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This is a guide to the best cheap and free things to do in Wellington, New Zealand. It also includes recommendations on where to stay!
Wellington is my favorite major city in New Zealand. Located on the very south of the North Island, this small but vibrant city is New Zealand’s capital.
Its city center is a real drawcard and has an atmosphere I haven’t witnessed in any of New Zealand’s other cities. It was young, vibrant, full of life, and most importantly, filled with amazing things to see and do. In comparison to most cities, it’s a completely different world and one I think everyone would love!
One thing that makes Wellington such a hit is all of the amazing things to do in Wellington. These activities offer a wide range of perspectives into both Wellington and New Zealand and without spending much (and sometimes anything) you can truly explore and discover New Zealand’s greatest city!
After visiting Wellington a few times I managed to come up with a list of the 17 best free and cheap things to do in Wellington, New Zealand!
17 Cheap and Free Things to do in Wellington, New Zealand
1. Museum of New Zealand or Te Papa
Both Bailey and I have traveled to over 50 countries and it’s extremely rare that the National Museum is ever free. In Wellington, New Zealand however, it is!
The Museum of New Zealand (or Te Papa) is home to some of New Zealand’s most important treasures and the name Te Papa literally translates to “Container of Treasures”. From Maori culture to New Zealand’s history, the museum is constantly updating its exhibitions in the highest quality.
Te Papa is interactive, interesting, and impressive even to people who aren’t overly into museums. To date, Te Papa is the best museum I’ve visited and it’s hard to believe that this place is completely free!
In my opinion, Te Papa is not only the best free thing to do in Wellington, but it’s the best thing to do in Wellington in general!
Tour: If you would like to do a guided tour of the Te Papa Museum then this tour is great value at only $20 NZD.
2. Hike or drive up to Mount Victoria Lookout
Wellington is built on the ocean but its backdrop are large steep hills that provide the best vantage points in town! Mount Victoria is arguably the best of those vantage points. From the top, you get 360-degree views of the area and the best part is you can either drive or walk to the top.
The hike up Mount Victoria is one of the most popular walks in Wellington. It takes around 25 minutes to walk the 2 km (1.2 miles) to reach the summit, or the drive is 5 minutes. If you get clear weather, be sure to make it up for sunset for what could be the best one you ever see!
3. Ride in the Cable car
As mentioned above, Wellington’s steep hills make walking around tiring for locals who live on them. So back in the day, the government decided to build a cable car to help locals get where they’re going. These days though, the cable car has become more of a tourist attraction and most carts pack up with visitors wanting to enjoy an easy way to breathtaking views.
At the end of the cable car, you’re over 120m above Wellington giving you views of the city below. There’s even a cable car museum that tells about the history and importance of cable cars around the city.
The cable car costs only $5 one way or $9 return. If you want to save the $4 you can always walk back down. Also at the top is the Botanical Gardens which brings me to my next cheap and free things to do in Wellington, New Zealand…
4. Visit the Wellington Botanical Gardens
Wellington’s Botanical Gardens are certainly not its finest cheap and free thing to do, however, after checking out the cable car you might as well explore a little.
There are a few trails at the top that loop around back to the cable car. These take around 25 minutes to explore. Along the way, you can find a garden from Australia as well as lots of New Zealand native plants.
5. Learn about history at the Wellington Museum
Yep, that’s right, Wellington is home to another museum! The Wellington Museum is another cool place to check out that’s completely free. This museum (as the name suggests) is about the history and cultural importance of Wellington.
From its transformation from the 1900s to its interesting Maritime history, the Wellington Museum is well worth checking out. In fact, it was recently voted one of the top 50 museums in the world! However in my opinion, if you only have time for one then Te Papa is my museum of choice!
6. Visit a Brewery
If you know Bailey and me, you’ll know that we love trying craft beers. Bailey loves a good IPA and I love just about any beer. Wellington is one of the best places in New Zealand to try craft beer and explore a few (or lots of) breweries!
There are over 20 craft breweries in Wellington and this has given the city reputation for being the craft beer capital of New Zealand.
Some of the best breweries you should check out are:
Whistling Sisters: This was my favorite brewery in Wellington. The place serves really good beers. The brewery was set up to support breast cancer research and a portion of the profits goes to the Karen Louisa Foundation.
Garage Project: This small local brewery produces lots of great beers and is very interestingly decorated with local art.
Heyday Beer co: This trendy brewery is located on Cuba Street and serves really good food perfect for pairing with your beer. I really loved the black IPA too!
