Lonely Planet has named Wellington “the coolest little capital in the world” and for good reason. The city has an artsy vibe, iconic cultural institutions, a great dining scene and easy access to the great outdoors. I believe Wellington deserves to be on the itinerary of every traveller exploring New Zealand. This guide to the best things to see and do in Wellington can help you make the most of your visit.
Best Time to Go
Wellington is famous for its strong gusty winds and unpredictable weather all year round. Winter months (June to August) are considered low season, so it is the cheapest and quietest time to visit. However, wandering around the city might not be the most pleasant experience due to rain and wind. The daily winter temperatures sit at 6-11°C.
If you don’t mind crowds and higher rates, the summer months (December through February) offer the best weather. You can expect daily temperatures of 13-20°C.
Visiting between March and May offers the best of both worlds – warm weather with temperatures ranging between 13-20°C and smaller crowds. Do pack your umbrella though!
Getting Around Wellington
Central Wellington is quite compact and it’s super easy to get around it on foot or on a bike. Venturing out of the city centre is not a problem either. The local public transport system, Metlink, offers an excellent network of buses, ferries, trains and even a cable car. Taxis are generally expensive so ride-sharing services such as Uber are a more economical option.
Where to Stay
New Zealand’s capital offers a range of places to stay, from stylish luxury hotels to cool hostels with a family feel. This travel guide to Wellington includes just a few options to kick start your travel planning.
- QT Wellington – this design led hotel features harbourside views and an art collection that will make you feel like you’re spending a night in a luxurious art gallery (Rates start from $250 NZD per night)
- Ohtel Wellington – located in the picturesque neighbourhood of Oriental Bay, just a short walk away from the central entertainment district, Ohtel Wellington boasts chic mid-century interiors and excellent service (From $280 NZD per night)
- Astelia Apartment Hotel – convenient location plus rooms featuring a kitchenette for those who prefer to make their own meals (From $160 NZD per night)
- U Boutique Hotel – a funky boutique hotel inspired by the pensione style of accommodation in continental Europe (From $99 NZD per night)
- YHA Wellington – a short walk away from the iconic Te Papa museum, this hostel has two kitchens and generous communal space to meet other travellers (From $112 for a double room with shared facilities or $41 NZD for a bed in a 4-6 bed dorm)
- Nomads Capital Hostel – a great budget option in the heart of Wellington with an onsite bar (From $120 for a double room with an ensuite or $30 NZD for a bed in a 4-6 bed dorm)
Top Things to See and Do in Wellington
Ultimately, there are lots of fun things to see and do in Wellington depending on your interests and budget. This guide covers the ones that I’ve experienced myself and thought are unique in some way.
No guide to the best things to see and do in Wellington would be complete without Te Papa. It is truly a cultural icon and an absolute must-see. The museum celebrates New Zealand’s unique environment and heritage. Its collections include Māori and Pacific peoples treasures, local contemporary art and even the odd dinosaur bone. Entry is free for everyone, although charges may apply to some short-term exhibitions. If you’d like to learn more about what you’re seeing, you can join this 1-hour introductory Te Papa tour that will cover the highlights of the collection.
Experience the Magic of Film-Making at Weta Workshop
The creative minds behind the Academy Award-winning Weta Workshop have brought to life many an imaginary world, with the Lord of the Rings probably being the most famous. The easiest way to visit is to join a guided tour where you will learn about the making of movie effects and get up close to a collection of armour, fantastical creatures and authentic props. There are a number of tour packages you can choose from, so prices vary. The original tour of the workshop costs 49 NZD (31 USD). You can book them directly on the Weta Workshop’s website or, if you’d like a more flexible option with free cancellation, on Get Your Guide.
Learn About New Zealand Wildlife at Zealandia Ecosanctuary
Zealandia is the first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary in the world and is home to many rare bird, reptile and plant species. Some of them can only be found in New Zealand and are on the brink of being extinct. The project’s vision is to restore the valley where the sanctuary is located and its freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. I highly recommend joining a guided tour to learn more about New Zealand’s natural history, wildlife and conservation techniques. General admission is$24 NZD (15 USD) per adult. Guided tours start from $55 (24 USD) per person, but do include the general admission pass. Discounts available for children. You can book your tour either on the Zealandia site or Get Your Guide if you’re after a more flexible option.
Take a Tour of New Zealand Parliament
Wellington is the heart of New Zealand’s political life. You can find out more about the country’s parliamentary processes and history by joining a guided tour of Parliament. You will explore parts of the unique Parliament buildings and see the artworks and objects that make up the Parliamentary Collection. Guided tours are free, but booking at least 24 hours in advance is required.
Go on a Walk
Wellington is best explored on foot and the city offers many walking opportunities. Stroll along the Wellington waterfront taking in stunning views of the harbour. Along the way explore numerous public artworks, grab a coffee at one of the waterfront cafes or make your way to the Oriental Bay beach. For 360-degree views of the city head to the top of Mount Victoria. This is possibly one of the best spots for catching sunsets and sunrises in the city. You can also take a ride on the historic Wellington Cable Car to get to the picturesque Wellington Botanic Garden. There you can enjoy 25 hectares of beautiful gardens, native forests and great views over the city.
Dining in Wellington
Wellington has a thriving dining and craft beer scene. One thing to remember is dining out in New Zealand is generally expensive, so the best way to save money on food is to cook your own meals or stick to fast food chains like Domino’s Pizza and McDonalds. However, if you are flexible, this guide to the best things to see and do in Wellington includes some delicious options to suit a variety of budgets.
Logan Brown is a Wellington fine dining institution that champions New Zealand cuisine and quality produce.
Located within the popular Hannah’s Laneway that is home to numerous coffee shops, bars and bakeries, Shepherd is actually a more casual affair. However, its seasonal, ethical food proposition, focused on the best the Wellington region has to offer, is top notch.
This bistro style eatery serves sensibly-priced, locally-sourced food and world class cocktails in a stylish setting.
If you’d like to experience Wellington’s famous coffee and delectable brunch offering, look no further than the Prefab cafe.
- Wellington Night Markets
Every Friday and Saturday Cuba Street comes to life with international street food stalls and live entertainment.
This destination for chocolate lovers might not serve proper meals, but I think it’s worth a visit. The WCF is home to the best hot chocolates in the city complemented by a selection of chocolate treats. You can even learn the secrets of the trade by joining a factory tour or workshop (From $30 NZD). You can book the tour on the WCF’s website.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to the best things to see and do in Wellington. The New Zealand capital is a true gem and is definitely worth a visit.
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