Top 10 things to do in Wellington

Start planning your list of the best Wellington things to see and do based on these top activities and attractions.

Compact and easy to navigate, Wellington is a breeze to explore. Spend the morning at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, then grab some lunch on the wharves beside the harbour. Discover a world of movie magic on a Wētā Cave Workshop Tour, ride the Wellington Cable Car to the Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā or catch a free shuttle to Zealandia Te Māra a Tāne, Wellington's amazing eco-sanctuary. Dive into Cuba Street for arty shops, cafés and street entertainment or catch some sun and an ice cream on the beach at Oriental Bay. As each day turns to night, you're spoiled for choice when it comes to cocktails, craft beer bars and exciting eateries of every kind.

1. Explore Zealandia

Set inside a 225-hectare predator-fenced valley, not far from the CBD, this award-winning eco-sanctuary is teeming with native wildlife. You can spot some of New Zealand's rarest native birds as you wander the forested paths or relax beside the lake. As the birds are free to come and go, the sanctuary is also helping to repopulate Wellington's suburbs with birdsong. For the ultimate experience, book a small-group day, twilight or night tour with a guide. Zealandia runs free electric shuttles along the 2km route from the top of the Wellington Cable Car. You can get to Zealandia by catching the free shuttle which departs from the Wellington isite Visitor Information Centre on Wakefield Street.

2. Visit Te Papa

Set on the Wellington waterfront, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is the country's national museum. Opened in 1998, it offers highly-rated long and short-term exhibitions. Each exhibition typically includes items from several of the museum's main collection areas - art history, Tāonga Māori, Pacific cultures and natural history. With a vision to change hearts, minds and lives, Te Papa has earned international recognition for its commitment to biculturalism, as well as its innovative and interactive story-telling. For visitors, this all adds up to a wonderfully refreshing museum experience that makes Te Papa, or Our Place, a must-visit Wellington attraction. Entry is free, apart from some short-term exhibitions and activities.

3. Mix with locals on Cuba Street

Go for a wander along Cuba Street, the famously arty, well-worn, bohemian heart of Wellington. Full of character, this inner city street is a hub for great coffee, popular breakfast cafés, innovative restaurants and all kinds of late night fun. It's the place to go for vintage clothing and small boutiques selling whatever your wardrobe's missing. Known for the quirky and unusual, Cuba Street entertains young and old with its buskers, street musicians and retro bucket fountain.

4. Experience movie magic at Wētā Workshop

Acclaimed for its work in films like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and District 9, Wētā Workshop continues to create stunning physical effects and movie magic for some of the world's biggest films. Although confidentiality around new projects prevents tours of the live workshop, Wētā Cave is where you go for highly-rated guided tours and hands-on workshops. They cover everything from special effects make-up, props and creating miniatures to working with leather and chain mail. Check out the Wētā Cave retail store and mini museum, where you can watch a free documentary film about the history of Wētā Workshop. Be sure to book ahead for the tour of your choice. The Wētā Cave is in Miramar, about 15 minutes from the CBD by car or 40 minutes by public bus services.

5. Ride the Wellington Cable Car

No trip to Wellington is complete without a ride on the historic Wellington Cable Car. The steep five-minute ride runs between Lambton Quay in the heart of the CBD and the suburb of Kelburn. Highlights along the way include tunnels with interactive light installations, murals, bridges and passing a cable car coming the other way. At the top you'll find spectacular views over the city and harbour. You can also visit the Wellington Botanic Garden, Cable Car Museum and Space Place. The Cable Car Museum exhibits the original cable winding gear and you can sit in 'grip cars' from the early and mid-1900s.

6. Walk the Wellington waterfront and Oriental Bay

The Wellington waterfront walkway stretches for 2.5km from Queens Wharf to Oriental Bay. It's an entertaining stroll past restaurants, bars and cafés that make the most of the harbour views. You can hire bikes and ride the wide path if a seaside pedal is your thing. If you'd like to get out on the harbour, hire kayak and paddle boards from Fergs Kayaks, which also has an indoor climbing wall experience for people who love heights. Sculptures and poetry feature as you pass Te Papa and turn towards the heritage boatsheds at Clyde Quay Boat Harbour and Oriental Bay, Wellington's much-loved inner city beach.

7. Get into the Beehive Wellington

The iconic Beehive building is home to offices for senior government ministers, including the Prime Minister. It's right next to the historic Parliament Buildings, where politicians meet in the debating chamber and committee rooms. There's a visitor centre on the ground floor of the Beehive. From here you can pick up a map to self-tour the outside of parliament. You can also book online for regular guided tours inside parliament to see the main rooms and learn more about how our democracy works. During school holidays they even have a 'kids in the house' tour.

8. Check out the Wellington Museum

Learn about the history of our capital city, with an emphasis on its maritime milestones. Located on the waterfront, in an 1892 heritage building, the Wellington Museum does a wonderful job of communicating the city's development from pre-European times. You'll discover fascinating artefacts, interactive exhibits, and weird and wonderful stories designed to educate, challenge and entertain. The museum is open every day except Christmas Day and admission is free.

9. Find your top Wellington places to eat

From fine dining to street eats, Wellington has a reputation for outstanding food. You'll find award-winning examples of every cuisine genre, from local innovations to classic dishes from around the world. The choice is so vast that almost every 'Top 10 Wellington places to eat' list features completely different eateries. If you're not sure where to start, just ask your accommodation provider or one of the locals serving good wine or craft beer at an evening bar. Visa Wellington on a Plate, held each year, sees most restaurants offering festival dishes and reduced-price set menus for the Dine and Cocktail Wellington in May and Burger Wellington in August. It's yet another compelling reason to plan a break in the capital.  

10. Taste the capital's craft beer

Wellington is known to many as the craft beer capital of New Zealand. While some competing regions might say that's because it is the only capital, there's no denying its top standing in the world of crafty brews. To locate the best inner-city breweries, tasting rooms and specialist craft beer bars, download or pick up a copy of the Craft Beer Capital Trail Map and get ready to discover what all the fuss is about. You'll also find guided craft beer tours providing introductions and local tips on the best brews and where to enjoy them.

Golding's Free Dive Bar image courtesy of WREDA; Zealandia image courtesy of Rob Suisted; Cuba St image courtesy of WREDA; Image of Wētā Workshop courtesy of Steve Unwin; Image of Wellington Cable Car courtesy of Johnny Hendrikus; Couple walking along waterfront image courtesy of WREDA; Image of Wellington Museum courtesy of Celeste Fontein; Garage Project image courtesy of WREDA