Whether you have two weeks in New Zealand or two months, no trip is complete without checking out all the best things to do in Wellington. Once called the “coolest little capital in the world” by Lonely Planet, Wellington is is small enough to explore on foot; experiencing all the top tourist attractions in Wellington is a breeze.
Built in a picturesque bay at the southwest tip of New Zealand’s North Island, Wellington has a delightful waterfront and a backdrop of splendid mountains. The shopping district has plenty of cafes and award-winning restaurants. Wellington also has a thriving movie industry and one of the best museums you’re ever likely to visit. To top it all off, Wellington has managed to bring wildlife and birdsong into the city centre, through its world-recognized conservation efforts.
Not sure what to do in Wellington on your visit? Here’s a quick guide to the top attractions & best places to visit in Wellington, New Zealand…
What to see & do in Wellington
Explore local culture at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
With six stories of ancient artefacts, modern art and interactive shows the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is one of Wellington’s top attractions and a must-see for every tourist.
The name, Te Papa Tongarewa is Maori for Container of Treasures, an excellent description for a museum full of cultural and scientific wonders.
Head off to the huge Marae, a traditional Maori meeting place to discover the true culture of the indigenous Maori people. Pay a visit to the Earthquake House to experience the power of moving tectonics.
Wander through the art gallery where you can view ancient Kiwi artworks alongside contemporary art. Make sure to visit the Gallipoli Exhibition and witness the humanity and tragedy of war.
The museum is located on the lovely waterfront, a top Wellington attraction, so you can end your day with a relaxing meal in a waterfront restaurant.
Take a twilight tour in the Zealandia Ecosanctuary
Time Magazine awarded Zealandia Ecosanctuary one of the top 100 places to be on earth. This urban eco-sanctuary is a global first as it is fully enclosed and protected from predators.
It has brought indigenous birds, reptiles and small animals from the very brink of extinction and into the urban spaces. Today, Wellington literally trills with birdsong.
Day or night Zealandia offers visitors a treat of local birds and animals. There are four two hour guided tours through the park everyday, one of them a night tour.
Tour by torch light to see the creatures of the dark. If you’d prefer to make your own way around this urban sanctuary, there are maps available. You can also take a step back in time and partake in the interactive exhibitions on offer.
Picnic at the top of Mount Victoria
No visit to Wellington would be complete without a trip up Mount Victoria in Central Wellington. The mountain rises 640 feet above sea level offering a picturesque 360° view of the city.
You can drive to the top or make use of the nature trails that run all the way to the summit and to the Mount Victoria Lookout. There are a number of trails here including some listed among the top hiking trails in Wellington. You can choose to walk through pine forests or use trails that offer you a better view on the way up.
From the lookout, you’ll get to enjoy spectacular views of Wellington’s harbour and the surrounding hills. Enjoy a picnic while you watch the sunset or just gaze upon the view below and check out other Wellington attractions.
Discover Middle Earth at the Weta Cave
Also known as Wellywood, Wellington is the centre of New Zealand’s film industry. If you’re a film buff, you don’t want to miss out on a tour of the Weta Cave. The Guardian has named the Weta Workshop Tour one of the top ten studio tours in the world. The now world-famous studio is responsible for modern cinema gems like Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.
At the workshop, guides will show you some of the spectacular characters and props. Avid movie goers will easily identify many of them. You’ll see craftsmen at work making weird and wonderful props and accessories for use in some of the world’s most extravagant movies.
You can choose from behind-the-scenes tours that last just 45 minutes to a full-day Weta Workshop experience. Even if you’re not into fantasy blockbusters, Weta Cave is surely is one of the best places to visit in Wellington.
Take a ride in the Wellington Cable Car
The Wellington Cable Car is a funicular that was built in the late-19th century. It rattles up 120 meters from Lambton Quay to lush Kelburn.
Up here the view of the harbour is spectacular. Though this iconic ride is just five minutes long, at its destination you’ll find a cable car museum worth wandering through. The museum has a collection of cable car exhibits. You can also watch a short movie featuring the construction of these cars.
The Wellington Cable Car drops you right alongside the Wellington Botanical Garden. You may as well use the opportunity to walk some of the trails that meander through the 60 acres of tranquil garden back to where you started.
Visit the night market on Cuba Street
Lively Cuba Street is one the most famous in Wellington. It’s a pedestrian mall full of shops, restaurants and quaint coffee shops. The street attracts Wellington’s creatives and features street performers, exhibitions and art galleries.
Cuba Street really comes alive on Friday and Saturday night when it hosts the Wellington Street Market where food from around the world is on sale and the air is redolent with the aromas of spices and herbs.
While you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out the famous buckets fountain. It’s one of the top things to see in Wellington.
Enjoy the tranquility of Old Saint Paul’s
Take one day in Wellington to enjoy the tranquility of Old Saint Paul’s. This lovely church was built entirely of New Zealand indigenous woods in 1866. It is one of the top points of interest in Wellington as it is one of the world’s best examples of Gothic architecture.
