When you don't like wind...
Reputation: really windy, all the time.
Why you should go: the beautiful harbour. A compact city you can explore on foot. Great restaurants. Some of the world’s best coffee. Free museums and art galleries. A good exchange rate. If you're visiting New Zealand, don't skip Wellington.
A quick note about accessibility in Wellington: Wellington is easy to get around with a pushchair or if you use a mobility device. All buildings, by law, are also easily accessible.
Everything’s free unless stated.
Discover coffee culture
To say that Wellingtonians are obsessed with coffee is an understatement. Good coffee - and we mean seriously good coffee - is available all over the city and is served by your usual hipster-beard-and-tattooed barista.
Local favourites include Mojo (you can't swing a cat without hitting a Mojo café), Flight, Havana, L'affare and Coffee Supreme. Mojo roasts its coffee at a warehouse on the waterfront and welcomes visitors. Not a coffee drinker? All decent cafes also sell a good selection of tea and locally-made fizzy drinks.
Looking for a Starbuck's for the free wifi? Shame on you! There's free wifi along the waterfront.
Want something more substantial?
Wellington has some great restaurants in all price ranges. Our favourites include Logan Brown, Otega Fish Shack and Charley Noble for something special, Monsoon Poon, Floriditas, Portlander and Pravda for great food without breaking the bank, and Tommy Millions, Chow and Pizza Pomodoro for easy, cheap and really tasty food.
While we're talking food, pop into a supermarket and buy some locally-made Whittaker's chocolate. It's sooo good and the same price as regular chocolate. We recommend the creamy milk chocolate. Nom nom nom.
Explore the waterfront
Wellington's waterfront is a stunner. The thoughtful layout and lack of traffic make it a haven for walkers and cyclists and a popular route for the city's lunchtime joggers.
Highlights include some of Wellington's better restaurants (lunch on the deck at Dockside is hard to beat), playgrounds for the kids, weekend craft and fresh produce markets, the Capital E kids' education centre and Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum. But the real attraction is the view of the harbour and city.
If you're really in the mood for a walk, you can continue around Oriental Bay. If you don't have the energy to walk back, hop on a bus. They all head back to the CBD.
Hungry? The entire route, including Oriental Bay, is littered with cafes and you can grab an ice cream from one of the excellent ice cream shops or a craft beer from St John's. Our tip is to grab a sandwich from the Countdown supermarket on Lambton Quay: head to the deli just past the check-out. The sandwiches are fresh and cheap. Then, find yourself a spot on the waterfront and enjoy the view.
The waterfront can get a little breezy so, unless it's a really sunny day, wrap up warm.
Get some culture
Te Papa (Maori for 'Our place') is New Zealand's national museum and is hard to miss on the waterfront. It's a little ugly on the outside but is well worth visiting.
Check out the section on Maori history and culture, see the giant squid (a hit with kids) and learn about New Zealand's colonial past and Pacific neighbours. Te Papa's exhibits are interactive and kids love them.
There's a good café on the ground floor.
For the adventurer, head to Ferg's Kayaks on the waterfront. Here, you can rent a kayak, canoe, stand-up paddle board, in-line skates or a bike. Inside, there's a rock climbing wall including a wall suitable for kids. The staff are great so if you've never rock climbed before, this is the perfect place to give it a try. Fees apply to hire gear.
Or head to the Waitangi Skate Park further along the waterfront. It's free and, being outside, always open!
Discover nature at Zealandia
Zealandia in a sanctuary for native birds and other wildlife. Despite being on the edge of town, it's a world away from the hustle of the CBD. Visitors can try a short walk or a full-day walk, and there are also tracks suitable for people with mobility issues. It's a lovely way to experience the native flora and fauna of New Zealand without leaving town. Or camping. Or getting dirty.
Hungry? Try Rata café on site. An entry fee applies. Parking is limited so grab the free shuttle from the I-site in the CDB or the top of the Cable Car.
Take the kids (or yourself) to Wellington Zoo
Wellington has a small zoo which is a nice day out especially for the kids. It features giraffes, lions, tigers and chimps, among other things, plus two 'walk-through' sections where you can interact with the animals: Meet the Locals (farm animals and penguins. We haven't worked out how they fit together...) and Australian animals. Don't miss the kiwi enclosure and Tahi, a one-legged kiwi. 'Tahi' is Maori for 'one'.
Bring a picnic or grab some lunch at one of the two cafes onsite. The café inside the zoo is a little cheaper than the one at the entrance.
The zoo is on a hill. If you have mobility issues or a stroller ask for a mobility map at the entrance. It shows the most accessible route through the zoo.
Local tips: take something warm to wear and also take sunblock. Even on a cloudy day, it's easy to get sunburn.
Hit the town when the sun goes down
If you're looking for nightlife, head to Courtenay Place and its side streets Blair Street and Allen Street. This is where most of the pubs, clubs and restaurants are. You'll find top-notch places to eat, drink and be merry and also cheap-as-chips places for a quick bite and a good, honest beer. Have a roam around and see what appeals. Note that the legal drinking age is 18 years old and anyone looking under 30 may be asked for ID, so be prepared.
