Wellington City Guide: The Best Things to See & Do in New Zealand’s Capital
Ahh, Wellington… this vibrant little city (and the capital of New Zealand) is a gem in so many ways. Situated in a beautiful harbour and flanked by tree and house-topped hills, Wellington is a compact and easily walkable city with so many things to do.
The city has earned its nickname “Windy Welly” rightfully so – on some days, the howling winds feel like they’ll blow you right off your feet. When the wind dissipates and the sun shines down on the city, though, the local saying “you can’t beat Welly on a good day” could not be more true.
With a great art scene, craft breweries galore, plenty of greenery-laden walking trails and an incredible food and coffee scene, you can easily while away a few days exploring here—wind, rain or shine.
So bring your windbreaker and a hungry appetite, and come see some of our favourite places in New Zealand’s epic little capital city.
Things to Do in Wellington
Wander along the Wellington Waterfront to Oriental Bay
Wellington’s waterfront path is a must-do when you’re in the city! Overlooking the harbour and lined with cafes, gelato purveyors, chillout areas (and sometimes food trucks and container shops), it’s a delightful place to go for a wander.
We like to walk along the path towards Oriental Bay, which is sometimes referred to as the “Riviera” of Wellington. On a sunny day, you’ll see why the area deserves this title: the promenade is lined with Norfolk pines and overlooks golden sandy beaches on one side, while the other side is backed by Mount Victoria and an array of colorful homes and cafes.
On the way to Oriental Bay, keep an eye out for stingrays in the sea and make sure to stop by the cute boat sheds.
Finally, make your way to the beach along the Oriental Bay Parade. Oriental Bay Beach gets jam-packed with visitors in summer, who come here for swimming and sunbathing along the golden sandy shores. In the morning and during weekdays, though, it’s not usually too busy. Tip: If you like collecting sea glass, this is the place!
Visit the Te Papa museum
Wellington’s wonderful Te Papa museum is another absolute must-do, even if you’re not a “museum person.” The museum is free (!), and it’s an excellent activity to partake in rain or shine.
There are a few exhibits in particular that you simply can’t miss. One of these is Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, which gives an informative and heartbreaking overview of New Zealand’s involvement in WWI. The exhibit was created in conjunction with Weta Workshop and features huge (and we mean HUGE) lifelike sculptures of New Zealanders who served their country in the war. It is a sobering exhibit of epic proportions and one you won’t forget.
Another fantastic exhibit to check out is Te Taiao | Nature, which showcases New Zealand’s natural world both past and present. Learn all about the country’s native flora and fauna, discover how volcanic activity has shaped the landscape and marvel at the colossal squid specimen on display (yep, you read that right—the squid alone is worth a visit to the museum!).
There is also an amazing art gallery at Te Papa—Toi Art. Wander around and feel inspired by all the color and creativity that abounds up on the 4th and 5th floors of the museum.
The exhibits at Te Papa are full of interactive ways to keep both kids and adults occupied for hours. Even if you only have a bit of time in the city, we truly think you can’t miss this treasure trove of New Zealand culture and history. This is truly one of the best things to do in Wellington.
Ride the Cable Car to the Botanic Gardens
The Wellington Cable Car ride is short but sweet—the ride itself takes all of 5 minutes, but it brings you up to a beautiful view of the city and the entryway to the Wellington Botanic Gardens.
You’ll find the Cable Car entrance down an alley right off Lambton Quay. The cars run every 10 minutes during the daytime and you can purchase a $5 one-way ticket right on site (side tip: if you have a Snapper card, you’ll get a bit of a discount on the price and can just swipe your card instead of buying a ticket).
Once you reach the top of the cable car, we recommend taking the “Downhill Path” back to the city. Some highlights along this path include the Australian garden, hydrangea garden (in summer), succulent garden, fragrant garden, magnolia trees (in spring) and a stunning rose garden (in summer).
If it’s a sunny day, you may even want to pack a blanket and book and find a shaded lawn or park bench to chill out on. There’s also a great little cafe at the rose garden—Picnic Cafe—if you feel like grabbing a coffee or brunch along your wander.
Follow the Downhill Path back to Lambton Quay, and make sure to look out for Parliament’s massive building, the Beehive, towards the end of your walk.
