Wellington has a reputation for being the cultural capital of New Zealand. With so many cool sights and attractions to discover, everyone is bound to find something they can well and truly cherish. To inspire your next trip, here are 20 of the city’s must-visits.
Known for its incredibly panoramic vistas, Mount Victoria is a 196-metre (643-foot) high summit to 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.
The Wellington Waterfront is a perfect spot for a leisurely wander. Traditionally, the waterfront is where many festivals and celebrations are held, including Waitangi Day commemorations, Chinese New Year, and the annual Guy Fawkes fireworks display. It is also home to the city’s oldest market, as well as the compelling Solace in the Wind sculpture.
Te Papa Museum
New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is a definite must-visit for art lovers, history buffs, science geeks, and anyone who outright loves learning and discovering new things. Displays are known for being interactive, innovative and incredibly unique. Te Papa is also home to many Maori artifacts and treasures.
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.
The Botanic Garden
No visit to Wellington would ever be complete without passing through its remarkable Botanic Garden. A 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 till dawn (literally).
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, as well as preserving Wellington’s forest and freshwater systems.
The Cable Car
New Zealand’s only functioning funicular railway, 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 cafes, 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.
The Bucket Fountain
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.
City Gallery Wellington
Established in 1980, City Gallery Wellington was New Zealand’s very first non-collecting, exhibition-focused public gallery. It has resided at the downtown Civic Square for more than 20 years, though it was originally housed in a different building. Contemporary art, architecture and visual design are this gallery’s specialities.
The Parliamentary Library
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.
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.
Beehive, Molesworth St, Pipitea, Wellington 6011, New Zealand, +64 4-817 9999
The National War Memorial
Located in Pukeahu National Memorial Park, the National War Memorial is a monument for those New Zealanders who died during the South African War, the First and Second World Wars, as well as various other military operations. It consists of two buildings — the National War Memorial Carillon (a tower erected on ANZAC Day in 1932) and the Hall of Memories (inaugurated in 1964).
New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts
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 comprises two exhibition spaces, with regular displays of 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.
Old Government Buildings
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 public tours run every Saturday morning.
Space Place at Carter Observatory
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.
The Majestic Centre
True to its name, the Majestic Centre is Wellington’s tallest building. The impressive 28-storey commercial building was completed in 1991, and resides on the corner of Willis and Boulcott Streets. It recently reopened after undergoing two years of earthquake strengthening, a project which cost NZ $83.5 million to complete.
Majestic Centre, 88/100 Willis St, Wellington 6011, New Zealand, +64 4-917 0037
Red Rocks Beach
Also known by the Maori name Pariwhero, Red Rocks Beach is located on the south coast between Owhiro Bay and Sinclair Head. Along with exquisite rock formations, the beach is a popular spot for hiking, mountain biking and seal spotting.