Wellington is a stunner of a place to explore on a budget. Yet unlike many other capital cities in the world, you can find heaps of genuinely free things to do in Wellington.
It’s the government hub and the heart of arts & culture, which means Wellington is a pretty expensive city to live in – I’ve lived there for a couple of years in total – but the times I’ve been on a budget, I’ve always been able to find free things to do in Wellington.
Wellington has managed to preserve a small-town feel with its compact size and its iconic Kiwi elements, developing into a city that has many low-cost or free things to experience.
Having lived and worked here several times as well as exploring the city as a traveller, I’ve compiled this list of 50 free things to do in Wellington.
Note – Although all these things are free to do, some locations do involve needing transport to get there. I can’t always factor in where everyone is staying or living or if they have a car, but the list does cover many areas of Wellington and most of the items are walking distance around Wellington city.
50 Free Things to do in Wellington, New Zealand
1. Visit the Te Papa Museum
Don’t miss the colossal squid or the earthquake simulator.
2. Walk around the Botanic Gardens
Wellington’s 26 hectares of beautiful Botanic Gardens, are walking distance from the city centre and showcasing exquisite landscape, native bush and specialist gardens.
Gardens are open daily sunrise to sunset and extend from Thorndon in the city, stretching uphill to Kelburn.
3. Hike up to the Ataturk Memorial
This memorial in Wellington is modelled on an original that Ataturk erected at Gallipoli, in memorial to the foreign soldiers who fought and died there.
4. Visit Civic Square
Civic Square is an outdoor space on the waterfront, filled with unusual public art and displays some of New Zealand’s history and culture. Civic Square is also the stronghold for Wellington’s major buildings, so here you’ll find the City Central Library, Wellington Town Hall, City Art Gallery and the Michael Fowler Centre Concert Hall.
Eccentric art in the form of metal palm tree sculptures are scattered around the area. Come back to the square at night to see the sculptures lit up and looking pretty by floodlights.
5. Listen for penguins at dusk coming back to their nests
At the right time of year between May and June, adult birds waddle ashore to prepare their nests. They’re rarely seen on land and only come ashore under the cover of darkness, but you can sometimes see or hear them coming back to their nests at dusk – if you’re in the right place.Traditionally they nest in underground burrows, between rocks or in caves. When the penguins are pairing up and building their nests to cosy up in together, they are very noisy. You can sometimes hear them if you are around the Wellington South coast just after dusk.The best place in Wellington is around the Miramar Peninsula coastline, around Seatoun, Karaka Bay and Breaker Bay. There’s also a rocky area with information boards and penguin crossing signs named Moa Point, it’s between the airport and Breaker Bay.
6. Jump in to Wellington Harbour
If you’re brave enough, try jumping off a waterfront wharf into Welly Harbour. There’s usually groups of people doing it on a sunny day, so just go find one and join in.
My advice would be wait until the summer though.
7. Go browsing/shopping at Moore Wilson’s – (should you ever miss Waitrose or Marks & Spencer)
Moore Wilson is a little like Waitrose or Marks & Spencers in the UK, for those not in the know, both of these shops sell the slightly ‘fancier’ groceries and always have awesome quality organic goods and artisan and speciality foods.
I often go here and drool over their speciality chocolate and bakery counter. You can also pick up a fresh cup of barista served coffee, brewed from the locally roasted coffee beans that you can buy at the coffee counter.
It’s only expensive if you do your entire grocery shop here every week, and as most things on the fresh counters are sold singularly, you can always find something yummy to try, even on a tight budget.
Tip – Keep an eagle eye out for free food sample tastings.
8. Drive through the Victoria Tunnel and pip/beep your horn
The result is a tunnel full of especially exuberant drivers, on a Friday afternoon, driving into the weekend with a smile 🙂
9. Go to Regional Wines off the Basin reserve for free wine tasting
Check out Regional Wines events page, for free wine or champagne tasting afternoons, that are completely free.
10. Walk up to Mount Victoria for a wonderful view of the city
Once up there, you’ll be rewarded with 360 degree city and harbour views. Watch the ferries sailing in to the harbour or watch the planes taking off from Wellington Airport.
Just beautiful views in every direction.
11. Watch the surfers at Lyall Bay
Lyall Bay is a popular beach break and this is one of the free things to do in Wellington that’s great to do, even on a windy day. It’s usually not hard to spot the surfers and often the best peak is near the rock wall by the airport, so that’s usually a good spot to watch them.
It’s also the best place to watch windsurfers and kitesurfers make the most of the windy days, in Wellington – which is pretty much every day.
12. Go to the play park at Island Bay
Don’t laugh – it’s actually a very awesome play park, close to the sea and with free BBQ areas. And what do you know, it’s free!
