Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is often overlooked by visitors yet it is one of my favourite getaway destinations. The range of Wellington activities makes it a perfect choice for either a romantic escape or a site-seeing visit with family and friends.
It is a beautiful waterfront city, surrounded by lush green hills. As the capital of New Zealand, it’s also home to culture, history, and art. Located in middle earth, Wellington activities often include an element of Tolkien fantasy.
Unlike many of the tourist cities in New Zealand, there are plenty of free things to do in Wellington. In fact, many of the recommended Wellington activities have no entrance fee.
We have a favourite 3-day Wellington itinerary. We usually arrive in the city on the first morning, therefore have had breakfast before embarking on this adventure.
Table of Contents
- 1 Three Day Wellington Itinerary: Enjoy the Capital of New Zealand
- 1.1 Wellington Activities Morning Day 1: Cable Car, Museums, Gardens
- 1.2 Wellington Activities Afternoon Day 1: Parliament, Archives, Church, Relax
- 1.3 Wellington Activities Evening Day 1: Markets, Street Performers, Nightlife
- 1.4 Wellington Activities Morning Day 2: Waterfront walk, Coffee
- 1.5 Wellington Activities Afternoon and Evening Day 2: Animal Encounters, LOTR, Entertainment
- 1.6 Wellington Activities Morning Day 3: People Watching
- 1.7 Wellington Activities Afternoon and Evening Day 3: National Museum, Adventure, Hiking
- 2 Wellington Activities Summaries:
- 3 Practical Information for Visiting the Capital of New Zealand
- 4 Which of these Wellington activities have the greatest appeal?
Three Day Wellington Itinerary: Enjoy the Capital of New Zealand
Wellington Activities Morning Day 1: Cable Car, Museums, Gardens
Begin your adventure with a short ride on New Zealand’s only funicular railway that runs from the centre of town on Lambton Quay uphill for 612m. You will find the entrance to the cable car is on Lambton Quay. Once the city’s waterfront, today Lambton Quay is the heart of the shopping district. Turn at Cable Car Lane and purchase a one-way ticket.
Exit at the end of the line and take a few moments to enjoy the sweeping views of Wellington City, its harbour, and the surrounding hillside. Before walking through the gardens, you might want to visit the free Cable Car Museum at the station exit or a two-minute walk brings you to the Carter Observatory and Planetarium. Optionally, choose a nighttime visit to the observatory and possible viewing through New Zealand’s largest refracting telescope.
The winding downhill walk from here to the city takes about 40 minutes through the Botanic Garden to the capital buildings. While there are many trails, the path with painted purple/pink flowers is a direct route down to the city. The 26-hectare Botanic Garden was established in 1868 and features native bush, exotic forests, colourful flowers, and a variety of speciality gardens. Exit the park at the Bolton Street Memorial, an obelisk that marks the resting grounds for many of the city’s pioneers.
Wellington Activities Afternoon Day 1: Parliament, Archives, Church, Relax
Once on the street, the central government building (aptly nicknamed the Beehive) will be visible. Follow the signs for a free tour of Parliament and discover some of New Zealand’s colourful political history. If Parliament is in session, the chamber viewing galleries allow visitors to quietly observe the members of Parliament in action (independent of the tour).
Next, visit the National Library of New Zealand to see the original treaty of Waitangi document, although, it’s not always on display. If you enjoy old documents and national treasures, also stop at Archives New Zealand. From here, you will want to go inside the Old St Paul’s church, to enjoy the surprisingly European flare inside this gothic revival cathedral.
Your final afternoon stop is a well-deserved beverage break at the Thistle Inn, New Zealand’s oldest surviving tavern and restaurant operating from its original site.
Wellington Activities Evening Day 1: Markets, Street Performers, Nightlife
If you happened to have arrived on a weekend, enjoy an international banquet of flavours at the Friday Night Market. The aromatic spices along with the crowds will guide you to Left Bank, an alleyway just off of Cuba Street that is host to the market. The seemingly endless food choices intermix with entertainers and craft booths. The energy at the market is contagious. The one downside is the lack of tables, yet people don’t seem to mind as they sit on benches, kerbside, or eat standing. The market is also open on Saturday nights, although it moves to Lower Cuba Street.
No need to travel far after dinner as the late night entertainment continues on Cuba Street, with a variety of clubs offering live music. It’s a great place for people watching, and on weekends street performers keep the evening interesting.
Wellington Activities Morning Day 2: Waterfront walk, Coffee
Start your day at one of the many waterfront cafes. In a city known for great food and perfect coffee, there are plenty of restaurant options in Wellington.
