Wellington travel guide

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. Jade Harrison checks in from Wellington — New Zealand's much-loved capital city...

Windy Welly, as it’s colloquially known, 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.

Wellington travel guide

Wellington travel guide. Image: Photodune

Culture

To get a handle on Wellington’s cultural make-up, start right in the heart of the city.

This bustling metropolis oozes character and charm, and fuses hip and quirky with refined and traditional. The best way to experience it is just to wander. Alternatively, booked a guided walking tour with a knowledgable local guide.

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.

Wellington travel guide

Wellington travel guide. Image courtesy of Mojo Coffee

Food culture is huge in Welly. If you’re a bit of a foodie, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to wine and dine around this city. Menus boast everything from cheap and cheerful, to multicultural fare and award-winning fine dining. Not sure where to begin? Check out the food tour suggestion below and get advice from the experts.

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 Parliamentary Library, and there are a variety of guided tours on offer.

Wellington travel guide

The Beehive. Image: Bigstock

Just a reminder before you set out to explore — Wellington is notorious for its temperamental weather. You will probably experience four seasons in one day as you navigate the waterfront promenade and CBD area — so rug up. This city has a reputation for being the coolest little capital in the world in more ways than one!

Food

You won’t go hungry in Wellington, that’s for sure.

New Zealand is renowned in general for its fabulous fresh produce and culinary inventiveness, and dining in Wellington certainly lives up to that reputation. 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 travel guide

Discover the city’s culinary delights with Zest Food Tours. Image courtesy of Wellington Tourism

Head to the Cuba Street district for a selection of great dining experiences, accompanied by buskers and street performers. You’ll find cosy little bakeries, cafes and restaurants lining the main streets and in every nook and cranny.

History

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 travel guide

Wellington travel guide: Visit Te Papa. Image courtesy of Wellington Tourism

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.

Shopping

Lambton Quay is the place to shop up a storm in Wellington.

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 upcoming designer boutiques tucked away down quaint arcades.

Wellington travel guide

Wellington Night Market. Image courtesy of Wellington Tourism

The Wellington Night Market on Fridays and Saturdays is another way to get your shopping fix, and comes with a side of street performers, buskers and cultural dance performances.

Relaxation

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 cute iconic red cable cars depart from the heart of Lambton Quay and stop at the entrance to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens. There are 25 hectares of pristine gardens to take in, including the stellar rose gardens.

Wellington travel guide

Wellington travel guide: Wellington Cable Car. Image: Photodune

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 tours we love

Wellington City Sights and Coast Tour

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.

Wellington Electric Bike Tour

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.

Weta Cave Workshop Tour

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 travel guide

Weta Cave Workshop Tour. Image courtesy of Wellington Tourism

Wellington Craft Brewery Half Day Tour

Visit four of the region’s finest craft brewhouses on this half day guided experience, and taste-test their liquid wares.

Scenic Wellington Helicopter Flight

Get a bird’s eye view of the New Zealand capital on this memorable helicopter flight over the city. You’ll get fabulous views of landmarks like Te Papa and the Beehive, and even the Marlborough Sounds and upper South Island (weather permitting).

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

 

Jade Harrison

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. Writing for The Big Bus tour and travel guide is a chance to indulge in the culture and landscapes of new destinations and Jade enjoys bringing that experience to life for readers.


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