Wellington New Zealand, has been called the ‘Coolest Little Capital in the World’. I am not going to argue with that. Wellington is a small city nestled on a beautiful harbor, surrounded by a lovely accessible green belt and a ‘couple’ of hills. The upside of those hills – the view. This is our Beginner’s Guide to Wellington City, where we share some of our favourite places to visit, things to do, and of course, to eat.
Recently, I posted about having a staycation, which got me to thinking – if I had a good friend coming to Wellington for the first time, what would I recommend they absolutely must do? This is our guide to Wellington, New Zealand.
Wellington is the Captial City of New Zealand and has a rich Maori history pre-dating European colonisation. An insight on some of that history can be found here and here. Our Maori heritage in New Zealand provides us with a unique place in the world. It is important to start this guide to Wellington by acknowledging the original inhabitants of this place.
So let’s begin our Beginner’s Guide to Wellington with a few things you should know:
Before we go any further, I need to get something off my chest. Wellington’s weather can be tempestuous, changeable, stunning, warm, cold, wet and windy. Oh, and that could be in one day. But life is what you make of it. I think we should celebrate the weather in Wellington, it always gives us something to talk about. The trick is to be prepared – this is captured in one magic word layering. You will need to be prepared for any types of weather and the best way to do that is to wear layers. Our favourites are Icebreaker Merino which is warm enough to keep the wind out and very easy to layer – here are a few we always have in our bag – Icebreaker Merino Women’s Dia Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie, Snow/Gritstone Heather, Large, Icebreaker Women’s Terra Long Sleeve Half Zip Hoodie, Black/Black/Black, X-Large, Icebreaker Merino Women’s Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe Align Print Top, Black/Snow, Small, Icebreaker Merino Men’s Descender Long Sleeve Zip Sweater, Black, Large, Icebreaker Men’s Tech T Lite Long Sleeve Shirt, Black, Medium.
When our days are warm and sunny they are glorious. Our waterfront fills up with people soaking in some warmth or enjoying a coffee or glass of wine at one of our many cafes or restaurants. When our days are blustery and cold, then I think there is something quite special about Wellington. You can wrap up and see a whole different side of the city.
Also, it can get a touch windy in Wellington. So keep this in mind as it will quickly undo your newly coiffed hair, ruin you umbrella (don’t bother!), or blow away the precious parking coupon you had in your hand. A good raincoat and hat is worth investing in too.
The upside of the wind – it can also blow away your brain fug. There have been many, many times I have been very happy to be a larger lady when the wind whips up in Wellington and my smaller counterparts have to grab something to hold on to – not me my friends. Me, I am anchored solidly in place. Boom.
You can fly, drive, sail, train or bus into Wellington. The airport is a 15 minute bus or $20 – 30 cab ride from the city centre.
Wellington is great for getting out and exploring. Getting around in Wellington is pretty straightforward. We are a compact city, so walking is a good way to get around the city centre. Wellington is situated on a harbour, surrounded by hills, so if you are going further afield than the city centre there are a couple of good options. A good place to start comparing these options is here.
Out and about
No guide to Wellington can be without ideas for getting out and exploring, having a wander and just being a bit nosey:
- Walk along the waterfront, along any of our coastlines or take a walk in the City Green Belt – there is even an app to help you chose the best walk for you
- Catch the Cable Car, take in the Botanic Gardens including loads of public art, and the Carter Observatory
- Walking tours – we love the Sculpture Walk, and the xx walk to find out about local history
- Head out to the South Coast to explore the Red Rocks, take a peek at the South Island, or see some seals. There is something quite magical about heading out to the South Coast when it is wild and wet – even for a drive. Check if there are any weather before you go.
Things to do in Wellington, New Zealand
- Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa – Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum. It is free to get in and there are some magnificent exhibitions and sites to see. You may have to pay to see some special exhibitions
- Local museums – we have some lovely museums and sites in Wellington, a good starter is here
- Art lovers should check out the City Gallery or up the hill to the Adam Art Gallery. Slightly further afield are the Dowse and Pataka.
- Catch a show – Wellington has a rich theatre and arts scene, try and catch a show at a local venue – Bats, Circa, St James, Hannah Playhouse, Laundry, San Fran – find out whats on here and here
- Wellington also hosts the New Zealand Festival (2018), Maori Art Market, Te Matatini (2019), Jazz Festival, Comedy Festival, New Zealand International Film Festival and if you are really lucky you will be in town for Welly on a Plate – everything that is good about Wellington Food!
