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Travel Guide

Things to do in Wellington § Attractions, Activities & Places to Visit

  • 7 minutes
In this Article

Best bits in absolutely positively Wellington

Uncover things to do aplenty in a petite picturesque capital city. Wellington has personality plus with Hannahs Lane and Weta Workshop’s Hollywood magic. There are enough cultural attractions to keep you occupied for a week from Te Papa, National Museum to the quirky Cable Car Museum perched on top of the glorious Botanic Gardens.

11 highlights making Wellington a cool little capital city

In this Article

Some places are great without a Bondi beach on their doorstep and Wellington is one of these magical destinations.

Oriental Bay, Wellington with marina, yachts and hillside suburban houses, Wellington, New Zealand
Oriental Bay, Wellington with marina, yachts and hillside suburban houses

Wellington is a compact and walkable city. With a downtown area only 2 km across, most of the major attractions are within easy walking distance from the hotels, cafés, restaurants, bars and shops. As well as historic and cultural attractions, Wellington also offers  Hollywood glamour – the majority of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was filmed in and around the city, and visitors can now follow in the footsteps of Hollywood stars. The brightly painted wooden houses, in orderly rows marching up the Wellington harbour hills is whimsical and uniquely, absolutely positively Wellington.

WELLINGTON: WHAT TO DO & SEE

WELLINGTON WALKS CITY & TOWN

Wellington is a city built for walking the city centre on foot with a writer’s walk, a vibrant waterfront bustling with people intent on enjoying the eateries and pubs, Te Aro street art corners, Hannah’s Lane and historic cemeteries tucked away under a motorway. The magnificent Botanic Gardens is nestled within easy reach of the city centre. Wellington’s geography of hills and valleys offers walkers and outdoor enthusiasts spectacular views of the harbour, Cooks Strait, native bush and beyond from Mt Kaukau to Mt Victoria peak.  Pencarrow Lighthouse is a highlight with its sombre connections to shipwrecks and the story of maritime Wellington.

ART & HERITAGE

WELLINGTON MILITARY HERITAGE

As the capital city Wellington is the custodian of bunkers, forts, and memorials that tell the story of modern Aotearoa New Zealand. Mid nineteenth century witnessed the scare of the Russian Pacific Fleet and its capacity to invade New Zealand with World War II gun bunkers as the initial line of defence. Today there is an abandoned air, graffiti and decay with the bunkers being dismantled and the guns melted down for scrap metal. Yet enough remains for sites to be evocative, with visions of soldiers patrolling the perimeter line in the Pacific. As always defense installations have stupendously superb panoramic views of Wellington’s inner harbour, the Cooks Strait and beyond.

Wright Hill Fortress and World War II and the real possibility of a Japanese invasion led to the construction of Wrights Hill Fortress and the bunkers beneath. The well maintained site has several loop walks providing visitors with 360o degree views.

Massey Memorial, Wellington, New Zealand @Worldorgs
Massey Memorial, Wellington @Worldorgs

Matiu Somes Island, with its strategic position in the inner harbour is a natural first line of defence with guns facing the harbour in the event of an invasion.

Massey Memorial Reserve is elegant with a classic marble memorial to a former prime minister hiding the former bunkers built in response to the Russian scare of the 1880’s. The memorial is a well known spot for romantic sunset photographs.

Check out Wellington military history trail.

For fascinating details such as a memorial to Ataturk (modern Turkey’s founding father) or a memorial commemorating the Spanish Civil War, the only such memorial in New Zealand.

WELLINGTON GARDENS

Read more about 10 Wellington gardens, cool climate beauties worth a ramble.

WELLINGTON SHOPPING

Cuba Street Night Market, Wellington, New Zealand @wellingtonnightmarket
Cuba Street Night Market @wellingtonnightmarket
  • Due to the compact nature of Wellington it is a very walkable city for the dedicated shopper.  While the weather is sometimes not great the shops are perfect for days when the weather is windy Wellington. Lambton Quay and surrounding streets are where the international labels and New Zealand  boutique shops are located. From Lambton Quay through to Cuba Street is a short easy stroll.
  • Wellington is a premier shopping destination for New Zealand. Auckland and Christchurch could debate this statement.  Wellington with its variety and ease of access continues to attract visitors who know a good place when they find it.  Nothing like a core of government  employees to keep retailers busy.

