Your Wellington Must-See Checklist
The secrets out. There are so many incredible things to see and places to visit in Wellington. Our country’s capital may be smaller than Auckland, but what it lacks in size, it certainly makes up for it in character and activities.
Our Interislander ferry has been docking in the capital’s harbour for many years.Over this time, we’ve watched as the amount of fun things to do in Wellington has grown and grown. Whether you’re visiting the capital especially, or just looking for things to do in Wellington before your ferry journey, we’ve put together a list of our must-see spots. Get your camera ready! Let’s get started.
We head out to Ōwhiro Bay to Red Rocks to start our list. As you’d expect, Red Rocks features stunning red rock formations and a beautiful, rugged coastal walk. The walk is easy and flat, and you may also see fur seals (but keep your distance). The walk is free, with parking at the start of the track. You keep going to Devil's Gate and then turn around and come back. We think this walk is up there with the best walks in Wellington.
Puffin Wine Bar
The capital is known for its bustling bar scene. Whether you’re a fan of fine wine, craft beer or anything in between, chances are you’ll find something to your taste around Cuba Street or Courtenay Place. One of our favourite things to do in Wellington at night is visit Puffin Wine Bar. As well as enjoying incredible wine, the bar itself has a fantastic, almost art deco decor that’s well worth a look.
Wellington Botanic Garden
Many cities and towns in New Zealand feature a botanic garden. However, only a few are on the same level as the Wellington Botanic Gardens. When people ask us for cheap things to do in Wellington, we often suggest visiting the Botanic Gardens. It’s just a short cable car ride from the CBD, which isn’t far once you disembark from your ferry from Picton to Wellington. You then walk down through stunning gardens and nature for free.
Wright Hill Fortress
Wright Hill Fortress is often overlooked as one of the best places to visit in Wellington. But it really shouldn’t be. Wright Hill Fortress was built during World War Two and features underground tunnels and gun emplacements. Walking through these tunnels out in Koriri is a very interesting experience for any family member. It’s best to attend when there is an open day. Adults usually cost $10, with kids under 15 just $5.
Arborist Rooftop Bar
As we’ve mentioned, there are some truly fantastic places in the capital to enjoy food and drink. What makes many of these locations special is the views you see or the quirky decor. One such place is The Arborist. Or, more specifically, the rooftop bar at The Arborist. As well as being able to enjoy your favourite cocktails and yummy food, the view from the top of the city skyline. This is a fantastic place to visit after a Cook Strait ferry crossing, as it’s a short walk from the ferry terminal.
Hiking in Wellington doesn’t get much better than the walk up Mount Kaukau. If you want panoramic views of Wellington and the Wellington Harbour, this walk is where you want to go. You can start the walk either from Khandallah or Johnsonville. We recommend taking the loop walk, which takes about three hours to finish.
The Beehive is hard to miss in Wellington. It’s the Executive Wing of our parliamentary complex. The building is shaped like a beehive and is where our Prime Minister, along with other Cabinet Ministers, work daily. While seeing this building for yourself, you can also do an insightful tour and enjoy the parliamentary grounds. There’s even a playground for kids. The Beehive is in Pipitea and just a short distance from the Interislaner ferry terminal.
Another one of the top things to do in Wellington at night is visiting Hiakai. This fantastic restaurant is the brainchild of celebrity chef Monique Fiso. The great thing about this fantastic restaurant is that it explores Māori ingredients and cooking techniques. This means the food offered here is truly unique (and delicious). Hiakai is incredibly popular, so be sure to book well in advance.
Don’t be put off by the word scorching. This beach and coastal area is one of the great free things to do in Wellington. Just a short drive or bus ride out to Miramar, Scorching Bay is fantastic for swimming and relaxing. There's a big grassy area to kick a ball around. Plus, you may even be able to spot the Interislander ferry from the shoreline. Scorching Bay is definitely a must-see beach in the area.
You'll notice a small island as you enter the harbour on the Cook Strait ferry. From a distance, it doesn’t look like there’s much on this island, but you can actually visit here for yourself. Matiu/Somes Island features an excellent walk for those looking at hiking in Wellington. It’s also a predator-free reserve, meaning you may be able to see uncommon wildlife, including:
If you’re leaving from the Interislander ferry terminal, you just walk along the waterfront to another smaller ferry operator who can take you out to the island.
