Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, with many memorable things to do. From admiring the acclaimed Botanic Gardens to finding inspiration in modern museums, the city effortlessly blends urban living with countryside charm.
Forward-thinking inventiveness, combined with Christchurch’s leafy green spaces, relaxing Avon River, and proximity to the peaceful waters of Pegasus Bay make the city one of the nation’s most inviting to slow down and soak in the South Island’s laid-back aura.
Here are the best things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Ride the Christchurch Gondola
One of the best ways to begin your visit to New Zealand’s second city is onboard the Christchurch Gondola, a perfect way to get your regional bearings and admire the impressive scenery that New Zealand is known for.
Departing from the base station in Heathcote Valley, a little under 15 minutes from the city, you’ll slowly rise to the summit on a 10-minute ride. As you gently climb, panoramas over the verdant Canterbury Plains, lofty dramatic peaks, and the dazzling hues of the bay will keep your camera in action.
Once you reach the summit, settle in for a coffee at the café to admire the far-reaching vistas across the craggy natural reserves and cerulean-hued harbor below.
Visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Often rated as one of the best gardens in the world, a relaxing stroll around Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens will allow you to discover both exotic international plants and domestic flora.
Since the first oak tree was planted in 1863, the well-manicured area has grown to include nearly 52 acres. With 10 different gardens and plants ranging from sweet-scented roses to colorful seasonal tulips, the space is a serene escape for all the senses.
Inside the conservatory, succulents and orchids vie for your attention, and the visitors’ center has a quaint café.
In a city celebrated for its green spaces, a combined visit here and to surrounding Hagley Park is undoubtedly one of the most peaceful things to do in Christchurch.
Relax in Hagley Park
Straddling the Botanic Gardens, Hagley Park is Christchurch’s green lung, covering more than 400 acres. Since the 1850s, the park has been a central part of the community and is a living testament to the city’s aim to be a genuinely green urban space.
With a golf course, tennis facilities, and a croquet club, you’ll find plenty of locals enjoying the natural setting, which is especially spectacular during spring for the cherry blossoms.
The rest of the year, the aged trees and matured woodlands make for an enjoyable walk after visiting the Botanic Gardens or strolling along the Avon River.
Sightsee on the Christchurch Tram
Hopping aboard Christchurch’s vintage tramcars allows for an alternative way to see the city’s main sights with a hop-on hop-off itinerary.
The fully restored (and photo-friendly) vehicles are far from just a tourist-focused attraction, though, having been a central part of the city’s heritage for over 100 years.
In 1880, a steam motor-operated track opened to link the railway station with the city center, followed by the first electric tramway, launched in 1905.
Nowadays, the route links 18 stops, including popular sights such as the Botanic Gardens, the New Regent Street shopping precinct, and the Avon River punting point.
Along the way, expect an informative commentary from the driver, providing historical knowledge and current context as the city rolls past you.
Stroll Along the Avon River
Flowing through the center of Christchurch, the meandering Avon River is a haven for walkers looking to slow down and appreciate the city’s greenery.
Whether you prefer to follow the curve around the Botanic Gardens or the park at Avonside Red Zone, the riverbank scenery is spectacular at all times of the year.
One of the most memorable things to do in Christchurch to experience the Avon River is to take a punting trip as you glide along the waters past some of the city’s best-known attractions.
In a traditional wooden boat guided by an equally traditionally dressed punter, the art of directing the craft by pole is just as interesting as the sights on route.
You can opt to punt down two sections of the river, though you may find the Botanic Gardens departure from the Antigua Boat Sheds more tranquil than the central route.
Understand the Devastation at Quake City
While the topic may seem unnerving, one of Christchurch’s newest museums, Quake City allows visitors to understand the devastating impact the relatively recent earthquakes had on the city.
Through displays of recovered items and interactive experiences, you’ll grasp an understanding of the raw power of the devastation.
Likewise, the video stories recounting how the earthquakes impacted the city and its residents provide further insight into the events which unfolded during the 2010 and 2011 seismic activity.
Witness Nature at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
New Zealand’s wildlife may not be as famous as that of its larger neighbor Australia, partly due to the country having no natural land predators.
Still, its extensive native birdlife is no less fascinating or treasured—in fact, Kiwis (the affectionate nickname of the country’s residents) even have an annual “bird of the year” competition.
The citizens’ nickname, however, comes from the kiwi bird, an endemic flightless bird whose feathers look almost like fur. To spot them near Christchurch, take a trip to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, where the country’s first open-air conservation environment for the birds was founded.
Set up by a passionate family decades ago, the reserve is dedicated to preservation and education through native and endangered breeding programs.
Other animal sightings you can expect at Willowbank include alpacas, Shetland ponies, and the adorable Valais blacknose sheep, originating from Switzerland.
Discover the Deep South at the International Antarctic Centre
If you are interested in all things South Pole, visiting the International Antarctic Center is one of the most fascinating things to do in Christchurch.
Located close to the airport, the center serves as both a research unit and a science museum, with highly interactive experiences. You’ll be able to meet some of Antarctica’s natives in the Penguin Rescue Center.
Enter the Storm Dome to appreciate the below-freezing chill of an ice cave hideaway, whipped by realistic Antarctic winds with a chill factor of -0.4°F.
