Nestled in the heart of the South Island, Christchurch, known as the ‘Garden City’ is a hot spot for adventurers and cultural aficionados alike. From punting down the serene Avon River to exploring the panoramic vistas of the Port Hills, this guide unveisl the top things to do in Christchurch. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a history buff, or a nature lover, get ready to embark on an extraordinary journey through one of New Zealand’s most picturesque and dynamic cities.
The Best Things to do in Christchurch, NZ
This guide was originally written by Melissa Grossi, an ex-pat who has made Christchurch her home since 2015, and it has been updated for 2024 by The Planet D. So sit back and enjoy as we explore all the new things and activities in Christchurch and revisit some of the old favorites.
1. Punting on the Avon River
One of the most popular activities in Christchurch is to go punting on the Avon River. Hands to heart, Punting on the Avon River Tour is a quite original way to go sightseeing and is an iconic place to visit in Christchurch!
What is punting on the Avon River? It’s a gondola ride on a boat known as a punt. Dressed in Edwardian attire, a skilled punter takes you slowly through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Visitors love to sit back and relax on their punts as they go for a gondola ride while watching the wildlife and scenery along the Avon River.
Tours depart from 2 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch Central, every day from 9 am to 6 pm. It costs $30 NZD for adults and $ 15 NZD for kids.
2. Ride the Christchurch Gondola
If you are looking for some of the best views of the city and the Canterbury Plains the Christchurch Gondola is a must-do. This scenic ride takes you to the summit of the Port Hills, offering a 360-degree panorama that includes the Southern Alps and Lyttelton Harbour. Get your gondola tickets in advance here.
At the top, explore the Time Tunnel exhibit, detailing the area’s volcanic and human history, or enjoy a bite at the café with its stunning vistas. Ideal for families, couples, or solo travelers the Christchurch Gondola provides a unique perspective of the region’s diverse landscapes, making it a standout attraction in any Christchurch travel itinerary.
3. Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are an all-time classic and definitely one of the top attractions in Christchurch! They are connected to Hagley Park, the city’s main –and biggest– park. Explore the Rose Garden, New Zealand’s native bush sections and relax by one of the many secret benches surrounding the lakes.
The entrance is free. Over the winter months, the gate’s closing time is 6.30 pm. Otherwise, it’s 8.30 pm or 9 pm. Devote at least one hour to explore the many areas and gardens of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
4. Ride the Christchurch Tram
Riding the Christchurch Tram offers a unique and enjoyable way to explore the city’s key attractions. This historic tramway, with its beautifully restored trams, takes you on a loop around Christchurch, passing landmarks like Cathedral Square, the Avon River, and the Arts Centre. The hop-on, hop-off feature allows you to explore sites at your own pace, making it an ideal choice for first-time visitors and those keen to revisit Christchurch’s highlights.
A day pass typically costs around NZD 35 for adults, (kids are free!) offering unlimited rides, making it an affordable and convenient way to sightsee. The tram drivers often double as guides, providing informative commentary about the city’s history and points of interest. The Christchurch Tram experience is not just a mode of transportation but an attraction in itself, perfectly blending historical charm with practical city touring.
5. New Regent Street
If you’ve ever seen photos of Christchurch, for sure you know about this cute little pedestrian passage just one street off Cathedral Square! Tourists and locals alike love New Regent Street! Visitors love to sit and watch the tramway pass by while having a drink outside one of the many cafés and wine bars that line New Regent Street.
New Regent Street in Christchurch is a great destination for travelers looking for a mix of shopping and dining. This pedestrian-only street is known for its Spanish Mission-style architecture offering a range of boutique shops and local eateries.
Visitors can enjoy browsing unique stores, grabbing a coffee at a cozy café, or dining at one of the street’s restaurants. It’s a perfect spot for a relaxed stroll, offering a pleasant break from the more bustling parts of the city. Whether you’re shopping for souvenirs or just want to soak in the local ambiance, New Regent Street is a must-visit in Christchurch.
6. Visit the International Antarctic Centre
The International Antarctic Centre is a top attraction for those interested in the wonders of the Antarctic. This interactive center brings the icy continent to life with experiences like the Antarctic Storm simulation, an encounter with live penguins, and the Hägglund ride, simulating Antarctic travel.
Located near the airport, this is one of the best things to do in Christchurch for families. Walk into the storm dome and feel the chill of Antarctica and enjoy its 4D cinema. And end with a visit to interact with huskies. You’ll have the opportunity to snuggle and pet the fluffy Huskies that explorers historically used to pull their Antarctic dogsleds.
