If you’ve got a New Zealand road trip itinerary in the works, you simply need to carve out at least one day in Wellington.
Located near the southwestern edge of New Zealand North Island, Wellington is not just the political capital of New Zealand but one of the country’s cultural & culinary hotspots. Even if you can only spend 24 hours in Wellington, you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied from exploring nature reserves & botanical gardens to breathing in fantastic vistas over the city & exploring museums.
Not sure what to do in Wellington in one day? Get your trip sorted with this complete 1-day Wellington itinerary for first-time visitors…
Where to go in Wellington in 24 hours: A complete 1-day itinerary
Planning out any Wellington itinerary, you’ll quickly realize how difficult it is to choosing between all the amazing things to see & do in Wellington. Under normal circumstances, we’d recommend allowing yourself more time to experience it. Trying to fit everything into one day will mean rushing between attractions, which is not an ideal way to experience the city.
In any case, this one-day itinerary aims to give you an authentic Wellington experience that takes in the sights while giving you a taste of its culinary prowess.
Although you can walk between most places, for the sake of time, it may be worth using public transportation or driving your own car. The quicker you can travel between stops, the more time you’ll have at each location.
Be one with nature at Zealandia Ecosanctuary
Located two kilometres from the city centre, Zealandia is an ideal first stop on your Wellington itinerary. Start your day with breakfast & a coffee at the ecosanctuary’s on-site Rātā Cafe before heading into the park to explore.
Zealandia is home to over 30 birds native to the region. As you wander about this predator-free sanctuary, keep on the lookout for saddlebacks, tuataras, and kiwis.
The Zealandia Ecosanctuary is expansive, stretching out over 30 kilometres. There’s a free shuttle bus running between the park’s various areas. You can also hop on a guided tour to learn more about Zealandia’s conservation efforts and about the various bird species living within the sanctuary.
Blossom with the flowers at Wellington Botanic Garden
It’s about 11 minutes by foot from Zealandia (or a 5-minute drive) to the next stop in your 1-day Wellington itinerary, the Wellington Botanic Garden. Located on over 60 acres of land, this popular botanical garden features a dazzling array of both exotic and native plants.
Entrance to the Wellington Botanic Garden is free. While the garden is a prime spot for a picnic, visiting Wellington in 24 hours, you won’t likely have time to rest here. Instead, take your time exploring the breathtaking landscapes and flowers.
The garden is divided into several sections; the Succulent Garden, Rose Garden, Australian Garden, Begonia House, Main Garden, Native Bush and the Discovery Garden. Consider exploring the various trails in The Native Bush, offering some of the best walks in Wellington, and the pond in the Main Garden before continuing on your travel itinerary.
Shoot for the stars at the Space Place at Carter Observatory
Within a few minutes walking distance from the Wellington Botanic Garden is Space Place at Carter Observatory. Appealing to astronomy lovers and museum enthusiasts alike, this family-friendly attraction is a fantastic stopover if you’re visiting Wellington with kids.
The most exciting thing about this museum is that it combines local Maori culture with science to tell its fascinating stories. You’ll also find the famous British scientific instrument maker Thomas Cooke’s telescope here.
Whether you can cite off all the constellations by heart or still can’t find the Big Dipper, there’s plenty to enjoy at Space Place. The exhibits are delivered through interactive galleries. You can plan your visit based on the Planetarium schedule.
Entrance fees are $14 for an adult and $12 for a student with ID. Children between 4-16 years old pay $9. Kids under 4 can get in for free. For the best value consider getting the family ticket which costs $45 for two adults and up to 3 children.
Just a tip: If you’re driving here, you can find parking at Skyline car park. It gives you easy access to the site.
Zoom across the city with the Wellington Cable Car
From Space Place, it’s about 20 minutes walking distance or a 6-minute drive to the Wellington Cable Car at Lambton Quay, Wellington Central.
The famous Wellington Cable Car runs between Lambton Quay and Kelburn Lookout. There are several stops along the way where you can hop-on and hop-off as you please. At every point along the way and at the summit, the views over Wellington are simply breathtaking.