Hike up to the Mount Victoria lookout
The view from the top of Mount Vic is one of the best in the city. Sure, you can drive up to the top—but for a real right-of-passage feeling, we recommend hiking up to the lookout.
There are multiple ways to access the top of Mount Vic, but we recommend starting at the Grass Street trailhead. Follow the stairs up to the Southern Walkway, and continue along this path until you reach the top. It’s a bit of a huff-n-puff, but all in all it should take around 45 minutes to get to the lookout—and the scenery along the way is absolutely breathtaking.
Once you’ve summited Mount Vic and have taken in the gorgeous views of the city and its surrounds, you can head back to the city the same way you came up, or wander down along the main road. If you do the latter, make sure to walk around the beautiful old St. Gerard’s Church and Monastery; you’ll catch more lovely views of the city from up here.
Zealandia is an ecosanctuary right near the city center. If you’re a nature lover, this is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in the city. It’s a great place to learn more about New Zealand’s flora and fauna, and if you’re planning to go on hikes around the country it’s a wonderful way to get acquainted with some of the birds and plants you’ll see out in the wild.
As a haven for native birds and forest, predator-free Zealandia is completely fenced in, and it feels like you’re entering Jurassic Park when you arrive. Adding to the Jurassic vibes is the fact that the park is home to tuatara, a rare prehistoric reptile that is endemic to New Zealand. This may be the closest you’ll ever get to seeing a live species from the dinosaur age!
You’re also sure to see a variety of birds in Zealandia, as birdlife thrives in the native bush with no predators as a threat. You may even be lucky enough to see a Kākā, a beautiful and rambunctious NZ parrot. If it’s kiwi you’re after, you’ll need to go to Zealandia at night, as kiwi are nocturnal; you can book a “Zealandia by Night” tour for this.
If a daytime visit is in the cards, though, you can simply show up to Zealandia and buy a general admission ticket right on the spot, which will give you self-guided access to the park.
To get to Zealandia, you can either drive there and park for free, take the free shuttle, take a bus, or walk there from the Botanic Gardens.
Stroll along Cuba Street
Cuba Street is one of Wellington’s most popular and vibrant streets. Walk up and down the street and peek into any shops, cafes and bars that strike your fancy. Make sure to check out the bucket fountain and keep your ears open for street musicians along the way.
Some of our favourite shops along Cuba Street include Wellington Apothecary (handmade, all-natural beauty products), Iko Iko (fun, colourful trinkets and souvenirs), and Good Housekeeping (an eco-friendly houseware store and refillery).
Speaking of shopping…pick up some local souvenirs!
Wellington is such a creative city and there are SO many local artisans and shops that make and sell all kinds of wonderful things. If you’re looking for a sweet souvenir to take home with you (or use for further travels), we’ve compiled a selection of some of Wellington’s best:
- ACME Coffee Cups from Acme & Co at Prefab (these are the cute porcelain cups you see in all the Wellington cafes!)
- Sun, Wind, Sea Serum from Wellington Apothecary
- Building Block tee from sustainable clothing line Kowtow’s flagship store
- A beautifully-packaged chocolate bar from Wellington Chocolate Factory (see more details in the section below!)
- Locally-roasted coffee from Good Fortune Coffee Co
Sample the wares of local food producers along Hannah’s Laneway
Hannah’s Laneway is possibly the cutest alleyway in the entire city; even better, though, is the fact that it’s also home to some of Wellington’s most delicious food producers.
Chocolate lovers must ensure to make a stop at the Wellington Chocolate Factory, a boutique bean-to-bar producer with ethically-sourced ingredients. You can see how the chocolate is made and pick up a couple of beautifully-packaged chocolate bars. Their chocolate makes an excellent souvenir gift to bring back to friends and family at home—if you can refrain from eating it all, that is.
Another must-do along Hannah’s Laneway is a stop by the Fix & Fogg window. Fix & Fogg crafts delicious artisan peanut butter, all made with love, care and sustainability in mind. Pick up a jar to take with you (we love the crunchy or Smoke & Fire), or choose from one of their amazing toast options—all served on thick cut bread from Leed Street Bakery.