The International Antarctic Center is not just an exhibit; it’s a hands-on journey into the heart of the Antarctic, offering educational insights and fun for all ages. Ideal for families or anyone curious about polar exploration, the International Antarctic Centre is a must-see in Christchurch. Whether you’re braving the indoor storm or learning about Antarctic wildlife, it’s an unforgettable addition to your Christchurch itinerary. You can purchase your tickets in advance here.
7. Victoria Park and the Port Hills
If you still have a bit of time and energy left after a busy day, you can head to Victoria Park, up in the Port Hills. It’s one of the best activities in Christchurch for sunset. Just a 15 minutes’ drive from Central Christchurch separates this stunning sunset spot and hiking area!
Offering a network of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and scenic walks, the Port Hills provide stunning views of the city, the Canterbury Plains, and the Southern Alps. The area, rich in both Maori and European history, is easily accessible from the city center, making it a perfect day trip for those seeking a natural escape.
Popular spots like the Bridle Path and the Summit Road offer varying degrees of difficulty for all fitness levels. Whether you’re after a leisurely walk or a challenging bike ride, the Port Hills cater to every type of adventurer. This natural playground not only offers physical activities but also serves as a fantastic spot for photography, picnics, and simply enjoying the panoramic vistas of Christchurch and its surroundings.
8. Christchurch Adventure Park
The Christchurch Adventure Park is a thrill-seeker’s paradise, offering a range of exciting activities set against the backdrop of the Port Hills. Renowned for its mountain biking trails, the park caters to all skill levels, from beginners to experts.
Besides biking, it boasts New Zealand’s longest zipline, providing an exhilarating ride with stunning views. The park also features a café and bar where you can relax after your adventures. Book a zipline Tour for sweeping views of the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean.
Prices vary based on activities, with bike passes and zipline tours available for purchase. Easily accessible from the city center, it’s a perfect day out for families, groups, or solo adventurers looking to add some adrenaline to their Christchurch visit. Whether you’re hitting the trails or soaring over treetops, the Christchurch Adventure Park promises a memorable and action-packed experience. You may also like: Where to Go Bungy Jumping in New Zealand
9. Canterbury Museum
Another classic of the Christchurch attractions is the museum was one of the few spots people could visit, at least partially, after the earthquakes. It fully reopened in 2013.
Entrance is free, though donations are encouraged! The Museum opens every day from 9 am to 5 or 5.30 pm.
10. Arts Centre of Christchurch
Now visitors can participate in many free events, book crafty workshops, get a tattoo, listen to a concert, have a coffee, or just stroll around the innovative shops.
The Arts Centre in Christchurch is perfect for those seeking a blend of history, art, and creativity. This Gothic Revival complex was beautifully restored after the earthquakes and houses a range of galleries, studios, cinemas, and performance spaces.
Visitors can enjoy a diverse array of exhibits, artisan shops, and weekend markets. Located in the heart of the city, the Arts Centre is a vibrant community hub, ideal for art lovers and curious travelers alike. Whether you’re interested in contemporary art, local crafts, or live performances, the Arts Centre provides a rich, immersive experience in Christchurch’s dynamic arts scene.
Free entry. Open every day of the week from 10 am to 5 pm. Make sure to set 1 hour aside for your visit!
11. Christchurch Art Gallery
For almost 5 years, the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhet was closed to the public. Until its grand reopening in 2015 after intensive building repairs, it was serving as emergency headquarters and temporary accommodation for the Christchurch City Council Staff.
It seems hard to imagine the early days now as one wanders the spacious halls filled with contemporary exhibits in such a peaceful setting.
Free guided 45-60 minutes tours depart from the front desk on the ground floor daily at 11 am and 2 pm.
The gallery opens from 10 am to 5 pm daily and hosts weekly events.
12. Visit the Air Force Museum of New Zealand
A visit to the Air Force Museum of New Zealand in Christchurch is a journey through aviation history, perfect for enthusiasts and families alike. This museum offers an impressive collection of aircraft, from World War I fighters to modern jets, each with its own story.
Interactive exhibits, including flight simulators, provide a hands-on experience, allowing you to step into the shoes of a pilot. The museum also pays homage to New Zealand’s Air Force heritage, offering insights into the country’s military aviation history. With free entry, it’s a budget-friendly and educational outing, ideal for those interested in aircraft and military history. The Air Force Museum presents a unique opportunity to get up close with aviation legends, making it a notable addition to your Christchurch itinerary.
13. Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial
On February 2017, the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial opened to the public as part of the 6th-anniversary commemoration events.
The memorial remembers the 185 people who lost their lives and the survivors of the devastating earthquakes that shook the city to its core.
14. Quake City
Quake City offers a compelling and educational experience, providing insights into the impactful earthquake of 2011. Thiscurated exhibition takes visitors through the events, aftermath, and rebuilding efforts with interactive displays, personal stories, and recovered artifacts. It’s a poignant reminder of the city’s resilience.
Located centrally, Quake City is accessible and engaging for all ages, with an entry fee of around NZD 20 for adults. The exhibition not only educates about seismic activity but also celebrates the strength and innovation of Christchurch in the face of adversity. A visit here is essential for understanding the city’s recent history and the indomitable spirit of its people, making it a significant and moving addition to any Christchurch itinerary.
15. Turanga City Library
The latest and most innovative development in Christchurch’s CBD is Turanga, the new city library. Since its opening in 2018, the Turanga Library has become one of the absolute must visit Christchurch attractions for people around town. Stop by for a cuppa, climb the ‘Harry Potter Stairs’, enjoy panoramic city views, relax with a book, and participate in many of the workshops!
Turanga is open from 9 am to 8 pm Monday to Friday and 10 am to 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays. Free 45 minutes guided tours are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 am.
16. Bridge of Remembrance
Built during 1923 to commemorate the New Zealand soldiers who fought overseas during WWI, the bridge was reopened after the earthquake repairs in April 2016. This is one of the most well-known photo spots in town!
Just meters from the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, it marks the beginning of the brand new promenade walk. Rest assured you won’t miss it!
17. Explore the City’s Street Art
Hunting for world-class street art in Christchurch has become one of the coolest activities when strolling around town. After the earthquakes, different initiatives gathered artists from New Zealand and overseas to bring the city back to life through funky street art!
Christchurch is now amongst the 39 Street Art Capitals of the world on the selection curated by the Lonely Planet. Visitors can also use a free interactive map to guide the hunt of street art around town.
18. Central Christchurch’s Avon Riverside Promenade
Starting on Oxford’s Terrace, the new riverside Promenade extends along 2 km following the Avon River all the way up to the Margaret Mahy Playground.
Grassy areas, walkways, bridges, art, eateries, pubs and cycle lanes make up this project that took 5 years to build and was officially opened in November 2018. This area is quickly becoming a lively hub for night-owls searching for dancing, live music, craft beers, and author cocktails.
19. New Malls and Galleries
Cashel St. has become the shopping heart of Central Christchurch. New markets, malls, and international clothing stores are opening every few months.
The BNZ Centre and The Crossing are the newest and brightest spots for grabbing lunch, having a coffee with friends and shopping.
Though these new developments didn’t come controversy-free! People still miss the famous Re: Start Container Mall that was torn apart not that long ago.
20. The O.G.B. at The Heritage Hotel
If you fancy a drink and a platter after a long day scouring the city, you can head to The Heritage Hotel, home of the O.G.B. Bar Lounge.
Recognized as one of the top bars in town, the building is worth a visit on its own. It has great ambiance, 1930’s décor style, and live music. It’s my personal favorite!
21. Isaac Royal Theatre
Opened in February 1908, this French Renaissance-style building has been hosting major shows for over 100 years!
It’s usually closed during the day, but considering it is just meters from Cathedral Square, it’s worth to swing by and take a moment to appreciate its façade!
22. Nightlife on Victoria Street
Fine and modern dining, a secret cocktail bar, the Casino and a Clock Tower. That’s Victoria Street in short! The chosen spot for those fancying a big night out!
23. Little High Eatery
Opened in May 2017, Little High Eatery has become the hippest munching spot in town with an array of international street foods. From South American barbeque to tailored-made burgers and Thai food, head there if you’d like to experience one of the local’s top spots!
The place itself is worth a visit as its set in an area of the CBD that still has a lot of rebuilding works ahead! In my opinion, that makes it even more interesting. During lunch and dinner peak hours you can expect to be waiting in line from 5 to 20 minutes
Little High is located on 255 St Asaph Street, 4 blocks from Cathedral Square. Open from 8 am to 11 pm over weekends (10 pm on weekdays). It’s a good option if you are running late for dinner. Most places in town call it quits around 9ish!
