New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, is more than a mere waypoint between the North and South Island. Windy Welly, comes with both a gale and a whole load of epic things to do for both young and old.
Wellington is the craft brewery capital of New Zealand and the coffee here happens to also be exceptional. There is an abundance of history to explore, from classic buildings, some loved, some loathed, as well as the childhood home of a famous writer.
Ready to explore the nation’s capital city? Check out my guide to the best things to do in Wellington.
You Must Visit Te Papa Museum
I can’t recommend visiting Te Papa highly enough. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever been to.
I first stepped foot inside this fantastic museum in 2013, and was so blown away that I spent the entire day diving into all of its exhibits. I returned in 2021 and was just as impressed! Yet again, I spent a full day inside the museum, marvelling at how much it has to offer visitors.
Yes, if there’s just one thing you do in Wellington, I’d recommend it be Te Papa.
Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum, and first opened back in 1998. It’s free to visit and aims to take visitors on an enthralling journey through the creation of the country and its history.
Inside the Mana Whenua Exhibition, explore this history through Maori art, multimedia displays, and ancient treasures. Dive into the social history of New Zealand’s first inhabitants, complemented by the eleven galleries full of local and Pacific Island artists in the Arts Te Papa Collection.
Lastly, the museum elaborates on the impact European settlers had on the country and how, alongside the Maori people, they’ve shaped the course of New Zealand into the present day. A quality museum like this rarely comes for free, but Te Papa is the Museum is the exception to the rule. Whenever you’re peckish or thirsty, pop into the on-site cafe for an energizer.
And, Of Course, the Beehive
The most recognizable building in the city of Wellington is the Beehive, aka the nation’s parliament building. Designed by Sir Basil Spence, the Beehive took 15 years to complete and finally opened in 1979. The unique design which inspired its nickname is controversial and splits local opinion to this day.
You may love it or loathe it, but it’s worth checking out, especially as a part of a larger exploration of the New Zealand Parliament. Alongside the Beehive is the Parliament House, home to the Chamber and harbors a more classic design. Heated political debates are held by the nation’s leaders in the Chamber.
You can embark on a free one-hour tour of the buildings between 10am and 4pm daily. Your guide will trace the history of parliamentary proceedings in New Zealand and give you a chance to visit some prominent government rooms before ending at the visitor center inside the Beehive.
The Parliament Gardens envelope the buildings containing rose gardens and open space to enjoy a picnic on a sunny day.
Head to Wellington Museum
Wellington is home to an impressive amount of free activities, like the two listed above. This theme continues at the Wellington Museum. One of the best things to do in Wellington is to explore the history of the city through a variety of memorable multimedia exhibits.
Housed in one of the first major retail buildings in the city, the Wellington Museum covers the full length of its fascinating history. From its humble beginnings as a maritime village to a small yet bustling modern metropolis.
One highlight of the Wellington Museum is the exhibit that explores the sinking of the Wahine ferry in 1968. The country’s worst maritime disaster saw dozens perish in the local harbor and shows the important yet fragile connection New Zealander’s have with the sea.
Trek the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
Part of the renowned Te Araroa long-distance trail, the Paekakariki Escarpment Track is one of the top activities in Wellington. If the day’s looking good, drive 30 minutes north of the city for a full-day hike among stunning scenery.
The entire track is 5.7 miles long (9.1km) one way and will take hikers anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to complete. The trail takes you through the hills along the Kapiti Coast with epic ocean views and the chance to spot Kapiti Island on a clear day.
There are many steep drop offs which can create some hair-raising moments, but the trail itself is well-maintained and easy to follow. Besides the impressive views, the highlight of the trek will be the two suspension bridges that connect the beautiful valleys. Keep the camera ready for several amazing spots for photos.
