Wellington is traditionally New Zealand’s arts and culture hub. With so many great sights and attractions to discover, everyone is bound to find something they can well and truly cherish. To inspire your next trip to this cool little capital city, here are 20 of its top must-visits.
Known for its incredible panoramic vistas, Mount Victoria is a 196-metre (643-foot) high summit to the east of downtown. Much of it is part of the Wellington Town Belt, a series of inner-city public parkland that is popular among hikers and cyclists.
On a bright sunny day, Wellington Waterfront is the perfect spot for a leisurely wander. Traditionally, the waterfront is where the city’s key festivals and celebrations are held, including Waitangi Day commemorations, Chinese New Year, and annual fireworks displays. It is also home to the city’s oldest market, as well as a handful of cafés, restaurants and eateries.
New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is a definite must-visit for art lovers, history buffs, science geeks, and anyone who loves learning and discovering new things. Its displays are known for being interactive, innovative and incredibly unique. Te Papa is also home to many Maori artefacts and treasures.
Set right at the heart of Civic Square, City Gallery Wellington is a non-collecting gallery which brings an array of New Zealand and contemporary art exhibitions to the capital city. Its mission is to inspire and challenge all visitors, whether they’re looking at local avant-garde collections or attending a special arts event hosted in its premises.
Wellington Museum resides in the historic Bond Store, an 1892 heritage building on the waterfront which was previously a cargo and shipping goods warehouse. True to its iconic premises, the museum is centred around the histories and stories of the wider Wellington region, from its maritime tales to the natural disasters that made their mark on the wider community.
Because of its proximity to downtown, Oriental Bay is Wellington’s most popular beach. It’s a local favourite for swimming, picnicking, walking, and cycling along the picturesque promenade. Oriental Bay is also one of the best places to visit if you’ve got a penchant for waterfront dining.
No trip to Wellington would ever be complete without a visit to the marvellous Botanic Garden. Its collection of over 26 hectares’ (64.25 acres) worth of exquisite landscapes, exotic plants, native bush, and a myriad of beautiful floral displays is within everyone’s reach, from dusk ’til dawn.
Formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Reserve, Zealandia is an enclosed urban ecosanctuary – the very first of its kind anywhere in the world. Its mission is to protect New Zealand’s wildlife at large, as well as preserving Wellington’s forests and freshwater systems.
New Zealand’s only functioning funicular railway system, the Cable Car takes locals and visitors to many of Wellington’s best locations, including the Botanic Garden, the Carter Observatory, and the Cable Car Museum. It is also within walking distance to Zealandia and (for those who don’t feel like walking) en route to the free shuttle that takes visitors to the reserve.
Renowned for its alternative, bohemian flair, Cuba Street is always bursting with action. Along with housing some of the city’s best cafés, markets and bars, this dynamic street also has its own festival: the CubaDupa. The annual event is a true celebration of all the things that make Cuba Street a local institution in its own right.
Kiwis love to make the occasional jab at this quirky Cuba Street installation, but the Bucket Fountain is such an icon that its absence (even if temporary) would be sorely missed. The kinetic sculpture was designed by Burren and Keen and installed right in the midst of the Cuba Street pedestrian mall in 1969.
Located just around the corner from the more sheltered Princess Bay, Houghton Bay is known for having big southerly swells and rugged coastlines. While this is not a beach for swimming, you can spot surfers hitting the waves whenever the conditions allow it.
The Parliamentary Library is the oldest of Wellington’s four Parliament buildings. This Victorian Gothic landmark was designed by local architect Thomas Turnbull and constructed in two stages: phase one (the West Wing) was completed in 1883, while phase two (the front of the library) was built in 1899. These days, the refurbished library provides research services for MPs and Parliamentary staff, as well as some services for the wider public.
Right next door to the Parliamentary Library, you have Parliament House. Constructed after its predecessor was wiped out by a major fire, the Parliament House building was first occupied in 1918. The Edwardian neo-classical style building was designed by two architects, Claude Paton and John Campbell, and contains the debating chamber, Speaker’s office and committee rooms.
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One of the best renowned political landmarks in the city, the Beehive is Parliament’s Executive Wing. Its complex shape and modern design was devised by British architect Sir Basil Spence. The building is where the Prime Minster and Cabinet Members’ offices are located, and where Cabinet meetings are held. Public parliamentary tours depart on an hourly basis from the Beehive’s visitor centre on the ground floor.
Located in Pukeahu National Memorial Park, the National War Memorial pays homage to New Zealanders who died during the South African War, the First and Second World Wars, among various other military operations. It consists of two monuments: the National War Memorial Carillon (a tower erected on ANZAC Day in 1932) and the Hall of Memories (inaugurated in 1964).
Founded in 1882, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts is a self-funded society dedicated to all things visual arts related. The Queens Wharf gallery has two exhibition spaces, which are regularly used to showcase locally-produced pieces by both new and established artists. It generally holds four open exhibitions per year and as well as many other curated events featuring invited artists.
The Government Buildings Historic Reserve, usually referred to as the Old Government Buildings, is a majestic wooden construction inspired by Italian architectural conventions. Most of it is currently on lease to the Victoria University School of Law, but the building’s display rooms are open for public viewing.
A planetarium and museum, Space Place shares the stories of the southern constellations, both from a scientific perspective and through the traditional Maori point of view. Along with interactive galleries, the observatory is also home to the historic Thomas Cooke telescope.
Also known by the Maori name Pariwhero, Red Rocks Beach is located on the south coast between Owhiro Bay and Sinclair Head. Along with featuring some of the most remarkable rock formations, the beach is a popular spot for hiking, mountain biking and seal spotting.