Central Christchurch still has many streets and areas that haven’t been rebuilt. Far from being intimidated or frustrated by it, different projects in town are focused on sharing these areas with the community. The Christchurch Slackline crew and GapFiller set to create the new and first dedicated Slacklining Park in the South Island
Many interesting things are happening thanks to the work of creative social enterprises like GapFiller. Visiting any of these spots will give you a fair idea of the creative breeze spreading out all over town!
25. Sign of the Bellbird
Hiking to the Sign of the Bellbird a must visit for panoramic views of the Canterbury Plains, Ohinetahi Reserve, and Lyttelton Harbour. This iconic trail winds through lush landscapes, leading you to an awe-inspiring vantage point where the vastness of the Canterbury Plains unfolds before your eyes
It’s an accessible adventure for all levels of hikers as you climb the 2.5 mile (4 km) trail leading to a breathtaking spot that showcases the expansive beauty of the plains., Lyttelton Peninsula, the Southern Alps and the Banks Peninsula.
26. Cathedral Square
The Christchurch cathedral has long been one of the top attractions in Christchurch. Sadly it was destroyed in the earthquake. I don’t mean to disappoint you, but the Cathedral still stands in ruins. It is now scheduled to be rebuilt by 2027.
It’s still worth visiting to learn about the New Zealand earthquakes and also, it’s not like you can skip it as this is the heart of Central Christchurch! Read: 14 Cool and Fun Facts About New Zealand
27. Margaret Mahy Playground
Opened in December 2015, this is the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere. Just a 10 minutes’ walk from Cathedral Square, it’s a great place to enjoy the great outdoors. The best part is you don’t need to have the kids in tow to enjoy it! Everyone is welcome here!
28. Riccarton Bush Saturday Farmer’s Market
The Saturday Farmers Market is a classic weekend plan for people living and visiting Christchurch. Every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, folks in town kick-start the weekend with a mandatory visit to the farmers’ market.
If you are not around town during the weekend, head to the Riccarton Bush, where the market takes place. Visit the Victorian Riccarton House, the Rose Garden, and Deans Cottage. Though this is not in Central Christchurch, it’s just 3 km away!
29. Day Trip to Akaroa
Christchurch is a great place to make a base for discovering the South Island of New Zealand. There are many things to do from Christchurch and here are our top ideas.
A day trip to Akaroa is a must when visiting Christchurch. Just a scenic 90-minute drive away, this charming French and British settlement is nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. Akaroa offers a blend of history, natural beauty, and culinary delights.
Wander through its colonial architecture, enjoy a harbor cruise to spot the rare Hector’s dolphins, or relish local cuisine in a waterfront café. Whether you’re exploring its boutique shops or soaking in the stunning bay views, Akaroa provides a delightful escape from the city, showcasing a unique slice of New Zealand’s heritage and natural splendor. This picturesque village is an ideal getaway for those looking to experience the diverse offerings of the Canterbury region.
When to visit Christchurch
Christchurch is an all-year-round destination for those visiting New Zealand. Beware though that we have ‘island weather’ here, meaning that you can experience many different types of weather during the same day. Bring layers of clothing for your visit, regardless of the season!
Getting around Christchurch
Most of the places I’ve shared in this guide are reachable within walking distance. That said, I’d like to point out the 2 favorite ways to get around Central Christchurch!
The Christchurch Tramway – The famous heritage tramway costs $ 35 NZD for adults and stops in most of the city’s main attractions. Riding the tramway is one of the must do activities in Christchurch in its own right.
Get a Lime Scooter! – Affordable and fast, all you need it to download the app, put your information and scan the QR code! Since the Lime Scooters were introduced into the city just over 6 months ago, they became the next big thing. Now you can see people riding –and falling!- on the streets every minute. They are everywhere!
Where to Stay in Christchurch
The central city offers a variety of accommodation options, from Airbnb apartments to fully serviced motel apartments and hostels. You can also find good accommodation in the areas surrounding Hagley Park.
My personal favorite place to stay in Christchurch is Riccarton, the neighborhood you reach when heading west from Central Christchurch. Search hotels in this Christchurch neighborhood.
The Mayfair is one of the most highly rated hotels in Christchurch. See rates and availability on Booking.com
This article was originall written by Martina Grossi, an Argentinian travel and ex-pat blogger based in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her blog, The Global Curious, inspires people to go on their first overseas trip wholeheartedly and fuelled by curiosity!
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