There’s nothing like a night out at the movies. One of our favourite cinemas is Roxy Cinema. This awesome spot is in Miramar. As well as showing the latest and classic films, it’s also a stunning art deco cinema theatre. You’ll be taking photos of the interior before watching the movie, that’s for sure.
Mount Victoria Lookout
You can see Mount Victoria from nearly all of Wellington. It’s located right near the centre of the city. Take one of the best walks in Wellington, starting from Mount Victoria, to get to the lookout. Once you reach the top, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the whole city and harbour. Be sure to get a selfie with this stunning backdrop.
One of the best places to visit in Wellington for nature lovers is Zealandia. This ecosanctuary features fantastic walks and the opportunity to get up close and personal with rare wildlife. Visiting Zealandia is an incredible experience, as this lush forest is located in the city. If you’re lucky, you’ll see:
- Kiwi (if you’re doing a night tour).
Zealandia can be found in Karori, a short bus ride from the Interislander ferry terminal. Entry to Zealandia is $24 for adults, children between five and seven just $10 and under fives are free.
From the decks of the Interislander ferries while in Wellington Harbour, you’ll notice a lighthouse that’s along the coastline from Eastbourne. This is Pencarrow Lighthouse, and visiting here on a nice day will provide a unique perspective looking back at Wellington.
We recommend hiring a bike and riding out. Don’t worry, it’s a nice flat track. We thing that Pencarrow Lighthouse is up there with the unmissable sights on the Cook Strait journey. But the views once you get there are also fantastic.
Wellington is famous for its contribution to film, particularly, Wētā Workshop. This special effects company has helped bring popular films to life, including:
- The Hobbit
- Thor and some other Marvel movies
But if you’re looking for fun things to do in Wellington, you’ll want to visit Wētā Cave. If you love films, Wētā Cave will be right up your alley with authentic collectables, prop replicas and other interesting film memorabilia. Wētā Cave is a must-see when visiting the capital.
Like some of the other must-see locations on this list, Oriental Parade can also be seen from the Interislander ferries, and you enter or leave Wellington Harbour. One of the reasons Oriental Parade is so popular is because of how close and easy it is to reach from the CBD. Oriental Parade features a stunning walk along the waterfront with patches of golden sand to play or swim.
Those on the hunt for must-see fashion in Wellington, look no further than Kowtow. Since 2007, Kowtow has emphasised locally sourced, natural and sustainable materials to create fashion pieces that you have to see to believe. Kowtow started in Wellington, so its flagship store here will satisfy your cravings for fashion and shopping. Kowtow is located on College Street in Te Aro.
City Gallery Wellington
Some people describe Wellington as the cultural capital of New Zealand. With locations like City Gallery Wellington, you can see why. This gallery is home to some of the most stunning art in the country. Those looking for free things to do in Wellington will also be happy to know that most of the exhibitions here are free. Although donations are greatly encouraged. City Gallery is close to the Interislander ferry terminal on the waterfront.
When some people think of Wellington, the first thing that comes to mind is our cute and colourful Bucket Fountain. When you’re walking down Cuba Street looking at shops, you won’t be able to miss this art installation. No visit to Wellington is complete without a picture with the Bucket Fountain.
Last but certainly not least on our list of must-see spots in Wellington is Meow. No, this isn’t a pet shop but a music venue. Wellington is lucky to have a lively and active music scene. Several venues are showcasing a range of genres and artists. One of the mainstays on the scene in Meow. If you’re in the area, look up what’s on Wellington to see what events are on show at Meow. Must-see acts are performing all of the time. Meow is just near the city centre in Te Aro.
As a bonus must-see, we’ve got to mention Wellington on a Plate. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting the capital during May or August, you’ll be able to enjoy this annual food event. Each year, restaurants, bars and other eateries create exciting and new one-off dishes to serve as part of the competition. Every year is different, but you can be sure that the meals will always be incredible.
Pack your camera and visit Wellington with Interislander
There is so much to see and do in Wellington. Whether you’re in the capital before boarding the Interislander or disembarking after coming from Picton, leave some to explore all there is to offer. Book your Interislander ferry crossing now. Or, for more information, read our guide to travelling on the Interislander ferries.