‘Windy Welly’, as it’s fondly known by locals, is a vibrant city with an edgy, understated diversity.
As the nation’s capital, Wellington lures visitors from all walks of life — which gives it lots of personality. Our top Wellington travel tip is to pack your warm clothes regardless of the season. Icy winds can whip up in a nanosecond thanks to the city’s position on the blustery Cook Strait.
Enjoy this Wellington travel guide.
Cultural things to do in Wellington
Wellington is one of those cities that like to wear its art on its sleeve, and public artworks decorate the streets, parks and waterfront.
There’s a whole movement dedicated to sculpture, and you can stumble across it yourself or embark on a dedicated self-guided walk designed by the Wellington Sculpture Trust.
Other accessible public art includes the annual Waituhi Matariki project — aimed at sharing Māori culture with a wider audience, pakiTara-toi — a programme of ‘art on walls’, including murals and street art, Mason’s Screen — a 24-hour outdoor video screen running artists’ works, and a collection of illuminated decorative light boxes spread across the city.
The striking historic façade of the City Gallery is a fitting complement to the vast range of important contemporary art works displayed inside. The collection comprises exhibits by local and international artists working in diverse practices including sculpture, printmaking, photography and multimedia.
Being New Zealand’s capital, you’ll want to take a look at the parliamentary precinct in Wellington during your visit. It’s an intriguing mash-up of architectural styles. The three main buildings are the modernist Beehive, the neoclassical Parliament House and the Gothic Revival-style Parliamentary Library. There’s a variety of guided tours on offer.
For fashionistas, creatives and lovers of the downright fabulous, Welly’s World of Wearable Art is a design competition that garners international attention. Entries come in from all over the world and cover everything from edgy and eccentric, to elegant and ingenious ‘wearable art’. Absolutely anything goes as long as it can be worn on the body, which allows for some truly spectacular creations. The three-week extravaganza of out-of-this-world art and fashion is held during September and October.
Café culture is alive and well in Wellington as you’ll soon discover. The city boasts some of the best coffee — and baristas — in the world. Visit Mojo Coffee on the waterfront at 33 Customhouse Quay to watch the experts in action and sample their wares.
Great places to eat in Wellington
New Zealand is renowned for its fresh produce and culinary inventiveness, and Wellington is no shirk on either front.
Head to the Cuba Street district for a selection of great dining experiences. The proliferation of eateries covers everything from casual hole-in-the-wall cafes to five-star fabulousness. You can’t go past the locals’ favourite — Olive, where you’ll dine on delectable contemporary New Zealand cuisine in a genuinely welcoming ambience. Step it up for a special night out at Logan Brown, one of the city’s most renowned restaurants. It offers fine dining with a focus on sustainable produce, ethical practices and minimal waste.
Cuba Street is by no means the only place to eat. The fabulous Hummingbird, downtown at Courtenay Place, serves up a refined experience in pleasingly unpretentious surroundings. Their menu of cocktails, beers and gin varietals is as diverse as it is long. For seafood lovers in search of New Zealand’s best and freshest catch, head over to the Ortega Fish Shack. They also do plenty of meat based dishes and vegetarian options.
For killer views, amazing organic vegetarian and vegan food and a range of craft beers and botanical based cocktails, The Botanist in Lyall Bay proves once and for all that healthy can be delicious. They deliver a hefty selection of choices for breakfast, brunch and lunch.
Zest Food Tours offers a gourmet walking tour of the city and they’ll happily point you in the direction of the hottest new spots to eat.
Wellington for history lovers
New Zealand’s history comes alive at Te Papa Tongarewa — the Museum of New Zealand.
Loosely translated, the name means box of treasures. Here you’ll experience everything ‘Kiwi’ — from art and history through to traditional Maori culture and seasonal exhibitions. The museum is spread out over several levels and will keep you busy for hours. There are quite a few cafes and pubs nearby, so you can easily make a whole day of it. Te Papa is open every day of the year, including Christmas day.
Wellington has plenty of heritage architectural gems, but Old St Paul’s Cathedral is probably the most significant. This wooden Gothic church was constructed in the mid 1860s, and the vaulted ceiling is quite something. The lighting gives the native timber interior a rich, warm glow, and stunning stained glass windows add to the effect.
Where to shop in Wellington
Lambton Quay is the place to shop up a storm in Welly.
While there are various other retail hotspots around the city, it’s here that you’ll find an eclectic mix of fashion and souvenir shops, including traditional chain stores and up-and-coming designer boutiques tucked away down quaint arcades.
Hitting the city’s many markets is also a great way to pick up something special — everything from handmade beauty products and quirky home-sewn fashion, to mouth watering fresh-as-can-be baked goods and other gourmet products. One of the best is the Sunday Harbourside Markets, which are the oldest in the city — and certainly the most picturesque. You’ll probably smell them before you see them, with the enticing aromas of fresh pastries, coffee, herbs and more wafting on the ocean breeze.
For a wonderful creative fix, the Wellington Underground Market is held (well what do you know, underground…) every Saturday at Frank Kitts Park. It’s a joyful proliferation of up to 100 art, craft and food stalls.
The Wellington Night Market on Fridays and Saturdays comes with a side of street performers, buskers and cultural dance performances.
Top ways to relax in Wellington
For a capital city, Wellington has a very laid-back and relaxed feel.
The Wellington Cable Car is a great way to take the weight off your feet, while taking in stunning views of the city. The iconic red cable cars depart from the heart of Lambton Quay and stop at the entrance to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden. There are 25 hectares of pristine gardens to take in, including the stellar rose gardens.
For those wanting to get even further back to nature, check out Wellington’s renowned Zealandia ecosanctuary. Located just a stone’s throw from the city, Zealandia’s aim is to return its 225 hectares to their pre-human state, and several decimated native wildlife species have been reintroduced to the fenced environment.
Five Wellington tours we love
Discover the best of the city on a scenic hop on hop off tour that travels to ten stops, including the Wellington Cable Car, Wellington Zoo, the Botanic Garden, Te Papa and more. Your friendly guide will share informative commentary throughout the 90-minute round trip by minibus. Hop on and off as often as you like at the designated stops.
Get a great all-round introduction to Wellington on this guided coach tour. See all the key sights, including the parliamentary buildings and Old St Paul’s Cathedral. You’ll also visit Mt Victoria for panoramic views over Wellington Harbour.
Take a guided tour of the dedicated visitor facility of Weta Workshop — one the world’s leading cinematic special effects studios. See props, weapons, costumes and creatures created for The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and District 9. Transfers from Wellington are included.
Wellington has its fair share of hills, but you’ll make short work of them on this four-hour e-bike tour with a local guide.
Visit four of the region’s finest craft brewhouses on this half day guided experience, and taste-test their liquid wares.
Do you have any tips to add to our Wellington travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Jade Harrison is a presenter on the Tour the World travel series on Network Ten and a freelance travel writer, and has travelled to New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, USA, Mexico, the UK, Europe, Thailand, Brazil, India and Nepal — including a trek to Annapurna Base Camp! Jade loves all aspects of travelling and adventure — from roughing it in the Himalayas, to backpacking through Europe, to enjoying some five-star luxury along the way.
About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel and feature writer. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind and an open-ended ticket.