Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, is located at the southern tip of the North Island. Despite having a population barely over 200,000, it offers a surprising number of activities, many of them free.

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The narrow downtown strip is squeezed between sea and mountains, so you’re never far from one or the other. Below are 10 things you can do for free in this windy city. The photos will also give you an idea of how the weather can go from bright sunshine to fog and rain overnight!

1. Museum of New Zealand – Te Papa Tongarewa

The National Museum of New Zealand (commonly known as “Te Papa”) is one of the largest and most important in the country. Modern and interactive, it focuses on New Zealand’s history (natural and man-made), geology, and culture. With the exception of special exhibits, it’s all free. You may need more than one day to see it all.

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2. Botanic Garden

The Wellington Botanic Garden, located up the slope behind the downtown core, can be accessed by the famous red cable car. The cable car costs $4 one-way, but the Gardens and Cable Car Museum at the top are free. You can walk back down, ending up in the stunning Rose Garden.

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3. City Gallery Wellington

If you like contemporary art, this gallery, located on Civic Square, is completely free. The exhibitions change on a regular basis.

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4. Harbourside Market

Next to Te Papa, this wet market sets up in a parking lot every Sunday. Lots of local fruits and vegetables, as well as food stands selling tasty lunches from Greek to Mexican, make up the bulk of it. I read that you could also find cheese, meat, fish, and confectionery, but I didn’t see those on the very rainy day I visited.

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5. Art Deco Architecture or Art walk

Wellington does not offer free guided walks, but you can create your own with free brochures from the i-SITE (tourist office). One is called “Art Deco Heritage Trail” and lists 30 art deco buildings in the Central Business District. The art deco architecture is not as prolific and concentrated as in Napier, but you can see some here nonetheless.

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The other leaflet is called “Secret Art Walk” and points the way to 28 art installations located within the downtown core.

6. Mount Vic Lookout

For a magnificent view over Wellington and adjacent areas, go up Majoribanks Street then follow the Lookout Walkway through the woods to the Mount Victoria Lookout. It’s uphill all the way, so if you’re not feeling too energetic, you can take bus #20 (which runs on weekdays only).

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7. Waterfront and Oriental Parade Beach

From Clyde Quay Wharf, you can walk north along the water and wharfs all the way to the railway station, passing parks, cafes, and ship docks. In the other direction, the path follows Oriental Parade which soon joins the local beach for fabulous people watching. You can grab some food, a gelato or a coffee along the way as well. It’s a great walk to do on a sunny day, but be warned that the “sea breezes” can be pretty strong.

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8. Old St Paul’s

Not to be confused with the modern St Paul’s Cathedral, this former cathedral church at 34 Mulgrave Street is a heritage site constructed entirely of native timbers. It is one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world. Normal entry is by donation, but for only $5 you can enjoy one of the hourly guided tours.

9. Parliament of New Zealand

You can take a free guided tour of the Parliament buildings from 10 am to 4 pm (shorter hours on week-ends). The standard tour is one-hour long and visits the Legislative Building and Library, but you can also take a shorter half-hour tour that will show you the main highlights. The better known “beehive” building is not visited as it houses the offices of the ministers and is not open to the public.

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(Note: You’ll need to go through a security check, similar to the one at airports, and you can’t take photos inside.)

10. Otari-Wilton’s Bush

A 15-minute drive or 30-minute bus ride outside the city is the Otari-Wilton’s Bush, a public botanic garden dedicated solely to native plants. You can walk over a tree canopy walkway and follow one or many of the several paths (from 10 minutes to 2.5 hours) through the park. On of them passes by an 800-year old rimu tree.

There are many more attractions and nature walks you can do in and around Wellington, but this should give you a good starting point if you’re visiting the city on a small budget.


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