New Zealand’s South Island city of Dunedin is a hub for outdoor lovers, wildlife enthusiasts, beer lovers, and rich cultural experiences. With strong Scottish roots, it’s famed for its architecture, while the presence of New Zealand’s oldest university gives Dunedin a lively, arty, vibe.
With so much to do, Dunedin is a destination that appeals to all types of travelers. Discover why Dunedin is deemed a UNESCO-designated “City of Literature,” sample craft beers, or marvel at unique wildlife. Filled with museums, historical points of interest, and incredible views, there really is plenty about this unique city that will enchant you.
Here are 13 of the best things to do in Dunedin.
Stroll the Dunedin Botanical Garden
Immerse yourself in the gorgeous grounds of the Dunedin Botanical Gardens, home to more than 6,000 species of plants and impressive bird life. The sprawling property has been dazzling visitors for more than 150 years, and is recognized as the country’s first botanical gardens.
Tour the upper and lower gardens, where you’ll find highlights such as a duck pond, the rose and herb house, the alpine house, and the impressive camellia collection which also features one of the largest rock gardens around the globe.
Marvel at plants from all over the world, such as the flowering South African King Protea as you stroll through the Geographic Plant Collection, which are grouped by continent. Learn about desert, tropical, and subtropical species in the historic Edwardian-style Winter Garden Glasshouse.
Take photographs of the awe-inspiring views that New Zealand is known for from the hillside terraces and wander through the detailed Japanese garden, with its own bamboo grove.
After, an onsite café is a great spot for refreshments. Or pack a picnic lunch to eat on the lawn surrounded by Mother Nature’s beauty.
Visit Larnach Castle
Head to New Zealand’s only castle, situated on the Otago Peninsula just 20 minutes from the heart of Dunedin. This historical point of interest dates back to the 19th century and was built by William Larnach, a Scottish merchant and politician.
Open 365 days a year, the restored Victorian structure and gardens are a top attraction for visitors to the South Island. Enjoy incredible views from the crenelated tower, tour the numerous rooms filled with original New Zealand period furniture, artifacts, and artwork, where you can learn about the historical significance of this landmark.
Wander the seven acres of spectacular gardens surrounding the castle, where you can see Scottish heathers, rhododendrons, azaleas, and much more along the network of pathways.
For a bucket-list experience, reserve a table for the popular High Tea, hosted within the massive 3,000-square-foot ballroom. This is the most elegant setting imaginable in which to tuck into dainty sandwiches, pretty cakes, and scones with jam and cream.
Taste Local Beer
Head to New Zealand’s best-known brewery, open since the late 19th century, and located right in the center of town. Speight’s Brewery is the oldest continually operating brewery in the country, a great place to enjoy both beer and history while visiting one of the best cities in New Zealand.
Learn about the company’s backstory and method of production with an interactive tour around the establishment, before tasting the different varieties offered.
Learn how to “pull a beer” the correct way and then sip famous brews such as the well-loved Gold Medal Ale. Wash it all down with a selection of items from the brewery’s menu, like the delicious Triple Star Pie or the Ale House Loaf.
For beer lovers, this is one of the best ways to spend a few hours in Dunedin and shouldn’t be missed.
Paddle the Coast of the Otago Peninsula
Soak up the scenery of New Zealand’s ruggedly beautiful Otago Peninsula with a sea kayaking expedition. Starting in Otago Harbour, this paddling adventure will take you along the coast towards the Otago Reserve, where blue penguins, yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, sea lions, and royal albatrosses reside.
Your aquatic journey will take you past hidden coves, unspoiled beaches, and abundant places to spot wildlife. The area is also home to some of the best hikes in New Zealand.
Outdoor enthusiasts and photography lovers will enjoy the chance to view the Otago Peninsula from a fresh perspective, with the opportunity to get up close to New Zealand’s abundant wildlife.
Take a Scenic Ride on a Vintage Train
Hop aboard the famous Taieri Gorge Railway for an exciting way to explore this natural wonder and the sweeping landscapes of the South Island.
The historic and informative route will have you traveling from Dunedin to Pukerangi, where you’ll feast your eyes on the natural gorge formed by the Taieri River and learn about the pioneers who built the rail line.
Viaducts, valleys, and remote areas are some of the highlights of this trip that you can absorb from open-air balconies along the ride. A café on the train provides refreshments as you sit back and relax to enjoy the scenic views of the South Island’s inland terrain.
Marvel at the Moeraki Boulders
No trip to the South Island and Dunedin is complete without viewing one of the region’s most unique natural wonders. The giant Moeraki Boulders, huge, spherical rocks, are situated approximately an hour north of Dunedin, on a beautiful beach in Oamaru.
Formed more than 60 million years ago, the massive stones, weighing several tons each, are linked to ancient Maori folklore that claims they are gourds that were washed ashore when the voyaging canoe Araiteuru was wrecked here.
One of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, the boulders sit in a protected area of the beach and provide fantastic photo opportunities.
Admire Dunedin Railway Station
Looking for all the world like an ornate bluestone castle, or an oversized gingerbread house, complete with a colonnaded facade and an elaborate clock tower, the Flemish renaissance-style Dunedin Railway Station has to be seen to be believed.
