I’m a proud Wellingtonian and having seen my fair share of cities I’m still pretty confident in saying that it’s one of the best little cities in the world. One of the best things about it is the huge amount of free things to do in Wellington which make it enjoyable even when you’re on a budget.
As the saying goes, 'you can't beat Wellington on a good day' and when the sun is shining it really doesn’t get much better than a day exploring Wellington. This cool capital is certainly small by international standards but it packs a lot of punch. It's definitely a must-see for anyone travelling New Zealand.
Price-wise this city isn't exactly a backpackers dream destination. But if you manage to catch some decent weather (or bring a warm jacket) there are plenty of awesome, free things to do in Wellington.
Public transport in Wellington is decent enough but can be pretty expensive. Luckily, the central city is quite compact and lots of sights are within walking distance. As well as these free activities, it wouldn't be a trip to Wellington without a coffee stop at one of the many cafes. So make sure you save a few dollars as there are a lot worth trying.
Where to Stay in Wellington
Assuming you’re on a budget if you’re looking for free things to do Wellington, you’ll be looking for the best value budget accommodation in Wellington.
The Marion Hostel comes highly recommended and is in an excellent location for exploring the city on foot. They have everything from double rooms with ensuites to 10-bed dorms which are reasonably priced and includes cooking facilities, TV lounge and rooftop terrace. Check prices here.
U Botique Hotel is a little more pricey but has slick private rooms and a funky street-art exterior. The on-site cafe provides breakfast and barista coffee and there is even a room complete with private terrace and spa bath. Check prices here.
If you prefer to have your own place there are plenty of Airbnb options throughout the city. Click here to get $50NZD off your first booking.
The Best Free Things to Do in Wellington
This area stretches from Oriental Bay right around to the main train station and makes for a great stroll on a nice day. The beaches at Oriental Bay are man-made but now form a popular spot for picnics, beach volleyball and brave swimmers. The pedestrianised area follows around past Te Papa towards Frank Kitts Park where you'll find a Saturday market full of local artisans selling their wares.
The waterfront continues on with wide walkways ideal for cycling, rollerblading or scootering. Further on there are some restaurants and cafes as well as the ferry going to Somes Island and Days Bay, which makes an excellent (but not free) day trip.
Houses of Parliament
At the far end of town is the New Zealand parliament building, known as 'The Beehive' (you can see why). The building has some nice grounds and the Parliamentary Library building is worth a look too.
Entrance to Parliament is free and there is a range of tours including a general tour, art tour and a women in parliament tour. New Zealand was the first country in the world to allow all women to vote and the tour follows the history since those pioneering steps in 1893. Check out the tour options here.
Old Government Building/ Law School
Across the road you'll find the largest wooden building in the Southern Hemisphere, known as the old government building or the Law School (as it is currently rented by the law faculty). Visitors can enter the grounds and the first floor for free.
Mount Victoria Lookout
Mount Victoria can be accessed from a variety of areas. It makes a great (and tiring) walk which will take around 30 mins through the bush. Alternatively, you can take the bus (#20 from the city centre) or drive.
The view from the top is 360 degrees, looking out towards the suburbs to the south and across the harbour to the north. It also makes a pretty romantic spot at night with all the city lights.
The Weta Cave
This is a must do for all movie buffs. It is located in Miramar, which is a 30 minute bus ride from the centre of town and home of Weta Workshop. The Cave is a small museum space displaying props, figurines and collectibles from films such as Lord of the Rings.
There is also a documentary which is free to watch. The Cave is very small but interesting to see. I would recommend that any LOTR fans or movie enthusiasts pay for a proper tour of the full Weta Workshop.
Wander Cuba St
A trip to Wellington would not be complete without a wander up this iconic street. Cuba St is a pedestrianized area flanked by shops and some of the top cafes in the city.
Wellington is well-known for its great coffee and this is a great place to grab a cup and engage in some quality people watching. Cuba St is also home to the famous bucket fountain which always draws a crowd eagerly anticpating the tip of the big blue bucket.
The biggest and possibly most worthwhile free thing to do in Wellington is Te Papa Tongarewa -the national museum. Also great for when the Wellington weather decides to play up (more often than not).
There are several floors with permanent exhibitions about New Zealand animals, history and natural disasters. On every floor there is an area with hands-on activities to keep the little (and big) people busy. The top floor hosts a newly opened art section and outside is a nature walk complete with glow worm caves and a dinosaur dig.
The shops are great for NZ gifts and books and there are paid exhibitions on a rotating basis. I would reserve at least an hour or two to wandering around and learning about NZ. Even for the non-museum types (like myself) it is engaging and interesting.
If you are a museum type you can also try the Wellington Museum for interesting and interactive displays about the history of Wellington and how it has developed as a city. Or the Cable Car Museum which you can learn about Wellington's iconic, little red cable car. Both have free entry.
Wellington Botanic Gardens
Reachable by foot from town or by the famous cable car which departs from Lambton Quay. The gardens contain many native New Zealand plants as well as an impressive array of others.
There is a rose garden with a cafe as well as a range of walking tracks, lawns for picnicking, a duck pond and playground. In the summer there are free concerts at the sound shell and sometimes outdoor movie nights.
Hit the Markets
Wellington has loads of great markets and looking is free, right? Get your fruit and veg fix at the Harbourside Market every Sunday, there’s coffee, live music and an array of street food stalls alongside the city’s freshest veg.
If crafts are more your things the Underground Market runs every Saturday (and Sundays leading up to Christmas) under Frank Kitts Park along the waterfront and has a huge array of local artisans work.
If you’re in the suburbs the Newtown Market every Saturday morning at Newtown School is a bustling hub of veggies, fresh bread, meat and cheese. There are also several great cafes in the area to grab a coffee and get amongst a Wellington morning.
For those who aren’t keen on early morning activities, there is also a street food market every Friday night along Left Bank (Just off Cuba Street) complete with live performers and a variety of international food options.
Visit the Seal Colony at Red Rocks
Yes, Wellington is not just big city life! Red Rocks is a great day out and involves a walk, cycle or 4WD along the former quarry area. The famous ‘red rocks’ are linked to several Maori myths about Kupe the famous explorer. This walk takes about 45 minutes to lead you to the seal colony who lounge on the rocks typically from May-November each year.
A display shed gives information about the local area at the start of the track and there are toilets and a carpark. This is also a free camping area for self-contained vehicles. Note that the road is closed on Sundays.