Things to do in Wellington

New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, is a sparkling haven where creativity and politics sit side-by-side with a vibrant cafe culture and experimental craft beer scene.

Visit Wellington by train and ferry with The Great Journeys of New Zealand

Get blown away by Wellington!

Nestled around a sparkling natural harbour amidst beautiful rolling hills, New Zealand’s capital city is simply unforgettable.

Best-known for its thriving film industry, beautiful public spaces, down-to-earth people and wild weather, there is an endless list of fun things to do in Wellington.

Be sure to explore the harbour, where you’ll find some of the city’s top restaurants and a perfect spot for people-watching. In the streets of Te Aro, slow down for the day to drift between boutique shops and European style cafés. At night, visit one of the vibrant bars or eclectic restaurants selling cuisine from around the world.

This article includes the following sections:

Where is Wellington?

Located on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington is the world’s southernmost capital city. And, with a population of around 212,700, it is also one of the world’s smallest capitals (one of many reasons why Lonely Planet named Wellington the ‘Coolest little capital in the world’).

Travelwise, Wellington is conveniently located at the heart of New Zealand’s two main islands, with Cape Reinga 1048km to the north and Invercargill 994km to the south (via the 98km Interislander ferry to the South Island).

Taking the scenic route to Wellington

Map of Wellington travel connections

Travel by train to Wellington aboard the Northern Explorer and witness the full spectrum of New Zealand life, from sprawling city suburbs to remote rural communities, all set against a continuous backdrop of stunning scenery. Sit back and enjoy it all!

From the south, the Interislander crossing is 'one of the most beautiful ferry journeys in the world', sailing through the serene Marlborough Sounds and crossing the narrow Cook Strait that divides New Zealand main islands.

Explore New Zealand aboard the Northern Explorer train
Northern Explorer crossing the Hapuawhenua viaduct
Visit Wellington aboard the gorgeous Interislander ferry

Wellington Activities and Attractions

When you look at its natural landscape, it’s no surprise that Wellington is filled with adventure. Surrounded by green space, rolling hills, and mountains, there are many natural attractions. Head to the suburb of Khandallah and hike up Mount Kaukau. On one side, you’ll find expansive views of the city. On the other, you’ll gaze into the distance towards the stunning Remutaka and Tararua mountain ranges. 

Wellington’s impressive 500 acre Zealandia ecosanctuary is also located amongst the hills above the city. Set around an idyllic lake, Zealandia is protected by an 8.6km perimeter fence. Inside, you’ll find endangered species, including tīeke, hihi, little spotted kiwi and tuatara, all thriving in their natural environment. Other successes include tūī, kākā and kererū, which are now commonly found around Wellington thanks to Zealandia’s breeding programme.

Zealandia can be reached easily on foot from the city centre. Simply catch another of Wellington’s famous attractions, the Wellington Cable Car, then catch the shuttle bus or walk to the Zealandia sanctuary.

The Cable Car, Wellington’s 19th-century funicular, ascends Kelburn hill from Lambton Quay to the top of the Wellington Botanic Gardens - another great Wellington attraction. At the top, you’ll find spectacular views of Wellington along with the free Cable Car Museum and the Carter Observatory. Catching the Cable Car to the top and then walking back down to the city through the Botanic Garden is an excellent way to spend a day. 

Explore Wellington's colourful shopping precinct on Cuba Street
Beware of Wellington's unruly Bucket Fountain on Cuba Street
Explore Wellington's quaint laneways
Discover Wellington's quirky art on a walk around the waterfront
Laze on Wellington beach and soak up the scenic views

New Zealand has solidified itself as a movie-making destination globally with The Lord Of The Rings films. Make the most of your trip by visiting Weta Workshop, the winner of several Academy Awards for its work on Lord Of The Rings, Avatar and King Kong. Weta Cave is one of the top attractions in Wellington. Get ready to immerse yourself in movie-making magic. 

Make a stop at Cuba Street’s Bucket Fountain, one of Wellington’s most famous landmarks. Built in 1969, it marked the celebration of the permanent pedestrianisation of Cuba Street. Don’t get too close though, this unruly fountain is designed to splash!

Continue your stroll down Wellington’s trendiest street, filled with quirky boutiques, ice cream shops, and tasty restaurants. You can spend hours window shopping Cuba Street’s unique stores!

On a summer’s day, nothing beats a visit to Oriental Bay. Curl up on the soft sand and look out to the turquoise waters, with the city’s skyscrapers towering to the left. Here you’ll find the Carter Fountain standing in the water, first introduced to Oriental Bay in 1973. 

