New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, is a vibrantly cultured, compact city packed with loads of epic ‘must-dos’.
Nicknamed the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ by Lonely Planet, Wellington certainly lives up to the hype. Expect to find a city teeming with trendy bars, world-class restaurants and quirky attractions. There’s quite literally no shortage of cool things to do in Wellington.
We’ve summarised our favourites to help you decide what to do, so read on to find out our top picks!
Things to Do in Wellington
Wellington is filled to the brim with great activities, despite having such a small city centre. The beauty of this is that Wellington is such a walkable city. If you’re flying in, then there’s really no need for a car – just walk from place to place and book tours for the places further afield.
1. Peruse the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa For Free
Certainly one of the best free things to do in Wellington, Te Papa is arguably the best museum in New Zealand – and one of our favourite in the world, but being Kiwis we’re biased.
Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum and contains numerous, extremely informative exhibitions. The long term ones tend to have a strong focus on New Zealand history, Maori culture and New Zealand’s natural world.
When we last visited, the Gallipoli exhibition was on and it was one of the most poignant displays we’ve ever seen. We walked around immersed for around 2-hours with barely a word spoken between us. 2,779 Kiwis lost their lives on Gallipoli with many more scarred forever.
Te Papa is free to visit, however if you prefer a guided experience you can book the official 1-hour guided tour offered by Te Papa itself.
2. Go on an Adventure at Zealandia Eco Sanctuary
Zealandia wildlife sanctuary is the world’s first fully-fenced urban sanctuary. In other words, this is a massive 225 hectare wildlife park located right in the middle of Wellington.
The night tour, in particular, is one of the most unique things to do in Wellington. You’ll most likely get the opportunity to see New Zealand’s native and highly endangered Kiwi – a once in a lifetime experience.
3. Ride the Wellington Cable Car
Another unique attraction in Wellington is to take the bright red Wellington Cable Car up to the gorgeous botanic gardens.
This is a pretty fun and unusual activity, but overall it’s a little underwhelming. We 100% recommend doing this, especially at just $9 for a return ticket. Just set your expectations before you go!
Tickets can be bought in cash at the terminal in Lambton Quay, though, we’d recommend sorting it out online beforehand here. The price is the same.
4. Stay in NZ’s Fanciest Hostel
Hostels aren’t usually considered ‘fancy, however, The Marion Hostel in Wellington is the exception to this rule.
Priced at around $100 per night for a double room, or $70-90 for a dorm bed, The Marion is certainly on the pricey side for a hostel. Regardless, it’s still a lot cheaper than a hotel and the experience is better than places double the price. The only catch is you’ll have to share a bathroom.
We reckon this is a one-off opportunity that’s not worth missing. Also, the double rooms appear to be limited and sell out quickly so if you’re after some privacy you may want to book this quickly.
You can check out The Marion Hostel and book online here.
5. Visit Weta Cave at Weta Workshop
Weta Workshop is a world renowned special effects and prop design company based in Wellington. They are most known for creating the props for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Their workshop in Wellington can be visited for tours or to see the shop. Weta Cave itself, which is the shop, is well worth a visit as a top indoor activity. This must-see spot not only offers products for purchase, but also displays a wide range of prop replicas.
If you have more time, however, we’d highly recommend booking in one of the guided tours. These cost $49 and you’ll get to learn all about the props, costumes, creatures and more.
6. Hike to the Mount Victoria Lookout
The Mount Victoria Lookout is a stunning viewpoint that offers panoramic views over Wellington and the harbour.
The best part about this walk is its proximity to Wellington’s city centre, meaning it’s easily walkable from your accommodation. It takes about 40-minutes to walk to the lookout from Cuba Street, which should be doable for most people.
7. Day Trip to Kapiti Island
Trip to Wellington typically revolve around the city itself, so it’s nice to have the option to escape the busy city to embrace New Zealand’s natural beauty.
Kapiti Island is a predator-free, nature reserve located just up the coast from Wellington.
For anyone who loves nature and wildlife, Kapiti Island is a must-do. You’ll get the opportunity to see and hear some of New Zealand’s rarest and most endangered bird species – which are thankfully thriving on the island.
We recommend booking transport (by boat) and a tour with Kapiti Island Eco Experience.
8. Tour New Zealand Parliament House
New Zealand’s official parliamentary buildings, Parliament House and the iconic beehive, are an important part of New Zealand and well worth a visit.
Parliament offers a range of guided parliament tours which are the perfect opportunity to learn more about New Zealand’s governance and the buildings. These tours are entirely free and so, so worth doing.
If you are short on time, then we’d at the least recommend walking past to check out the building as it’s an intriguing piece of architecture.
9. Go on a Relaxing Walk Along Oriental Parade
Oriental Parade is Wellington’s gorgeous inner city beach. The road is lined with hotels on one side and a stunning beach on the other, making it feel a bit like you went on vacation to a beachfront location.
But even if you aren’t staying here, we’d still recommend wandering down for a stroll.
