Though severely damaged by earthquakes in the last few years, Christchurch is making a come back. Visiting Christchurch after a few years away was like coming back to a brand-new city.
While there’s a lot of open space from demolished buildings, there’s a lot of rebuilding, a sense of hope, vibrancy, and a feeling that the city is on the move. The town is now filled with funky bars, markets, new restaurants, shops, and art exhibits. The new city the locals are building — and the sense of hope they have — is really inspiring.
This travel guide to Christchurch can help you plan your trip to what I think is one of the now coolest destinations in the country.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Christchurch
1. Check out Canterbury Museum
2. Ride the Christchurch Gondola
3. Cycle through Hagley Park
4. Visit Quake City
5. Experience the foodie scene
Other Things to See and Do in Christchurch
1. Visit the International Antarctic Center
Founded in 1990, the AIC is home to the New Zealand, United States, and Italian Antarctic programs. It’s also home to The Antarctic Attraction, a massive Antarctic exhibit and cafe. Here you’ll find a lot of information on the environment and wildlife of Antarctica as well as a simulated Antarctic environment where you can pose for photos and learn about the climate. You can also ride in a real all-terrain Antarctic vehicle, interact with huskies, and see penguins too. The exhibit is targeted toward kids but even adults find it fun. Tickets are 59 NZD.
2. Check out the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
This wildlife park has over 95 species of animals, from exotic birds to heritage domestic animals to animals native to New Zealand (including kiwis!). You can feed wild eels and lemurs, get up close to local livestock breeds, and there are even pony rides for small children. Like the Antarctic Center, this is a good place to visit with kids as they’ll not only learn about the animals but about the important conservation work the park is doing. Daily tours are available at 4:30pm and tickets are 32.50 NZD for adults and 12 NZD for kids.
3. Explore Cathedral Square
Known as the Square, this is the main hub of the city. For over 150 years, the Square has been the primary gathering point for events and festivals and is a popular spot to relax and people-watch in the summer. The Christchurch Cathedral is located here, though it was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and is still closed for renovations (you can take photos of the exterior though). The 18m-high metal sculpture Chalice, designed by Neil Dawson to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the city is here too. On Fridays, the Square hosts an awesome food truck market.
4. Attend a festival
Christchurch is the main city for festivals in New Zealand. There is typically something going on every month, such as the South Island Wine and Food Festival in December, the Christchurch Lantern Festival in March, and the Great Kiwi Beer Fest in January. Other noteworthy festivals are the World Busker’s Festival in January, which includes 60+ performers and lasts several weeks, and Christchurch’s Holi Festival (held every February). To find out what’s happening during your visit, use the site eventfinda.co.nz.
5. Experience Maori culture
For an in-depth look at Maori culture, head to Ko Tane. It offers an immersive cultural experience located in the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. A visit here includes a tour of a historic Maori village and the wildlife reserve, a traditional Maori performance, and a four-course dinner. Altogether, visits last 4-5 hours so prepare to spend a good chunk of time here (you can visit for 3-4 hours if you skip the wildlife tour). While there are better cultural tours elsewhere in the country (the best ones are in Rotorua), Ko Tane provides a remarkable experience if you can’t make it to Rotorua. Prices begin a 135 NZD.
6. Visit the Centre of Contemporary Art
If contemporary art is your thing, don’t miss Christchurch’s CoCA. This non-profit gallery is home to rotating exhibitions that change each quarter so there is always something new to be seen (you can check their website for up-to-date exhibitions). While contemporary art isn’t my cup of tea, there are some pretty ambitious and unique exhibitions here from both local and international artists. Admission is free.
7. Shop at Lyttelton Farmers Market
Whether you are looking to stock up on some groceries or just want to check out an authentic local market, make time for a visit here. The market is full of seasonal produce, bread, cheese, honey, eggs, relishes, and much more. There is always great people-watching and occasionally live music. The market is just 12km outside of town, accessible by both car and bus. It’s is open on Saturdays from 10am-1pm. Try to arrive early to beat the crowd.
