However you slice your New Zealand itinerary, digging into the best things to do in Queenstown is a must! As the most popular travel destination on New Zealand’s South Island, it’s no surprise that some of the city’s top tourist attractions are among the most coveted in the country.
Queenstown is a blessing for adrenaline junkies and nature lovers. Want a laid-back day on the hiking or mountain biking trails? Check. Rather strap yourself to a bungy for a death-defying plunge or careen through a canyon in a jet boat? Yep, you can do that, too.
Not sure what to do? Sort out your trip to New Zealand’s adventure capital with this guide to the best places to visit in Queenstown, New Zealand!
Top tourist attractions in Queenstown
Queenstown’s defining characteristic is its location on the shores of beautiful Lake Wakatipu. The snake-shaped lake covers almost 300 square kilometres. And it’s not just a stunning slice of nature: Lake Wakatipu is one of Queenstown’s must-visit attractions!
In the area around Lake Wakatipu, walking & cycling adventures await on some of the most popular Queenstown hiking trails. There’s also plenty to do on the water. Marvel at the lake from every angle on a legendary T.S.S. Earnslaw cruise. Or hop onto a Spirit of Queenstown Scenic Tour to see some of the lake’s lesser-known gems.
Milford Sound (Piopiotahi)
Take one look. That’s all you’ll need to see that Milford Sound (Piopiotahi) is one of the planet’s finest slices of nature. This is what New Zealand travel dreams are made of.
This sublime fjord is set against the stunning backdrop of the 1,620-metre-high Mitre Peak (Rahotu). It’s not just one of the best day trips from Queenstown and a must for any New Zealand itinerary; it’s one of the world’s most coveted natural destinations for travellers.
One of the main reasons to visit Queenstown is, undoubtedly, a chance to witness the resplendent Milford Sound area in all its glory.
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For avid hikers, one of the best ways to experience the region is to tackle the Milford Track. This multi-day walk is often listed among the world’s greatest treks. It starts at Glade Wharf on Lake Te Anau, heading north through Fiordland National Park to Milford Sound.
Or, if getting out onto the water suits your tastes better, join a kayaking tour of Milford Sound. It’s the best way to experience the fjord’s majesty up close and personal.
Ben Lomond Track
Don’t have time for the region’s epic multi-day treks? Get your Queenstown hiking fix on the Ben Lomond Track. The Ben Lomond Track is one of the most popular hikes around Queenstown. It’s accessible from the town centre and is an excellent option for hikers tight on time.
Start at the upper Skyline Gondola station. From here, the track climbs upwards almost one kilometre up the 1,748-metre-high Ben Lomond.
The Ben Lomond Track hike isn’t always easy. Those who persevere, though, will be rewarded with sweeping views over Lake Wakatipu. On a clear day, you may even see as far as Mount Aspiring!
Expect the return hiking trip to take approximately six to eight hours from start to finish.
One of the oldest and most popular ski resorts in New Zealand, Coronet Peak offers superb runs on its slopes for every level of skier or snowboarder. Best of all, it’s 25 minutes from Queenstown!
Not visiting Queenstown during skiing season? Coronet Peak is a great place to partake in summer activities! Options include everything from gondola rides to guided hikes out to Skippers Ridge.
In either winter or summer, you’ll be treated to spectacular views over Wakatipu and the Southern Alps at Coronet Peak.
Rising 400 metres above central Queenstown, the Skyline Gondola delivers world-class views of the area. All without the fuss of hiking! Atop its lofty perch, you’ll find a number of amenities, including a café, restaurant, shop, and observation deck.
The upper station of the Skyline Gondola is also home to some of the best adventure activities in Queenstown. A few options include the Queenstown Bike Park, Skyline Luge, Ledge Swing, and Ledge Bungy.
To experience the area at its finest, set your sights on the Skyline Loop Track (30 minutes). More hardcore hikers can connect to more challenging trails. From here, you can embark on the Ben Lomond Track or the Tiki Trail leading back to town.
Kiwi Birdlife Park
If you’re visiting Queenstown with kids, don’t miss out on a chance to check out the Kiwi Birdlife Park. Spread out over two hectares, the Kiwi Birdlife Park is among the coolest things to see in Queenstown for families & solo travellers alike.
Set within breathtaking landscaped gardens, Kiwi Birdlife Park is home to 10,000 native plants. You’ll also find over 20 native species of reptiles & birds here. Species here include geckos, tuatara, parakeets, and falcons. Of course, be sure to also keep your eyes peeled for the park’s namesake kiwi bird!
Admission fees to the Kiwi Birdlife Park support local New Zealand conservation projects.
Queenstown Hill Time Walk
Ascending 500 metres to the summit of Te Tapu-nui, the Queenstown Hill Time Walk is one of the area’s most popular walks. For active travellers, it’s undoubtedly one of the must-do activities in Queenstown!
On the 3-hour-return Queenstown Hill Time Walk, you’ll climb through a lovely pine forest on its namesake hill. The hike even offers short history lessons via six information plaques. (Hence the name!)
Once you reach the summit, you’ll be treated to incredible views over the town, the lake, and The Remarkables mountain range.
Want to escape the buzz of adventurous Queenstown? Set your compass for the rural charms of Glenorchy. Home to the Routeburn Track trailhead, Glenorchy has long been a rite of passage for Kiwi hikers. More recently, the area added to its fame after serving as a filming location for the first Lord of the Rings movie.
Located at the head of Lake Wakatipu, Glenorchy is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. The area is within ear’s shot of Mount Aspiring National Park and Fiordland National Park. Aside from the Routeburn Track, great hiking trails dot the landscape in every direction.