Board the TranzAlpine Express
For a deeper discovery of sublime landscapes beyond Christchurch, board the TranzAlpine Express, linking the east and west coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Covering 139 miles, you can experience the journey on a day trip, sitting back and taking in the panoramas.
Traversing from Christchurch to Greymouth, the scenic ride takes in Arthur’s Pass, a national park of high peaks, scree slopes, and steep gorges, before continuing through dense alpine forests.
With pauses along the way at the most striking locations, there are countless impressive photography opportunities during the journey.
Enjoy Exhibitions at Christchurch Art Gallery
Te Puna o Waiwhetū, otherwise known as Christchurch Art Gallery, is housed inside one of the city’s most striking contemporary buildings.
Beyond the towering wave of glass panels which take their inspiration from the ripples of the River Avon, the museum hosts vast temporary and permanent exhibitions celebrating New Zealand’s creative scene and heritage.
Sculptures, audio-visual art, and canvases are well-represented, including work from both New Zealand artists and European classics. Guides offer gallery tours to add additional context to some of the most well-regarded and harder-to-understand pieces.
Soak in the Sun at Sumner Beach
If you ask a local for their suggestion of things to do in Christchurch on a warmer day, chances are Sumner Beach will be high on their list of recommendations.
Set at the start of the breathtaking Banks Peninsula, this creamy-colored New Zealand beach acts as a gateway to the serene, verdant trails of the peninsula’s park.
On the beach, Tuawera (Cave Rock), a craggy, lava-crafted tidal cave, can be explored at low tide, while the promenade has cafés and an ice cream shop, making for an ideal afternoon escape from the city.
Savor Afternoon Tea at Manderley Family Farm
Canterbury, the region surrounding Christchurch, is home to countless small family-run farms, producing everything from New Zealand’s celebrated lamb to artisanal cheeses.
For a flavor of the country’s farm life, you don’t need to venture far from the city, and Manderley Family Farm, a 45-minute drive, happily welcomes visitors.
Set amongst 750 lush acres, the homestead, dating from 1876, is the heart of the operation. Here, you can witness sheep shearing, enjoy a tempting traditional afternoon tea, and learn more about rural life in New Zealand, all on a short afternoon trip from Christchurch.
Reflect at the Bridge of Remembrance
Spanning across the Avon River, the Bridge of Remembrance serves as a poignant reminder of the service personnel lost to war.
Initially opened in 1924, the structure suffered damage during the 2011 earthquakes, though in 2016, it reopened on ANZAC day (Australia and New Zealand’s day of remembrance).
Decorated with sculptural work, memorial plaques, and inscriptions, the now pedestrian-only bridge can be easily visited as you walk along the Avon River pathway.
Lounge on New Brighton Beach
One of the best things to do in Christchurch on a sunny day is head to New Brighton Beach. Less than 20 minutes from the city center, this swathe of sand stretches some 11 miles from Southshore to Waimairi, with dunes, walking trails, and bay views on offer alongside the opportunity to top up your tan.
While the waters might be a little nippy, they are popular with locals for refreshing dips or surfing when waves allow. In New Brighton village, a city suburb, you can enjoy a fresh seafood meal (New Zealand’s green-lipped mussels are delicious), stroll along the pier, or relax in the hot pools.
Learn About Military Aviation at the Airforce Museum
Housing over 100 years of New Zealand’s military aviation history, this old air base in Wigram, a short drive from the city, provides insight and artifacts from the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Now the National Air Force Museum, the collection has developed over the years and has vastly outgrown its original single hangar exhibition, expanding to hold items from before World War One until the present day.
You can sit in a Skyhawk cockpit, admire the engineering work of the Sioux helicopter, or join a behind-the-scenes tour to see additional aircraft in the “reserve collection”.
Go Wine Tasting in Waipara
If sipping a crisp glass of riesling or savoring a rich pinot noir sounds like your perfect outing, then wine tasting in Waipara is one of the best things to do in Christchurch’s surrounding region.
An hour north of the city, the Waipara Valley wine region is renowned for its rich gravel and clay soils and vines protected by the hills.
Well-known wine producers and estates, such as Pegasus Bay and Greystone, offer cellar-door tastings, allowing the chance to savor the local grapes against the backdrop of the vineyards in which they were grown.
Read: Best Wine Cruise Destinations for Oenophiles
Set Sail from Lyttelton Harbour
Just a 20-minute drive from the city center, coastal Lyttelton makes for an interesting and scenic side trip from Christchurch.
It was here that the first settlers from England arrived on these shores, and on the sloped streets backed by verdant peaks, you’ll find some of the country’s most historic European homes and buildings.
Following the marked heritage route through the township, you’ll tour some of the most important heritage sites while enjoying blissful panoramas over the harbor.
To truly appreciate the magnificent mountains which frame Lyttelton, set sail from the town’s port on a catamaran cruise. As you leave the harbor and head towards the deep waters, you can admire one of the most scenic settlements in New Zealand from another angle.
With playful dolphins often spotted in the surrounding waters of Pegasus Bay, and a truly unforgettable coastline, the two-hour trip will leave you with treasured memories.
If you’re eager to explore all the best things to do in Christchurch, browse Celebrity’s cruises to Christchurch to start planning your perfect vacation.