Vibrant, exciting, and filled with history, Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, is both a liveable city and a great place to visit. Easy to get around, it’s the range of Wellington activities that makes it a perfect choice for either a romantic escape or a sightseeing visit with family and friends.
Wellington is home to culture, history, sport, art, and fun. Located in Middle Earth, activities in Wellington often include an element of Tolkien fantasy from the Lord of the Rings.
One of my favourite things about New Zealand’s capital is that, unlike many of the tourist cities in New Zealand, there are plenty of free things to do in Wellington.
A charming waterfront city located on the Cook Strait and surrounded by lush green hills; Wellington has the distinctive reputation of being the world’s windiest major city. With an average wind speed of more than 25 kilometres per hour (16 mph), we always arrive prepared.
Wellington activities: museums
History and art buffs will love Wellington as it is home to over a dozen museums, most of them offering free entry. Our three favourites are listed here.
National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
55 Cable Street, Te Aro
No visit to Wellington is complete without a visit to the National Museum. Commonly referred to as “Te Papa”, this free-to-enter museum has extensive collections in the areas of art, history, Pacific, Māori, wildlife, and the natural environment.
With several hands-on Discovery Centres for children, Te Papa is an excellent day out for everyone and one of the best indoor activities in the city. We have always visited on our own. However, if you are looking for an introductory tour, check Bookme for discounts depending on the day and time you choose.
Cable Car Museum
1A Upland Road, Kelburn
Complete with old cable cars and equipment, the free-to-enter Cable Car Museum is worth a visit if you are not pressed for time. It is located at the Kelburn Terminal, the upper end of the line for the cable car.
Space Place at Carter Observatory
40 Salamanca Road, Kelburn
A two-minute walk from the top of the cable car brings you to Space Place at Carter Observatory. This family-friendly destination features a child’s area and offers age-appropriate daytime planetarium shows on weekends and during school holidays.
We visited at night and opted for a planetarium show featuring the sky over the Southern Hemisphere. After the show, we headed New Zealand’s largest refracting telescope, surveying the skies since 1867. Weather permitting, the roof opens (on Tuesday and Saturday), allowing visitors to see it in action.
- The best seats in the auditorium are towards the back.
- The observatory is open until 11 pm on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. However, the last cable car down the hill leaves Kelburn station at 10 pm, so plan your time carefully.
- Check for discount tickets for individuals or discount family entry.
Wellington landmarks not to miss
Wellington is home to plenty of landmark buildings to see, both government and private.
New Zealand Parliament
1 Museum Street
As the capital city, New Zealand’s Parliament prominently sits in Wellington. The central government building is aptly nicknamed “the Beehive.”
If you have time, we recommend you take advantage of both a tour and a chance to observe a live session.
Take a tour of Parliament: Get a behind-the-scenes look inside the central government buildings and discover some of New Zealand’s colourful political history. Parliament tours begin on the hour from 10 am to 4 pm and require booking 24 hours in advance. There is a dress code, and adults are not allowed to wear short pants to Parliament. No photos are allowed during the tour. Check their official website for tour options and booking details.
Observe New Zealand Parliament in session: If Parliament is in session, the chamber viewing galleries allow visitors to observe the Members of Parliament in action quietly. This is independent of the tour, and there is no charge. No cameras are allowed in the viewing galleries.
National Library of New Zealand
70 Molesworth Street, Thorndon
The refurbished National Library is now home to the original Treaty of Waitangi document. It is in a secure climate and lighting-controlled space and on display alongside several other historical documents, and a must-see for anyone interested in New Zealand history.
Archives New Zealand
10 Mulgrave Street, Pipitea
If you enjoy old documents and national treasures, visit Archives New Zealand. We have yet to do this, as the treaty is in the library.
National War Memorial
Taranaki Street, Mount Cook
The National War Memorial is another significant monument in the city. Visitors can enter the tower’s base.
St. Paul’s Cathedrals
Old St Paul’s Cathedral
34 Mulgrave Street, Pipitea
New St. Paul’s Cathedral
2 Hill Street, Thorndon
The city is home to both the old and new St Paul’s cathedrals. Very different in architectural style, both are free to enter (donations requested), and both are worth a visit.
Built entirely of native timber in 1866, Old St. Paul’s Cathedral is a 19th-century gothic-revival masterpiece. The wooden vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows offer a surprisingly European flare, almost out of place in such a young country.
Only a block away sits the new St Paul’s, a modern cathedral built in the 1960s and serving as the Anglican Diocese of Wellington. Its massive organ is built from the remnants of the original water organ of the old cathedral.
Wellington activities: Lord of the Rings (LOTR)
Weta Studios (on the Miramar Peninsula)
Weta Workshop and Weta Cave
1 Weka Street, Miramar
The Weta Workshop, the 5-times Oscar-winning special effects and props company, is known worldwide. Most famous is 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. Weta Workshop offers (paid) guided tours that give you an insight into the creative process. You will see some artists at work as well as props, costumes, and vehicles of various movies. Reserve a Weta Workshop experience and guided tour here.
Weta Cave is Weta’s free-to-enter shop filled with film paraphernalia, souvenirs, gifts, and a miniature museum. It’s a fun place to visit, even if you are not taking the tour.
Take a half-day Lord of the Rings tour
It’s certainly no surprise to fans that Lord of the Rings locations tours are amongst the most popular of the Wellington tours. If you really want to explore Middle Earth and see famous LOTR movie sites, then this small-group tour is the one for you. It’s a half-day that also includes a behind-the-scenes tour of the Weta Workshop. Reserve your half-day Lord of the Rings tour here
Wellington activities: nature and animals
It’s New Zealand, so you know there are plenty of natural attractions, even in our capital city.
