Much like the city itself, the best things to do in Christchurch are ever evolving. A decade ago, Christchurch suffered a series of devastating earthquake. Christchurch is on the mend though. Dubbed the world’s newest city, the city now welcomes back visitors to share in its revival. Today, street art and innovative building projects bloom in its streets.
Christchurch is the biggest city on New Zealand’s South Island and the seat of the Canterbury Region. It’s the perfect base for exploring the area and a must for any New Zealand road trip itinerary. Among the top tourist attractions in Christchurch you’ll find everything New Zealand is famous for. The Southern Alps & hot springs sit in its backyard. Inches from the city, you’ll enjoy fantastic hiking & walking trails .
Not sure what to do in Christchurch? Plan your trip with this guide to the best places to visit in Christchurch…
Top tourist attractions in Christchurch
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Only got only one day in Christchurch? You’ll love checking out the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens in the centre of the city.
The 21-hectare gardens opened in 1863 to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra. They’re among the most fascinating things to see in Christchurch.
The Botanic Gardens feature a massive collection of exotic and native plants. The gardens are split into several distinct areas & attractions including:
- The Herb Garden: Culinary and medicinal herbs
- The Central Rose Garden: 250 different rose varieties
- The Fernery: Native NZ ferns
- The Water Garden: Lilies, irises, mature trees, and shrubs
- Cuningham House: Tropical flora in a Victorian-style greenhouse
- Gilpin House: Orchids and carnivorous plants
One of the most relaxing ways to experience the botanical gardens is on an electric-vehicle tour. On the tour, knowledgeable guides will answer all your most pressing horticultural questions. (Tours suspended until October 2021 at time of writing.)
History & culture buffs visiting Christchurch won’t regret stopping in at the Canterbury Museum. This popular museum is one of the top tourist attractions in Christchurch. It focuses on the natural history & culture of the Canterbury Region and its connection to New Zealand as a whole.
The museum’s exhibits are as varied and diverse as New Zealand itself. They range between ancient Māori artefacts to re-creations of Christchurch’s Victorian era.
The most popular attraction at the Canterbury Museum is its Antarctic collection. The exhibit celebrates the nation’s most famous and daring South Pole explorers. Its the largest collection of its kind in the world.
Entry to the museum is on a donation basis.
Few Christchurch sightseeing activities are more memorable than riding the Christchurch Gondola. Scaling over 860 metres up Mount Cavendish to the Port Hills, the Gondola puts spectacular vistas at your fingertips.
The views from atop stretch beyond the central city and the Canterbury Plains. They even reach as far as the Southern Alps and Pegasus Bay on the Pacific Ocean.
Besides its panoramas, the summit offers a handful of its own attractions. Up here, you’ll find a handful of great hiking trails, the Time Tunnel ride, and a café.
The Canterbury Plains are wedged between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. To many visitors, these pancake-flat plains seem out of place. Once you’re used to New Zealand’s alpine scenery & dramatic seascapes, their lack of gusto might seem, well, dull.
Nonetheless, exploring the vast plains along the Inland Scenic Route (Highway 72) is one of the best ways to escape Christchurch city.
There’s plenty to see & do in the Canterbury Plains region including checking out the vineyards around Opihi, exploring the Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Timaru, hiking along the Waimate Walkway, and admiring Maori rock art in Raincliff.
If a day trip feels too rushed, there’s a wide variety of high-quality farm stays and luxury lodges in the area to take it down a notch in true rural New Zealand style.
Located less than two hours north of the city, Hanmer Springs is one of the best day trips from Christchurch. The alpine village is among the city’s most coveted natural escapes.
Hanmer Springs is famous for its penchant for both adventure and relaxation. The delightful resort town is nestled among lovely mountainscapes and dense forests. There’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities here. In summer, you can spend your days hiking, mountain biking, or golfing. In winter, you can hit the slopes nearby for some skiing or snowboarding.
The most popular reason to visit, though, is the iconic Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa. The resort features 22 outdoor thermal pools and range of soothing spa treatments. For couples, this relaxing escape will be highlight of your Christchurch visit.
The family-friendly attraction is also home to a waterpark. It’s home to four waterslides and the largest water ride in New Zealand, Conical Thrill.
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
If you love art, be sure to carve out time for Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. The art gallery hosts one of New Zealand’s most preminent art collections. Spread out over two floors, the exhibits display both classic and modern art from local & international artists.
Even if you decide not to browse its collections, building’s architecture is worth a gander. The gallery building pre-dates the earthquakes. Nonetheless, its stunning glass exterior is the perfect embodiment of Christchurch’s post-quake modern architectural movement.
International Antarctic Centre
Travelling to Christchurch with kids? Don’t miss out on the International Antarctic Centre. This interactive museum is one of the city’s most popular attractions for the whole family. It brings the full Antarctica experience to the shores of New Zealand.
The centre offers several unique exhibitions children and adults will both love. Tough out the chilly weather in the Antarctic storm room. Take a trip on the Hägglund all-terrain explorer. Or watch the daily feeding of baby penguins for a flood of heart-warming cuteness.
The International Antarctic Centre is a 15-minute drive northwest of the city centre, next to Christchurch Airport.
Spending time in Christchurch in summer? Cool down with a visit to Sumner Beach. Sitting on the northern shores of the Banks Peninsula, the one of the best beaches in Christchurch. It’s long been a favourite summer escape for locals & tourists alikes.
Sumner Beach stretches out across 400 metres of white sand. Despite its popularity, you can often escape the crowds by venturing west to its more secluded spots.
On your visit, don’t miss the chance to hike up to the top of Cave Rock (Tuawera). It sits on the far eastern edge of Sumner Beach. While the volcanic rock isn’t high, the views from its summit are lovely.
