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Welcome to my post on windy, wet and wonderful Wellington. Get ready as I share 25 things to do on your visit to Wellington, plus where to stay and how to get around New Zealand’s cool capital city.
If I had to pick between Auckland and Wellington, there’s no competition. Wellington totally won me over, even if the weather was less than ideal for a couple of days of my visit. For a compact city, I found plenty of things to do to keep me occupied. I also found a lot of delicious food to keep me full as well 😉. It’s easy to see why it’s called The Coolest Little Capital. I’ve split this post into free and paid things to do in Wellington, to make life even easier. Let’s go!
Free things to do in Wellington
Of course, we have to start with the best free things to do in Wellington. How I love a bargain.
Visit Wellington Museum
It was drizzly on my final morning in Wellington, so I headed to the Wellington Museum. Not to be confused with Te Papa (see below), this museum focuses solely on Wellington’s history. There was actually a lot of interesting exhibits inside. Telling Tales tells a tale of every year in 20th-century Wellington. There are the time machine, Ngā Hau and a video about The Wahine Disaster, which I’d never heard of before. Kids are guaranteed to be entertained at Wellington Museum as well.
Tour Te Papa
Te Papa’s full name is the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The free museum is a must-visit Wellington attraction. It usually has one paid exhibition, which currently features the Terracotta Warriors. I spent about two hours wandering the museum and my favourite exhibits were Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, Blood Earth Fire (definitely watch the short film here) and Passports. There’s also an art collection and a viewing terrace at the top of the museum. Don’t miss it!
Go for a walk
There are so many walks and hikes available around the city. Visit this page on the Wellington City Council website for a comprehensive list of walks both in and out of the city. I wanted to head up to Mount Victoria but the weather just did not want to cooperate. Make sure you spend time walking along Wellington’s waterfront, where you can follow the Wellington Writers Walk as well. On a nice day, the views are very pretty.
Photograph Welly icons
There are two icons in Wellington worth adding to your photo album. Firstly, the City to Sea Bridge is both a public artwork and a pedestrian bridge in the CBD. It opened in 1994 and connects the city to the waterfront. Secondly, there’s the iconic Wellington sign, which is a take on the infamous Hollywood sign in LA. But in true Welly fashion, this one depicts the O and N blowing away in the city’s notoriously windy weather. Here’s a link to its location.
Walk down Cuba Street
Cuba Street is the main pedestrian-only thoroughfare in Wellington’s CBD. There are the usual shopping suspects, as well as plenty of food and drink options. It’s also home to the Bucket Fountain, which was installed in 1969.
Check out the National Tattoo Museum of New Zealand
Also known as Mokomuseum, Wellington is in fact home to the National Tattoo Museum of New Zealand. It’s dedicated to showcasing the history of tattooing in New Zealand. In particular, it looks at Ta Moko – traditional Maori tattoo art.
Visit Oriental Bay (and its huts)
Oriental Bay is a quick waterfront walk from the CBD. There’s a beach here, which I’m sure would be really nice when Wellington isn’t being its windy self. But most importantly, there are cute huts with a pretty nice backdrop. Located on Oriental Parade, you have to walk down some steps to reach them. I totally walked past them the first time!
Check out the City Gallery
Located in Te Ngākau Civic Square, the City Gallery is just another awesomely free thing to do in Wellington. Focusing on contemporary art, I’ve also heard the gallery’s Nikau Cafe is worth a visit as well.
Head inside Old St Paul’s
Built in the 19th century, Old St Paul’s is said to be one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world today. New St Paul’s was built in the 1960s and is located a block away, so this venue is primarily used for special events these days.
Walk around the Botanic Garden
The cable car (which I discuss below because it costs money) takes you straight to the Botanic Garden. There’s a 40-minute walk through the Botanic Garden you can follow, which takes you downhill and back into the city. There are signs pointing you in the right direction around every corner and you can check out several different gardens along the way. However, my favourite was definitely the Rose Garden. It smelled so pretty!
See the seals at Red Rocks Reserve
Red Rocks Reserve is located on Wellington’s rugged south coast. A 30-minute walk from Owhiro Bay, the Red Rocks themselves were formed some 200 million years ago. But the main attraction that draws people to the area is its resident fur seal colony, which can be seen from May to October.
Check out the Beehive
Wellington has got to have one of the world’s most unique parliament buildings. Known as the Beehive, this quirky-looking building is actually the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings. Completed in 1981, NZ has definitely embraced its Beehive, as the official website of the New Zealand government is Beehive.govt.nz. You will find yourself here if you follow the walk I mentioned above – from the Botanic Garden back to the city.
Spot street art
Wellington does have some cool murals, but my favourite is definitely this David Bowie piece on Ghuznee Street. It’s located on the side of Jam Hair Co – here’s the Google Maps link. Visit the Wellington City Council website for all the best street art spots.
Other things to do in Wellington
Do a Weta Workshop tour
This is another great rainy day activity in Wellington. Weta Workshop is where all the movie magic happens. There are a variety of workshop tours available, but I decided to treat myself to the There and Back Again package, which included return transfers from the city. Firstly, we watched a really interesting documentary. It showed just how many movies and projects the team had worked on over the years, and the variety of work they do. I thought it was all about The Lord of the Rings, but these guys worked on Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin, the Chronicles of Narnia movies and so much more.
