The Top Things To Do and See in Christchurch, New Zealand

A cross stands next to the Christchurch Cathedral as it undergoes repairs in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A cross stands next to the Christchurch Cathedral as it undergoes repairs in Christchurch, New Zealand. | © Brendon O'Hagan/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Matthew Clark

Christchurch is an incredibly beautiful city in the South Island of New Zealand, whose residents have an innate ability to come together in times of trouble and to keep positive. This optimism has led to some incredible art, one of the reasons that this city is so great. There are plenty of things to do in and around Christchurch, the gateway to the South Island. Check out some of the top things to see in the city.

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The Arts Centre of Christchurch

The Arts Centre of Christchurch was once a place that would attract tourists and locals to explore the former Canterbury College and the artisan vendors that were housed within its walls. This neo-gothic building and campus was the hub for arts and culture in the city, and was where there were often markets, street performers and artists in the precinct. This was truly a bustling area of the city up until the 2011 earthquake that badly damaged a lot of the buildings. A commitment has been made to restore the Arts Centre, with the completion of the project scheduled for 2019, and likely costing hundreds of millions of dollars. If you’d like to help the restoration efforts, The Arts Centre is accepting donations so that this historic area can be enjoyed for generations to come..

The eastern coastal beaches

On the coast, a few minutes drive southeast from the CBD, is the coastal suburb of Sumner. Here you can find the beautiful Sumner Beach, which is a great place to go for a swim in the summer and is also a lovely place to go for a night time walk along the sea-side. This beach is also the location of Shag Rock, a famous landmark visible along the road towards Sumner, which is a sea stack at the entrance of the Avon Heathcote estuary. Another important area on the eastern coast is Te Onepoto (in Māori), otherwise known as Taylor’s Mistake, named after the master of a vessel that crashed into this bay in the mid 19th century because of a navigational error.

Riccarton Market

Just west of Christchurch is the inner city suburb of Riccarton, the location of the Riccarton Market. Over 300 vendors come together every Sunday at the Riccarton Racecourse, making this market the biggest of its kind in the country. The Riccarton Market is a great place to shop, and one where you will be amazed by the wide variety of goods including fresh food and vegetables, plants and trees, furniture, clothing, art and second-hand goods. You will also be able to find plenty of children’s attractions like a painting stall, train rides and a large bouncing castle.

Christchurch Cathedral

Another devastating effect of the 2011 earthquake was the damage it did to one of the most iconic buildings in both Christchurch and New Zealand, the Christchurch Cathedral. The cathedral was a gothic revival style building that was built over 40 years at the end of the 19th century, and stands in the centre of the city surrounded by Cathedral Square. This cathedral has been one of the most important structures in the landscape of the city for most of Christchurch’s post-colonial history. Therefore, the damage sustained to the cathedral’s tower and spire during the earthquake, which caused it to be later demolished, had an overwhelming impact upon the city and its residents. In August 2013, the Cardboard Cathedral was opened as a transitional place of worship for the community during the reconstruction of the Christchurch Cathedral, and it is well worth a visit.

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are a stunningly beautiful highlight of the city. Located in the west of the central city, they display the intriguing foliage and plants that are unique to the gorgeous landscape of New Zealand. Thanks to the highly trained staff, as well as the traditional Kaitiaki, which is the Māori word meaning ‘guardian’, the authentic collection of flora and fauna is respected. The areas traditional legacy is nicely upheld, and is interestingly juxtaposed with contemporary art and sculpture exhibitions.

185 Empty White Chairs

This art installation was created by local artist Pete Majendie as a memorial for the lives lost in the devastating earthquake that tore through Christchurch in early 2011. This piece includes 185 chairs, each representing a life lost during this tragic natural disaster. Every chair is unique, just as each person who lost their life was unique. 185 Empty White Chairs was established on the site of the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, which also perished during the earthquake that reached 6.3 on the Richter scale. However, since then the work has been moved to the site of the former St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church, which was also destroyed during the earthquake. This is an excellent way to get in touch with the city’s recent, albeit tragic, history.

Ferrymead Park

Located in Ferrymead, a suburb southeast of Christchurch, right by the Avon Heathcote Estuary, is Ferrymead Park. This is an Edwardian style township that has houses, municipal buildings including a school, a jail, a post office and a church, and businesses including a train station, a tobacconist and a lawyer’s office. This heritage park was set up in the 1960s by a group of local history enthusiasts to provide a site that displays the culture and legacy of the area and gives an idea of what a township in Canterbury would have looked like at the turn of the 20th century. This park also offers an array of heritage museums and exhibitions that are open for viewing, and display collections of artefacts from the era.

Isaac Theatre Royal

Building, Theatre

A mural being painted on the side of the Isaac Theatre Royal

Located in the centre of Christchurch is the Isaac Theatre Royal, a 19th century theatre, originally named the Canterbury Music Hall. This concert hall and theatre has seen the talent of many of New Zealand’s most renowned musicians and actors since opening in the late 1800s, and to this day remains as one of the most beautiful theatres in the country, with much of the original architecture and interior design intact. Thanks to restoration work in the late 1990s that strengthened the building against earthquakes, this building survived the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The Avon River

The Avon River is a source of pride for residents of Christchurch, as well as to all locals of the Canterbury region. The river, which runs through Christchurch’s city centre, and is a part of the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens, runs from an estuary on the coast of the south island, a few kilometres east of the city, and intersects through the city before coming to an end a few kilometres west of the CBD, measuring 14 kilometres in length. Check out Antigua Boat Sheds, who offer boat hire so you can take a trip down this river and really acquaint yourself with this beautiful river.

landscape with balloons floating in the air

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