10. Eat Fried Chicken
The first thing we do when we visit a new place is look for the best food options (more on that below) and the most exciting thing we found were a couple of super popular fried chicken spots: Lucky Fried Chicken and Soul Shack.
Lucky being famous for their burgers, which pair perfectly with their equally famous gravy and chips.
However, Soul Shack was, coincidentally, where I got to experience my soul momentarily leaving my body as I enjoyed some Nashville fried chicken on white bread. Holy cluck. This was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had. Also the hottest, so maybe avoid it if you can’t handle spice.
11. Visit Hannah’s Laneway
Hannah’s Laneway is one of those super cute alleyways that you just end up finding yourself in when you get lost. A happy little accident I suppose.
This former shoe factory is Wellington’s tastiest, hipsteriest little gem. With the famous Fix and Fogg hole in the wall serving peanut butter tasting (omg) and toast.
There’s also multiple bars, a pizza spot, a bakery and the Wellington Chocolate Factory.
12. Eat Like a Foodie at the Wellington Restaurants
We reckon Wellington’s soul is found within its food and drink scene.
Cheap asian eats are plentiful, with top picks including Pho Mo, Little Penang (amazing Malaysian food), Fisherman’s Plate, Chow Tory (good fusion) and Saigon Van Grill Bar.
It’s also nice to be able to dine out at a nicer spot and you really can’t go wrong with any of the places on Cuba Street. Two standouts for us are Loretta and Ombra.
13. Go on a Martinborough Vineyard Tour
The nearby Martinborough wine region is world renowned for some of the best wineries in New Zealand, with particular acclaim for its pinot noir. It’s a bonus that the region is so close to Wellington.
We’d recommend checking out a few of the best wineries here including Te Kairanga, Ata Rangi and Palliser Wines.
We’re also aware of just how difficult it can be to explore wineries given how rare it is to find a sober driver willing to drive you around.
Of course, this is the best option, but if you don’t have a sober driver (or a car for that matter), then make sure to book this Martinborough Winery Tour. It’s a full day outing lasting 5-hours and included pick up, drop off, a driver guide and all tasting fees.
14. Go Coffee Tasting
If you loooooove coffee, then Wellington will be like heaven. The city is home to so many coffee roasters and cafes, including Raglan Roast, L’affare, Supreme, Havana and Acme.
But our favourite of all the places is Flight Coffee. Already one of our favourite coffee roasters in New Zealand, we made sure to head here for a brew.
Specifically, Flight Coffee’s cafe in Wellington offer a coffee tasting flight. You can choose either espresso or filter coffee and you’ll get to taste a range of different coffees. But expect to leave on a high.
15. Explore Cuba Street
In the heart of Wellington, Cuba Street is where it’s all happening. Home to some of the trendiest and best bars, restaurants and retail shops in the city, it’s the place to be both day and night.
This is the reason we recommend most people opt to stay as close to Cuba Street as possible when visiting Wellington.
The best things to do around Cuba Street involve trying out the restaurants (Loretta and Ombra are great) and some of the awesome bars (laundry has some bangin’ cocktails).
Retail here is quirky and unusual. You can expect to find vintage and one of a kind clothing shops, Iko Iko (a treasure trove for ‘things’), bookshops with floor to ceiling stacks of books and a place that sells espresso at midnight (called, unsurprisingly, Midnight Espresso).
16. Visit Harbourside Market
Wellignton’s oldest and most popular market, Harbourside Market, is a pretty large market that sets up right by the water near Te Papa every Sunday morning.
The market is packed with stalls, ranging from small crafts like ceramics, art and gifts, to food and coffee. If you need fresh fruit and veges it’s a great spot to grab some.
You’ll find all your classic market food stalls including bakery food, icecream, sausages (cooked and uncooked) and more. Our favourites included a stall offering great coffee and another selling waffles – the perfect way to start a Sunday.
17. Enjoy Some Craft Beers
Wellington is pretty well known around New Zealand for it’s craft beers – in fact nicknamed by some as the craft beer capital of New Zealand.
There’s a number of great breweries to try in the region including Fortune Favours, HeyDay, Whistling Sisters, Parrotdog and the popular Garage Project.
On top of visiting breweries, most bars in Wellington Central will have at least a few craft beers on tap.
If you can make it at the right time of the year, you can try and make one of numerous beer festivals, with Beervana in August the biggest most popular.
18. Walk the Pinnacles Track
One of our favourite outdoor activities in Wellington is to walk the Pinnacles Track – and no, not the stunning Kauaeranga Kauri Trail, which coincidentally is one of our favourite things to do in the Coromandel.
The Pinnacles Track in Wellington is a 2-4 hour walk to the Putangirua Pinnacles Lookout. The area was a set in the well-known Lord of the Rings films thanks to the ancient rock formations – it’s where Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas rode to visit the army of the dead.
This walk is relatively easy but quite long and can get extremely hot in summer, so bring water. Otherwise, it’s an absolute must-do!