Speaking of Leed Street Bakery, this is yet another stop you must make along Hannah’s Laneway. They produce excellent sourdough bread and we recommend grabbing a crusty loaf to take home. Our favorite item from the bakery, though, is the salted caramel cookie: it is insanely good, and one of our top things to eat in the city.
Tip: Just beyond Hannah’s Laneway, you’ll find some super cool murals down Leed Street in the parking lot adjacent to Fortune Favors Brewery.
Check out the city’s weekend markets
When the weekend rolls around, some wonderful markets pop up around Wellington. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce or fragrant street food, you can get your bustling market fix between Friday-Saturday at the below spots:
Wellington Night Markets
When: Friday night 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm and Saturday nights 5:00 pm – 10:30 pm
Location: Friday nights on Left Bank off Cuba Street; Saturday nights on lower Cuba Street
What to expect: International food stalls and live music amidst a lively atmosphere.
Must-try food: The Beef Rendang Mie Goreng from Garuda Food Truck
When: Sundays 7:30 am – 2:00 pm (1:00 pm in winter)
Location: The Wellington waterfront on the corner of Cable St & Barnett St next to the Te Papa Museum.
What to expect: An open-air produce market with heaps of fresh fruit and vegetables on the cheap. Rather than a direct-to-consumer farmer’s market, this is a wholesaler’s market—which means that you can get some serious deals on produce here. There are also lots of food stalls with delicious bites to fuel your shopping.
Must-try food: A Chinese crepe from Mr. Circle
Go shopping at the best supermarket in all the land: Moore Wilson’s
Moore Wilson’s is an amazing supermarket with heaps of fresh produce, gourmet food items, & NZ-procured goodies. While it may seem strange to recommend a supermarket on a city visit, you simply can’t miss this spot if you’re into food! It’s a favorite place for locals and visitors alike.
Head here to pick up the best picnic supplies; they have a vast selection of locally-made bread and cheeses of all kinds. If you’re travelling/campervanning around NZ for a while and plan to cook for yourself, you could also hit up the bulk store next door to stock up on pasta, gourmet canned beans, and other non-perishables to keep on hand for camp meals at-the-ready.
Go on a Craft Beer Crawl
Wellington is absolutely full of amazing craft beer. The amount of excellent breweries in the city is astonishing. We’ve lived in Portland, Oregon which is sometimes considered the craft brewery capital of the world, and dare we say it—but Wellington just may take the cake as our favorite beer city on earth.
Below is a list of some of our top breweries in Wellington. The best part is, most of these are within walking distance from one another, so you can sample a couple without having to worry about driving.
Note that this isn’t a 100% extensive list—just a list of our favorites. For more, plus a craft beer map of the city, check out Craft Beer Capital.
Fortune Favours // 7 Leeds Street, Te Aro
This is one of our go-to breweries in Welly. They have a consistently good selection of beers and a delicious blueberry cider. Sit upstairs on their rooftop bar and enjoy your beer with a soft pretzel or meat and cheese board.
Fork & Brewer // 20 Bond Street, Te Aro
These guys brew an insane amount of different beers, and honestly—all of them are good. We go for their sours, but they have something for everyone. Their selection changes all the time, too, so it’s always worth a stop to see what’s new!
Garage Project // Taproom at 91 Aro Street; Cellar Door at 68/70 Aro Street, Aro Valley
This is often considered the pioneer brewery of Wellington; Garage Project has put Wellington on the craft beer map. They’re particularly known for brewing innovative and experimental beers, and if you visit them we highly recommend getting a tasting paddle so you can try a few. Garage Project has two locations right near each other in Aro Valley: if you feel like sitting down for a while, stop by their taproom and if you want to visit the brewery itself for tastings or takeaway, check out their cellar door.
Heyday // 264 Cuba St, Te Aro
This bright and cheery brewery serves up great beers and yummy nibbles. Sit in their colorful inside space, or outside on the patio with lawn games to enjoy.
Little Beer Quarter // 6 Edward Street, Te Aro
This beer-centric bar is an absolute heaven for craft beer aficionados. While they don’t brew their own beer, they curate a selection of some of the best brews from around Wellington and the rest of NZ. Their taps change constantly and they have both indoor and outdoor seating.
