Worried that your stop over in wild, windy, whimsical Wellington won’t be long enough? Well, ya should be. BUT “No worries, mate” I’ll provide you the must-do’s so that your quick pass through won’t skip a beat!
Wellington has life ruining coffee. Once you leave Wellington, coffee will never be good again.
The self-proclaimed home of the “flat white” is also the home of the coffee snob and more fabulous hipster cafes than you can throw a feijoa at. A few of my personal favorites are…
- Pre-Fab Cafe = free unlimited wifi, $3 filter coffee with free refills, great music, swanky bites and all the most beautiful Wellingtonians.
- Café L’Affare = 1 hour free wifi, large open space, attentive staff, famous coffee.
- Flight Coffee = awe-inspiring menu, coffee that will keep you coming back religiously.
Pro Tip: Pass by Mojo’s coffee. This is a chain with many stores around New Zealand. Not all that bad really…but gets a lot of hate from locals. You’ve got too many other options, skip Mojo’s for now.
Mid-day Waterfront stroll
Take a bike, roller blade or stroll down the crystal waterfront. Buskers line the waters edge along with gelato shops, breweries and the MUST-DO national museum Te Papa.
Pro Tip: If the weather is nice bring your swim suit! There are a few places right here in the middle of the city to take a leap into the water. Also – don’t forget to look for wildlife. Rumor has it you can see whales, sting rays and even Orca’s in this stunning bay.
The National Museum is free for all visitors. Give this stop at least two hours and potentially take the opportunity to return for more. These beautifully structured exhibits provide insight into the natural and human history of New Zealand. It can be a lot to take in at once, but even those who hate museums leave appreciating the award winning design and aesthetic details. This museum is truly loved by all – locals and travelers alike. This is a no brainer, get yourself over to Te Papa.
Pro Tip: Stay for the Sunday farmers market at the waterfront or Saturday in New Town. This far surpassed my wildest farmers market dreams. Back home, markets are typically more expensive. However, here veggies are SO MUCH CHEAPER. The Food Trucks are SO MUCH BETTER and the people watching is SO DELICIOUS. Brush off that hangover and get there before 1pm to stock up on everything local, organic and affordable.
Evening Cuba Street and Night Markets
Cuba Street showcases the personality of Wellington. Dying for a craft beer or a Malaysian Dining escape? Maybe you desire to dive into a dingy bookstore or costume shop? These funky blocks are sure to tease your senses. I arrived to Wellington craving personality, culture and funk. This is exactly what Cuba street can provide. Grab a bagel, hit the wine bar and dance on the street with the horn band randomly playing. This is it folks, the personality you’ve been waiting to find since you arrived in New Zealand.
If you desire a drink after dinner, don’t miss out of the rooftop bars in Wellington. My favorites are Dirty Little Secret (graffiti vibes with the cool kids) and Basque (hello Sangria!). However, if the wind and rain are preventing your open air frolic, head over to The Laundry Room (funky converted laundry mat) or Southern Cross (large garden bar) on Cuba Street.
Pro Tip: Wellington has more restaurants and bars per-capita than New York City. The city center is teaming with options from every corner of the world. However, Wellington doesn’t feel touristy. The cool bars and restaurants are mostly out in the open for tourists and locals alike. Stick to either Cuba Street or Courtney Place and you are sure to find your own favorite spot!
Brunch and more coffee!
If you need something heartier than what the hipster coffee shops can offer you, Wellington proudly boasts a thriving and competitive brunch culture. My favorites are Fidels (breakfast burrito/turmeric latte paradise), Olive (swanky and cultured) or just go back to Pre-Fab because its so modern and glorious.
Mid-Day Hike to Mt Vic via Oriental Bay
If you have nice weather, take a stroll along the water towards the beach of Oriental Bay. Stop for a cheeky ice cream cone and prep for a steep (but not too terribly long) hike up to the Mt. Vic viewpoint. The path is marked “Southern Walkway” and can be difficult to see. But keep your eyes peeled for the stairways as this round-trip urban hike will give you all the best Wellington has to offer. Lavender covered Victorian homes, views of all the bays and the crystal skyline. Watch the paddle-boarders from Oriental bay or enjoy the view of the airplanes coming into Wellington airport. This should take you 30 minutes to 1 hour 1-way depending on where you start the trek.
ProTip: Parts of this path were used in filming Lord of the Rings!
Afternoon Weta Workshop
Many people come to Wellington simply to nerd out about films. If you think you might get teary eyed when you see “Welcome to Middle Earth” sign. Don’t wait, book a tour in advance. Many companies will take you around to check out film sites as well which would be a full day of activities. In my less film-nerdy opinion, the workshop tour is still worth the investment of a couple of hours. The film industry is really what put this little country on the global stage, it is worth taking a better look at the inspiring effort that goes into the Wellington entertainment world.
Pro Tip: If you have shady weather, Wellington has a few independent movie theaters. My favorites are The Roxy (located in Miramar), Light House Cuba (central and artsy) and Embassy Theater (the most famous).
If you have extra time…
- Botanical gardens = hilly area that has a small cable car lift from town. This is pretty cool spot for a view and a picnic. I would leave this for last though, there are botanical gardens all over the world with a little more variety. But, if you’ve got time and can’t possibly take in anymore flat whites, this is a pleasant, green, friendly area to spend an hour or two.
- Coffee shops (there can never be too many flat whites in our lives). The Botanist in Lyall Bay is another strong fave.
- Wander up towards New Town. This small area is the Brooklyn to Wellington’s New York or if you prefer, the Oakland to Wellington’s San Francisco. Don’t forget it’s also kiwi sized, but if you want to rummage the thrift shops or dive deep into some legit Egyptian or Ethiopian food this is your best off-the beaten path pause.
- Yoga classes! If you have arrived after a long flight or are gearing up for a trip down south, there are many yoga studios all around Wellington that offer affordable (or free) first time class or week pass. I’ve yet to try them all, but so far my favorites are Urban Yoga and The Yoga Lounge.
- Mt KauKau (requires a car or Uber ride out of the center of town) but this steep and short hike provides a stunning view of Wellington and the surrounding hills. Really truly windy and totally unforgettable. If you can swing it, I actually prefer this view to that of Mt. Vic. You can see some of the giant windmills which surround Wellington from here. It’s a stunner.
Pro Tip Packing: Wellington is relatively casual and unpretentious for a capital city. The workout-clothing trend is BIG. No need to bring anything fancy, dresses are particularly useless in the wind. Skip the umbrellas too – they’ll break. Just bring a good rain coat, strong hair ties and stretchy pants that will hold your inevitable food baby.
As you can tell, it is hard not to fall in love with Windy Welly. This unbelievably safe and fabulously cool city has tons to offer it’s short-term visitors. This is a place to wander and stumble into things. Let me know what blows your way! I look forward to welcoming you to Wellington one day!