This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2014. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
I’ve visited this amazing city twice and I still can’t get over how much I love it.
Wellington is positioned next the sea and among jagged hills on the south coast of New Zealand’s north island. I’ll admit that I was a tad worried about earthquakes–the city is precariously placed on a major tectonic fault line so it’s kind of prone to tremors. But the city’s residents are well aware of this so most of Wellington’s buildings are built to survive the occasional seismic activity.
Once I got over the earthquake factor, I found that I could relax in the city through drinking coffee in one of the thousands of cafes, people-watching on the grass by the waterfront, and pointlessly wandering the hilly streets.
There are a bucketload of activities in and around Wellington for both Lord of the Rings fans and the folk who have no interest in fantasy novels. Here’s how to spend one day in Wellington, New Zealand!
Walk around downtown
Downtown Wellington is fairly compact and easily walkable. Wellington Harbour is the perfect place to start, where you can soak in your initial vibes of the city.
This waterfront area features a boardwalk with grassy areas, public art, and street food vendors in shipping containers that draw both locals and tourists to the area. I enjoyed watching teens jump off the pier into the water below and admiring all the arsty sculptures that can be found along the waterfront.
After you’ve seen the harbour, head up to Parliament House to see the weirdly-shaped Beehive building. Opened in 1977 to be used as official offices, you can take a free guided tour in this building to learn more about the New Zealand Parliament between 10AM-4PM daily.
Take the cable car to the Botanic Gardens
If you’re into specky views and nature (as I am!), hop on the cable car to reach the top of the hill behind Wellington. The vista is truly awesome as you can see all the way across the bay to the hills on the other side. I found it to be a great spot to grab some photos for my social media feed.
At the top, you’ll also find the Botanic Gardens which are free to enter. This large and pretty green space has walking trails, glasshouses, an observatory, and a treetop visitor centre.
When you’re done, choose to either walk down to the city via the City to Sea Walkway or catch the cable car back to downtown. I chose to walk and enjoyed the pleasant stroll downhill.
Head up to Victoria Lookout
Mount Victoria lookout is well worth a visit for 360 degree views of the city and bay. I walked all the way from downtown and found it to be rather long (and the bush trails on the hill were not particularly suitable for city shoes!). If walking seems too strenuous for your liking, you can reach this spot on a Wellington hop-on hop-off bus tour.
Optional: LOTR filming locations + Weta Cave
I enjoy watching the Lord of the Rings movies, and even though I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore fan, I think anyone who is knows the popular series will find it interesting to discover the relationship between LOTR and Wellington. The walk up to Victoria Lookout reveals a few of the filming locations, and a visit to the nearby Weta Cave will allow you to see relics from the movies in a mini-museum.
If you’d like to explore this film aspect of the city in more detail, I’d highly recommend doing a Lord of the Rings half-day tour as your guide can pinpoint the exact spots where scenes were shot. I did this tour on my first visit to Wellington and had a grand time re-enacting specific scenes from the movies!
Hit up Cuba Street
Cuba Street is the place to be on Wellington evenings. This happening spot is full of trendy restaurants and there will often be musicians playing tunes in the streets. Sampling some of the local seafood here is apparently a must for anyone who eats it (not me!).
There’s a great night market at Cuba Street on Friday and Saturday evenings, with a range of stalls selling tasty street foods. Don’t miss this if you’ll be visiting over the weekend!