Rent one of the iconic Crocodile Bikes and pedal your way along Wellington’s waterfront - you'll find groups of adults enjoying this wacky exercise just as much as kids.

After all your sightseeing, visit the famous Zany Zeus cheese shop and sample the most coveted halloumi sandwich in all of Wellington.

Wellington Walks

Wellington is located amongst some of New Zealand’s finest scenery. It’s rare to find a coastal city surrounded by mountains, so make sure you spend some time enjoying the great outdoors. There are plenty of must-do walks in and around Wellington with trails all over the city, each with its own spectacular view over the dramatic cityscape and beyond. 

Take a walk to the city centre’s beloved town belt and Mount Victoria Lookout Walkway, a beautiful green space in the heart of the city. Native trees and wildlife flourish here. It’s cherished by Wellingtonians and preserved for the people, as it cannot be developed for commercial use. Head up to the spectacular Mount Victoria lookout to admire 360° views of Wellington. Just a short walk from the city, this is a must when you’re visiting Wellington. 

There are also some hiking trails a little further out from the city centre. Makara Walkway is tucked away behind Wellington’s western suburbs, with phenomenal views of the coast and waters far beyond it. This loop track can take up to 4 hours and is a little challenging with a short steep section - so wear some good walking shoes.

Explore the Red Rocks Coastal Walk along Wellington’s rugged south coast and count how many seals you can see hidden in the rocks! The entire walk can take up to 3 hours. Be sure to allow yourself some extra time for seal watching - a favourite amongst locals. 

The Skyline Walkway is one of the more adventurous things to do in Wellington. The whole track can take up to 6 hours, and, on a clear day, you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of New Zealand’s South Island in the distance. 

Discover the Wellington Sculpture Walk through the CBD and tick off all 17 sculptures within the 3km area. This leisurely stroll through the heart of Wellington can take up to 2 hours. 

Discover Wellington's quirky art on a walk around the waterfront
Laze on Wellington beach and soak up the scenic views
Take a trip to Days Bay in Eastbourne for a sunny afternoon on the beach
Hang out with Ogres at WETA Cave
Learn all about New Zealand history and culture at Te Papa Museum

Free things to do in Wellington

Weta Cave tours are iconic, ranking highly on the list of top tourist activities in New Zealand. However, most people don’t know that you can actually enter for free! Browse the mini-museum with no entry fee. 

Hot tip: Children under 5 get free entry to paid tours

One of the best free things to do in Wellington is a leisurely stroll through the Wellington Botanic Gardens. Walk through the vibrant rose gardens and head into Begonia House. The Botanic Gardens glasshouse is overflowing with vivid tropical plants and flowers. You’ll forget you’re in the city when pottering around these picturesque gardens. 

The national museum, Te Papa Tongarewa, tells the story of our land in exceptional style and has an astonishing World War I exhibition. Created in partnership with Weta Workshops, ‘Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War’ exhibition features unerringly realistic larger-than-life models of real war heroes in action alongside the historical artefacts and letters from the day. A must-see when visiting Wellington - and it’s absolutely free.

Have a picnic at Oriental Bay and enjoy the slow pace of people watching along the sparkling waterfront. Locals flock to the waterfront on a blue sky day to take in the lovely views. 

Window shop at the unique boutiques along Cuba Street. Brimming with trendy vintage stores, homeware boutiques, and gift shops, Cuba Street is an integral part of the Wellington scene.

Wellington railway station in the tranquil early morning

Getting Around in Wellington

Wellington is conveniently compact, making it easy to walk from A to B. Most places within Wellington City are just a short walk away. Walk from Wellington’s Railway Station to Oriental Bay in just 30 minutes. The city is well connected with several bus routes and trains running from the central train station.

A fun thing to do in Wellington is to hire an electric scooter and ride along the waterfront. If you plan on exploring Wellington’s southern bays or neighbouring towns, you might find it easier to hire a car. The city has several car rental shops to choose from, keep your eyes peeled for the best deal.

Wellington is renowned for its burger scene!
Grab a coffee from a strange window in Wellington

Dining in Wellington

Wellington is the culinary and coffee capital of New Zealand. With more bars and restaurants per capita than New York City, it’s a foodies paradise.

Home of The Flat White, the coffee scene in Wellington is thriving. Cafes are always bursting with people getting their caffeine fix. Check out the famous Wellington roasteries which are among the best in New Zealand; Havana Coffee, Peoples and Caffe L’affare. You can even buy a bag of your favourite beans as a souvenir.