Glenorchy is also a great base for more adrenaline-pumping outdoor activities. Horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, canyoning, and jet boating are all on the menu in Glenorchy.
Shotover Jet Boat Ride
One of the world’s most famous boating activities, the Shotover Jet Boat Ride is a must for adrenaline junkies visiting Queenstown.
Launched in 1970, this adventure outfitter is an expert in Queenstown’s aqua terrain. Propelling & spinning visitors through the Shotover River Canyon at hair-raising speeds is all in a day’s work.
It’s hardly a surprise that the Shotover Jet Boat Ride is crowned as “The World’s Most Exciting Jet Boat Ride”!
Located on a small peninsula on Queenstown Bay, Queenstown Gardens is the town centre’s loveliest nature escape. This beautiful city park dates back to 1876, and is most famous for its botanical garden, which features a wide array of primordial native trees and plant species.
To experience the park at its most indulgent, pop over to its lakeside trail. Along the way, you’ll get to marvel at spectacular views of the lake and The Remarkables.
Gibbston Valley Winery
Queenstown is the gateway to the Central Otago wine-making region. Leaving without popping one of the best wineries in Queenstown into your travel plan would be a mistake. Among the most accessible for visitors is the Gibbston Valley Winery. It’s located less than 30 minutes from town, near the start of the Queenstown Wine Trail.
Gibbston Valley Winery is a fantastic place to test your tastebuds on some of the region’s finest wines. Like many of Central Otago’s top wineries, Gibbston Valley serves up an exquisite pinot noir. Pair it with samples of artisanal local cheese to get the full-on experience!
A short 15-minute drive from Queenstown will land you at Lake Hayes. This lovely, tranquil lake delivers all the natural goodness that Queenstown is famed for. Remarkable peaks loom over the lakeshore and reflect into the lake’s calm waters.
It’s no surprise that Lake Hayes attracts adventurers. Hikers and cyclists love taking to its shores on the Lake Hayes Loop. The loop track ropes 8 kilometres around the lake along the shoreline. Catching its breathtaking panoramic views on a walk or a bike will be a highlight of your Queenstown visit.
Located just 20 minutes from Queenstown, Moke Lake is a must-see slice of nature. The horseshoe-shaped lake sits along a beautiful backdrop of mountains and grasslands. It’s a great escape from the bustle of Queenstown to enjoy relaxed walking or biking.
For most visitors, the best way to experience the area is on the Moke Lake Loop Track. The 4.5-kilometre-long trail loops around the entire lake. It should take most people less than two hours to complete. Along the way, you’ll marvel at views of Mt Hanley, Ben Lomond, and Wedge Peak. On a calm day, the reflections in the lake’s glass-like waters are magnificent.
Looking to extend your stay at Moke Lake? There’s also a small campsite nearby run by the Department of Conservation. On a clear night, the sky views will be unforgettable.
If you’ve only got time for one day trip from Queenstown, make it Wanaka. The alpine town of Wanaka is like Queenstown in miniature. Its adventurous spirit will be palpable from the moment you roll in.
Like in Queenstown, the best things to see & do in Wanaka revolve around the outdoors. The town is famed for adventure activities like skydiving, canyoning, climbing, and mountaineering.
In summer, head for beautiful Lake Wanaka for a kayaking, boating, or fishing adventure. During the hiking season, you’ll also find plenty of great walks around Wanaka. The easy half-day Rob Roy Glacier Track is a good place to start if you’re tight for time. Otherwise, the Roy’s Peak Track is the hike of choice. Taking about 5 to 6 hours, the walk reveals stunning panoramic views over Lake Wanaka.
Wanaka also shines in winter. A quick drive from town will take you to four ski areas that are among the best places to go skiing near Queenstown. Skiers and snowboarders will love both the pistes and the vistas.
Wanaka lies about an hour northeast of Queenstown via scenic State Hwy 6 or Cardona Valley.
For a taste of New Zealand’s history, Arrowtown is one of the most interesting Queenstown day trips. This charming town sprang up during the 1860s gold rush. Today, the streets of Arrowtown are still chock-loaded with heritage buildings and miner’s cottages. Inside, they hide boutique shops, cafés, and restaurants. To many visitors, it’s one of the prettiest villages on New Zealand’s South Island.
Aside from the town itself, Arrowtown is well-placed to take on the best of the Queenstown region. Arrowtown is a great base for exploring vineyards, lakes, and hiking tracks. For active travellers, it’s also close to some great golf courses and to the area’s best ski fields.
Arrowtown is a short 20-minute drive from central Queenstown.
Where to stay in Queenstown for sightseeing
As it’s one of the most popular destinations in New Zealand, figuring out where to stay in Queenstown can sometimes prove challenging. For most travellers, the areas in & around Queenstown CBD and downtown are the best places to start your accommodation search.
- Novotel Queenstown Lakeside: Located on the shores of Lake Wakatipu, this hotel is a fantastic choice for your stay in Queenstown. The hotel offers superb on-site amenities and tremendous lake views.
- Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel: Surrounded by mountains and parkland, this boutique hotel deals out stylish and spacious suites. Each suite is equipped with a kitchenette for a full self-catering experience. The private balconies, featuring spectacular views of The Remarkables, are worth the upgrade.
- Sofitel Queenstown Hotel & Spa: One of the best luxury hotels in Queenstown, this 5-star property is as elegant as it is charming. The distinctive French flair gives it a look & feel like none other in the city. Grab a luxurious superior room to enjoy incredible mountain & lake vistas from your own private balcony.