Must-Visit Attractions in Wellington, New Zealand

Take a ride on the Wellington Cable Car Funicular Railway
Take a ride on the Wellington Cable Car Funicular Railway | © David Parker / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Thalita Alves
10 September 2020

Wellington is the arts and culture hub of New Zealand. With so many great attractions, discover the city’s galleries and museums, or take in its sights and outdoor pursuits. To inspire your next trip to this cool little capital, here are several of its most cherished experiences.

Wellington Waterfront

Park
Map View
New Zealand, North Island, Wellington. Central shoreline. CBD. Central Business District. Photo taken November 1989. Photo: © Simon Grosset. Archive:
© Simon Grosset / Alamy Stock Photo

On a sunny day, Wellington Waterfront is the perfect spot for a leisurely stroll. The waterfront is where the city’s key festivals and celebrations take place, including Waitangi Day commemorations, Chinese New Year, and annual fireworks displays. It’s also home to the city’s oldest market, as well as a plethora of enticing cafés, restaurants and eateries.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Dog Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair)

Te Papa Tongarewa

Museum
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Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa national museum and mixed art gallery wellington waterfront new zealand WELLINGTON NEW ZEALAND nz
© eye35.pix / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand’s national museum, Te Papa, is a must-visit for art lovers, history buffs, and science geeks. Its innovative displays are renowned for being interactive and incredibly unique. Te Papa is also home to many fascinating Maori artefacts and treasures.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

City Gallery Wellington

Art Gallery
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In the heart of Te Ngākau Civic Square, the City Gallery curates an array of contemporary art exhibitions. Its mission is to inspire and challenge all visitors, whether you’re looking at local avant-garde collections or attending a special event hosted onsite.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Kid Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

Wellington Museum

Museum
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Wellington Museum lives in the historic Bond Store, an 1892 heritage building on the waterfront which was previously a cargo and shipping goods warehouse. The iconic museum shares the histories and stories of the wider Wellington region, its maritime tales and natural disasters that have made their mark on the wider community.

Wellington Botanic Garden

Botanical Garden
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Wellington Botanic Gardens,  Wellington, North Island, New Zealand
© Jon Lovette / Alamy Stock Photo

No trip to Wellington would be complete without a visit to the marvellous Botanic Garden. Its bounty extends over 25ha (60 acres) of exquisite landscapes, exotic plants and native bush, and its myriad of beautiful floral displays is open for everyone to enjoy (for free) from dusk until dawn.

Zealandia

Zoo
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Zealandia Wildlife Reserve is an enclosed urban ecosanctuary – the very first of its kind anywhere in the world. Its mission is to protect New Zealand’s wildlife, and to return Wellington valley’s forests and freshwater systems to their pre-human state. The project has returned 18 native species of wildlife to the area, and rare birds are now thriving in this gated community.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Deaf), Accessible (Blind)

Wellington Cable Car

Museum, Train Station
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New Zealand’s only funicular railway system, the cable car funnels locals and visitors between many of Wellington’s best attractions, including the Botanic Garden, Carter Observatory, and the Cable Car Museum. You can walk from the museum or kiosk to the Zealandia reserve, or for more relaxed sightseeing, take the free shuttle.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

Cuba Street

Market, Shop, Shopping Mall
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Cuba Street in Wellington New Zealand
© Stephanie Gunther / Alamy Stock Photo
Popular for its alternative, bohemian flair, Cuba Street is bursting with activity. Home to some of the city’s best cafés, markets and bars, this dynamic thoroughfare has the best nightlife in the whole country. It’s also got a great collection of vintage designer clothing stores, so bring your wallet.

Bucket Fountain

Shopping Mall
Map View

Kiwis love to make fun of this quirky Cuba Street installation, but the Bucket Fountain is such an icon that its absence, even if temporary, is sorely felt. Designed by architects Burren and Keen, this kinetic sculpture made of buckets in primary colours was installed in the middle of the Cuba Street pedestrian mall in 1969, and has been delighting visitors of all ages ever since.

