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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 on 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 16 best free and cheap things to do in Wellington, New Zealand!
16 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 to 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! It’s open daily from 10 am to 6 pm.
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!
If you would like to do a guided tour of the Te Papa Museum then this tour is great value at only $20.50 NZD.
2. Hike or drive up to Mount Victoria Lookout
Wellington is built on the ocean but its backdrop is 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 have ever seen!
Related Read: Just starting your New Zealand trip planning? Have a look at these awesome New Zealand road trip itineraries!
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 to where they were 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 (394ft) 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. You can book your return ticket in advance here!
Also at the top is the Botanical Gardens which brings me to my next cheap and free things to do in Wellington, New Zealand…
Related Read: Here’s the most ideal 2 day itinerary in Auckland so you can start planning your perfect weekend in this seaside city.
4. Visit the Wellington Botanical Gardens
Wellington’s Botanical Gardens are certainly not the 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, there’s also a rose garden off to the side.
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 and open daily from 10 am to 5 pm. 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! It starts from Wellington Harbour and hits 4 craft breweries in the surrounding area including one of the top New Zealand best craft beers, Panhead Custom Ales which is located adjacent to Brewtown in Upper Hutt, New Zealand.
Related Read: If you love beer and are headed to the South Island you’ll be able to visit some amazing craft breweries on a Queenstown brewery tour.
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 of 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 local 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 wander 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!
Related Read: Lord of the Rings fans, here is everything you need to know to decide if Hobbiton is worth it before you go!
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 $23 NZD for adults and $10 for children 5-17 (under 5s are free) 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 its own unique experience and range in price. They are open Sunday through Monday from 9 am to 4:30 pm.
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 (6.8 miles) from the city. Alternatively, you can take a rather affordable self-guided bike tour or book a more pricey but private 7-hour tour of Wellington that will stop at the Red Rocks for about an hour, it includes transport and 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 (1.2 miles) 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 (8.7 miles) loop track that you can walk that includes the Red Rocks which you can read about here. This route is long and 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 $8 per person per night and $10 a night starting July 1st of 2022.
The Putangirua Pinnacles aren’t actually in Wellington, however, they are such an awesome attraction they are worth the 113-kilometer (70 miles) 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 Queens Wharf and exploring some of the cool shops. On Sundays, you’ll find the pop-up farmer’s 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.
Related Read: We’ve put together a guide to the best two week South Island New Zealand road trip so you don’t have to!
15. 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.
You can either just hire your bike for a half-day or a full day. These cost $70 NZD and $77 NZD respectively. Or if you want a guide you can take this guided tour around the city for 4 hours for the price of $129 NZD.
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!
16. 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.
To be honest though, I actually did a tour here from Wellington and they aren’t that cheap so they don’t fall into the free and cheap activities in Wellington. If you do want to do a tour you can book this 5-hour tour here for $299 NZD and also includes a welcome coffee before visiting 4 boutique wineries.
Related Read: If you want to try some of more of New Zealand’s best wine enjoy from the best Queenstown wineries and pick your tour!
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:
The Marion Hostel – A fantastic budget hostel perfect for those wanting a boutique stay with a high-end feel! Once you look at the pictures and reviews you’ll almost forget that you aren’t at a hotel, especially if you upgrade a little for a private room over the standard dorm room. It has a rooftop terrace and is just a couple of minutes’ walk to downtown.
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.
Trek Global Backpackers – Nice hostel with good reviews that is place is clean but simple. You can even opt to rent mountain bikes from the front desk. Note, there is no parking on the property.
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 ideally 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.
Related Read: Plan on visiting Mount Cook while in New Zealand? Here are the best Mount Cook accomodations and why you should stay there.
Renting a Car or Campervan in New Zealand
The first step to planning your New Zealand road trip is choosing your set of wheels! Most people rent a campervan or motorhome to get around, but you can also just rent a normal car and stay in hotels (as opposed to camping.)
You can search for rental cars online here in advance to compare car models and prices.
You can also do this with motorhomes and campervans on a website called Motorhome Republic. It shows all of the available campervans and motorhomes for your specific New Zealand road trip dates. You can compare prices and company reviews here too!
Personally, we have rented a campervan from a company called Mad Campers before and had a great experience. Mad Campers is for budget travelers and they offer 1 and 2 berth campervans that are very comfortable and perfect for a road trip in New Zealand! You can read our full Mad Campers review for more info!
We also have a discount code for our readers. Use DTRAVEL5 at checkout to get 5% off your campervan rental with Mad Campers!
The only downside to Mad Campers is that they have limited inventory, so they might already be sold out for your travel dates. In that case, your next best option is JUCY. We love JUCY because they have such a range of both cars and campervans available so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to suite your budget and travel style. You can check prices, availability and book with JUCY online here.
Kiwi Motorhomes is another company we personally recommend but specifically for motorhomes! They offer luxury motorhomes (as opposed to budget campervans) at really reasonable rates. Check out our full review on them as well as more info specific on renting a motorhome in NZ in our guide!
Kiwi Motorhomes has actually given us a discount code for our readers too! Use the code DEST5 at checkout to get 5% off your motorhome rental!
Thanks for reading!
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.
If you found this blog helpful then you’ll love our other New Zealand content. So, jump over to our official New Zealand page! Also below are some great articles you may love!