Sumner Beach is about 20 minutes from town. It’s a great supplement to a day trip to nearby Taylors Mistake Beach and Godley Head. (More on that in a bit.)
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
Interested in wildlife? Pop into the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Only 15 minutes from Christchurch Central City, the reserve puts you face-to-face with NZ’s most famous birds & animals. You’ll get to meet the Big 5: the kiwi, kaka, tuatara, kea and takahe. If you haven’t spotted them in the wild yet, Willowbank is the next best thing!
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is especially popular with families. Kids can try their hands at feeding the animals, birds, eels, and fish. The whole family will also love peering at the impossible cuteness of baby kiwi birds on the Kiwi Breeding Tour.
The reserve is open at 9:30am daily. (Closing times vary by day and by season.)
Both WWII buffs and hikers need to set aside time for Awaroa/Godley Head. The coastal headland forms the eastern tip of the Banks Peninsula. During WWII, Awaroa/Godley Head was home to one of New Zealand’s most important coastal batteries. Even after the earthquakes, there’s still plenty to see at the site. Look out for the three gun emplacements, several military buildings, and underground magazines.
Besides its historical attractions, Godley Head is a fantastic place to go hiking in Christchurch. To experience Godley Head to its fullest, power through the Awaroa/Godley Head Loop Track. The 9.3-kilometre-long loop track delivers fantastic vistas of the coastline and Lyttelton Harbour. Along the trail, you’ll also be able to access Godley Head’s WWII-era points of interest.
Looking to escape the city? Carve out a day trip to Quail Island. The journey to Quail Island starts with a trip to the port town of Lyttelton. While Lyttleton is worth a visit on its own, head for the port to hop on a ferry to Quail Island.
Although unihabited, Quail Island has got quite a bit of history behind it. The island was once a leper colony and quarantine station. Little remains of the era, but there’s still plenty to check out on the island.
Start your adventure with the Ōtamahua/Quail Island Loop Track. The trails circumnavigates the entire island. On the way, you’ll catch glimpses of its past, including replica huts, kennels, and quarantine barracks. Be sure to keep on the lookout for the ship graveyard on the western shores of the island. The whole walk should take about 2.5 hours.
The ferry from Lyttleton Harbour to Quail Island takes just 15 minutes.
Already explored the botanical gardens? Hop over the banks of the Avon River into Hagley Park. At 164 hectares, the park is the largest green space. Hagley Park has been a fixture in the city’s recreation scene since 1855.
Hagley Park is a wonderful place to chill out, especially amid a day of sightseeing in Christchurch. Relax by Lake Victoria or take a leisurely stroll around the park. You won’t regret it.
On September 4, 2010, and February 22, 2011, Christchurch was hit by a series of earthquakes that would forever change the city. To see their impact, stuff a visit to Quake City into your itinerary. It’s one of Christchurch’s must-visit attractions.
Quake City is a special exhibition of the Canterbury Museum. The exhibit details the events & aftermath of the Canterbury Earthquakes. It’s chock-loaded with educational interactive displays suitable to all ages. You’ll hear all about the stories of first responders and ordinary citizens who bravely took on the rubble. At the exhibit, you’ll also learn about the science behind the earthquakes.
The museum is open from 10am to 5pm daily.
Riccarton Sunday Market
Can’t get enough of markets while travelling? If you can only make it to one in Christchurch, try out the Riccarton Sunday Market. Of all the markets in Christchurch, it’s the biggest and best. It’s even touted as the largest outdoor market in New Zealand. (Worth a visit? Yep, we’d say so.)
The Riccarton Sunday Market features over 200 vendors. You’ll find everything from fresh produce and handicrafts to vintage goods and furniture. There’s often also free entertainment to keep your shopping trip high-vibe.
The market is open all year-round on Sundays from 9am to 2pm. (The only exception is Easter Sunday.)
Little High Eatery
Craving the tastiest food in Christchurch? Your tastebuds will thank you for pulling up a chair at the Little High Eatery. This modern food marketplace comprises eight local, family-run eateries & restaurants.
The food selection at Little High Eatery is diverse and delicious. Let your tongue sizzle with Thai street food at Noodlemonk. Let the silk Chinese dumplings of Eightgrains melt in your mount. Or enjoy a mouth-watering burger at Bacon Brothers. (With extra bacon, of course.)
Built in 1882, the historic Christchurch Tramway once spread through much of the city centre. For over half a century, it was a major public transportation network within the city. The trams ceased operation in 1954 and were replaced by bus lines.
In 1995, they decided to breathe life back into the tramway. The city opened up 2.5-kilometre loop through Christchurch Central City. On the heritage tramcars, visitors will whisk past some of the city’s highlights with commentary. Tram stops include The Terrace & Riverside Market, Margaret Mahy Playground, and New Regent Street.
Where to stay in Christchurch for sightseeing
Although it’s the largest city on South Island, choosing where to stay in Christchurch is simple. For most travellers, the Inner City & CBD is the best area to stay. It’s close to many of the top Christchurch points of interest and main transportation hubs. Here are a few great accommodation options to start your search…
Quest on Manchester is a modern aparthotel offering guests full self-catering rooms. Each contemporary room features a kitchen or kitchenette and several appliances. With Cathedral Square just 5 minutes away, it’s hard to beat the value here.
The Sudima Christchurch City is a brand-new boutique hotel within walking distance of the CBD. The elegant rooms all feature a range of sustainable and environmentally friendly amenities. For your relaxation, there’s a luxurious day spa, Moss, on-site.
The George is a 5-star boutique hotel in the heart of Christchurch. Overlooking Hagley Park and the River Avon, the hotel ofers guests incredible city views. The accommodation is luxurious and spacious. The award-winning 50 Bistro on-site is a fantastic place for a bite to eat.