If you're really hungry, you're in for a treat at the Green Parrot at the bottom of Taranaki Street. This old-school diner is a local fav. It's been around forever and serves enormous plates of food, all with a side of buttered white bread. Don't bother asking for half portions. Or the vegetarian option. There's no website and you can't book.
If you fancy a drink with a view, check out the roof-top bar Dirty Little Secret.
In the mood for a movie? See it at The Embassy, New Zealand's iconic movie theatre at the top of Courtenay Place. Grab a Lebanese kebab beforehand at Phoenician next door and a drink afterwards at the dead-cool Black Sparrow underneath the theatre.
Wellington has some of New Zealand's best shopping but you need to know where to look. Wellington is The Doubtful Traveller's home town so we've put together a shopping special just for you.
Enjoy the views
Wellington's harbour is gorgeous. One of the best views is from the top of the Cable Car. The Cable Car itself is considered the attraction and is popular with visitors but the journey is brief. The highlight is definitely the view at the top. The Cable Car runs from 7am-10pm weekdays, 8.30am-10pm Saturdays and 8.30am-9pm Sundays and is suitable for people with mobility issues. Queues can be long if there's a cruise ship in town so an option is to jump on bus 23 and ask the driver to drop you off near the Cable Car.
Whichever way you get to the top, consider walking back to the CBD through the Botanic Gardens. It's a great walk which takes you through native and exotic gardens, the Lady Norwood Rose Garden (where you can grab a bite to eat) and one of the city's earliest cemeteries. It's well sign-posted but steep so not suitable for people with mobility issues. And it's fairy sheltered.
If you've got a car, head to the top of Mt Victoria. It's a steep drive through narrow suburban streets but you'll be rewarded with great views of the city and, in the other direction, the airport.
Take a day trip to Day's Bay
Grab the ferry from the waterfront to Day's Bay on the other side of the harbour. The trip only takes 25 minutes and you arrive in a haven of beaches, regional parks and cafes. It's a great way to spend a day and suitable for kids. There are good facilities and a free outdoor shower to rinse off the sand. There's also a shed where you can hire canoes and bikes.
Across the road is a park with short but hilly walking tracks into East Harbour Regional Park. The wood-fired pizza and ice creams at the Pavilion café are recommended.
Note that the ferry doesn't cater for passengers with mobility issues. Instead, you can catch buses 81 or 83 from the CBD. The trip takes about 30-45 minutes. If you're staying at the Top 10 Holiday Park* in Seaview, as many visitors to Wellington do, the bus stops on your side of the main road and it's only a 10 minute trip to Day's Bay.
* Feeling miles from anywhere? Salvation is a 10 minutes walk down the road. Head to Zany Zeus in Moera (pron: Moe-era) for great coffee, cakes, ice cream and the very best dairy products. It's one of our favourite places in Wellington (Scarlett Johansson, in town to film 'Ghost in the Shell' in 2016, reckons it makes the best chocolate cake she's ever eaten. Who are we to argue?). It's busy but the service is quick and friendly. Try the grilled halloumi sandwich. There are a few 'dairies' in Moera (small general shops) and a bottle store where you can pick up other things you need on the walk back.
Get your political fix
Wellington is New Zealand's capital city and its Parliament Buildings look like no other. The building is colonial stone on one side and modern on the other, built decades apart. The modern side is called The Beehive because it looks like, yep, a beehive. It needs to be seen to be beelieved (sorry).
Parliament is located on the edge of the CBD so is easy to get to. Take a free hour-long tour. Simply turn up and join the next tour. There's no need to book. One of the best bits is seeing the foundations the buildings now sit on, which provide protection from earthquakes. It sounds a bit boring but it's interesting, we promise.
Even if you're not interested in a tour, the lawn in front of Parliament is a great place for a picnic and is popular with office workers. Grab some sushi from one of the many, many sushi shops around town and find a spot. Parliament grounds can be accessed without going through security.
If you do one thing to do with the weather...
Wellington's wind is infamous, especially during spring (September-November). So the city has made it a feature in a lot of its public art. On the way from the airport and throughout the city you'll see all manner of sculptures that interact with the wind to move or light up. For example, one installation gets brighter as the wind blows stronger. Another twists and turns in the wind.
You don't have to seek these out, you'll come across this art all over town.
When the wind is driving you crazy, pop into a café for a cup of coffee and a break, and console yourself that even the locals find the wind a bit much at times. Having said that, when Wellington turns on a nice day, it's a stunner.
Where to stay
Try the QT Museum Hotel on the edge of the CBD. It's eclectic and sumptuous and a lot of fun. The location is great too: across the road from Te Papa and the waterfront area, and a two minute stroll to the restaurants and nightlife of Courtenay Place. At the other end of town, try the Sofitel just off The Terrace. It’s a great location for shopping but not so good for night life.
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Contributor: Ann-Marie Nansett
Updated: 16 January 2019