Next, take a waterfront walk to discover street art, sculpture, fountains, eclectic architecture, culture, and more. Choose a guided tour or pick up a self-guided walking map from the i-SITE Visitor Centre in Civic Square.
Wellington Activities Afternoon and Evening Day 2: Animal Encounters, LOTR, Entertainment
Spend the afternoon with wildlife or animated creatures. The best options are:
- Zealandia: A nature lover’s paradise, Zealandia is an unspoiled eco-reserve only 10 minutes from central Wellington. Birds and small reptiles dominate native wildlife. A free shuttle from either downtown or the Cable Car museum makes Zealandia easily accessible. Zealandia’s optional night tour offers the possibility of seeing many of New Zealand’s endemic, nocturnal birds including the kiwi bird.
- Wellington Zoo: The self-proclaimed “best little zoo in the world” is home to 500 animals including some unusual creatures like the kiwi bird, Malayan sun bear, caracal, and the Australian pelican. Scheduled keeper talks run throughout the day, many including personal opportunities like hand-feeding a giraffe or an eel.
- Weta Cave and Weta Workshop: Weta Workshop is the 5-times Oscar-winning special effects and props company known worldwide for their work with movies and TV shows including Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Avatar, and The Hobbit. The company designs and produces sets, costumes (including armour and weapons), creatures, and miniatures. The Weta Cave is their free-to-enter shop. Weta Workshop offers (paid) guided tours. Save money by using Viator for your Weta Workshop tour and transportation.
After dinner, enjoy the nightlife on Courtney Place, Wellington’s entertainment and theatre district. The street ends at Kent Terrace. At this corner, you will find the Embassy Theatre, home to the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings.
Wellington Activities Morning Day 3: People Watching
Cuba Street is different by day and warrants another visit. Head here for breakfast and plan to spend a bit of time soaking up the bohemian culture that amplifies the heart of this city. Whether it is an art gallery, boutique shop, second-hand store, off-beat café or top restaurant, Cuba Street has it all.
Wellington Activities Afternoon and Evening Day 3: National Museum, Adventure, Hiking
Be sure to leave at least half a day for the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (commonly referred to as “Te Papa”). This free-to-enter museum has extensive collections in the areas of art, history, Pacific, Māori, and the natural environment. With several hands-on Discovery Centres for children, Te Papa is an excellent day out for everyone.
Just outside the museum is the Taranaki Street Jump Platform, built for daredevils who want to plunge into the sea. This is best on warm days when you have both a towel and a change of clothing available.
Before sunset, head up to the top of Mount Victoria for spectacular views of the city. You can take an easy, although uphill, hike to the top, a public bus, or drive to the lookout.
Wellington Activities Summaries:
Free Things to Do in Wellington:
- Cable Car Museum
- Botanic Gardens
- Bolton Street Memorial (and cemetery)
- Te Papa – the National Museum
- Waterfront Walk
- Tour of Parliament
- Parliament Chamber Viewing Gallery (if in session)
- Taranaki Street Jump Platform
- Friday Night Market
- Mount Victoria Summit Lookout
- Visit Weta Cave
- Old and New St. Paul Cathedrals
Things to Do in Wellington at Night:
- Carter Observatory and Planetarium
- Friday or Saturday Night Markets
- Night tour at Zealandia
- Bars or street performers on Cuba Street
- Courtney Place
Indoor Things to Do in Wellington on rainy days:
- TePapa – the National Museum
- Carter Observatory and Planetarium
- Enjoy a coffee or a craft beer
- Weta Cave and Weta Workshop
- Tour Parliament
Practical Information for Visiting the Capital of New Zealand
- Wellington is a city made for walking. However, the capital of New Zealand has one of the most used public transportation systems in the country. Single ride or day pass bus tickets can be purchased from the driver.
- The main tourist hotels are centred around the museum, the government buildings, or in the financial district. We always check booking.com for the best prices.
- Tipping is neither customary nor expected in New Zealand. Exceptional service occasionally warrants a tip, but most locals don’t tip in restaurants or hotels.
- Wellington is the world’s southernmost capital city. It is on the southern tip of New Zealand’s North Island.
- Tours of Parliment begin on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm and require booking 24-hours in advance. There is a dress code, and as a result, adults are not allowed to wear short pants to Parliament. Contact email@example.com or check the official website for more details.
- Te Whanganui-a-Tara is the Māori name for Wellington Harbour.
- If you prefer a tour or want to get out and see some of the Lord of the Rings filming sites, check out Viator (a trip advisor company that we recommend):
- As you tour other areas in New Zealand you might want to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s New Zealand Travel Guide.
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Which of these Wellington activities have the greatest appeal?
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