- Visit Zealandia, a 225 hectare conservation sanctuary which is the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary
- visit Parliament and the Beehive- go on a tour, buy some parliamints at the Visitor Centre
Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Apparently, Wellington has more cafes per head of population than New York. Where to eat in Wellington is a surprisingly difficult question. There are so many choices for good restaurants in Wellington. You can find the full spectrum of dining choices in Wellington restaurants. I can tell you that if you are a coffee drinker – then Wellington is the place for you. So much good quality coffee – we love these places, plus you can check out their roasteries….go on, I know you want to. Wellington really is a great place if you love travel and food, here is our guide to Wellington restaurants to try.
We are also very, very spoilt for choice for food. Definitely, try and check out some of these, we love them, and have enjoyed good food/drinks and service at them all, all do blooming good coffee, so here are the places we love (and frequent):
- Astoria – excellent service, very speedy in the morning, and are very, very delicious Bacon Sandwich.
- VicBooks – 2 locations – the best Lemon, Honey and Ginger in town, and they have Little Dough Co doughnuts Thurs- Sat
- Ombra – great Venetian food, service and wines
- Dragonfly – delicious food and cocktails. Great outdoor courtyard hidden away behind the restaurant
- WBC – tucked away up some stairs on Victoria St, delicious seasonal food
- Capitol – perfect spot to eat delicious food and people watch
- Havana – great food, service and cocktails. After dinner you can pop next door to the bar. Plus they have daily sunshine deals on drinks.
- Floriditas – delicious food, very yummy baking, and they do a lovely Bellini with their breakfast menu
- Loretta – sister restaurant to Floriditas. Amazing menu, loads of salads, grain based dishes and overall deliciousness.
- Fidels – good food, delicious baking, outside area to park up in
- Fisherman’s Plate – this looks like a fish and chip shop (not a bad thing) but they also do very, very good Vietnamese food. Fresh. Unassuming. Delicious.
- Southern Cross – o.k I have to admit I used to drink a lot of beer here when I was a student. But this place is no longer that place. They have great food and a fabulous beer garden. They also have a Kids Club that does workshops, theatre and the like – and they do birthday parties. We attended a 10th birthday party there and it was chocker with families having breakfast. If that isn’t your thing – head in later in the day, find a spot and while away some time.
- Moore Wilsons – not a cafe or a restaurant. But the food – my goodness. The finest food from the region and further afield – bread, baking, cakes, cheese, coffee….and the list goes on
- Drink craft beer – so many choices – we like Garage Project and Black Dog – but there are so many to choose from
So many choices, and so many more. If there is a particular kind of food experience of cuisine you want to know about – leave a comment below – or get in touch with Andrew, who could tailor a tour of some of our favourite spots for you.
There are plenty of Wellington hotels to choose from. Here are a few options of where to stay in Wellington, ones we love and have enjoyed staying at.
- Ohtel – Ohtel is a lovely boutique hotel located close to Oriental Bay, perfect for people watching or a dip in the (cold) sea. It is a small intimate hotel. Directly across the road is Waitangi Park where there are plenty of events happening. Te Papa, Courtney Place and New World supermarket are all between 5-10 minutes walk away.
- QT Museum Wellington (formerly Museum Hotel) – this hotel is perfectly located. You also have the option of apartments as well as hotel rooms. Also across the road from Waitangi Park, and Te Papa. Each Sunday the local market is on your doorstep. You will be in the thick of things. QT Museum Wellington has a wonderful art collection and a stunning in house restaurant Hippopotamus. A wonderful experience.
- Intercontinental Hotel – this hotel is located close to the CBD. Surrounded by wonderful restaurants and a short walk to the waterfront. The lobby bar and restaurant have recently been redeveloped and are wonderful to park up in and watch the world pass you by.
- Bolton Hotel – The Bolton Hotel is located in the CBD, which is bustling during the week, but is quite over the weekend. It is located just off The Terrace. During the week there are loads of places to eat and find a quick bite to eat. At the weekend you may have to walk 5 minutes further to Lambton Quay to find dinner – but it is hardly a sacrifice. The rooms are lovely and you also get the option of apartments here too.
If you have a bit more time you should also head out to Petone (train, bus, drive) where another foodie mecca awaits– but that would be a whole other guide which you can find here!
Wellington is a great place to explore. Lots to do and see – plus the people are lovely and friendly.
Come and visit, you can’t beat Wellington on a good day, hopefully, our guide to Wellington has whet your appetite. If you liked this post, check out our other posts from our home country New Zealand:
In case you need more of an incentive to come and visit, check out these gorgeous videos of Wellington:
‘The Coolest Little Capital in the World’ by Stephen Patience
‘Little Wellington‘ by Michael Jooss.