Parrotdog // 60/66 Kingsford Smith Street, Lyall Bay
Out in the surf-centric suburb of Lyall Bay, this is a spacious (and dog friendly!) brewery with a retro-industrial vibe. There is a little outdoor courtyard here, too, if it’s not too windy to sit outside. They have good food as well. A takeaway spot next door makes it easy to grab a couple of your favorites to go.
In addition to brewpubs, Wellington has a plethora of great bars dotted around the city. Which brings us to the next section…
Enjoy a beverage at one of Wellington’s unique bars
Dirty Little Secret // 54 Taranaki Street, Te Aro
A rooftop bar with excellent views of the city. Enjoy a cocktail, wine or craft beer alfresco, and feel like you’re on top of the world.
The Arborist // 166 Willis Street, Te Aro
Another wonderful rooftop bar. The Arborist doesn’t have lofty views like Dirty Little Secret, but instead has a garden-party vibe with cozy seating and greenery. Come here on a nice day and get a frozen cocktail to drink in the sunshine.
Goldings Free Dive // 14 Leeds Street, Te Aro
A quirky, local’s-favorite dive bar with a Star Wars theme going on. They have a great local craft beer and wine menu. If you want some good food to go with your drinks, you can order a pizza from neighbouring Pizza Pomodoro, which will be delivered right to you.
The Library // 1/45 Tory Street, Te Aro
Book lovers rejoice! The Library is, as the name suggests, filled with stacks upon stacks of books. The environment here is charming and cozy, and their cocktails are the best around.
Choose from an extensive cocktail list, with drinks like the “Alice in Wonderland”— this one comes with a glass of sparkling wine and a “Drink Me” vial of gin and berry liqueur to pour into your bubbly.
If it’s a blustery day outside, there may be no better place to relax than the Library.
Puffin Wine Bar // 60 Ghuznee Street, Te Aro
A speakeasy-esque wine bar featuring organic, natural and biodynamic wines from NZ and around the world. If you visit with someone who’s not keen on wine, they also have a nice beer and cocktail selection. Sit in their intimate, relaxed pub or outside in their little courtyard.
Fill up on Some Cheap Eats
A visit to Wellington wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of the city’s food scene. You don’t have to spend heaps of money to enjoy a good meal in the Capital, though—the city is full of delicious cheap eats of all varieties. Below are some great places to grab a bite without breaking the bank.
The Mt Vic Chippery // 5 Majoribanks Street, Mount Victoria
Gosh this place is good. Come here for freshly made fish ‘n chips. They have lots of fish options and you can opt for battered, crumbed, grilled or gluten free. The chips themselves are worth a visit here, too—try the handcut, or go for curly, crinkle or kumara (sweet potato) fries. We also love their soft shell crab burger.
There is a small amount of seating inside the chippery, but if it’s a nice day get your food for takeaway and enjoy your meal outside on a bench or beach in Oriental Bay.
Burger Liquor // Temp location at 18 Majoribanks Street, Mount Victoria (usually in Te Aro)
These are our favorite burgers in Wellington. The “Standard” is cheeseburger perfection. Grab a side of jalapeno poppers to go with, and if you’re feeling thirsty make sure to try one of their cocktails (get the rosebud!) or house beer.
Ekim Burger // 257 Cuba Street, Te Aro
Another excellent burger option at a cheaper price point than Burger Liquor. Set in a funky outdoor space with an industrial wasteland sort of vibe, this is a good place to pop into on a nice day, or if you’ve had some drinks at a nearby establishment and need a good quick meal.
They have tons of options here, ranging from beef and chicken burgers, to vegetarian and vegan options. They’re also open late on weekends (12 am on Friday/Saturday) so stop by for a late night bite.
Little Penang // 175 Victoria Street, Te Aro
This is our #1 favorite cheap eat in all of Wellington! Little Penang serves up killer Malaysian food. They don’t serve alcoholic beverages here, so go have a drink somewhere fun beforehand and then come here to fill up on delicious noodle and rice dishes. We always have the hardest time choosing between their Mee Goreng and their Char Koay Teow noodles—both are equally delicious.
A Taste of Home // 128 Vivian Street, Te Aro
Come here for outstanding hand-pulled Chinese noodles and wonton soup. There isn’t a ton of seating here, so we recommend getting takeaway to enjoy at the park across the street.