13. Take a walk, hike or bike in one of the ‘Town Belt’ parks or reserves
The Wellington ‘Town Belt’ is a large, horseshoe-shaped area of green open space, made up of many parks and reserves that give a scenic backdrop to the inner city-scape, including:
- Central Park, a popular city park that offers a mix of formal gardens, grassed areas and natural woodland and is an easy walk from the city centre
- Mount Alfred that has a network of tracks popular with hikers, runners and mountain bikers
- Mount Albert has a similar network of walking and biking opportunities along with great views of the Cook Strait and Miramar Peninsula
14. Take the ferry to Days Bay beach and Eastbourne village
Jump on the Wellington Harbour Ferry (payable) at Queens Wharf and sail on over to the Eastern Bays. Hang out on the beautiful Days Bay beaches, do a bush walk or walk around the shops and art galleries of Eastbourne village.
15. Bored on a Sunday afternoon? Go to Open Home viewings.
16. Go see the WellyWood sign
17. Go to the Sunday Harbourside Market on the Waterfront
The Harbourside Market is a popular Welly produce market, located between Te Papa Museum and Chaffers Marina.
It’s open every Sunday morning through to the early afternoon.
I used to go here to buy my veges although mostly I’d go to sample the amazing coffee and yumminess of the food trucks. The market is on every Sunday, rain or shine, from 7:30am – 2pm.
18. Explore the Weta Cave in Miramar
Entry to the Weta Cave is completely free and gets you a behind-the-scenes peek into the inspiration and artistry behind the big screen.
There are also paid tours of the Weta Digital Workshop.
19. Check out the wind sculptures in Evans Bay
20. Look at Old St Paul’s Cathedral in Thorndon
21. Go to Frank Kitts Underground Market on a Saturday
I love this market, it’s so unique and Kiwi, located at the heart of Wellington’s waterfront, under Frank Kitts Park, this place is always worth a visit.
22. Slide down the Helter skelter slide near the TSB Arena
23. Drive over the windy Wairarapa hills to go free wine tasting in Martinborough
Martinborough has a multitude of quality wineries that offer free wine tasting tours, so go nuts.
24. Walk along the coast and listen to the oystercatchers
25. Cruise down Cuba Street
Named after the 1840 settler ship – not the country – Cuba Street is home to hipsters, artists, buskers, foodies, coffee lovers and vintage lovers. A zone that is free-spirited and bohemian in nature, Cuba Street has some of the city’s most characterful and vibrant bars and cafes and distinctive vintage shops.
It’s one of my favourite places in the world and an ideal place to people watch, cafe hop, marvel at the street artists and browse the vintage clothes shops.
Try not to get splashed by the iconic Bucket Fountain, it gets you even when you think you’re at a safe distance.
26. Catch up with your German newspaper reading at the Goethe Institute on Cuba Street
At the Goethe Institute, the use their eLibrary is FREE. This service allows you to borrow digital materials, such as eBooks, e-Audio books and electronic newspapers by downloading them to your laptop, smartphone or e-Reader.
No need to worry about returning them, they just become unavailable at the end of the loan period.
27. Take a Tour of Parliament
You can in fact take a tour of Parliament for free and these guided tours of Parliament are available 7 days a week. Explore parts of the Parliament buildings, learn about the parliamentary process, see some of the artworks and objects in the Parliamentary Collection and check out their earthquake reinforcements, that make it one of the safest buildings in Wellington.
Check their online calendar for the daily tour schedule and email them to make your booking. Parliament’s Visitor Centre is located on the ground floor of the ‘Beehive’ and it’s also home to Parliaments Executive Wing.
The ‘Beehive’ is the New Zealand equivalent of 10 Downing Street in the UK and I’m lucky enough to have actually been in the offices once, to drop off some Ministerial papers when I was temping at the National Library.
28. Visit the Museum of Wellington City and Sea
29. Check out the amazing New Zealand National Library
The NZ National Library helps people connect to the collective knowledge of the nation. Their mantra is – Collect, Connect and Create knowledge to power New Zealand.
There’s free fast WiFi, and free to use PCs, Macs, printers, scanners, charging stations, and everything else you need to meet, browse, work and create.
There is also an awesome little cafe on-site next to Net.Work called HOME Cafe, serving Havana bean roasted coffee and counter snacks.
30. Bookshop Hop
31. Walk along the waterfront and read all the writers and poetry blocks
Along the waterfront you’ll find the Wellington Writers Walk, which is a walk you follow self-paced, on which you find sculptural quotations from some of New Zealand’s best known writers, set in contemporary concrete plaques and metal text on wooden ‘benchmarks’ for you to seek, all along the shore.
The Writers Walk consists of quotations from 23 authors, including poets, novelists, and playwrights. The walk celebrates how Wellington featured in these writers’ lives, and their place in the life of Wellington.
