Got a New Zealand road trip itinerary in the works? Carve out at least one day in Wellington.
The city of Wellington is perched near the southwestern edge of New Zealand North Island. Wellington is not just the political capital of New Zealand but one of its cultural & culinary hotspots. Even if you can only spend 24 hours in Wellington, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. You can explore nature reserves & botanical gardens. Breathe in fantastic vistas over the city from the Wellington Cable Car. History buffs can explore Wellington’s best museums.
Not sure what to do in Wellington in one day? Sort out your trip 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 a Wellington itinerary is rarely easy. You’ll quickly realize how difficult it is to choose between all the amazing things to see & do in Wellington.
Under normal circumstances, we’d recommend allowing yourself more time to experience Wellington. Trying to fit everything into one day will mean rushing between attractions. It’s not an ideal way to experience the city.
In any case, this one-day itinerary aims to give you an authentic Wellington experience. It takes in the sights while giving you a taste of the city’s culinary prowess.
Although you can walk between most places, for the sake of time, it may be worth using public transportation. Even better, consider 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
The Zealandia Ecosanctuary is located two kilometres from the city centre in Kelburn. It’s 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. Wandering about this predator-free sanctuary, you’ll spot several NZ bird species. Keep on 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. On it, you’ll hear all about Zealandia’s conservation efforts. You’ll also learn 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.
This popular botanical garden sits on over 60 acres of land. It 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:
- Succulent Garden
- Rose Garden
- Australian Garden
- Begonia House
- Main Garden
- Native Bush
- Discovery Garden
Consider exploring the various trails in The Native Bush. They offer some of the best walks in Wellington. Also be sure to check out 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.
This family-friendly attraction appeals to astronomy lovers and museum enthusiasts alike. It’s a fantastic stopover if you’re visiting Wellington with kids.
The museum fuses 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 breathtaking.
Depending on how many rides you’d like to take, you can buy 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 history at the Wellington Museum
Connect with the history of Wellington at the Wellington Museum. This masterpiece of New Zealand architecture was built in 1892. It was designed by renowned architect Frederick de Jersey Clere. Even if you’re not an architecture buff, it’s a must for your first 24 hours in Wellington.
Inside the museum, you’ll find several displays of various themed artefacts. Sections at the Wellington Museum include:
- Von Kohorn Room
- Wahine Theatre
- Ngā Heke
- A Millennium Ago
- Maritime History
- The Bond Store
- Telling Tales
Each of these rooms has exemplary character. For instance, in the Ngā Heke, you will come across work by Māori artists and poets. Maritime History is as its name suggests. It takes you through a captain’s cabin and shows off other enthralling naval artefacts.
Within the museum, you’ll also find the “Inside the Attic” exhibit. The room pays homage to the building’s designer and its architecture. You’ll learn about how Frederick de Jersey Clere designed this magnificent building. You’ll also get a peek at the architect’s 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. Even better, though, is to take advantage of the prime location on Lambton Harbour. There’s a handful of excellent restaurants within short walking distance. Browse the culinary hotspots along the Wellington Waterfront and in the Wellington CBD for the perfect lunch.
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. The area is home to Harbourside Market and the popular Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Indulge in some culture at the City Gallery Wellington
From the waterfront, continue your 1-day Wellington itinerary by backtracking to Cable Street. Within a 10-minute walk (or a 5-minute drive), you’ll reach City Gallery Wellington.
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 are 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 for some, there’s a range of shops in the area. They’ll transform your visit into an interesting shopping experience. And while Cuba Street isn’t the best place in Wellington to grab souvenirs, it’s a worthy destination for fashion & 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
Visiting the Kiwi capital on a time-crunch? The best places to stay in Wellington are within the areas in & around the CBD. The best neighbourhoods to stay include Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place, and Te Aro. Start your hotel search with these great accommodations options…
- YHA Wellington: Travelling on a tight budget? Look no further than this award-winning hostel near Courtenay Place in Te Aro. The hostel offers both dorms with shared facilities and private rooms. Their budget-friendly private rooms also include private bathrooms.
- Doubletree by Hilton Wellington: For tackling your Wellington trip with gusto, you can’t beat this mid-range hotel. This Lambton Quay favourite sits across the street from the Wellington Cable Car. Besides the location, you’ll love the über-stylish rooms here.
- Sofitel Wellington: This luxury hotel is the most elegant 5-star in Wellington. It features a unique vintage style setting it apart from other hotels in the city. The Sofitel Wellington also offers a fantastic location. From the hotel, all Wellington’s highlights will be at your fingertips.