Parliamentary Library

Library
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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 is where MPs and parliamentary staff go to do their research, but it’s also open to the wider public for browsing.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

Parliament House

Building
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New Zealand Parliament Buildings comprising Parliament House, The Beehive and Bowen House, Wellington, New Zealand
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

Next door to the Parliamentary Library, you will find Parliament House. Constructed after the old building was wiped out by major fire, the current Parliament House opened its doors in 1918. The Edwardian neo-classical design by two architects, Claude Paton and John Campbell, contains the debating Chamber, Speaker’s office and Rainbow Room.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

The Beehive

Building
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The most recognisable political landmark in the city, the Beehive is Parliament’s Executive Wing. Its quirky shape and modern design was devised by British architect Sir Basil Spence in 1964. This is where the lucky Prime Minster and Cabinet Ministers have their offices, and where Cabinet meetings take place. Guided tours are available every hour (between 10am and 4pm), and are well worth joining.

Atmosphere:

Family Friendly, Accessible (Wheelchair), Accessible (Blind), Accessible (Deaf)

The National War Memorial

Memorial
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In Pukeahu Park, the National War Memorial honours New Zealanders who served or died during the South African War, the First and Second World Wars, and other military operations. It consists of two buildings: the National War Memorial Carillon (a tower erected in 1932) and the Hall of Memories (1964). In front of them is the impressive – and touching – Tomb of the Unknown Warrior (2004).

New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts

Art Gallery
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New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, Wellington, New Zealand
© MJ Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

Founded in 1882, the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts is a self-funded society dedicated to all things visual art. The Queens Wharf gallery regularly showcases locally produced pieces by both new and established artists. It curates four seasonal members’ exhibitions every year, with opening events, and sells a variety of members’ works to art-hungry patrons.

Old Government Buildings

Building
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The Government Buildings Historic Reserve, commonly known as the Old Government Buildings, is a majestic wooden monolith inspired by Italian architecture. Most of it is leased to Victoria University’s Law Faculty, but the building’s display rooms are open for public viewing.

Space Place at Carter Observatory

Museum
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Space Place Museum - Housed in Carter Observatory, Space Place features shows that include a live presentation of the night sky over New Zealand.
© jejim120 / Alamy Stock Photo

A Planetarium and museum, Space Place shares galactic stories of the southern constellations from scientific, and traditional Māori points of view. Alongside brilliant interactive galleries, the observatory is home to the historic Thomas Cooke telescope. Come here to learn about planets, constellations, stars, and New Zealand’s mind-expanding contribution to space science.

Weta Cave and Workshop

Shop
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No visit to Wellington would be complete without some Lord of the Rings trivia. Go behind the scenes and discover the movie-making magic behind the epic films at Weta Cave. Book a tour for the Weta Workshop and learn how miniature models are brought to life to create the worlds and fantastic creatures seen on the big screen.

Katherine Mansfield House

Building, Botanical Garden
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Katherine Mansfield House, birthplace of the writer (1888-1923), Wellington, New Zealand
© Mark Dunn / Alamy Stock Photo
During the early 20th Century, Wellington was home to a vibrant community of artists and poets. For a window into this wealthy, avant-garde life, visit Katherine Mansfield’s childhood home in Thorndon. This pioneering queer, modernist writer and poet is now revered as one of New Zealand’s greatest literary exports. Nice garden too.

Kaitoke Regional Park

Natural Feature
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New Zealand North island Wellington Kaitoke regional Park where some scenes of the Lord of the Rings were filmed (The
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
You’ll find the peaceful Kaitoke Regional Park 45 minutes by car north of Wellington City, in Upper Hutt. Go hiking and explore the sheer beauty of this native forest. Follow the course of the Pakuratahi River, and visit the filming location for Rivendell, the fictional elven village in The Lord of the Rings.

Pencarrow Lighthouse

Building
Map View

Pencarrow Lighthouse, the oldest lighthouse in New Zealand, was first lit on New Year’s Day in 1859, and run by its first and only female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett. For a lovely afternoon out, walk or cycle the 8km (5mi) to the lighthouse from Burdan’s Gate at the south end of Eastbourne.

Additional reporting by Bianca Ackroyd

These recommendations were updated on September 10, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.