The church was nearly demolished in the 1960’s but the New Zealand government bought it and ensured that it was restored to its former glory. In 2019 the structure was strengthened to protect it from earthquakes.
Old Saint Paul’s Church is a lovely tranquil space. On a sunny day the light streams in through the glorious stained-glass windows giving the interior a special ambiance.
Relax in the Wellington Botanic Garden
Located at the upper terminus of Wellington’s famous cable car, the Wellington Botanic Garden sits on 64 acres of pristine nature. Although it’s just minutes from the city centre, this oasis is a spectacular escape from the bustle of the Wellington CBD.
As you wander about the botanical gardens, you’ll stroll alongside native & exotic plants and colourful floral gardens. The gardens are broken up into several sections include the Australian Garden, Native Bush, and the Lady Norwood Rose Garden.
The Wellington Botanic Garden is open from sunrise to sunset. If you happen to visit towards the end of the day, keep on the lookout for the cool little glowworms in the damp, shady areas of the park.
Enjoy a day with the family at Wellington Zoo
The oldest zoo in New Zealand, Wellington Zoo is a must-visit attraction if you’re visiting Wellington with kids. Dating back to 1906, the kid-friendly zoo is world-famous for its efforts to preserve the native wildlife of New Zealand.
Aside from native species like kiwi birds and blue penguins, the Wellington Zoo features a variety of exotic animals including a Malayan Sun Bear, Sumatran tigers, red pandas, meerkats, chimpanzees, giraffes, and cheetahs.
Step back in history at Wellington Museum
If you’re interested in a quick history lesson while visiting New Zealand’s capital, pop into the Wellington Museum. Built in 1892 by the renowned architect Frederick de Jersey Clere, is a masterful work of architecture and one of the most interesting places to go in Wellington for history buffs.
The Wellington Museum is divided into several themed displays included Ngā Heke, A Millennium Ago, and Maritime History. Most compelling for visitors wanting a taste of the ancient & modern history of New Zealand is the Māori art & poetry collection in Ngā Heke and the seafaring artefacts housed in captain’s cabin at the Maritime History exhibition.
Enjoy local art at City Gallery Wellington
Art-lovers visiting the Kiwi capital need to slot in some time at City Gallery Wellington. This popular art gallery features an ever-rotating assortment of seven exhibitions with works by artists from New Zealand and beyond. Each piece at the gallery is curated to be both thought-provoking and interesting for its patrons.
Even the exterior of the City Gallery is worth a gander. Perched on its rooftop is the quirky Quasi sculpture by Ronnie van Hout. This eccentric hand with a face, carrying an unimpressed & dead-pan expression, gives a good indication of the oddities that might await when you swing into the doors of the art gallery.
Gaze at the stars at Space Place at Carter Observatory
Looking for family-friendly attractions in Wellington? Even if you don’t consider yourself a bonafide science geek, kids and parents alike will love checking out Space Place at Carter Observatory.
One of the most interesting museums in Wellington, Space Place offers its visitors an interactive educational journey through the cosmos. Inside, you’ll learn everything you every wanted to about the solar system from the planets to the stars to the constellations. The museum is also home to the famous British scientific instrument maker Thomas Cooke’s telescope.
Most interesting at Space Place though is the spectacular full-dome planetarium. The planetarium features a range of shows that are suitable for all ages. Each show ends with a 15-minute live presentation of the night sky over New Zealand. You can check out the showtimes on the official website here.
Walk along Oriental Bay
You won’t need to spend much time in New Zealand’s capital to discover how lovely the Wellington Waterfront is. And one of the best ways to experience it to its fullest is with a relaxing walk along Oriental Bay to the east of the Wellington CBD.
Simply soaking in the seaviews with a stroll on Oriental Bay is enough of a prize on its own, but if you’re visiting Wellington in summer, grab your swimsuit and take a quick dip in Oriental Bay with locals at the popular Freyberg Beach.
Where to stay in Wellington for sightseeing
Although it’s one of New Zealand’s largest cities, choosing where to stay in Wellington isn’t much of a challenge for visitors. The best areas to stay in Wellington are those in & around the CBD including Lambton Quay, Courtenay Place and Te Aro. Here are a few hotels to start your search…
- YHA Wellington: If you’re looking to stick to a tighter travel budget, there’s hardly a better choice than this award-winning hostel in Te Aro. You’ll find both shared dorms and private rooms with private en-suite bathrooms here.
- Doubletree by Hilton Wellington: Located in the Lambton Quay area steps from the cable car station, this mid-range hotel is the perfect place to get your Wellington sightseeing adventure off to a roaring start. The rooms here are spacious and ultra-stylish.
- Sofitel Wellington: The city’s most elegant 5-star hotel, the Sofitel offers a blend of sophisticated vintage style along with an incredible location that’s close to both nature and the urban buzz.