Wellington Museum is a top choice. It displays the maritime history of Wellington and reflects on the architecture of the building which is a site worthy of viewing itself.
If you have a generous amount of time, perhaps a visit to Oriental Bay for a cheeky time of sun will for you.
Without a doubt, a stop to Cuba Street is a must-do when you visit New Zealand. Head to this popular street in the evening and get ready to feast, drink, at one of the many bars and restaurants. Cuba Street is alive day and night where you can always grab a bite to eat or find a unique souvenir from Wellington.
Two Days in Wellington
Are you able to spend more than 24 hours in Wellington? Excellent! The surrounding countryside is well worth the visit to Wellington, especially if you’re up for some riveting adventures.
Pick a half day trip to day your day!
The Lord of the Rings and New Zealand obviously go hand in hand. Lucky for you, you can experience the movie magic by going behind the scenes to visit movie sets, filming locations, and even the production studio behind this epic trilogy.
On a guided tour, you’ll begin the day at Embassy Movie Theatre where some of the world premiers have been held before hiking up to the Mount Victoria lookout. On you’re way down you’ll take a trip through the enchanting Green Belt Forest. The tour continues on through the production studios where you can see the costumes and sets being made at the Weta Workshop where onscreen magic has been created besides Lord of the Rings.
Option 2: Martinborough Wine Tour
Lord of the Rings not your thing? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Instead, opt to start your day with a dazzling ride through the Remutaka Ranges to the flourishing Wairarapa Valley where you’ll have the chance to taste the region’s finest wines at some of the top cellar doors. Apart of stop at scenic spots and trying the wine, you’ll also have the opportunity to nibble on local or global cheeses for a savory taste.
Option 3: Sea Kayaking
Kayaking is fun but sea kayaking is even more fun and special when combined with an exclusive bushwalk. Kapiti Island Nature Reserve is a bird sanctuary that is only accessible when with a licensed guide. A day spent seeing Wellington from a different perspective will give you a new appreciation for an already magical city.
A ferry takes you from the mainland to Kapiti Island where you’ll be given kayaks, paddles, and lifejackets. You’ll have two hours to paddle around the islands, bays, and inlets looking for seals, eagle rays, fish whales, dolphins, and other marine life. After kayaking, you and your group will take a hike around the island looking for rare, protected birds that make the island their home.
One of the above tours doesn’t fill your whole day so you still have time to explore. Why not take a hike up to the Mount Victoria summit for picturesque views across Wellington? A short 2.6km or long 4.6km loop is available. Alternatively, it’s possible to drive up to.
Last but certainly not least, a scenic flight could be a great way to end your time in Wellington. Get your head into the clouds on this short but sweet scenic flight. Spend nearly 10 minutes flying over the city while your pilot points out all the iconic and historic buildings that dot the Wellington city landscape. You’ll be able to see Mount Victoria and the harbour and on super clear days you should be able to see Marlborough Sound and the top of The South Island.
Where to Stay in Wellington
Lambton Quay is a top choice and offers a great selection of places to stay in Wellington. It is centrally located near all the best shopping, cafes, and restaurants, making it a prime spot for you to rest your head and not worry about too far from the comfort of your hotel room.
Luxury: Boulcott Suites
The Boulcott Suites are a luxurious option when staying in Wellington. You can choose from studio apartment-style suits to bigger townhouse-style suites. High-quality bed and bath linens are provided for you, so can relax in comfort after a day of adventuring or a day of shopping.
The Intercontinental is a premium option for a night or two in Wellington. With 2 restaurants, a bar, a heated pool, a spa, a sauna, and a fitness centre you may not even want to leave the hotel!
Budget: Hotel Waterloo and Backpackers
The Hotel Waterloo and Backpackers offers both private and shared dorm-style rooms as well as a bar and restaurant on site. There are game nights and other activities so that you can meet other travellers
Have an absolutely wonderful time in New Zealand’s capital!