Wellington Botanic Garden
101 Glenmore Street, Kelburn
The 26-hectare Wellington Botanic Garden was established in 1868 and features native bush, exotic forests, colourful flowers, and a variety of speciality gardens. These gardens made our list of the 9 best New Zealand gardens.
Located at the top of the cable car line, it’s easy to combine these two activities. We typically ride the Cable Car up and then enjoy the winding downhill walk to the city. The trail, identified with painted purple/pink flowers, is a direct route to the city and takes about 40 minutes to walk.
As you pass through the Bolton Street Cemetery, be sure to notice the obelisk that marks the resting grounds for many of the city’s pioneers.
Located at the end of Waiapu Road, Karori
A nature lover’s paradise, Zealandia is an unspoiled eco-reserve that is 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 for daytime visits. Zealandia is much different by night than it is by day. The optional night tour offers the possibility of seeing many of New Zealand’s endemic, nocturnal creatures, including the kiwi bird.
The Wellington Zoo
200 Daniell Street, Newtown
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, and the caracal. The zoo offers scheduled keeper talks throughout the day, many including up close and personal opportunities like hand-feeding a giraffe or an eel.
Wellington activities: living like a local
People watching from a local cafe
Start your day at one of the Cuba Street cafes and soak 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.
In a city known for great food and perfect coffee, there are plenty of options on Cuba Street. My other favourite eating area is anywhere along the waterfront. For specific suggestions, check out our favourite Wellington restaurants.
Walk, jog or cycle along the waterfront
For the more athletic, you can people-watch while on the move, while walking, jogging, or cycling along the waterfront.
Ride the cable car
280 Lambton Quay, Wellington Central
Students take it to Victoria University, and locals ride to get up the hill, but the cable car is also one of the popular Wellington tourist attractions.
New Zealand’s only funicular railway runs from the centre of town uphill for 612m. You will find the entrance and ticket booth on Cable Car Lane, a small alleyway coming off of Lambton Quay. Once the city’s waterfront, today Lambton Quay is the heart of the shopping district.
Do something active
Walk up Mount Victoria
Lookout Road, Hataitai
The walk to the top of Mount Victoria is popular with locals. It’s an easy hike to the top, although all uphill. The other options to the top are a public bus, the Wellington Hop-on Hop-off bus, or drive your own vehicle to the lookout. Either way, you will be rewarded with spectacular views.
Jump from the Taranaki Street jump platform
97 Jervois Quay, Wellington Central
Just outside Te Papa (the national museum) is the Taranaki Street Jump Platform. It was purpose-built by the city for daredevils who want to plunge into the sea, as the city was concerned about the safety of the number of people diving off the docks at random locations.
In typical New Zealand fashion, the solution accommodated everyone. This is best on warm days when you have both a towel and a change of clothing available.
More active options
- Climbing wall: New Zealand’s largest indoor rock wall is in Wellington with climbs for beginners through experts. Check for discounts here.
- Live like a local and hire a mountain bike for one or two days. Depending on when you go, discounts may be available. Or give yourself a break and hire an electric bike.
- If you prefer the water, give Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) a try with a one-hour rental at a discounted price.
Wellington activities: things to do in Wellington at night
Several of the activities above are available both day and night. The two most notable are Zealandia and Space Place. Here are a few other fun things to do at night in Wellington:
Friday or Saturday night markets
Wellington’s Friday Night Market presents an international banquet of flavours. 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 market’s energy 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.
After dinner, enjoy the nightlife on Courtenay 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.
Bars or Street Performers on Cuba Street
Several of the Cuba Street clubs offer live music, but I like it for people-watching. On weekends and during summer, street performers keep the evening interesting.
Three-day Wellington itinerary: pulling it all together
Personally, I could spend weeks in Wellington, but if time is limited, we recommend the following flexible 3-day Wellington itinerary, one that we have completed with visitors a few times.
- First day: Cable Car to the top (purchase a one-way ticket) ⇒ Enjoy the view ⇒ Cable Car Museum OR Carter Observatory and Planetarium ⇒ Walk downhill through the Botanic Garden (if you’re hungry, get lunch at the garden’s cafe) ⇒ Parliament tour ⇒ National Library ⇒ Old St Paul’s cathedral ⇒ Thistle Inn ⇒ Friday Night Market ⇒ Cuba Street nightlife
- Second day: Breakfast at a waterfront cafe ⇒ self-guided waterfront walk (download a free Wellington Walks map) ⇒ Zealandia OR Wellington Zoo OR The Great War Museum OR Weta Workshop tour ⇒ dinner ⇒Courtenay Place nightlife
- Third day: Breakfast at a Cuba Street cafe ⇒ Te Papa ⇒ Taranaki Street Jump Platform ⇒ Mount Victoria
Practical information for visiting the capital of New Zealand
Wellington sits at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island, making it the world’s southernmost capital city.
- Wellington is a city made for walking. Nevertheless, 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.
- Don’t miss our list of free things to do in Wellington.
- Tipping is neither customary nor expected in New Zealand.
- Te Whanganui-a-Tara is the Māori name for Wellington Harbour.
- Check out this official Wellington events calendar.
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Do you still want more? If so, read next: Wellington Photos: 20 Reasons It’s My Favourite New Zealand Getaway
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Disclaimer: We worked with WellingtonNZ, the local tourism board. Also, we were provided with many complimentary entrances, tours, sample items, or media rates to assist in the writing of this review. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly our own.