Exploring Wellington

Image: Te Papa Museum

Exploring Wellington

Wellington is not only the nation’s political centre but in many ways the cultural centre. It contains numerous museums, galleries and theatres, including the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. With a village feel, Wellington has an atmosphere that earns it high praise from visitors. In 2018, the Lonely Planet guidebook named the city New Zealand's best destination and branded it "one of the coolest little capitals in the world".


Downtown The heart of Wellington is a humming place packed with restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. Along Lambton Quay is a busy thoroughfare offering a fantastic lineup of boutiques and chain stores, as well as Wellington’s David Jones, housed in the former Kirkcaldie & Stains department store. Back towards the centre of town, Cuba Street is a colourful pedestrian mall where alternative lifestyle stores rub shoulders with bohemian cafés. Further along is Courtenay Place, a dining and entertainment precinct that pumps with after-dark action.

Waterfront The beautifully developed waterfront is the perfect place to escape the city streets. At one end is Oriental Bay, with a sandy beach and cafés. From here, the walkway passes the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and Circa Theatre. The Taranaki Street Wharf precinct is home to Te Wharewaka, a stunning landmark on the site of one of Wellington’s largest 19th Century Maori communities. At Queens Wharf, bars and restaurants are the perfect stop-off before an event at the TSB Bank Arena. Ferries leave from here to Matiu/Somes Island, Days Bay and Petone.

Thorndon New Zealand’s oldest suburb and the location of the nation’s Parliament. Parliament House, the Parliamentary Library and the Beehive (housing the Executive Wing) are set in landscaped grounds that are open to the public. Up the hill behind Parliament is Tinakori Road. Home to many of New Zealand’s well-known artists over the years, it is now a collection of cafés and boutiques.

Lower Hutt A short drive from Wellington is Lower Hutt. The historic suburb of Petone is gradually becoming gentrified and its main street – Jackson Street – is a good place to find a coffee or browse the shops. Lower Hutt City offers walking tracks and mountain bike trails.

Upper Hutt The last stop before the Rimutaka Hill Road through to Wairarapa. There is a busy main street, and the city is a base for exploring the Hutt River and its riverside trails.

Porirua North of Wellington, towards the coast, Porirua enjoys a rugged coastal setting and is popular for sailing and diving. The town itself has numerous shops and a museum.

Kapiti Coast Also known as the ‘Nature Coast’, Kapiti Coast, stretching from Paekakariki north to Levin, is a very popular destination, offering beautiful coastal scenery within easy reach of one of the cities. The area is named for Kapiti Island, sitting just offshore, which is a sanctuary for native birds. Back on the mainland, the Kapiti Coast offers hiking trails, beaches and a variety of visitor attractions.

Do & Discover

Wellington offers plenty of rich cultural experiences, and can also be explored as ‘Wellywood’, the centre of New Zealand’s Hollywood connections. Uncover New Zealand history and culture at Archives New Zealand, the Museum of Wellington City & Sea, the National War Memorial, Colonial Cottage MuseumOld St Paul’s and Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. If you're a fan of the arts head to City Gallery Wellington, The Dowse Art Museum and Pataka Art and Museum for a fix. For live theatre look up Bats Theatre, Circa Theatre and St James Theatre, or catch a film at the Embassy Theatre. Browse legendary booksellers Arty Bees Books or take a stroll with Walk Wellington, see the sights with Rover Rings Tours or head out to Porirua City. Other options include stargazing at Space Place in Carter Observatory – there’s a digital planetarium and you can look through the observatory’s historic telescope. Explore and admire Wellington Botanic Garden en route, or ride to the top of the historic Wellington Cable Car, get dirty with Mud Cycles, visit the international movie wizards at Weta or say hello to wildlife both foreign and domestic at Wellington Zoo and Zealandia: The Karori Sanctuary Experience.

Food & Drink

You can’t claim the title of the nation’s cultural capital without a buzzing dining and nightlife scene to back it up. Fortunately Wellington fronts up with quirky urban cafés, critically acclaimed restaurants and a top selection of after-dark venues that range in vibe from underground chic to cosy pub. Great coffee is a highlight in Wellington. Try Caffe Astoria, Café L’affare, Fidel’s, Midnight Espresso and Mojo Coffee. Time for dinner? Popular stops for budget-friendly eats include Phoenician Falafel and Wellington Seamarket. In the mid-range there's Fishermans Table at Paekakariki, and international fare in the CBD with Capitol, Scopa and Pravda. For ethnic flavours try Chow Tory, Little India or tapas bar Basque, while Sweet Mother’s Kitchen is recommended for Cajun cuisine in a laid-back atmosphere. For high-end dining, try the critically acclaimed Logan Brown (owned by celebrity chefs Steve Logan and Alister Brown). Drinks after dinner? Wellington is renowned for cool clubs. Top picks include Havana, San Fran and The Library. If you’re after a cosy pub, try Backbencher or the outstanding beer garden at Southern Cross.


There’s plenty of great shopping available in the Wellington CBD, with a number of trendy arcades and reputable department stores. Try Capital Gateway, David Jones, the Old Bank Shopping Arcade or the Jackson Street precinct in Petone.


Wellington offers all the accommodation options you would expect from a capital city, ranging from international-class hotel accommodation worthy of visiting dignitaries down to large backpacker establishments on the city’s waterfront. Hotel options include Mercure Wellington Abel Tasman HotelAngus Inn Hotel in Lower Hutt, Bolton HotelBrentwood Hotel, Mercure Wellington Central City Apartment HotelCQ WellingtonInterContinental Wellington Hotel Grand Chancellor, The Cambridge Hotel and Travelodge Wellington. For guest and hosted accommodation, try Booklovers B&B. For self-contained and serviced accommodation the Airport Motor Lodge is a good choice, while those on a budget should seek out Wellington Top 10 Holiday Park or backpacker options Base Wellington and Hotel Waterloo.

Local knowledge

Wellington International Airport offers domestic flights to numerous North and South Island destinations, and international flights to Australia and the Pacific. Located along SH1, Wellington is 9 hours, 15 minutes from Auckland. It also lies on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail from Hawke’s Bay to Marlborough. Vehicle and passenger ferry services sail several times daily to Picton in the South Island. KiwiRail’s Northern Explorer offers a daily train service between Wellington and Auckland. The Airport Flyer offers an easy option between town, the airport, and Upper and Lower Hutt, while Metlink provides rail commuter services. The Bluebridge Cook Strait Ferry and Interislander run regular ferries to the South Island, while Sounds Air offers flight-seeing in the area. Find out more at the Wellington i–SITE on Manners Street.

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