Read more Petone, Lower Hutt day trip, travel guide, things to see: Best Bits shopping in a Victorian heritage streetscape is a pleasure especially when cafes and eateries provide a welcome respite from retail therapy.

Jackson Street, Petone, Lower Hutt, New Zealand @Bayleys
Jackson Street, Petone, Lower Hutt @Bayleys
TIP

Remember to check the adorable cafe/cinema in Petone.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Cuba street food, Wellington, New Zealand @pop_core_n
Cuba street food @pop_core_n

Wellington is a delightful combination of cheap affordable food to cuisine that is world class. If the budget is tight head down to the Cuba Street Night markets for an array of delicious food stalls with cuisines from around the world. The lively markets are colourful, lively with buskers and entertainment. Visitors need to simply follow the scent and smell of delicious, sizzling hot food in the air. Courtenay Place is a mixture of bars, pubs and cheap ethnic food venues that seem to have been in Courtenay Place forever.

Read more about Interesting places to eat and drink in Wellington tips where to go for nightlife and craft beer.

TIP

Wellington has an urban distillery that is amazing and worth checking out.

FAMILY FRIENDLY: WHAT TO DO WITH THE KIDS

  • Dowse Art Space in Lower Hutt. A veteran at providing children focused activities you will not have bored younger members of your group.
  • Otari-Wilton’s Bush Reserve for its canopy walk which includes an information visitor centre.
  • Red Rocks Reserve. Enjoy the outdoors – Red Rocks / Pariwhero to observe seals and the rugged southern coast.
  • Weta Studios is a guaranteed success. Movie magic, our own Wellywood with its technical excellence appeals to all ages.
  • Wellington Playgrounds Stuff for kids – Play areas. A favourite of mine is Central Park Brooklyn with its three cable flying fox, a six-metre high space ball climbing frame, spinner bowl, whirl and swings. The park also has a junior section with slides, swings, crawl tunnels, climbing net, seesaws and a springy racer. An upgrade in 2009 added new toilets near the playground and a mini-BMX track. Due to its proximity to numerous central city hotels the playground is easily accessible.  It is a 10 to 15 minute walk (2km)  from central Wellington to the park. Location, on the fringe of Wellington’s CBD on Brooklyn Road.
@WetaWorkshop
@WetaWorkshop

WELLINGTON THINGS TO DO FOR FREE

Beautiful little colorful boathouses in Wellington, New Zealand
Beautiful little colorful boathouses in Wellington

With the extensive collection of museums, public sculpture trails, street art trails and outdoor walks Wellington has plenty to offer visitors for free. Variety is absolutely positively a Wellington trait.

Read more about Wellington things to do tor free.

WHAT TO DO NEARBY: WELLINGTON DAY TRIPS

Wellington is a great place to hit the road and explore the district. Find a boutique wine trail in Martinborough or perhaps spend the day leisurely exploring Greytown with its Victorian heritage shopfronts.

Read more about the Wairarapa and day trips from Wellington

Top of lighthouse on Matiu Somes Island overlooking harbour, Somes Island, New Zealand
Top of lighthouse on Matiu Somes Island

Matiu Somes Island is a gem in plain sight

The harbour island is a great way to view Wellington from the middle of the harbour. Catch the regular harbour ferry and learn about the extraordinary story of the small island. An extensive Maori history then a quarantine station both for people and livestock, a working farm and now a reserve it is a treasure waiting to be uncovered.

Read more Matiu/Somes island, day trip from Wellington — what to do.

Porirua, the nearby city just a short train ride away is a repository for Polynesian and Maori cultural events. For art and culture buffs it is a must do day trip from Wellington.

Pataka Museum of Arts & Cultures

Exhibits are contemporary inspiring interpretations of Pacific culture both indigenous and the wider field. The museum hosts artwork sales providing visitors with a chance to snag an emerging artist.

If you’re a of the Rings fan, the Putangirua Pinnacles is a must go location. The Pinnacles are an example of Badlands erosion, with the resulting formation a unique landscape. It is a great day trip into the Wairarapa finding out where Aragorn’s haunted pass “Paths of the Dead”, Lord of the Rings trilogy film scene lies.

Palmerston North is also home to the New Zealand Rugby Museum, which is dedicated to the national sport of New Zealand, rugby union. You’ve probably heard of the All Blacks already, but if not, this is the perfect place to learn about the most successful sports team in the entire world.