Planet Spice // 128 Riddiford Street, Newtown
Head out of the city center to Newtown for some of the best Indian food in Welly. Planet Spice is a great spot for lunch or dinner—they do a $10 lunch special on weekdays, and BYO in the evenings (yep, you can bring your own bottle of wine!). There are excellent options here for carnivores, vegetarians and vegans.
Go for a scenic drive along the bays
If you have a car, one of the best things to do in Wellington is to take a scenic drive along the coastline.
The drive is easy to follow, as you simply continue along the water the entire way so it’s hard to get too lost!
Starting from the city center, drive east towards Oriental Bay and make your way towards the Miramar Peninsula.
Keep an eye out for the “Wellywood” sign, then make your way onto Shelley Bay Road.
Pitstop: Chocolate Fish Cafe for brunch with views of the city and sea.
After brunch, continue driving along Shelley Bay until you reach Point Halswell.
Pitstop: Park and do the 15-ish-minute walk up to and around Massey Memorial.
From here, continue driving along Shelley Bay Road until you reach Scorching Bay Beach.
Pitstop: Enjoy some fresh sea air at the beautiful Scorching Bay Beach. On a sunny day, the sand has a golden glow and the water is turquoise and crystal-clear. If you’re in need of a coffee or ice cream, stop by Scorch-o-Rama across the road.
Hop back in the car and continue along the water until you reach the cute suburb of Seatoun.
Pitstop: Do the 15-ish-minute walk up to Point Dorset, which has stunning ocean views and a great lookout of Breaker Bay Beach.
From Point Dorset, drive along Breaker Bay Beach towards Lyall Bay.
Pitstop: If you’re a seashell person, make sure to park at one of the pullouts along the stretch of road just after Breaker Bay Beach and go look for shells! There’s an abundance of paua (abalone) shells in the rocky coves along here.
Next, keep driving until you go past the airport and reach Lyall Bay, the “surf city” of Wellington.
Pitstop: Have lunch at either Maranui Cafe or Parrotdog Brewery
From Lyall Bay, make your way to the seaside suburb of Island Bay. If it’s a clear day, you’ll be able to see the South Island across the Cook Straight. You’ll pass a couple of nice beaches along the way, including Princess Bay (a local’s favorite type of place) and Island Bay beach. Keep an eye out for the lighthouse Airbnb just past Island Bay beach!
Your last stop will be Red Rocks in Owhiro Bay.
Pitstop: At Red Rocks is an excellent 2-hour hike if you feel like stretching your legs, but it’s also just a beautiful place to stop at for a breather if you don’t feel up to a walk.
From Red Rocks, continue back to the city along Happy Valley Road.
Final Pitstop: Make sure to check out the awesome mini golf course at Carlucci Land along Happy Valley Road (read more about this in our “Get out and Play” section!).
Get Out and Play
Ferg’s Kayaks // 6 Queens Wharf
Rent kayaks and see the city from the sea! If you’re in Wellington on a calm day, this is a fun thing to do. Ferg’s Kayaks is located in a great location right on the waterfront, so you can go from land to ocean within minutes. You can hire kayaks here to go out on your own, or book a tour if that’s more your thing.
Freyburg Pool & Fitness Centre // 139 Oriental Parade, Oriental Bay
Could there be a more scenic location for a gym? Situated right along the water in Oriental Bay, the Freyburg Pool & Fitness Centre is a beautiful place to get your sweat on.
Possibly the best part about the complex, though, is the fact that they have a steam room, sauna, and hot tub! Book a “Hot Spot Combo” for $15.50 and enjoy use of the pool plus the hot tub, sauna and steam room. This is an excellent activity on a rainy or windy day in the city.
Island Bay Snorkel Trail
Island Bay is one of Wellington’s cutest seaside suburbs. This beach is good for swimming if it’s calm out, and it’s quite pretty with views of multicolored fishing boats and Taputeranga Island.
The coastline around Island Bay is a protected marine sanctuary, which means there is an abundance of sea life thriving in the waters. To top it all off, there’s a snorkel trail here if you have the inclination for a little adventure! If you don’t have your own snorkel gear, you can hire it from Island Bay Divers.