19. Walk Around the Wellington Botanical Gardens
The Wellington Botanical Gardens is a series of beautiful garden collections located on 25-hectares of land right on a mountain in the heart of Wellington.
It’s a gorgeous walk and easy for most people, especially if you opt to take the red cable car up to the top. There’s also a really nice playground and a cafe here making it a great option for families with young kids.
We enjoyed a stroll through the gardens before walking down the side of the mountain and visiting the previously mentioned parliamentary buildings before heading back into town on foot. It’s great how conveniently located everything in Wellington is!
20. Go on a Roadie to Castlepoint Lighthouse
Castlepoint Lighthouse is one of the most instagrammable spots near Wellington, however, it’s a bit of a mission to get to.
So we recommend turning it into a bit of a roadtrip adventure that takes you though some of New Zealand’s most beautiful towns. Greytown quite literally won an award naming it New Zealand’s most beautiful town, though we may argue there are more beautiful towns in the South Island. Also making sure to stop in Carterton to visit Clareville bakery for lunch.
Once you arrive in Castlepoint, you can take a 15-minute walk to the lighthouse for some epic photos. If you’re up for it, you can even climb the 148m up Castle Rock for stunning views of the lighthouse.
21. Wander Indoors at City Gallery Art Gallery
There’s a lot of great indoor activities in Wellington making it a good winter destination for domestic travellers. One such location is the City Gallery Art Gallery which can be found right next to Te Papa.
City Gallery is one of New Zealand’s leading art galleries with a handful of stunning exhibitions running at any given time of the year.
Entry to the gallery is free, however, some special exhibitions may charge an entry fee but these are fully optional. Sometimes we find them to be worth it, other times it’s a bit expensive so we give them a miss.
22. Drink Cocktails at the Trendy Wellington Bars at Night
One of our favourite things to do in Wellington at night is to go bar hopping at our favourite bars. All along Cuba Street you’ll be spoiled for choice with bars and restaurants tucked down every side street or in plain view on the main road. Here are a few of our favourites.
The Library is our favourite bar in Wellington, oddly set in what looks like a cross between a prohibition-esque style bar and a literal library. The vibe here is on point. When we visited there was a live band playing. The highlight is the cocktails.
Dirty Little Secret
Dirty Little Secret is a fun and cheerful rooftop bar offering nice views out over Wellington. It’s not the highest rooftop in the city and, of course being on a rooftop, it is somewhat exposed to the elements so bring a warm jacket.
Laundry is a super hipster-y and unique bar on Cuba Street. The decor is all of the place, which we love, and the cocktails are awesome.
23. Check Out the Wellington Zoo (Great For Kids)
The best little zoo in the world, New Zealand’s first every zoo and a 100% charitable association. Wellington Zoo is one of the best places in New Zealand to see animals that can’t be found in the wild domestically.
With over 500 animals, a cafe and numerous playgrounds, Wellington Zoo is arguably our top thing to do in Wellington with kids. Families won’t struggle to keep everyone entertained here.
Being the capital city of New Zealand, Wellington is packed with great accommodation options. Two areas stand out in particular – near Oriental Parade and near Cuba Street. Both of these spots are super conveniently located and within walking distance to everything in the CBD.
The Marion Hostel
The Marion Hostel is what we consider to be the ultimate hostel. It’s not exactly the cheapest hostel, but you get what you pay for – a lovely place to stay at an affordable price. On top of this, it’s one of the most conveniently located accommodations in Wellington for travellers who love to stay right in the heart of the city.
Bolton Hotel is a little further away but still within an easy walk of Cuba Street and the waterfront. Thanks to its unique decor, swimming pool and luxurious, 5-star amenities we reckon this is the best hotel in Wellington. It’s also surprisingly affordable so for most travellers we’d recommend booking your stay here.
Sofitel Hotel is another stunning, 5-star hotel located in an amazing part of Wellington’s city centre. It has unique and modern interior design – something we can’t quite say about all the hotels in Wellington (we’re looking at you Copthorne…). It’s very near the Bolton Hotel above but you forego the pool which for some may be a dealbreaker.
How to Get to Wellington
If you’re flying in, we don’t think you’ll need a car. You can book a shared airport transfer here, book an Uber when you arrive, or even consider walking to the bus stop if you’re on a strict budget.
Is Wellington Worth Visiting
Yup, we think Wellington is absolutely worth visiting. It’s great for a weekend getaway with countless eateries, bars and things to do in the city centre. For travellers on a longer road trip, it acts as a gateway between the North and South Islands.
Best Time to Visit in Wellington
Wellington is great to visit all year round. Summer is probably the nicest time as the weather is a bit better, however, we find we usually visit during Winter as we choose beach destinations during Summer.
Day Trips from Wellington
There are so many epic day trips from Wellington, some of which we covered off in this list – such as the Pinnacles hike! One of our favourite day trips is to head on a short roadie out to the Castlepoint Lighthouse.
This takes you through a few little towns before hiking 15-minutes (each way) to the stunning lighthouse viewpoint – one of the most instagrammable spots in the region.