Depending on how many rides you’d like to take, you may purchase a one-way ticket or return for the Wellington Cable Car. Adults one-way tickets cost $5.00, while a return will be $9.00. Children’s tickets cost $2.50 or $4.50 for a one-way or return ticket, respectively. A family of two adults and four children will pay $22.
Rekindle a piece of history at the Wellington Museum
There’s no better way to connect with the history of Wellington than at the Wellington Museum. Designed by renowned architect Frederick de Jersey Clere and built in 1892, this masterpiece of New Zealand architecture is a must for your first 24 hours in Wellington.
Inside the museum, you’ll find several displays of various themed artefacts. The sections you’ll discover include Von Kohorn Room, Wahine Theatre, Ngā Heke, A Millennium Ago, Maritime History, The Bond Store and Telling Tales.
Each of these rooms has an exemplary character to it. For instance, in the Ngā Heke, you will come across work by Māori artists and poets. Maritime history is as the name suggests. It will take you through a captain’s cabin among other equally enthralling naval artefacts.
There’s also a room within the museum that pays homage to the building’s designer and its architecture. Aptly named “Inside the Attic,” this exhibit is a great place to learn about how Frederick de Jersey Clere designed this magnificent building as well as looking at his other works.
Since it’s about halfway through the day, it would be a perfect time to grab a bite for lunch. You can grab refreshments at the museum, but thanks to its prime location on Lambton Harbour, there’s a handful of excellent restaurants within short walking distance at the Wellington Waterfront and in the Wellington CBD.
Cool down at the Wellington Waterfront
You can’t experience a seaside city without visiting its waterfront. And Wellington’s no exception.
The lovely Wellington Waterfront is the perfect place to digest what you learned in the museum while having a snack break. The Wellington Waterfront is 13-minutes walking distance from Wellington Museum along Cable Street.
Once here, you’ll find several cafes and restaurants. On warm days, the waterfront is a hive of activity. People from all walks of life come to enjoy the its relaxing seaside scenery.
Some of the most celebrated festivals in New Zealand are a massive draw for the waterfront. Large crowds gather here well into the night. The best view is of the buildings across the water. If you’ve got a few moments to spare, visit some of the waterfront’s attractions including Harbourside Market and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Indulge in some culture at the City Gallery Wellington
From the Wellington Waterfront, continue your 1-day Wellington itinerary by making your way back up Cable Street to City Gallery Wellington. You can walk to this gallery in about 10-minutes or drive in half the time.
City Gallery Wellington is the self-described “Hub of Art Life in New Zealand’s Capital”. And with good reason.
What makes this gallery unique is that the exhibitions change regularly. Whatever you see during any visit may not be there the next time you come.
The art exhibitions here is curated to be interesting & thought-provoking. Most are free to enter although, occasionally, you may be charged a small entry fee.
Wine and dine in Cuba Street
To end your first 24 hours in Wellington, there’s hardly a place than Cuba Street. By day, Cuba Street is a hive of activity; by evening, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a dinner and a nightcap.
No matter what type of cuisine that you prefer, you’ll find it in & around Cuba Street. Even better, there’s a range of shops to make your visit an interesting shopping experience as well. And while it’s not the best place in Wellington to grab souvenirs, it’s certainly a worthy destination for fashion and art enthusiasts.
Cap the day off with a drink in one of the area’s charming bars & restaurants before retiring back your hotel and resting after a long day of sightseeing.
Best places to stay in Wellington
For visiting the Kiwi capital on a time-crunch, the best places to stay in Wellington include the areas in & around the CBD including Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place, and Te Aro. Start your hotel search with these great accommodations options…
- YHA Wellington: If you’re travelling on a tight budget, look no further than this award-winning hostel near Courtenay Place in Te Aro. Even if you’re not into shared facilities, this property also offers, in addition to dorms, budget-friendly private rooms with private bathrooms.
- Doubletree by Hilton Wellington: With the Wellington Cable Car across the street, this Lambton Quay mid-range hotel offers a superb location to tackle your Wellington trip with gusto. You’ll absolutely love the über-stylish rooms here.
- Sofitel Wellington: The most elegant 5-star in the city, this luxury hotel features a unique vintage style and a fantastic location that puts Wellington’s highlights at your fingertips.