Afterwards a guide who worked on the chain mail for The Lord of the Rings took us on a tour, where we could see the props and their work up close. I love any chance to go behind-the-scenes (see Atlanta and LA) so I found it fascinating, but I would only recommend it to enthusiasts like myself. I thought we would get to go a bit further into the workshop, but I guess that’s all understandably under lock and key.
Embark on a Lord of the Rings tour
If you’re a bit of a Lord of the Rings fan, there are other tours available that go to different locations around Wellington that were used in the trilogy. I’ve included some options from GetYourGuide below.
Do a guided tour at Nairn Street Cottage
For $8 you can take a guided tour of Nairn Street Cottage, where you can hear stories about the different generations of the Wallis family who occupied the home. Built in 1858, it’s said to be one of the city’s oldest houses.
Head out of the city
This has to come under paid things to do in Wellington because I’m basically telling you to leave the city to spend money on delicious food. But I had a few places around Wellington saved to my Google Maps that I didn’t get to. Firstly, if you’re in Wellington on a warm summer’s day, Island Bay Beach is meant to be one of the best. Otherwise, my research told me the food and atmosphere at both Maranui Cafe and Chocolate Fish Cafe are worth leaving the city.
Do some shopping
Wellington has a lot of independent boutiques and op shops/consignment stores. My favourite was Iko Iko, which has stores in both Auckland and Wellington. Inside you’ll find fun gift ideas, original pop culture posters and cute jewellery. Here are some other stores I’ve heard are worth a visit: Madame Fancy Pants, Emporium (for vintage and streetwear), Goodness (NZ designers galore), Recycle Boutique (my dorm mate got a haul from here) and Twenty Seven Names.
Visit Katherine Mansfield House & Garden
Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s most internationally renowned author. Katherine Mansfield House & Garden is the house she grew up in. The house has been restored to its original layout and inside you’ll see several items that belonged to Mansfield and her family.
Stare at the stars in Space Place
Here’s a handy description about Space Place from its website: “At Space Place, we share the stories of our New Zealand skies through multimedia exhibits, interactive galleries, the historic Thomas Cooke telescope and our digital, full-dome planetarium.” Adult admission is currently $12.
Go to a bookstore
Wellington definitely loves a bookshop or 10. I wandered into Ekor Bookshop & Cafe, where you can have a coffee surrounded by beautiful books. Another bookshop I checked out was Unity Books, which was very busy on a rainy Saturday morning. In Cuba Mall, you’ll also find Pegasus Books.
Travel on the Wellington Cable Car
For $5, I had to take a ride in the Wellington Cable Car. I was glad I did when I got to the top because it goes up a very steep hill. Take time to soak up the beautiful views from the lookout beside the Cable Car. There’s also the free Cable Car Museum at the top that houses two of the original grip cars.
Head to a market or two
Some markets to check out in Wellington include the Wellington Night Market, which is held on Friday and Saturday nights in different locations along Cuba Street. There’s also The Underground Market, which happens every Saturday under Frank Kitts Park on the waterfront. Finally, check out Harbourside Market on Sundays year-round. It’s the oldest and most popular market in town.
Discover Zealandia or Wellington Zoo
So, let’s start with Zealandia – the world’s first fully-fenced urban eco-sanctuary. It’s an interesting initiative and there are several tours available, including self-guided tours, day and night tours, and kids’ night walks. There’s also Wellington Zoo, which is home to animals from around the world. This includes lesser-known cat species like the caracal and serval, the all-important kiwi and native Australian animals like the Tasmanian devil.
Hop on board a sightseeing tour
Finally, there are a couple of local companies offering hop-on-hop-off and guided tours in Wellington (no double-decker buses here). If you don’t have a lot of time in Wellington, this is going to be the best way to see the best the city has to offer. I’ve included some reasonably-priced options below.
Getting around Wellington
To get from the airport to the CBD, I walked less than 10 minutes out of the airport and got a public bus directly to Courtenay Place. My hostel was a three-minute walk from the bus stop. This cost $5 and was what Google Maps recommended (and we all know how much I love and trust Google Maps). Another option is the Airport Flyer, which I discovered afterwards.
As for getting around the city, if you’re going to be using the bus regularly it’s more cost-effective to purchase and top up a Snapper card. But I only used the bus to get to and from the airport. The rest of the time I just walked.
Where to stay in Wellington
I stayed at the YHA Wellington City and I’d definitely recommend it to fellow solo travellers visiting Wellington. It’s located right in the CBD, has free WiFi (up to 2GB daily on each device) and the rooms are very clean. I stayed in a four-bed female dorm with ensuite. Check out this view from our room 😍.
If you are looking for a more luxurious accommodation option in Wellington, I’ve heard the Sofitel is the place to stay. I mean, just look at the reviews.
I hope you enjoy your visit to Wellington as much I did! I’m following up this post with one that includes all the awesome things I ate in Wellington, so stay tuned.