Black Dog Brewery: Another brewery conveniently located on Cuba Street this place is a must-visit especially for dog lovers as it’s dog-friendly. Oh, and if you don’t have a dog with you, just hang with someone else’s!
If you would prefer to join a guided tour then this all-inclusive Wellington craft beer tour is a great option at an affordable price!
7. Explore the vibrant Cuba Street
Cuba Street is Wellington’s famous walking street that every visitor to the city needs to check out. Along Cuba street you can find amazing deals for food and drinks and score some bargains at some of the many clothing retailers. Wellington is actually a really well-priced capital city in comparison to others!
On a sunny day, I recommend getting some food and drinks at one of the many outdoor patio bars. That’s what we did and it was an afternoon well spent!
8. Go for a swim at Oriental Parade Beach
For some people, big cities aren’t their favorite place to be due to the lack of nature and scenery. However in Wellington, you’re only a short walk to a really nice beach on Oriental Parade. Oriental Parade Beach is a beautiful area that sits west to the city center. It’s walking distance from the city and the small beach area is a great place to get some sun and enjoy the water.
There is a small pontoon you can swim out to and toilets at the beach. This is in no way New Zealand’s most beautiful beach, but it’s certainly worth checking out and another great option for free things to do in Wellington!
9. Wander the waterfront Pop-Up Village
The Pop-Up Village is a small market open throughout both winter and summer. It showcases locals artists and small businesses that operate out of small sea containers along the waterfront.
We took a short walk through the market and checked out lots of unique shops and food vendors. One thing to mention in particular is the local jade carver. His pricing was far cheaper than we had seen anywhere else in New Zealand!
10. Visit the Weta Cave and workshop
The Weta Workshop is one of the coolest places in Wellington. This humble New Zealand workshop creates props for movies such as Mad Max, Fast and the Furious, and of course, their most famous movie the Lord of the Rings!
At the Weta Cave in Miramar, Wellington you can take selfies with life-sized trolls and wonder the shop looking at all sorts of cool props from the Lord of the Rings movies. Entrance to the Weta Cave is completely free however if you want to do a guided tour of the Weta Workshop that’ll cost you.
On these tours, you’ll learn how they make the props as well as visit their effects facility. Oh, and you’ll get to see some of their most famous props up close. This is a great tour for any movie lover or Lord of the Rings fan!
11. Visit Zealandia
Just because you’re in a big city doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy New Zealand’s wildlife. In fact, Zealandia is the world’s very first fenced ecosanctuary. The sanctuary has a 500-year vision to restore the valleys and waterways around Wellington as close as possible to their pre-human state.
Zealandia is most famous for its birds and in the sanctuary you can see the very rare Kaka, the Takahē (pictured above), and little spotted Kiwis. Of course, there are plenty of other birds to see as well as lots of native flora and reptiles.
You can visit Zealandia for only an admission fee of $21 NZD for adults and $12 for children or join a guided tour. There are 3 different tours you can do at Zealandia and they are the Zealandia by Day, Zealandia Twilight and Zealandia by Night tour. Each offers there own unique experience and range in price.
12. Spot seals at Red Rocks
If you’re looking for an awesome free wildlife experience in Wellington, New Zealand then you really can’t pass on a visit to Red Rocks. Here via a short walkway, you can explore the rocks and spot lots of New Zealand Fur Seals.
The coastline is also really beautiful and of course, you can see the interestingly colored red rocks. There are often lots of seals around just be sure to keep your distance.
From Wellington, it’s best to take a bus or drive out to the Red Rocks as they are located 11 kilometers from the city. Alternatively, you can take a tour with an expert guide.
For those with a car, you can drive right to the boardwalk. But if you’re taking the bus then bus number 1 to Island Bay will take you around 2 kilometers from the rocks and from here you can walk. The number 4 bus takes you closer but doesn’t run on weekends.
There is a 14 kilometers loop track that you can walk that includes the Red Rocks which you can read about here. This route is long and still starts just outside Wellington City.
13. Explore the Putangirua Pinnacles
The Putangirua Pinnacles are one of the best places to visit near Wellington, New Zealand. These cool rock formations were a film location for the Lord of the Rings and any fan will recognize this place as Dimholt Road from the Return of the King.
At the Pinnacles you can explore a few walking tracks and can spend a good few hours exploring. There is also a DOC campsite here that costs $6 per person per night.
