While everyone talks 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, restaurants, art exhibits, museums, activities, and a beautiful harbour! 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 Museum of Wellington City
4. Check out Te Papa
5. Relax in the Botanic Garden
Other Things to See and Do in Wellington
1. Visit the National Archives
Many of New Zealand’s most important documents are held in the National Archives. These include the original Treaty of Waitangi and the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. If you are into history, this is a good place to go. Free guided tours are also available, and they run Monday through Saturday (make sure to call ahead to reserve a spot).
2. See Old St. Paul’s
This old cathedral is an excellent example of colonial Gothic architecture and was built from native timbers. Constructed entirely from native timbers, the glowing interior is enhanced by stunning stained glass. Join a guided tour and hear about the wonderful and sometimes quirky stories of the church, its site and its people on their journey from colony to an independent nation. Guided tours start at $7.50 NZD ($5 USD).
3. Visit Wellington Zoo
This is New Zealand’s oldest zoo with more than 1400 animals from Africa and Asia, along with native wildlife. Check out the daily talks and get up close to red pandas, lions, meerkats, cheetah, lemurs, and giraffes! You can also meet Tahi the one-legged kiwi and watch the keepers feed Sumatran tigers. Admission is $24 NZD ($16 USD) for adults, and there are discounts available for seniors, students, children, and families.
4. 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 in Wellington.
5. 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 ($18 USD) and you can take special effects makeup class for $79 NZD ($51 USD) too/
6. Stroll along Cuba Street
Nestled in the CBD bohemian, Cuba Street is a pedestrian-only street filled with colorful shops, bars, and cafes. Street entertainers play guitar, put on funky marionette shows, or do fire dances. Be sure to snap a photo at Bucket Fountain, too (it’s literally a fountain made of multi-colored buckets).
7. 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. 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.
8. See the Carter Observatory
This planetarium is 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 some exhibits to look at, as well as a neat gift shop. Admission is $12.50 NZD ($8 USD) for adults, with discounts available for seniors, students, and children.
9. 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 ($5-$7 USD) per person, but some are also free so be sure to check in advance!
10. See the wildlife at Zealandia
This world-renowned nature conservatory covers more than 200 hectares of bush just west of downtown Wellington. The Zealandia project is aiming to return the area to what it was like before humans arrived in New Zealand and you can see (and hear!) kiwis, saddlebacks, kakas, and hihis in their natural habitats while strolling the paths. General admission for adults in $21 NZD ($14 USD) and two-hours tours with professional guides are $55 NZD ($36 USD).
Wellington Travel Costs
Hostel prices – During Wellington’s peak season (December-February) there is a range of options, a bed in a four-six bed dorm will cost from anywhere from $25 to 55 NZD ($16-$35 USD) whereas a room with eight beds or more, expect to pay around $20 to 40 NZD ($13-$26 USD). During the off-season (June-August), a bed in a room with eight beds or more will cost from about $25 NZD ($16 NZD) each night, while smaller rooms will cost about $30 NZD ($19 USD).
A basic private room for two with an ensuite bathroom costs between $80-100 NZD ($51-$64 USD) per night during peak season. Prices are about $90 NZD ($58) in the off-season.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels cost between $90-150 NZD ($58-$86 USD) per night for a double room, but few can be found in the CBD. Free WiFi is standard, and many budget hotels also offer access to kitchen facilities. Free breakfast is almost never included. In the off-season, rooms start from $85 NZD ($55 USD).
Airbnb is available in the city, with a bed in a shared room averaging $47 NZD ($30USD) per night, while a private room is about $100 NZD ($64 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least $150 NZD ($96 USD) per night.
Food – Like other New Zealand cities food in Wellington is not cheap. A typical restaurant meal will cost you about $25 NZD ($16 USD) for a main and a drink, while a nice restaurant will cost upwards of $50 NZD ($32 USD).