It appears far too spectacular to serve as a humble railway station, all the more so once you’ve taken in the stained glass windows and the floors, composed of 750,000 mosaics.
Whether or not you are taking a train, drop in to have a look at this majestic building, which was built between 1903 and 1906. You’ll also find a gallery showcasing local art and a sporting hall of fame.
If your travels bring you here on a Saturday, check out the farmers’ market in the parking lot next to the station, where you’ll find artisan food stalls, fresh pastries, fruit and vegetable displays, and music from buskers.
Relax on Beautiful Beaches
New Zealand’s coast is home to sweeping stretches of sand, accessible from the city of Dunedin. Whether you’re interested in swimming, surfing, or exploring natural rock formations and caves, the region has it all.
Surfing enthusiasts will enjoy heading to St. Clair Beach, Aramoana, and Murdering Bay to catch a wave in the notoriously fantastic breaks. At St. Clair Beach, you’ll find board rentals and a popular promenade with bars and restaurants.
Head to Tunnel Beach for a unique experience at low tide. Here, you can admire the sandstone sea arch that makes this sandy stretch a popular destination. A relatively steep hike is required to reach this natural marvel, where you can walk through the hand-carved tunnel to reach the sea.
Sandstone cliffs, caves, and natural arches are some of the many beautiful highlights you’ll have the opportunity to view first-hand when you visit Tunnel Beach.
Those looking for a more leisurely New Zealand beach that’s good for swimming, Brighton Beach fits the bill and can be reached within 20 minutes from the city. Tide pools, the rugged coastal scenery, and a nearby ice cream shop are a bonus of this area as well.
Take a Literary Walking Tour
Discover why Dunedin is called the City of Literature by UNESCO. A statue of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns sits in the city’s central square. Bookshops abound, and a Writer’s Walk celebrates the literary heritage of Dunedin.
A literary walking tour is a great way to experience the landmarks with a knowledgeable local guide. Along the Writer’s Walk, read the collection of informative plaques and entertaining anecdotes to learn more about the City of Literature and the country’s resident writers.
Gaze upon rare manuscripts at the Reed and de Beer Galleries, or purchase unique titles from the Hard to Find Bookshop or University Bookshop.
For those interested in watching and learning about how books are traditionally bound, the Dutybound Book Bindery is the place to be. Housed in the original John McIndoe Printers bindery, it’s filled with old equipment for bookmaking, including one of the last Intertype machines left in the South Island.
Experience One of the World’s Steepest Streets
Dunedin is home to the world’s steepest drivable residential street, where the houses seem to be slanted as a result of some extreme urban planning.
Visit Baldwin Street to experience the 35 percent gradient; tilt your camera to get the street level and the houses look as though they’re about to topple over.
The street is only a quarter of a mile long but is a hotspot for many annual events such the Baldwin Street Gutbuster running race, charity events, and even a unique chocolate rolling event.
Spot Royal Albatross in the Wild
The world’s only mainland albatross colony resides on the far edge of the Otago Peninsula in the grassy Taiaroa Head Nature Reserve, just outside of Dunedin. A visit to this wildlife sanctuary allows you to spot these magnificent birds, as well as penguins, in their natural habitat.
Inside the center, learn about the background, breeding cycle, and behavior of these graceful birds. Marvel at the albatross’ impressive 10-foot wingspan as you watch them take off from your discreet perch in the Observatory.
Photographers will enjoy capturing images of this unique colony of nesting birds, including their fluffy chicks.
Dive Into New Zealand’s History at the Otago Museum
Step back in time at Dunedin’s Otago Museum, a collection of more than 1.5 million objects that showcase the natural, scientific, and cultural stories of Otago and beyond.
Hailed as the largest science center in the country, this popular museum is filled with interactive exhibits and exciting hands-on learning—impressive, given that it all started as a small display of rocks collected by Sir James Hector, a geologist.
Wander the indoor Tropical Forest and count beautiful butterflies, enjoy a planetarium show, visit the “People of the World” and Taoka (treasures) of Kāi Tahu and other iwi’ (tribes) galleries, and so much more.
Enjoy the View From Signal Hill Lookout
Absorb the view from atop Dunedin’s most famous viewpoint. Whether you choose to drive, hike, mountain bike, or trail run to the top, you’ll be rewarded with a sweeping vista of the city and its surroundings.
The summit is approximately 1,079 feet above sea level with an expansive lookout. Also at the top, are two bronze statues paying homage to the New Zealand Centennial, representing “History” and “The Thread of Life.”
Hikers will enjoy a challenging, six-and-a-half mile out-and-back trail and mountain bikers will have the opportunity to descend on one of the most popular tracks in the area. For amazing views of Dunedin, a trip up to Signal Hill shouldn’t be missed.
New Zealand’s South Island is the perfect destination for outdoor, culture, history, and architecture lovers, with the city of Dunedin offering all of that and more. A luxury cruise is a fantastic way to experience all of the exciting things to do in Dunedin. Browse our cruises to Dunedin and book your next vacation today.