Take the Cable Car to Kelburn Lookout
After completing the escarpment track, you may not be up for the steep climb to the Kelburn Lookout. Thankfully, there’s a much more relaxing way to reach to views and enjoy the scenery at the same time. Wellington’s cable car is an exciting way to visit some of the top attractions in town, including the Botanic Garden and, of course, the Cable Car Museum.
No matter how much time I spend in Wellington, I always make a point of heading to the lookout.
The adorable trolley has run since 1902 and is also the easiest way to head up the mountain to our next activity. Soak in the long-range views of the city skyline, parks and harbor on the 5-minute journey. At the Kelburn Lookout, enjoy the Lambton Quay views and high-five those that walked every step to the peak.
For an even better way to experience the lookout, venture up after the sun has gone down to not only admire the stars, but a skyline lit up.
Get Your Bird On at Zealandia Ecosanctuary
This is yet another highlight of Wellington, and another place where I spent a full day exploring.
If you’ve traveled around the country before arriving in Wellington, one thing you may have noticed is how well New Zealand do at preserving their amazing natural landscapes. The Zealandia Ecosanctuary is an incredible example of this while also promoting the efforts that occur on both islands. The sanctuary covers over 200 acres and the oasis belies its location, just 2.5 miles (4.3km) from downtown Wellington.
There are several ways to explore the sprawling sanctuary. With over 20 miles (32km) of hiking trails that meander through Zealandia. Visitors can also embark on daytime and twilight tours on the resident electric boat!
We suggest trying to get a spot on the twilight tour, or on a night walking tour for a chance to see New Zealand’s national animal, the kiwi. Other native animals in the park include several endangered birds such as the takahe and stitchbird. Keep your eye out also for the iconic local reptile, the incredibly rare tuatara — we saw dozens of them on our most recent visit!
The Wellington Botanic Garden
One of the oldest and best things to see in Wellington is the Botanic Garden. The gardens which opened in the 1860s continue to inspire visitors. Covering over 60 acres on the Wellington hillside, explore colorful flower displays with a prominent focus on native flora.
The Wellington Botanic Garden is also home to the Lady Norwood Rose Gardens, where over 100 rose beds of different types paint the landscape. You can explore the entire park through the many walking tracks. Venture from garden to garden through conifer forests.
Other attractions within the gardens include the Space Place (listed below) while you can stop off here on your cable car experience. The Wellington Botanic Gardens also hosts a variety of summertime events. Find what’s on through the official site.
The City Gallery
From one form of art to another. If you need to get your gallery fix when in Wellington then look no further than the City Gallery. The art space opened in 1980 inside the city’s history former library. The City Gallery is one of the best contemporary art exhibits in the country.
You’ll find some permanent displays here, but the actual strength of the gallery is the exceptional rotational of local and international artists. The temporary exhibitions display modern art from photos to sculptures and large-scale installations. They all combine to challenge visitors to think about how they see the modern world both in New Zealand and abroad.
See the Putangirua Pinnacles
A filming location for the iconic Lord of the Rings movies, the Putangiru Pinnacles are a spectacular natural rock formation. You’ll need a car to get to the beautiful location as it’s around an hour and 45 minutes away.
However, the otherworldly scenery will be the perfect way to experience a slice of New Zealand’s wild side without venturing too far away. Erosion has slowly exposed the ancient rock sediments, which are now akin to the famous hoodoos found in several Utah national parks. Hiking here is the way to go, with several beginner treks that also come with views of Palliser Bay and Lake Onoke. If you’re running short on time, simply camp overnight among the pinnacles.
Sunbathe at Oriental Bay
After some hectic days exploring the Windy Welly, you deserve some time to relax. If you’re in search of some sun and sea, make your way over to Oriental Bay.
The beautiful white sand beach is waiting just for you, with plenty of room to space out and calm waters to dive into. Backed by Oriental Parade, you’ll have no issue grabbing a seaside lunch (or cocktail) before sampling the local ice cream, a compulsory activity.
If your legs are getting restless, then challenge yourself to make your way to the top of Mt. Victoria. From the peak, enjoy a panoramic view of Wellington alongside the unique pyramid shaped monument.
