Wellington has blossomed into a culinary and cultural stopping point for any traveler. Here is a two-day guide for some of the best that it has to offer.
Wellington is the capital of New Zealand, know as the world’s windiest city and to have frequent earthquakes! But this marina town on the most southern-west tip of the North Island, has blossomed into a culinary and cultural stopping point for any New Zealand traveler. As its often used to jump off from the North to South islands, here is a two-day guide for seeing and eating some of the best that Wellington has to offer.
Congratulations, you’ve arrived in Wellington! Hopefully you brought a scarf and are ready to walk your way through this coastal town. Start off with breakfast at Florditas on Cuba Street to fuel up on almond bread, poached eggs varieties or rocket, herb & parmesan omelets. You’ll need a hearty start for these packed days in town.
Following breakfast, head straight to the Te Papa Museum for their 10A opening. Allow yourself a few hours to roam the special exhibits and outdoor habitats. If visiting before April 2019, the Gallipoli: The Scale of War is particularly spectacular. In collaboration with the Weta Workshop, this exhibit tells the story of nine New Zealanders throughout WW1, embodied in giant life-like sculptures ~2.5x the human size.
Note: Main entrance is free, as are most of their special exhibits.
Reemerge from the Te Papa for a waterside stroll. Make sure to stop and see the Solace in the Wind (The Naked Man) statue docked next to the museum before moving walking too far along. This two-metre iron statue was created as a salute to the land from English artist Max Patte. It quickly became a cultural icon for the Wellington harbor and just celebrated its 10th anniversary.
Continue to walk west along the Lambton Harbour and stop at the Underground Marketplace. Shop some local vendors and nab some street food for lunch. Stalls are lined with unique New Zealand finds including pieces by local artists, vintage and thrift clothing, home goods, and special souvenir snacks.
Note: Make sure to check if its open during your stay! Since it’s a local pop-up event, their hours may vary depending on the season.
Finish your stroll at the Wellington Cable Car base, and join other travelers and commuting locals for a steep assent up the mountain and breathtaking views of the harbor. After riding to the top, the take a visit to the Cable Car Museum and Space Place Observatory. These are quick detours before heading into the Botanical Garden next door.
The Wellington Botanical Gardens boasts almost 20 special garden collections and trail paths, public art sculptures, kid zones, and a main garden that blooms 25,000 tulips in the spring and summer months. Allow a few hours to stroll around the grounds and find a quiet spot to take in the fragrant blooms.
Note: The grounds are quite hilly, so prepare for a strong calf workout. Entry is free.
While you’re on the mountain top, head to Zealandia at dusk for a guided tour of this 500 acre urban-sanctuary and a chance to see the national bird, the Kiwi, roaming in the wild.
Note: Dusk timing is subject to seasonal change. Day-time tours are also available. Reservations/tickets should be purchased beforehand.
It’s your first day in the town, and you’ve earned a drink. Wellington is known for its craft beers and night life, so head over to Husk Bar for a special pull of their Choice Bros in-house brewery selection. Nestled down a twilight lit alley, Husk is a special spot to sample from their selection of 12 New Zealand beers and ciders on tap.
There’s no better way to finish a day than with a delicious meal, curated from seasonal New Zealand specialties. Olive Restaurant on Cuba Street is a cozy, elegant spot made for a romantic night or fueled group gatherings. Opt for the outside garden patio if the weather isn’t blowing you away, or nestle into a window table for views of the nightlife beginning its way to the music clubs on Cuba Street.
If there’s still energy to burn, take a stroll up and down Cuba Street to visit the local bars and music halls entertaining the locals till dawn.
Kick off the day at Egmont St Eatery with their Austrian pancakes, breakfast noodles, lamb breakfast sandwich or fried chicken. Hidden down an alleyway and built below street level, this spot is a minimalist destination for delicious breakfast and brunch beginnings.
Note: If planning on a weekend brunch or bringing a larger party, look ahead for a reservation as walk-in timing could be difficult.
Drive or hop in a cab to the Weta Workshop across the harbor for a look behind the scenes of Hollywood movie magic. Choose between tour options to talk with Weta Cave Studio artists and see how they created armor, prosthetics, and miniatures for films like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, District 9, Avatar, Predators, and Godzilla. But be aware, the gift shop is almost as alluring as the tours themselves. Displaying movie props and memorabilia, chances are you’ll spend more time (and bills) meandering through the store than you imagined.
Dine with Weta locals and grab a quick bite at The Larder. Munch on delectable buttermilk crepes, or lean into the sea of New Zealand for sardines on a toasted multigrain bread. If you’re ready for a culinary adventure, give the gremolata crumbled lambs brains a bite. You’re a true New Zealanders now.
Hop back in the car to head back to the city’s government center. As the country’s Capital, Wellington houses the Parliament Buildings, which include the Parliament House, the Parliamentary Library, the Beehive (also known as the Executive Wing), and Bowen House. Restored in 1995, the marble façade of the Parliament house is surrounded by iron gates with the initials of King George V, and displays a statue of Richard John Seddon, the longest serving Prime Minister.
Continue on to Old St Paul’s Cathedral for a glimpse at what’s considered one of New Zealand’s greatest heritage places. Built between 1865 – 1866, this Anglican Church gives the feel of inside an upside-down boat hull, with soaring lumber arched beams and stained glass windows.
Stroll south through Wellington’s ‘Golden Mile,’ for the city’s main shopping district covering Willis Street, Lambton Quay, Manners St, and Courtenay Place. Check out malls, department stores and arcades lining the streets, as well as some cafes to take a coffee break before the rest of the day. Add in a stop to David Jones, a New Zealand department store staple established in 1863, housing every luxurious souvenir to pamper yourself or loved ones back home.
If you have time for one more stop in the afternoon, duck in to the Wellington City Gallery for a look at contemporary art work by famed and new international artists. Showcasing up to four exhibits, free entry into the hall makes this a nice stop to shelter from the wind and warm up while viewing unique pieces on limited run displays.
Finally time for the night to begin and the another craft beer to be poured. Wander down the alley (Wellington loves alleys) to the corner of Edward St for the Little Beer Quarter. This local spot has a small outdoor space (although its seems like you could drink in the street as well), kitschy décor and 14 rotating taps, 2 hand pulls and over 100 beers on tap. Share a pizza or snack to get you through to the next stop for dinner.
For the final night in Wellington, treat yourself to dinner at Boulcott Street Bistro & Wine Bar. Dine on house made ravioli, venison, or braised wagyu short rib, and sip on a choice selection of wines from the cellar or smoky whiskies behind the bar.
Day 3 (Bonus Time)
Unfortunately, it’s time to leave Wellington and move on to the next breathtaking New Zealand location. If you have the morning free before jettin’ off, try to make a stop for breakfast at The Arborist for their Turkish eggs or Lumberjack breakfast.
Note: They also serve lunch and dinner on the rooftop patio if you’re looking for additional dining options.
One last stop before you say goodbye! Hike or drive up to the Mount Victoria Lookout for a 360 degree view of the harbor, quaint town, and towering surrounding mountains. It’s quite a way to see the full circle of this magical Capital, and the sprawling sea leading you down to South Island adventures.
Have a few extra days or looking for some other things to do while in town? Check out these dinning and action options below: