While everyone raves about Auckland (which, contrary to popular belief, is not the capital), the real magic takes place in Wellington. The food scene, art scene, and eclectic murals give this capital city a hip personality.
It’s my favorite city in the country. I just love it so much. You get incredible nightlife, tasty restaurants, world-class art exhibits, insightful museums, tons of activities, and a beautiful harbor! What more could you ask for?
This travel guide to Wellington will help you get the most out of your stay in this fabulous city without spending too much money.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Wellington
1. Tour the Beehive and Parliament House
2. Hop on the Wellington Cable Car
3. Visit the Wellington Museum
4. Check out Te Papa
5. Relax in the Botanic Garden
Other Things to See and Do in Wellington
1. See Old St. Paul’s
Built in 1865, this cathedral is an excellent example of colonial Gothic architecture. Constructed entirely from native timbers, the glowing and ornate interior is lined by stunning stained glass. Join a guided tour and learn about the wonderful (and sometimes quirky) past of the church and its place in Wellington’s journey from colony to an independent nation. Guided tours start at 5 NZD.
2. Visit Wellington Zoo
This is New Zealand’s oldest zoo, home to animals from Africa and Asia as well as native wildlife like emus, dingos, and all kinds of snakes. Check out the daily talks and get up close to red pandas, lions, meerkats, cheetah, lemurs, and giraffes to learn more about these amazing animals! Admission is 27 NZD.
3. Walk the waterfront near Oriental Bay
The waterfront is a walkable public space with cafes, parks, sculptures, bars, and ice cream vendors. Lots of people enjoy walking, jogging, skating, and cycling around here. There are a few markets open on the weekend, making this a great, free way to spend a day exploring Wellington.
4. Visit Weta Workshop
Learn about the behind-the-scenes magic of Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and District 9 at this Academy Award-winning props and special effects studio. A tour costs 28 NZD and you can take special effects makeup class or sculpting class for 69 NZD (they have all kinds of other classes too, like armor-making and miniature making).
5. Stroll along Cuba Street
Nestled in the CBD, Cuba Street is a pedestrian-only street filled with colorful shops, bars, and cafes. Street entertainers play guitar, put on funky marionette shows, and do fire dances. Be sure to snap a photo at Bucket Fountain, too (it’s literally a fountain made of multi-colored buckets).
6. See Wrights Hill Fortress
This circular artillery embankment was built in the early 1940s and is made up of long underground tunnels. Completed in the final years of World War II, the fort was meant to house three guns (although only two were ever installed). Although the base never saw any action during the war, both of the guns were fired in the years following (they could shoot shells up to 30km). Today the fortress has been restored and officially named a historic landmark. TV shows and movie scenes are often shot here, as were scenes from the Fellowship of the Ring. On certain holidays, the tunnels are opened to visitors.
7. See the Carter Observatory
This planetarium is located in Space Place near the Botanic Gardens. Head out in the evening for some stargazing or pop in during the day for various displays about the cosmos. There are several exhibits to explore, including one on Maori starlore, as well as a neat gift shop. Admission is 14 NZD.
8. Visit Ng? Taonga Sound & Vision (New Zealand Film Archive)
First established in 1981, this library is home to over 30,000 movies. What makes this place particularly awesome is that many of them can be seen free of charge on a big-screen! Film screenings are usually 5-10 NZD per person, but some are also free so be sure to check in advance!
9. Wander Zealandia
This world-renowned nature conservatory covers more than 200 hectares of land just west of Wellington. The Zealandia project is aiming to return the area to what it was like before humans arrived in New Zealand. You can see (and hear!) kiwis, saddlebacks, kakas, and hihis in their natural habitats while strolling the paths. General admission is 22 NZD and two-hour tours with professional guides are 55 NZD. They also have guided tours at night.
10. See the Paddy the Wanderer Fountain
This fountain is a memorial to a dog that died during the Great Depression. The dog wandered the wharf and was well-known by the locals. It would even wander the city alone too and was so popular that taxi drivers would drive him around and tram drivers would pick him up. When he died in 1939, hundreds of people came out to mourn him. In 1945, money was raised for his memorial: a water fountain for humans and dogs alike.
For more information on other destinations in New Zealand, check out these guides:
Wellington Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorm rooms with 6-8 beds cost 30-35 NZD per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels have a kitchen so you can cook your own food. Only one hostel (The Dwellington) includes free breakfast. For a private room, expect to pay at least 90-100 NZD per night.
For those traveling with a tent, a basic plot without electricity (for two people) costs around 10 NZD.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels are expensive and rare here, costing around 150 NZD per night for a double room. Free WiFi is standard, and many budget hotels also offer access to kitchen facilities. Free breakfast is almost never included.
Airbnb is available in the city, with private rooms starting at around 40 NZD per night (though they average double that). For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 80 NZD.
Food – Like other New Zealand cities food in Wellington is not cheap. A typical restaurant meal will cost you about 20 NZD while a meal with a drink and an appetizer costs closer to 45 NZD. Expect traditional staples like seafood, lamb, fish and chips, and meat pies.
Fortunately, thanks to the amazing coffee shop scene in Wellington, you can find filling sandwiches or meat pies for 10 NZD, and fast food like McDonald’s for 12 NZD. Grab-and-go sushi joints abound and there are also lots of cheap Asian restaurants with dishes for under 15 NZD. A large pizza costs between 10-12 NZD.