Wander Cuba Street
The location of Wellington’s famed bucket fountain is also the cultural hub of downtown. Cuba Street is home to an envious variety of trendy bars, hip cafes, elevated restaurants and unique boutiques. Keep your eyes peeled for your next favorite item!
If you’re feeling peckish after your shopping spree, then you can’t go wrong with some local fish and chips. Pay a visit to the Wellington Seamarket, where you can go a step further and choose the fish to go alongside your fresh crispy fries.
The atmosphere on Cuba starts strong and grows throughout the day, ending with a burst of activity. The pedestrian street is the place to go if you’re searching for some exciting nightlife in Wellington.
Speaking on amazing cuisine, taste the best of Wellington on this tour for foodies.
Go Mountain Biking
If you haven’t realized by now, New Zealand is a country of adventure. We’ve given you hikes and gardens, so why not take the next step and go mountain biking? The city has over 200 miles of accessible biking trails, which will be music to your ears.
The trails range from casual dirt paths to technical downhill thrills in the mountains. With the help of Switched On Bikes, you can put on your helmet and get dirty exploring the picturesque local mountains on two wheels.
Our top picks for mountain biking in Wellington include the Te Onepoto Loop Track (Grade 3) that guides you along the coast. The Grade 1 Pencarrow Coast Road to New Zealand’s first lighthouse and the extreme Belmont Trig (Grade 5).
No doubt you’ll be ready for a well-earned pint after an afternoon on the trails. Wellington is home to several exceptional boutique breweries. Trying at least one, if not a few, should be high on your list of things to do.
Wellington has all your styles covered, from IPAs to stouts and leaves behind the rest of the country to spoil you for choice. There are around 20 breweries in the city (it continues to grow). From Heyday Brewing, to Black Dog and the Garage Project, many are within walking distance of each other. You could easily fashion your very own bar crawl.
However, you can leave it to the experts by enjoying this all-inclusive craft brewery tour. Visit four of the best breweries in Wellington, including a scrumptious feed along the way.
Explore the Weta Cave
A huge reason film buffs want to travel to New Zealand is to explore the film sets of the iconic Lord of the Rings films. Wellington puts its hat in the ring with the local Weta Cave. The city is home to director Peter Jackson’s workshop, where many props and effects from the movies were created.
You can explore the workshop and enjoy incredible behind-the-scenes insight into the movie’s creation with the bonus of other movies such as Spiderman and Avatar.
Guests will walk away with knowledge of how many characters were made and later brought to life. You will need to book a tour in advance, so why not combine it with a larger Wellington experience? Stop by the Weta Cave on this 5-hour adventure which also hits up many top attractions.
Visit the Katherine Mansfield House & Garden
In the local suburb of Thorndon lies a unique look into the avant-garde early days of Wellington. During the beginning of the 20th century, the city housed a strong concentration of artists and poets that spread creativity and inspired thought through literature and art.
One of the most prominent members of this community was Katherine Mansfield. The writer, who grew up in this small home, became New Zealand’s most celebrated writer. Her short works influenced Kiwis and those overseas.
A lot of her works would be written and polished in London alongside her new friends, Virginia Woolf and D.H. Lawrence. But they were always the words of a New Zealander. Her childhood home has since been restored and become a museum that commemorates her work. Explore the home fixed with period furniture, with guided tours also available.
South of downtown Wellington, Princess Bay is a beautiful cove with rock pools and gentle rolling waves. The vibrant turquoise waters contrast with the weathered rock to create memorable scenery and the perfect place to relax away from the world.
When the sun is out, visitors will have amazing views of the South Island. Be sure to bring some sturdy footwear to explore the pools or simply kick back on the bright sand and enjoy the Zen.