Pataka Museum of Arts & Cultures, New Zealand @Eva Kaprinay
Pataka Museum of Arts & Cultures @Eva Kaprinay

WHERE TO STAY

Accommodation in Wellington is largely hotels and motels. Due to the topography of Wellington there is insufficient available land for holiday parks or camping grounds. For weekends and short trips it is recommended visitors stay in the central district due to the cluster of nearby attractions. For longer stays look for motels in Kilbirine, Miramar and Johnsonville where public transport (bus or train) has a regular timetable.

 

FOR ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN WELLINGTON CHECK OUT

QT Wellington Museum Art Hotel @TripAdvisor
QT Wellington Museum Art Hotel @TripAdvisor

The central district of Wellington is ideal due to the ease of access, by bus or walking to key attractions. For visitors on a budget Johnsonville and Kilbirinie offer reasonable motel accommodation together with bus routes, swimming pools and playgrounds. Wellington with its regular influx of governmental visitors is not cheap. Looking further afield to the Hutt Valley and Porirua while accommodation is not as expensive you will have the issue of transportation. Wellington has transport bottlenecks due to its limited flat land and it is not recommended visitors get themselves into rush hour traffic. FESTIVALS are usually booked out months in advance, it pays to monitor the dates and book for your must go festival as soon as the dates are confirmed.

TIP

Weekends in Wellington are an opportunity to pick up package deals.

GETTING AROUND WELLINGTON

You really do not want to walk or drive THEN use Wellington’s guided hop on and hop off bus. Tours depart and finish from the city i-SITE Visitor Centre bus stop at 145 Wakefield St opposite the Amora Hotel, starting at 9.30am, with the last Tour leaving at 2.30pm.

Using your own vehicle

Wellington is notorious for its shortage of public parking. It is recommended public transport, uber and taxis are used as well as walking to nearby attractions. For travel to the Hutt Valley (Petone and beyond) and elsewhere ensure you are not departing or arriving in peak hour traffic. It is very likely if you are staying in the centre of town the accommodation provider will charge a hefty fee for parking your vehicle.

Guided walking tours of Wellington Walk Wellington are available. Recommended for first time visitors to Wellington for insider tips and latest pop store openings.

Wellington Cable Car, Wellington, New Zealand

Facts

  • Two hour walking tour
  • Focus on the inner city and waterfront.
  • Departs from the ‘i’ Visitor Centre
  • Book online at the above website.

Public transport – buses

Wellington public bus service is excellent check Metlink – Greater Wellington’s Public Transport Network for details.

Wellington is home to an excellent regional public rail system with its heart being the historic Railway Station. Check the link for train timetables and enjoy the Railway Station grandeur. Just be careful of Wellington government commuters in the workday rush hour.  They are focused on getting to work on time.

Check out Wellington frequently asked questions for more information about getting around and travel facts.

GETTING THERE & AROUND NEW ZEALAND

  • Wellington is also the ideal launching pad for other great parts of New Zealand, including the wine region of Wairarapa.
  • Kapiti Island (predator free) reserve.
  • Wellington is a gateway to New Zealand’s South Island, with two regular ferry services taking visitors across the Cook Strait to Picton.

INTERISLANDER FERRY

Getting here is simple, take the interislander ferry the Interislander, taking in the sights from the Cook Strait along the way.

GETTING THERE BY TRAIN

The Northern Explorer train departs from Auckland Strand Station and will take you through the heart of the North Island’s stunning scenery. Prepare to sit back and be amazed as you travel through farmland, native bush, volcanic terrain and rocky coastline before arriving at Wellington Station. Hopping on board is easy, just check the timetable and book your fare online.

AIRPORT

Wellington has an international and domestic airport with airport shuttle service, taxis connecting the airport to the city centre. There is no train connection to the airport.

@Interislander
@Interislander

Check out Wellington frequently asked questions for more information about getting around and travel facts.

Cuba Street after business hours, Te Aro, Wellington, New Zealand
Cuba Street after business hours

WEATHER

Wellington Central Weather Forecast and Observations

Wellington is picturesque, pretty painted wooden houses stacked up and down hillsides.  However the weather can be horrible. Check out the weather forecast for Wellington and do not let that stop you.  All those museums are indoors.The weather, it is not called Windy Wellington for nothing. Invest in a Blunt umbrella and think of the weather as invigorating, embracing as it whips your hair into a messy, frizzy mess, Wellington mode.  Layers, especially a light waterproof jacket thigh length is a must do.

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