32. Wellington Night Food markets in Cuba St
The Night Food Markets have become a staple of Cuba St life now and contribute to the cities colourful and quirky character. There are two night food markets in Wellington:
- Friday Night Food Market at Left Bank, Cuba Mall (on Cuba Street) from 5pm till 10pm
- Saturday Night Food Market at the corner of Cuba & Manners Street from 5pm till 11pm
Both food markets showcase a community of local performers, artists and private stall-holders who sell a huge range of yummy international cuisine.
Go hungry because you’ll want to try everything!
33. Drive around the bays and have a picnic at Scorching Bay
34. Free outdoor cinema movie nights
Even with Wellingtons erm… unpredictable weather, between November and March there is an Outdoor Cinema Movie night, every Saturday at sunset.
The free movies are shown on Lagoon Lawn, beside St Johns Bar and Restaurant, on the Waterfront (the lawn next to the City to Sea bridge).
35. Walk the Wellington Waterfront
36. Take a trip to Otari-Wilton’s Bush to learn about NZ’s native plants
The area is classified as a Garden of International Significance and includes 100ha of native forest and 5ha of plant collections. Some of Wellington’s oldest trees are here, an 800-year-old rimu, is one of the long-term residents.
37. Drive or walk up to the Brooklyn wind turbine
38. Climb to the top of Mt Kaukau
Mount Kaukau is on the western side of the Wellington Harbour near Johnsonville and is the highest visible mountain in Wellington, although more of a huge hill than a mountain. I like hiking but I’m not a big fan of climbing hills, I prefer tracks through National Parks or multi-day hikes, even cliff or peninsula hikes – I can walk for miles along ocean or coastal tracks – no bother.
I think I get too down trodden with the steep climbs up, although it’s always worth the view when I get up there. So I still do hill or mount climbs, but just not with a lot of zest.
Mt Kaukau is no exception, it’s about an hours steep climb up, with steps in places however the view is spectacular when you get to the summit with views of the city, the harbour, the wind turbines, Hutt Valley, the Tararua Range, Porirua and even the South Island.
The first entrance when coming from Wellington city centre, is the Simla Crescent entrance of the Khandallah Reserve.
39. Then walk along the Skyline from Mt Kaukau summit to Crofton Downs
Once at the top of Mt Kaukau, you can go back down the way you came, OR for stunning views you can walk along the ridge, just above Khandallah down to the village of Crofton Downs to exit.
40. Visit Newtown for the quirky atmosphere
Prince William and Princess Kate even stayed in Newtown at Government House during the royal tour.
41. Browse in the mouth-watering Mediterranean Food Warehouse in Newtown
It also has a shop and deli attached, where you can look at all the goodies and taste a few samples. Pastas, meats, spices, wines, 50+ cheeses (from 5 different countries) – you had me at cheese.
42. Drive up the Kapiti coast
So if you drive up the SH1, you can easily hit all the beaches on the way, in one day. Beaches include – Paraparaumu, Otaki, Raumati, Peka Peka and Waikanae, the last one being my favourite.
43. Take a walk along Oriental Parade
Also when the weather is good, you can’t beat a walk down Oriental Parade and then some sun lounging on Oriental Bay beach. And maybe pick out the house you’d buy, if you had $2 million dollars.
44. Walk the Red Rocks Reserve walkway in Owhiro Bay
You can drive to the Red Rocks Reserve by parking at Owhiro Bay car park and walking the walkway from there, or get the Number 1 Bus and get off on Owhiro Bay Parade.
45 . Wander around the New Zealand Portrait Gallery
46. Go to one of the free classical concerts at St. Andrew’s on the Terrace
47. Go to the Zoo
Ok so the Zoo isn’t free to get in but….you can see the one-legged Kiwi bird and watch the vets in action at the zoo’s Vet Hospital for free. The Vet Hospital has a huge viewing window where anyone can watch the vets at work, during the zoo’s opening hours.
Also if you hang around, you might be able to hear the lion’s roaring. I flat-shared in Newtown, near Wellington Zoo once and one of my priceless memories was hearing the lion’s ‘roaring’ to each other, from my room on my weekends off.
48. Go to the Central City Library
49. Take the picturesque drive from South Karori to Makara Beach
50. Explore Jackson Street in Petone and the Esplanade
Browse the boutique shops or the places to buy gourmet/speciality items at The Dutch Shop, On Trays Food Emporium or La Bella Italia.
51. Go listen to the Wellington Community Singers
52. Go for a drive up the Hutt Valley and go swimming in either the Hutt or Akatarawa river
Never swim alone, always check for submerged rocks before jumping or diving and be aware sometimes there is toxic algae present in the waterways.