Princess Bay also offers a brief coastal hiking trail. The path leads you above the beach to a popular viewpoint. Enjoy an even better view across the Cook Strait. For more seaside adventures, bring along your surfboard to Houghton Bay Beach. The southerly swells pick up here, and it’s just around the corner from Princess Bay.
The Adrenalin Forest
One of the best things to do in Wellington with kids is to experience the Adrenalin Forest. But to be fair, the inner-kid will be released in all of us once we have entered. Just a quick trip from downtown, the forest offers seven different adventures, each getting progressively higher and more difficult.
The challenge courses, which take you through the dense forests, begin just 3ft (1m) above the valley floor. But soon you’ll be venturing among the treetops with the last activity occurring above 100ft (31m) off the ground!
Your time in the Adrenalin Forest can last up to three hours, making it great value for money for the entire family. Get a mobile ticket and skip the lines by booking ahead of time, through Viator.
Bring the Kids to Wellington Zoo
Speaking of fun things to do in Wellington with kids, after completing all the courses, enjoy a more relaxing time at the Wellington Zoo. As the oldest zoo in the country, the Wellington Zoo has a long history and has become renowned for their fantastic conservation efforts.
Since 1906, the zoo has been the place to go for a guaranteed chance of spotting some native New Zealand wildlife from the kiwi to the tuatara. The Wellington Zoo isn’t just for local creatures, there are several sections that represent different continents around the world.
The whole family can enjoy walking past giraffes, big cats, monkeys and even the Malayan sun bear! For further education, check out the animal talks held daily. Or experience creature encounters to feed the wild animals. Finish up by visiting the Nest, home to the zoo’s hard working vets.
Take in the Wellington Waterfront
Whether it’s during the morning or under the stars for date night, no time in the city would be complete without exploring the Wellington Waterfront. You may have previously visited some of the local attractions including the Te Papa Tongerewa, however, nothing beats walking along the water’s edge and seeing what fun can be had.
Throughout the day, you won’t find a shortage of lunch spots, and there’s always a variety of street performers keeping things interesting along the path. On Saturdays, the resident Frank Kitts Park hosts a farmers market and you should take some time to explore Queen’s Wharf.
The waterfront is the top place to take your significant other for a nice evening meal. Enjoy the abundance of harborfront bars for a cheeky cocktail before walking along until you spot a restaurant that takes your fancy. Finish the night with some gelato and watch the water sparkling under the moonlight.
Explore the Local Vineyards
With all the fun to be had around Wellington, there is still much to see and do on the city’s fringes. Surrounded by beautiful mountains great for hiking and biking, this time head to the other side where you’ll find one of the country’s top wine regions, Wairarapa.
Featuring many quality boutique wineries, the town of Martinborough is the place to begin. From here, you’ll enjoy a quick trip to several delightful wine tastings and a scenic lunch platter to keep you going. Some of our favorite Martinborough wineries include the Palliser Estate, Poppies and Haythornthwaite Wines.
Instead of making the drive yourself, leave that to your guide on this Martinborough Winery Tour. Stop by three exceptional vineyards for their cellar door experiences.
Cable Car Museum
When experiencing Wellington’s historic cable cars, stop by the museum for the full story. The Cable Car Museum is at the Kelburn Station and where you can find the original cable car that operated from 1902 to 1978. Take a step back in time and sit in the first cars that transported residents around the city.
One of the highlights of the museum is the original winding machine. The machine was fully operational for almost 50 years before retiring in 1978. It was used to haul the cable cars up to the Kelburn lookout. The machine was considered an innovative piece of technology, being far ahead of its time.
Finish up by sitting in the Relentless Red Rattler, a car which received its infamous reputation throughout its time meandering through the city.
Road Trip on the South Coast
Beyond the wineries and the views from Princess Bay, the best way to experience the southern coast is in the comfort of your own car. Within minutes from from Wellington, you can be taking in the vistas along the winding coastal roads while stopping at eccentric local towns.
Start your journey at Shelley Bay, where arts reign supreme in historic army buildings. Grab a hot cup of coffee at Scorch o Rama before taking a quick swim at Scorching Bay beach. Jump back in the car and admire the scenery as you catch glimpses of the South Island on your way to Karaka Bay.
Continue to visit the Pencarrow Lighthouse and spot surfers at Lyall Bay. End the road trip with views of the Kaikoura Mountain Range with the South Island looking like a quick swim away.
Venture to Matiu/Somes Island
As you walk along the Wellington waterfront, you may spot an island in the center of the harbor. With your curiosity stoked, you may wonder if you can explore it? Well, the answer is yes.
Matiu/Somes Island was once a place of quarantine, but has since become a scientific reserve. Grab all your favorite treats, load up the picnic basket for a day of scenic eating and hiking on the local island. Keep your eye out for old WWII guns while overnight camping is also available.
To get there, you’ll need to jump on the ferry, which departs regularly from Queen’s Wharf.
Old St Paul’s Church
For the history and architecture buffs among us, you can’t leave Wellington without exploring Old St Paul’s Church. The New Zealand National Landmark and stunning church was built in the 1860s and has long been an iconic part of the city.
The church no longer holds masses with churchgoers attending the newer Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Yet the exterior Gothic Revival architecture and the spectacular interior, including the stained windows in the south alcove, are well worth the visit.
Get Your Coffee Fix
Wellington may be known as the Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand, but many would argue that it’s also home to the country’s best coffee. There are many great cafes to try and you really can’t go wrong. Whether it’s stopping by a cafe on the harbor or by the beach.
But some Wellington cafes stand out more than others, so if getting the best coffee in town is always a favorite activity of yours, then head here. Begin at Cafe L’affare, the pioneer of the local coffee scene before making your way to the Hangar for coffee flights. End at Fidel’s for authentic Havana coffee on Cuba Street.
Kayak in Windy Welly
We’ve explored some of the best adventure activities around the city, but what about within Wellington? You’ve seen the waterfront and Matiu/Somes Island, so why not get out on the water yourself?
With the help of Ferg’s Kayaks, you can get out into the harbor on a kayak and explore until your heart’s content. Ferg’s also runs a selection of kayak tours. Explore Matiu Island, cultural landmarks or even paddle at night.
If you want to try something different, trade the kayak in for a stand-up paddleboarding experience.
Explore the Space Place
Within the Wellington Botanic Garden, the Space Place at Carter Observatory is an incredible planetarium show. Visitors can first explore the museum and hear tales of constellations in the Southern Hemisphere before learning the Maori stories that are connected to the sky above.
Visitors can then learn about the planets that roam the galaxies along with New Zealand’s impact on the science of space. Space Place is also where you’ll find the historic Thomas Cooke telescope, the best way to see the constellations.
Ride the Remutaka Cycle Trail
If you have a few spare days in your itinerary, then fill it all in one go thanks to the Remutaka Cycle Trail. We’ve covered some great trails already, but if you’re someone that likes to go all in on one adventure, then this 2 or 3 day journey will satisfy.
The trail begins in the Wellington Harbour before heading up into the picturesque and lush Hutt Valley. Enjoy subtle climbs through the dense Remutaka Ranges before skirting the rugged coast and Paliser Bay. The trail provides a dramatic climax by ending at Turakirae Head, the home of 500 fur seals!
You can arrange transport home or simply turn around and ride back to Wellington.
Watch a Rugby Game
Besides mountains and kiwis, what else screams New Zealand more than rugby? Complete your experience in Wellington by watching a game at Sky Stadium. Within walking distance of the waterfront, don some yellow and join the local crowd by supporting the Wellington Hurricanes.
The season runs from January or February until June. But if you aren’t in town for a Hurricanes game, then you can still catch some rugby when in Wellington. These include the boisterous New Zealand Sevens tournament, which is as much a party as a sporting event. While the iconic All Blacks sometimes play international matches in Wellington.