A beer in a bar will cost you at least 10 NZD while a latte or cappuccino costs 5 NZD. Bottled water is 3 NZD.
If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend about 70-85 NZD for a week’s worth of groceries, including stapes like rice, pasta, vegetables, and some fish or meat.
Backpacking Wellington Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking in Wellington, expect to spend 65-80 NZD per day. On this budget, you stay in a dorm room, cook all of your meals, take public transportation, and do the free activities (like visiting the free museums). You’ll need to limit your drinking as well. If you add 10-15 NZD more per day you can indulge in a few drinks, while camping or Couchsurfing will lower your budget but 20-30 NZD per day.
A mid-range budget of about 190 NZD per day will cover staying in an Airbnb, eating out for a few meals, enjoying a couple of drinks, taking the occasional Uber to get around, and doing some paid activities like riding the gondola or going to the zoo.
On a “luxury” budget of about 480 NZD or more per day, you can say in a hotel, eat out for all your meals, rent a car to explore the region, drink as much as you’d like, and do as many paid activities as you want! This is just the ground floor for luxury though — the sky is the limit!
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 NZD.
Wellington Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Costs can add up quickly in Wellington as it’s a city filled with great bars and restaurants. Here are a few ways to save money when you visit:
- See the free museums – The majority of Wellington’s attractions like the Te Papa museum and the BeeHive have no admission fees, hit them up first to save on your attractions budget.
- Eat cheap – The city has a lot of great Asian food to satisfy the large student population, so you can get a filling meal on the cheap. It’s usually much cheaper than more traditional NZ foods.
- Cook your own food – If you down want to blow your budget on eating out try cooking your own food. It’s not as glamorous but it will save you a ton!
- Stay with a local – While there are not a ton of Couchsurfing hosts available in the country, Wellington is one of the few places you should be able to find a host without too much trouble. Just be sure to send your request early as there will be a lot of competition during the summer.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is ay cheaper than taxis and the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi.
- Avoid the high season – Prices for accommodations (especially hotels) skyrocket during peak season. Avoid the summer if you’re on a budget.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water in Wellington is safe to drink so bring a water bottle with you to save money and cut back on your single-use plastic usage. LifeStraw makes a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter so you can always be sure your water is clean and safe.
Where To Stay in Wellington
Wellington has a ton of budget options ranging from basic backpacker dorms to posh boutique hostel. Here are my favorite places to stay in Wellington:
How to Get Around Wellington
Public Transit – The public transportation system here is called Metlink. It’s comprised of an interlinked network of buses, trolleys, cable cars, trains, and ferries. Fares start at 2.50 NZD vary depending on the type of system and how many zones you travel through. Day passes cost 10 NZD.
Get a Snapper card (a pre-paid card you can load with money) to save around 25% off your fares.
Bicycle – Bike rentals are available in the city, but they are far from cheap. Expect full-day rentals to cost around 60 NZD per bike while half-day rentals are 40 NZD.
Taxis – Taxis start at 3.75 NZD and cost 3 NZD per additional kilometer. Avoid them if you can!
Ride-Sharing – Uber is the best way to get around if you don’t want to wait for the bus as it’s cheaper than a taxi. If you need a ride, stick with Uber.
Car rental – If you want to rent a car to explore the region, expect to pay around 25 NZD per day for rentals of a week or more. For shorter rentals, prices are double. An International Driver’s Permit (IDP) is required for car rentals. You can get one before you leave your home country.
When to Go to Wellington
Wellington is a notoriously cloudy and windy city all year round. During the winter months (June-August) there are no crowds, however, it’s not pleasant to be wandering around because of all the cold rainfall. Daily winter temperatures sit around 42-50°F (6-10°C). Prices are lower during this time so if you’re on a super tight budget it might be worth visiting then.
Summer (December-February) brings the crowds, but it’s still windy in Wellington. Temperatures sit between 63-70°F (17-21°C). February is the hottest month.
Personally, I think the best time of year to visit is in the fall (March to May) when temperatures hit between 59-68°F (15-20°C) but the crowds have dispersed. It offers the best balance of nice weather with fewer people.
How to Stay Safe in Wellington
Overall New Zealand is a very safe place with a low crime rate and a great healthcare system and Wellington is no different. That said, it’s still a major city so it is always best to trust your instincts when it comes to safe travel.
Make copies of your important documents, like your passport. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
If you rent a vehicle, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight or while out and about. Break-ins are rare but they can happen so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
The emergency number is 111.
As earthquakes and tsunamis do occur in New Zealand, consider downloading the Hazard App from the Red Cross. It has all kinds of advice and tips for natural disasters and will also send out warnings and notifications should a disaster occur.
Overall, you’re unlikely to encounter anything problematic here. Just remember: if you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Wellington. 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 will protect 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:
Wellington Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Wellington. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around New Zealand, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good 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 a discount when you click the link!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. Just enter your departure and arrival destinations and it will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost. One of the best transportation website out there!
- 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).
- bookme.co.nz – You’ll get some really good last minute deals and discounts on this website! Just select what area you’re traveling in, and see what activities are on sale.
- treatme.co.nz – The locals use this website to find discount hotels, restaurants, and tours. You can save up to 50% off things like catamaran sailing lessons or three-course dinners.
- 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.
Wellington Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
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 Your Trip
- 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 (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 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:
Wellington 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 how the two crews survived (and didn’t survive) offers insight 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 and 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 Possums, Tindale shares 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!
Wellington Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Wellington travel and continue planning your trip: