Christchurch City Guide, Tours & Things to Do, NZ inner banner

Christchurch City Guide, Tours & Things to Do, NZ

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, dining, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos.
Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Go punting on the Avon River.

More than a decade on from the devastating earthquake aftershock that claimed many lives and some 80 percent of the CBD, a vibrant new Christchurch has emerged.

Gleaming retail outlets, sophisticated accommodation options, popping street art, and fabulous restaurants and cafes are all part of the reconstructed urban landscape. However, you’ll also find plenty of links with the past and a concerted upholding of the city’s best loved traditions.

Dissected from east to west by the picturesque Avon River, Christchurch remains an integral part of any visit to New Zealand’s South Island and is a great spot to base yourself to see some of the region’s most spectacular natural landscapes.

This Christchurch city guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.

Watch our video of ten top things to do on a South Island road trip:

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Christchurch for history lovers

Christchurch was founded in the 1850s by the Canterbury Pilgrims from England.

Canterbury Museum charts the history of the city and wider Canterbury region: from the arrival of the first inhabitants — the Tangata Whenua — some 800 years ago, right through to events of the present day. There are galleries dedicated to a wide range of topics, including the earliest interactions between the Māori and European settlers, the extinction of the Moa bird, and the exploration of Antarctica by New Zealanders.

While public tram services ended in Christchurch back in 1923, a city tour with Christchurch Attractions on a meticulously restored heritage tramcar is a fun way to step back in time. Drivers provide commentary on the city’s history and architecture, and are a wealth of knowledge on where to eat and what’s on around town.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Ride the Hop On Hop Off Tram. Image: Christchurch NZ

As you explore Christchurch you’ll likely hear residents talking about life before and after the series of earthquakes that changed the face of their home forever. Quake City is a moving exhibition by Canterbury Museum that documents the tragic events of 2010 and 2011, the aftermath, and the rebuild process. You may also want to visit the emotive Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial by the Avon River and pay your respects to the 185 people who lost their lives.

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Top cultural activities in Christchurch

 Christchurch’s dynamic cultural scene encompasses art, music, theatre, art house film, and a packed festival calendar, and is well worth delving into.

Make your first stop the excellent Christchurch Art Gallery — home to a wonderful collection of local and international works. Keep an eye out for Andy Warhol’s portrait of Mao Tse-tung.

Lovers of modern art in all its forms should make their way to the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA), which has been challenging artistic conventions for almost four decades. Entry to CoCA is free of charge.

Street art has played an important role in the renewal process and large-scale murals dot the urban landscape. A short walk from where the much-loved Christ Church Cathedral is currently under reconstruction stands another work of art that has served the city well. The richly coloured Transitional Cathedral — widely known as the ‘cardboard cathedral’ — was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Its raked ceiling is supported by 98 huge cardboard tubes.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Transitional Cathedral. Image: Bigstock

If you’re interested in seeing some theatre or live music during your stay, check the What’s On page on the Christchurch NZ website or trawl through the Under the Radar Gig Guide listings.

For a taste of popular culture, join Hassle Free Tours on their full-day Lord of the Rings Edoras Tour. You’ll travel by 4WD bus to the Mount Potts High Country Station at Mount Sunday, which served as the Rohan capital of Edoras in the second and third Lord of the Rings films. A picnic lunch is included in the tour price.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Lord of the Rings Edoras Tour. Image: Hassle Free Tours

Great places to eat in Christchurch

With its pretty Spanish Mission style architecture, New Regent Street is a great spot to eat.

Book a table at Twenty Seven Steps, which offers European-inspired cuisine and a fabulous wine list. It’s no surprise this innovative eatery was awarded Restaurant of the Year at the Christchurch Hospitality Awards. Cross the street to the atmospheric Last Word whiskey and cocktail bar for a nightcap afterwards.

Variety is the spice of life as they say, and The Little High Eatery on St Asaph Street hosts eight different food outlets under one roof. Feast on some-of-this-and-some-of-that, including burgers, pizza, Asian street food, and Latin American dishes.

Christchurch city guide
Image: Little High Eatery/Daniela Aebli Photography

On Friday evenings Cathedral Square hosts more than a dozen food trucks for the Friday Street Food Market. Tantalise your taste buds with Indian street food, Malaysian noodles, German bratwurst sausages, Polish goulash, Egyptian puffed donuts, and even Transylvanian chimney cake! The market has proved to be a fantastic way to get people back into the city centre.

If you love great coffee (which undoubtedly you do), Christchurch will come to the party. C4 Coffee Co is a must-seek-out and roasts its own blends daily. Great coffee can also be found at C1 Espresso in the Old Post Office Building, and at the uber-cool and expanding Black and White Coffee Cartel.

Those who are self catering or planning a picnic will want to check out the weekly Christchurch Farmers’ Market. Held every Saturday morning in the gracious grounds of Riccarton House and Bush, the market has more than 80 stallholders and offers a wide range of artisanal foodstuffs.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch Farmers’ Market. Image: Christchurch NZ

Where to shop in Christchurch

Christchurch’s retail landscape has been completely redefined in recent years.

ANZ Centre on the junction of Colombo, High, and Cashel Streets was the first new shopping hub to open after the earthquakes and features an array of fashion retailers — including the flagship store of New Zealand’s popular Glassons brand. Nearby on Cashel Street, The Crossing houses more fashion stores, along with stockists of gifts and homewares. Recharge at the Riverside Market — a buzzy melange of food vendors and dining options.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Riverside Market. Image: Christchurch NZ

While much of the CBD was lost completely to the quakes, the iconic Ballantynes department store survived (albeit with significant structural damage) and managed to reopen that same year. It has recently undergone a major redevelopment to increase its floor space and hospitality offering.

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Ways to relax in Christchurch

Christchurch is packed with green spaces to enjoy, including gorgeous Hagley Park and the adjacent Botanic Gardens.

Put Hagley’s network of walking trails to good use, explore its native plantings, or simply laze away an afternoon on popular Archery Lawn. Over in the Botanic Gardens, the Central Rose Garden brims with wondrous colour from November through to March.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Hagley Park. Image: Christchurch NZ

Just north-west of the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park, Mona Vale house and garden is another lovely spot for a wander (or to enjoy coffee and cafe!).

No visit to Christchurch would be complete without doing a punting tour on the Avon. Check in at the Antigua Boat Sheds, then sit back, relax, and enjoy as a punter in Edwardian-style dress propels you along the river at a leisurely pace.

If you want to explore further afield, the ridiculously pretty village of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula makes a great day trip from Christchurch. Visit Akaroa Museum to learn the town’s Francophile backstory (this is the only town in New Zealand originally settled by the French), and head out on the water to spot rare Hector’s dolphins.

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Do a day tour to Akaroa.

Just under an hour’s drive from the city, the Waipara Valley wine region boasts around 40 boutique wineries, and produces top-notch rieslings and pinot noirs. Leisure Tours offers a half day wine tour to four contrasting cellar doors for tastings, including the likes of Waipara Springs, Greystone Wines, organic winery Waipara Hills, and gorgeous Pegasus Bay. It’s lovely to have someone else to do the driving, while you do the sipping!

Christchurch city guide
Christchurch city guide: Waipara Valley

Where to stay in Christchurch

Crowne Plaza Christchurch

The upscale Crowne Plaza Hotel makes a superb base for exploring everything Christchurch has to offer visitors, and affords sweeping views of the city and Southern Alps from many of its 200 guest rooms. They’re stylishly appointed and come complete with key pad access, a smart TV, and handy USB charging ports. The hotel even provides a therapeutic spray that will help get you off to sleep that little bit faster.

Christchurch city guide
Image: Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Amenities at the Crowne Plaza include an onsite restaurant and bar, fully equipped fitness centre, and guest library. Saying in touch with family and friends is a breeze, thanks to the fast and free Wi-Fi provided throughout the hotel.

For more inspiration, visit

Browse our range of New Zealand tours and experiences here.

Do you have any tips to add to our Christchurch city guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Cover image: New Regent Street. Image: Christchurch NZ. Additional images: Bigstock

Louise Reynolds

About the writer

Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language, and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America, and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.





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