The Putangirua Pinnacles aren’t actually in Wellington, however, they are such an awesome attraction they are worth the 113-kilometer drive – especially for a Lord of the Rings fan!
Getting there: Unfortunately, there are no busses to the Putangirua Pinnacles so you’ll need to either rent a car in Wellington, drive your own vehicle, or take a tour. This tour is a great option as it visits the Red Rock seal colony as well as the Putangirua Pinnacles.
14. Explore Queens Wharf
Wellington’s coastal areas are stunning! So, on a nice day, nothing beats just taking a stroll on the wharf and exploring some of the cools shops. On Sundays, you’ll find the pop-up farmers market.
You can find lots of neat places to relax and there are always quirky pop-up shops and even at one stage a pop-up sauna! This is a great free activity in Wellington and one I love doing.
15. Join the Hop-on Hop-off city tour
Wellington, New Zealand is a hilly city that can make exploring a little more challenging on foot. Luckily, the city has a really good hop-on hop-off city bus tour that’s perfect for those looking for a cheap way to get around to all of the best tourist attractions.
The bus tour includes 11 stops and visits places such as Zealandia, the Wellington Zoo, Victoria lookout, and the botanical gardens. So, pretty much most of the places on this list of the best things to do in Wellington.
This really is a great tour for only $45 NZD that includes live commentary. I highly recommend it to those without a car or people who don’t want to try to navigate the city using public transport.
You can book your hop-on hop-off bus tour online in advance.
16. Hire an electric bike and explore the city
Another great way to explore Wellington is by bike, but not just any ordinary bike… an electric bike! This way you can get up those steep hills and save your legs for other things to do in New Zealand.
For me personally, just the bike hire is the way to go and the rental company has maps and will recommend the best places to stop along the way. This is the perfect way to explore at your own pace!
Just don’t do it on a really windy day as these bikes don’t do all of the work for you!
17. Visit the Martinborough Wine Region
One thing about New Zealand you just have to know is that they make incredible wine. The best part is that only a short drive from Wellington you can explore the amazing Martinborough wine region. Here you can find lots of amazing wineries and just hop from one cellar door to another.
Some of the best wineries I recommend visiting are Tirohana Estate, Te Kairanga Wines, and Palliser Estate Winery. These wineries are open every day from 11 am.
To be honest though, I actually did a tour here from Wellington. However, they aren’t that cheap so don’t fall into the free and cheap activities in Wellington. If you do want to do a tour you can book this tour here for only $145 NZD (which is very reasonable for a wine tour in New Zealand!)
Where to Stay in Wellington, New Zealand
During our visit, we stayed at the Gilmer Apartment Hotel (pictured above.) The hotel was centrally located and only a 2 minute walk to some of the main shopping streets and 10 minutes to the Museum of New Zealand. The hotel room was actually a one-bedroom apartment complete with its own kitchen!
Overall it was a great place to stay to explore the city. You can check prices and book your stay at Gilmer Apartment Hotel.
Some other great places to stay in Wellington, New Zealand are:
Base Wellington – Great budget hostel perfect for those wanting to meet other travelers and enjoy a party atmosphere.
The Dwellington – This awesome hostel is a great choice with good facilities including a large kitchen. It’s located a little out of the main part of the city but is the top reviewed hostel in Wellington.
YHA Wellington – Nice hostel with good reviews. This place is social but not a party place. It’s clean and follows the typical YHA high standard.
U Boutique Hotel – Want to stay at a quirky and cool hotel that’s perfectly located? Then U Boutique is a great choice I just love the outside of this hotel and remember being blown away when I first saw it!
Mercury Wellington – This place is perfect for those who want a studio apartment in a central location. Studios are always my go-to as I love having the kitchen so I can cook some meals!
Bolton Hotel – The Bolton Hotel is a top reviewed hotel that comes with some really nice luxuries and is still very affordable. They have studios all the way to two-bedroom apartments in an ideal central location.
Intercontinental Wellington -This hotel is amazing. It is quite large but the views of the harbor are amazing. It also has a pool, 2 restaurants, and a bar. It’s a luxurious choice that’s reviewed as one of the best places to stay in Wellington.
Before you go…
Wellington is one of the best cities in New Zealand to visit and a place I can’t wait to return to. To me, it’s not just a quick stop before catching the ferry to Picton or vice versa. It’s a city that needs to be explored and is not to be underestimated.
By the way, you can book your ferry tickets in advance online.
Thanks so much for reading we really hope you have a huge list of free and cheap things to do in Wellington, New Zealand to tick off your bucket list.
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