Visit one of the many cafes at the weekend for a typical brunch of smashed avocado on toast. Don’t forget to visit Fidel’s cafe, somewhat of a Wellington institution. Fidel’s has a brunch menu to die for and the coffee is pretty tasty too!

From cheap eats to fine dining, Wellington has it all. Eat and drink your way through the city like a local.

Cuba Street is packed with hidden gems the locals flock to at mealtimes. Take your pick from authentic Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, or Chinese cuisine. Many of the restaurants are ‘BYO’ and allow you to bring your own bottle of wine for a small fee. So do as the locals do and enjoy!

If you want a taste of Wellington’s finest we recommend checking out Charley Noble, Rita or Logan Brown - all guaranteed to tickle your tastebuds.

QT Hotel's opulent Hippopotamus Bar is an excellent place to stay in Wellington

Staying in Wellington

Whatever your budget, there are plenty of options to help you find your perfect Wellington accommodation. 

For a more luxurious or extravagant stay in the city, check into one of Wellington's vibrant boutique hotels. Naumi Studio is located on Wellington's trendy Cuba Street. Discover the stunning interiors and displays of local artists' works. QT Wellington is also a favourite for a glamourous stay in the city.

If you're on a budget, hostels can also be a great place to stay. Check out the range of top backpackers available online.

Airbnb is another wonderful option for Wellington accommodation. Live like the locals do and book an apartment in one of Wellington's nicest suburbs or right in the heart of the city. Airbnb can be a great opportunity to discover an area you wouldn't visit otherwise. We recommend exploring options in Newtown and Mount Victoria or even further afield in a stunning south coast suburb like Lyall Bay. 

Wellington's parliamentary buildings alongside the famous Beehive

Wellington History

Wellington became the first permanent British settlement of New Zealand in 1840. However, Wellington hasn’t always been the capital of New Zealand. In fact, in 1865, Wellington replaced Auckland to become the new capital city of New Zealand. This provided the city with a promising future and revolutionised the area with Parliament buildings and railway lines. 

The Wellington Museum is a great activity in Wellington to learn more about the city’s rich history. Located in the centre of the city in a heritage building, it houses stories of the city’s past and is definitely worth a visit. 

The Wellington Cable Car is a well-known tourist attraction. Initially opened in 1902, the funicular connected residents of Kelburn to the city. You can still catch the cable car up the steep hills to Kelburn and take a leisurely stroll back down the hill through the Botanical Gardens.

The statue of  John Plimmer (1812-1905) and his dog, Fritz, was voted the most popular public artwork in the city. It captures John Plimmer and Fritz walking towards Wellington’s Lambton Quay. John Plimmer, labelled the Father of Wellington, originally worked as a tradesman making huge contributions to Wellington’s political and commercial development. 

Take a trip around Wellington’s south coast and visit The Massey Memorial at Point Halswell. The memorial commemorates the prime minister of New Zealand (1912-1925), William Ferguson Massey. The grand memorial, made from marble, overlooks Wellington’s stunning harbour.

Picnic at Pencarrow, watching the Interislander Picton ferry leaving Wellington Harbour

Getting to Wellington

Wellington is exceptionally well connected. You can arrive by train from Auckland, Hamilton or Palmerston North via the Northern Explorer. This train heads southbound from Auckland on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. The journey is a fantastic day-long exhibition of New Zealand’s finest scenery and must-do in New Zealand.

See the Northern Explorer page for a detailed timetable and list of stations.

Wellington is the perfect destination to include on your way to New Zealand’s South Island. Catch the Interislander from Wellington and take the scenic 3½-hour sail to Picton, travelling through the spectacular Marlborough Sounds, taking in the incredible views. 

Check out the Interislander page for more details. 

If you want to make the most of your trip, combine the Interislander with the Coastal Pacific train. Hop on the Interislander Ferry to Picton and then catch the train to Christchurch.  This is a scenic and seamless way to travel between Wellington, Blenheim, Kaikoura and Christchurch.

 


Wellington Multi-Day Packages

Let us do all the organising while you relax and enjoy the best the Wellington has on offer. Our packages include transport, accommodation, and organised tours of Wellington attractions. 

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Explore New Zealand's cool little capital on our Wellington City Break package

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Explore the 'coolest little capital in the world' on our Northern Explorer 4-day Wellington City Break.

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