Carlucci Land // 281 Happy Valley Road, Happy Valley
Carlucci Land is a weird and wonderful mini golf course just outside of the city centre in Owhiro Bay. Filled with metal sculptures and oddities, most of the place was built using scrap metals that would have otherwise been thrown into a landfill.
If you can’t make it here during the day, they have after hours use available—just give them a call and they’ll turn the lights on for you. You can take the bus here if you don’t have a car, with a bit of walking involved. Plan your bus journey here.
Catch a film at one of Wellington’s awesome movie theaters
Wellington is the film production center of New Zealand, giving the city the nickname “Wellywood.” Wellington was a hub for the filming of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, and Weta Workshop in Miramar completed much of the special effects and props for the movies. There’s even a play on the classic Hollywood sign here—but in typical Wellington fashion, it’s made to look like it’s blowing away.
If it’s a less-than-ideal weather kind of day, visiting one of Wellington’s awesome movie theatres is a great way to spend an afternoon. For those on a budget, you can often find deals during weekdays for $10.00-$12.00 movies.
Here are our favorite movie theatres in Wellington:
Embassy Theatre // 10 Kent Terrace, Mount Victoria
This wonderful old art deco theater has been restored to perfection. This is a beautiful place to watch a film, and it’s located in a nice central location in Mount Vic at the end of Courtenay place. The Embassy shows a wide range of movies, from blockbuster hits to indie films. This is where the Lord of the Rings world premiere was held, if that gives any indication as to its grandiose feel. They also have a lovely bar and cafe here, so you can have anything from popcorn to a glass of wine to a full meal all onsite.
Lighthouse Cinema // 29 Wigan Street, Te Aro
This boutique theater, tucked away just off Cuba Street, is a real charmer. With comfy couch seats and an intimate feel, this is a nice cozy place to watch a movie. Grab a beer or wine or an ice cream cone to enjoy during your movie.
The Roxy Cinema // 5 Park Road, Miramar
This luxurious vintage theater is one of Wellington’s most iconic places. They play new films and the occasional cult classic, all in a glamorous 1930s cinema setting. Check out their website for events, like Harry Potter-thon and Eat the Film. There is an excellent restaurant here, CoCo at the Roxy, if you feel like splurging on an amazing dinner before or after your film. This may just be the ultimate date spot in the city.
Other notable movie theatres
The Empire Cinema in Island Bay and Penthouse Cinema in Brooklyn are also great independent cinemas with comfy seats, on-site cafes, and nice vibes.
Where to stay in Wellington:
A high-end, quirky-cool hotel with an onsite art gallery, directly across from the Te Papa Museum
Charming boutique hotel with beautiful mid century furnishings, right across from the water in Oriental Bay
There are some awesome Airbnbs in Wellington. Some top picks include this Lighthouse and this nautical-inspired apartment by the sea.
If you’re after an outdoorsy escape, Canopy Camping has some gorgeous cabins available in Wellington. Try the Black Robin Bush Hut or Boho Bach.
A highly-rated hostel in the city centre with tons of great amenities, including free breakfast, unlimited wifi, ferry drop-offs and a cinema room.
Campsites for self-contained campervans
Wellington has 3 main camping spots in the city itself, only available to certified self-contained vehicles. Below is an outline of what to expect at each one.
Barnett Street carpark ($14 for 12 hours; $30 for 24 hours) – While this spot will cost you, it is in a prime location right in the heart of the city. Park up and walk all around town! You can park here any night except for Saturday nights, due to the Harbourside market which fills up the lot on Sundays.
Evans Bay Marina carpark (free) – A parking lot right next to the Evans Bay harbour. It gets quite crowded here but is the closest free spot next to the city. Best to park here to save your spot and take a 5-minute Uber ride into the city.
Te Kopahou Reserve (free) – This parking lot is right by the Red Rocks hiking trail, on the South Coast of the city. Out of the 3 spots on this list, this one is the most scenic but also the farthest from the city centre. Be prepared for some stunning beauty, but also strong winds—and note that sites here fill up fast.
MORE TRAVEL INSPIRATION
For more city guides around New Zealand, check out our travel guide to Auckland.
If you’ll be in the Wellington region for more than a couple of days and love good food and wine, why not visit the charming wine village of Martinborough?
For an epic outdoor adventure in the nearby Wairarapa region, read our guide to Castlepoint.