Fortunately, thanks to the amazing coffee shop scene in Wellington, you can find hunky sandwiches or meat pies for $8 NZD ($5 USD) and fast food like McDonald’s or Burger King costs around $11 NZD ($7 USD). Grab-and-go sushi joints abound and there are also lots of cheap Asian restaurants with dishes for around $10 NZD ($6 USD). A beer in a bar will cost you at least $8 NZD ($5USD)
Like any major city, the price for higher-end dining with local NZ seafood has no limits, with tasting menus from $100 NZD ($64 USD) per person.
If you choose to cook your own food, plan to spend about $65-85 NZD ($42-$55) per week on grocery staples.
Backpacking Wellington Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking in Wellington, expect to spend $93 NZD ($59 USD) per day. This budget will cover a bed in a hostel dorm, a day pass for public transportation, street food and cooking your own food, and about one attraction per day.
A mid-range budget of about $265 NZD ($171 USD) per day will cover staying in a three-star budget hotel (there are almost no two-star hotels in Wellington), eating out for all of your meals, drinks a few attractions per day, and public transit.
On a luxury budget of about $590 NZD ($380 USD) or more per day, you can get a four-star hotel, any meal you want, drinks, lots of attractions (like shows or tours), and a few Uber rides.
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.
Wellington Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Costs can add up quickly in this New Zealand city filled with great bars and restaurants, which will be your main expense in the city. 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 Asian food – 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. There’s also a little food market off Cuba street on the weekends where you’ll find a cheap bite.
- Cook your own food – If you down want to blow your budget on eating out try cooking your own food — look out for grocery store chains Countdown and Parkn’Save dor cheaper grocery staples.
- 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 way 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. The Uber Pool option is where you can share a ride to get even better savings
- Avoid the high season – Prices for accommodations (especially hotels) skyrocket during peak season.
- WWOOF it – 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 food 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. Keep in mind, most farms will require you to have some experience, as too many inexperienced workers have caused trouble in the past.
Where To Stay in Wellington
Wellington has a ton of budget backpacker options ranging from 20-bed dorms to poshtels, but if you want to stay in a hotel, here are my recommended places to stay in Wellington:
How to Get Around Wellington
Public Transit – The system, called Metlink, is comprised of an interlinked network of buses, trolleys, cable cars, trains, and ferries. Fares start at $2.50 NZD ($1.60 USD) vary depending on the type of system and how many zones you travel through.
A day pass that allows unlimited travel on the Metlink is $25 NZD ($16 USD).
Bicycle – Bike rentals are available in the city, but they are far from cheap. Expect full-day rentals to cost around $70 NZD ($45 USD) per bike.
Taxis – Taxis start at $3 NZD ($2 USD), with normal tariff being $2.60 NZD ($1.70 USD) per additional kilometer
Ride-Sharing – Uber is the best way to get around if you don’t want to wait for the bus and it’s cheaper than a taxi. The shared/pool option (where you share a ride with other people) offers even better savings. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Wellington
Wellington is a notoriously cloudy and windy city all year round, so while during the winter months (June through August) there are no crowds, it’s not pleasant to be wandering around because of all the cold rainfall. Daily temperatures sit around 42-50°F (6-10°C).
Summer’s high season (December-February) brings the crowds, but it’s still windy in Wellington with temperatures sitting between 63-70°F (17-21°C). February is the hottest month. 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.
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. Take normal precautions like you would at home, like carrying a cellphone and being aware of your personal belongings at all times. Make copies of your important documents, like your passport. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
The emergency number is 111.
Overall, you’re unlikely to encounter anything problematic here.
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 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!
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline 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. The big cities have tons of listings! (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.
- 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 exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Rome 2 Rio – 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
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip to Wellington.
The Best Backpack for Wellington
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 smaller or different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for more tips and tricks on how to pick a backpack – as well as more pack suggestions!
What to Pack for Wellington
- 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
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 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
- Doctor-prescribed antibiotics
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Canvas bag/stuff sack (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 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 Wellington
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Wellington Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Wellington travel and continue planning your trip:
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