8. Visit the Christchurch Art Gallery
Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu (commonly called the Christchurch Art Gallery) is the largest museum on the South Island and home to some of New Zealand’s best artwork. You’ll find a lot of landscapes, portraits, and modern art here. The exhibitions are always changing, so check their website to see what’s on during your visit. Admission to the museum is free and there are also free guided tours daily at 11am and 2pm (which last around an hour). Expect to spend a few hours if you really want to see everything.
9. Tour Christ’s College
Christ’s College is a private school for boys that was founded in 1850. If history and architecture are your thing, it’s worth taking their tour. The school is home to a number of heritage buildings and you can learn a lot about the city and its past through the historic lens of the school. If you’re not a history buff, I’d skip this. But for anyone looking to really examine the nitty-gritty historical details of the region, don’t miss a tour here. Tours cost 10 NZD and run weekdays at 10am. They last 80 minutes.
10. Hike in Port Hills
This range of hills is located south of Christchurch. The peaks, which reach heights of 200-500m, are the remnants of an extinct volcano. They offer tons of hiking trails for travelers looking to stretch their legs. The Crater Rim track is a moderate trail that takes the better part of a day to complete but offers stunning views of the entire region (you can do smaller sections of it in just 1-2 hours). For an easier hike, try the Godley Head Coastal Walk. It’s a 3-hour loop that isn’t too challenging. For veteran hikers, there’s a 2-hour track called Bridle Path that will help you work up a sweat.
11. Sumner and Scarborough Beach
Located just outside the city, this is a popular summer spot for locals looking to soak up some sun and relax on the beach. There is a small village nearby with lots of charming cafes and restaurants and you can also take surfing lessons here as well. There’s a beach promenade that stretches along the coast, making both beaches easily accessible (they are just 1km from each other). You can reach the area via public bus too so it’s an easy and affordable way to get out of the city for a few hours.
Christchurch Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms with six to ten beds cost 32-40 NZD per night. In the winter, you can find them for 23-35 NZD. Private rooms begin at 80 NZD and can be found for as little as 55 NZD in the winter. Free Wi-Fi and self-catering facilities are common. Only one hostel in the city includes free breakfast (Kiwi Basecamp). Be sure to book there if you’re on a tight budget.
Budget hotel prices – Budget three-star hotels and motels in the city cost 100 NZD per night. In the winter, you can find prices closer to 80 NZD per night. Many include either free breakfast or basic self-catering facilities.
Airbnb is widely available in the city with private rooms starting at 50 NZD per night. Entire homes/apartments cost at least 105 NZD per night while shared accommodations (which are rare in Christchurch) cost at least 30 NZD per night.
There are over a dozen campsites near the city with prices starting at 20 NZD per night for a basic plot (a flat space for a tent without electricity). If you’re driving a self-contained camper van (one with its own water supply and bathroom), there are plenty of free places to park overnight in and around the city. Use the app “park4night” to find them.
Food – Eating out in Christchurch is expensive. A cheap restaurant meal with a drink costs around 18 NZD. For something fancier, like a mid-range restaurant with table service, expect to pay around 40-45 NZD for a meal with a drink.
You can find sandwiches at cafes for 10 NZD. Fast food like McDonald’s and Burger King costs around 12 NZD for a combo meal. A beer at the bar costs around 8.50 NZD (though you can buy them for 5 NZD during happy hour, which is usually 4-6pm).
If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend between 60-80 NZD per week for basic staples like rice, pasta, vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Christchurch Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Christchurch for 75-110 NZD ($50-70 USD) per day. On this budget, you’ll stay in a dorm room or camp, cook all of your meals, do free outdoor activities (like hiking and swimming), visit just a few paid attractions (like Quake City or an art gallery), and rent a cheap city bike or take public transportation to get around. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can lower this by limiting your drinking, Couchsurfing, and visiting in the offseason.
On a mid-range budget of about 220-275 NZD ($140-175 USD), you’ll stay in a budget hotel or private hostel room, eat out at cheap local restaurants, take the occasional taxi, enjoy some happy hours, and do more paid activities like snorkeling and kayaking. In short, you’ll have the flexibility to do what you want. You’re not going to live large but you’ll be able to get by without worrying too much about your spending.
On a luxury budget of 515+ NZD ($330+ USD), you can stay in a 4-star hotel or upscale B&B, eat out for every meal at mid-range restaurants, drink what you want, rent a car or RV, and do as many activities as you’d like (including visiting local museums and doing adventure sports like surfing and scuba diving). This is just the ground floor for luxury though — you can easily spend more if you really want to splash out!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Christchurch Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Like most cities in New Zealand, Christchurch isn’t a budget-friendly destination. Most items need to be imported, which keeps costs high (especially food). However, if you stay at cheap accommodations or Couchsurf, stick to drinking during happy hours, avoid eating out, and visit during the shoulder season you’ll be able to cut your costs without limiting yourself too much. Here are some additional tips to help you save money in Christchurch:
- Buy a Metrocard – If you plan to spend an extended time in Christchurch you can save money on public transportation by buying a Metrocard. These reloadable cards cost 10 NZD but they reduce bus fares by 25%, which adds up if you’re here for a few days and are using public transportation.
- Cook your food – Eating out in Christchurch can really hurt your budget. Cook your own meals to save money. When it comes to buying groceries, the cheaper supermarkets are Pakn’Save and Countdown.
- Stay with a local – Try staying with a local to cut down on your accommodation costs. In addition to free accommodation, you’ll also get valuable insight into the area from a local!
- Avoid the high season – Prices are higher during the summer months (accommodation can be as much as 20-25% more expensive). Avoid peak tourist season if you’re on a budget.
- Find deals at bookme.co.nz – If you’re looking for activities and are flexible with your dates, this website often has great deals. You can find tours and activities for up to 50% off!
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is often cheaper than taxis and is the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where can you share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
- Hit happy hour – Many bars offer cheap happy hours offering 5 NZD drinks. Hit them up to save a few dollars. Otherwise, plan to spend around 8-10 NZD for a beer at the bar.
- WWOOF it – If you don’t mind staying outside of the city, WWOOFing is a great way to work for your accommodation and food. In return for working on a farm or B&B, you get free room and board. It’s a popular activity with travelers because it lets you stay in a place cheaper and longer. You can do it for a few days or a few months.
- Clean in exchange for your room – Some hostels in the city let you trade a few hours of cleaning and making beds for free accommodation. Use Worldpackers.com to find opportunities.
- Enjoy nature – Remember that nature is free! The city and surrounding area is home to tons of free outdoor activities, hiking trails, and beaches. While the adventure activities can eat into your budget, there are plenty of trails and walks here to keep you busy and save you money.
Where to Stay in Christchurch
Christchurch has plenty of budget-friendly hostels in the city, including both party hostels and more quiet options. Here are my recommended places to stay Christchurch:
How to Get Around Christchurch
Public transportation – Buses are the most common way of navigating the city. Cash fares start at 4.20 for a single-journey ticket and increase based on how far you travel. With a pre-paid Metrocard, single tickets start at 2.65 NZD. A one-way ticket to the airport costs 8.50 NZD without a Metrocard and 2.65 NZD with one.
Metrocards can be purchased around the city and cost 10 NZD (but the savings add up after a few days, making it worthwhile if you plan on using the bus often).
Taxi – Taxis here are expensive and should be avoided. Rates generally start around 3.50 NZD and go up by 2.60 NZD per kilometer. Unless you have no other option or are splitting a ride with other travelers, I’d avoid using taxis. Car rentals, rideshares, and cycling are cheaper.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Christchurch and is usually cheaper than taking a taxi. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for 35 NZD per day (or 140 NZD per week). That said, you only need a car if you’re leaving the city. Christchurch is small and easy to navigate on foot or by bus. Unless you have a specific need for a car, I’d avoid renting one in the city.
You’ll need to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to rent a car. You can obtain one in your home country before you leave.
Bicycle – Bike rentals can be found for as little as 4 NZD per hour (and 20 NZD per day) via nextbike. They’re a bike-sharing program that has stations set up around the city. You can use an app to book and pay for your rentals. The first 30 minutes is free.
For better-quality bikes (like touring and mountain bikes) expect to pay at least 50 NZD per day.
When to Go to Christchurch
Christchurch is located on the east coast of the South Island. The climate is temperate with mild summers and cool winters. Summer is from December-February and it’s the most popular time to visit the city. Kiwis also take their holidays during this time so things get busy here. The average daytime temperature in the summer in Christchurch is around 22°C (72°F). While warm, there is usually a sea breeze that keeps the temperature from rising too much.
Fall is from March-May, and it’s a nice time to visit if you want to beat the crowds. The weather is still enjoyable, with daily averages around 13°C (55°F).
Winter is from June-August. This is the cheapest time to visit as accommodation is usually discounted. Temperatures hover around 7°C (45°F) during the day and can fall to 0°C (32°F) at night. Frost is common, and snowfall can be expected a few times throughout the winter.
If you’re on a budget, the shoulder season is probably of the best times to visit as you’ll find lower prices and less people. However, if you’re looking for warmer weather and a lively atmosphere, visit during the summer.
How to Stay Safe in Christchurch
Like the rest of the country, Christchurch is a safe destination to travel. Even if you’re traveling solo (including as a solo female traveler), you won’t have anything to worry about here. There is a relatively low crime rate, though the nightlife here can get a little rowdy on the weekend (alcohol-fueled incidences are not uncommon). Take the normal precautions as you would at home, such as carrying a cellphone and being aware of your personal belongings when riding public transportation, and you’ll be able to avoid most situations.
For additional security, download an offline map of the city in case you get lost. Also, make copies of your important documents (i.e. passport) and forward your itinerary to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
Earthquakes, like the one that badly damaged the city in 2011, are rare. Nevertheless, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the basic protocols for what to do should one occur during your visit. For added security, download a local weather app (like MetService NZ Weather) to stay up to date on abnormal weather and natural disasters.
The emergency number in New Zealand is 111.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. If that driver picking you up seems weird, don’t get in the car. If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in New Zealand. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Christchurch Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Christchurch. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Sweden, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Christchurch Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to Christchurch, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip.
The Best Backpack for Christchurch
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Christchurch
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Christchurch Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Island of the Lost: Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World, by Joan Druett
Auckland Island, located 285 miles south of New Zealand, is a place with year-round freezing rain, wind, and little food (but apparently, a lot of seals). Simply put, it’s not a place you want to get shipwrecked on. Yet in 1864, Captain Thomas Musgrave and his crew did just that — and a few months later, on the opposite side of the island, so did the crew of the Scottish ship Invercauld. This well-written account of the how the two crews survived (and didn’t survive) was a wonderful juxtaposition on leadership, camaraderie, and coming together in crisis.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton
Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker Prize-winning book is a parody of the 19th-century novel is considered a modern classic. The year is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to New Zealand to get involved in the gold rush. When he arrives, he happens upon 12 men who have met in secret to talk about several mysterious events, including the disappearance of a wealthy man and a prostitute’s attempt to end her life. Moody is drawn into the circle, and the book soon turns into a thrilling page-turner that will keep you hooked the whole way through.
Squashed Possums: Off the Beaten Track in New Zealand, by Jonathan Tindale
This one is a fun, humorous travelogue that will get you super excited about your trip. In Squashed Possoms, Tindale talks about his adventures (and misadventures) from a year spent exploring the lesser-explored areas of New Zealand. He makes himself a home in an abandoned caravan, and then lives out four seasons getting acquainted with the terrain – including the coldest winter in decades.
A Land of Two Halves, by Joe Bennett
After having spent ten years in New Zealand, Joe Bennett decides to figure out why he’s still living there. A notorious restless traveler, Bennett finds himself examining all the reasons why these two islands have captivated him for a decade – so he packs his bags and heads out on a hitchhiking adventure around the North and South Islands. His encounters along the way are an enlightening look at life in New Zealand!
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Christchurch
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Christchurch Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling New Zealand and continue planning your trip: