‘Windy Welly’, as it’s fondly known by locals, is a vibrant city with an edgy, understated diversity.
As the nation’s capital, Wellington lures visitors from all walks of life — which gives it lots of personality. Our top Wellington travel tip is to pack your warm clothes regardless of the season. Icy winds can whip up in a nanosecond, thanks to the city’s position on the blustery Cook Strait.
This Wellington travel guide is packed with ideas for things to see and do. Enjoy your visit.
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Top cultural activities in Wellington
Wellington is one of those cities that like to wear their art on their sleeve, and public artworks decorate the streets, parks and waterfront.
There’s a whole movement dedicated to sculpture, and you can stumble across it yourself or embark on a dedicated self-guided walk designed by the Wellington Sculpture Trust.
Other accessible public art includes the annual Waituhi Matariki project — aimed at sharing Māori culture with a wider audience, pakiTara-toi — a programme of ‘art on walls’, including murals and street art, Mason’s Screen — a 24-hour outdoor video screen running artists’ works, and a collection of illuminated decorative light boxes spread across the city.
The striking historic façade of the City Gallery is a fitting complement to the vast range of important contemporary art works displayed inside. The collection comprises exhibits by local and international artists working in diverse practices including sculpture, printmaking, photography and multimedia.
Being New Zealand’s capital, you’ll want to take a look at the parliamentary precinct in Wellington during your visit. It’s an intriguing mash-up of architectural styles. The three main buildings are the modernist Beehive, the neoclassical Parliament House and the Gothic Revival-style Parliamentary Library. There’s a variety of guided tours on offer.
For fashionistas, creatives and lovers of the downright fabulous, Welly’s World of Wearable Art is a design competition that garners international attention. Entries come in from all over the world and cover everything from edgy and eccentric, to elegant and ingenious ‘wearable art’. Absolutely anything goes as long as it can be worn on the body, which allows for some truly spectacular creations. The three-week extravaganza of out-of-this-world art and fashion is held during September and October.
Fantasy film buffs will be in their element at Wellington’s Weta Workshop — best known for the role it played in bringing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies to life. This special effects studio has been at the forefront of the industry for more than twenty years, and has won five Oscars and four BAFTAs. Tour the facility and admire the incredible props created for productions like Avatar and District 9.
Café culture is booming in Wellington, as you’ll soon discover. The city boasts some of the best coffee — and baristas — in the world. Visit Mojo Coffee on the waterfront at 33 Customhouse Quay to watch the experts in action and sample their wares.
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Great places to eat in Wellington
New Zealand is renowned for its fresh produce and culinary inventiveness, and Wellington is no shirk on either front.
Head to the Cuba Street district for a selection of great dining experiences. The proliferation of eateries covers everything from casual hole-in-the-wall cafes to five-star fabulousness. You can’t go past the locals’ favourite — Olive, where you’ll dine on delectable contemporary New Zealand cuisine in a genuinely welcoming ambience. Step it up for a special night out at Logan Brown, one of the city’s most renowned restaurants. It offers fine dining with a focus on sustainable produce, ethical practices and minimal waste.
Cuba Street is by no means the only place to eat. The fabulous Hummingbird, downtown at Courtenay Place, serves up a refined experience in pleasingly unpretentious surroundings. Their menu of cocktails, beers and gin varietals is as diverse as it is long. Seafood lovers in search of the city’s freshest catch should head over to the Ortega Fish Shack. They also do plenty of meat based dishes and vegetarian options.
For killer views, amazing organic vegetarian and vegan food and a range of craft beers and botanical based cocktails, The Botanist in Lyall Bay proves once and for all that healthy can be delicious. They deliver a hefty selection of choices for breakfast, brunch and lunch.
New Zealand’s history comes alive at Te Papa Tongarewa on the Wellington waterfront.
Te Papa is the country’s national museum. Loosely translated, the name means ‘box of treasures’, and inside you’ll find six levels packed with art and artefacts. The vast collection will keep you busy for hours, and when it’s time to take a break there are quite a few cafes and pubs nearby. Te Papa is open every day of the year, including Christmas Day.
Wellington has plenty of heritage architectural gems, but Old St Paul’s Cathedral is probably the most significant. This wooden Gothic church was constructed in the mid 1860s, and the vaulted ceiling is quite something. The lighting gives the native timber interior a rich, warm glow, and stunning stained glass windows add to the effect.
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Where to shop in Wellington
Lambton Quay is the place to shop up a storm in Welly.
While there are various other retail hotspots around the city, it’s here that you’ll find an eclectic mix of fashion and souvenir shops, including traditional chain stores and up-and-coming designer boutiques tucked away down quaint arcades.
Hitting the city’s many markets is also a great way to pick up something special — everything from handmade beauty products and quirky home-sewn fashion, to mouth watering fresh-as-can-be baked goods and other gourmet products. One of the best is the Sunday Harbourside Market — the longest running market in the city, and certainly the most picturesque. You’ll probably smell it before you see it, with the enticing aromas of fresh pastries, brewed coffee, herbs, and more wafting on the ocean breeze.
The Wellington Night Market on Fridays and Saturdays comes with a side of street performers, buskers and cultural dance performances.
Ways to relax in Wellington
For a capital city, Wellington has a very laid-back and relaxed feel.
The Wellington Cable Car is a great way to take the weight off your feet, while taking in stunning views of the city. The iconic red cable cars depart from the heart of Lambton Quay and stop at the entrance to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Garden. There are 25 hectares of pristine gardens to take in, including the stellar rose gardens.
For those wanting to get even further back to nature, check out Wellington’s renowned Zealandia eco-sanctuary. Located just a stone’s throw from the city, Zealandia’s aim is to return its 225 hectares to their pre-human state, and several decimated native wildlife species have been reintroduced to the fenced environment.
And finally, put away the maps and let someone else do the driving on a guided tour of the Martinborough wine region — located within easy reach of Wellington. You’ll visit a number of wineries for tastings and enjoy a platter-style lunch of local specialties. The tour also visits historic Greytown, which is home to stunning Victorian architecture, quirky boutiques, and quaint cafes.
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About the writer
Julietta Henderson is a Melbourne-based travel writer and author. Originally planning to visit London for six months, she ended up staying for ten years and now divides her time between her home in Australia and several months of the year in the UK, Italy, and France. Julietta has travelled extensively through Europe, North America, Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia, and Russia, and believes the keys to a great travel experience are an open heart, an open mind, and an open-ended ticket. Her first two novels — The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman and Sincerely, Me — are now available in bookstores.
About the writer
Jade Harrison is a freelance travel writer and presenter on the Tour the World travel TV series, and has visited New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada, USA, Mexico, the UK, Europe, Thailand, Brazil, India and Nepal. She’s equally happy roughing it in the Himalayas and backpacking through Europe, to indulging in some five-star fun along the way.