It is always a buzz when returning home, ours being Wellington, New Zealand. It’s a chance to catch up with friends and reconnect with family. But also to revisit our city Wellington on foot.
So, if you are wondering how do I spend a day in Wellington, we have 15 great options for you.
Visiting “The coolest little capital in the world,” a 2012 vote by Lonely Planet Travel, is our self-guided walking path that has 15 attractions near Lambton Quay.
But you’ll also want to walk the Wellington waterfront to make the most of your Wellington stay.
Wellington on Foot
The city of Wellington is enclosed by hills with views stretching across the inner harbour. And up from the waterfront, it’s an easy walk to visit Wellington’s iconic places and buildings.
With a range of architecture, Wellington is still a young city in comparison to Europe.
So grab your sneakers, and let’s get started.
1. Admire the Wellington Train Station
A good starting point is the Wellington Train Station on Bunny Street.
This beautiful 1937 Neo-Georgian-style building was built to combine two stations, Thorndon and Lambton, into one hub.
It’s a busy place every weekday morning and evening as commuters from the suburbs make their way to the city offices in and around Lambton Quay.
2. Enjoy a tasty menu at Thistle Inn
A quaint square wooden building, the iconic Thistle Inn sits on the corner of Mulgrave St and Kate Sheppard Place.
Since 1840, the inn has been servicing patrons. The original building survived the 1855 earthquake when the shoreline was lapping at its front door. But was destroyed by fire in 1866.
Thistle Inn is New Zealand’s oldest surviving tavern.
3. Wonder at the beauty of Old St Paul’s Church
Wellington on foot has to include a stop at Old St Paul’s Church, a 2-minute walk up Mulgrave Street from the Thistle Inn.
Built on the original Pipitea Pa site, old St Paul’s Church dates back to 1866. It is constructed with native timbers showcasing an amazing interior not to be missed.
The church is open to the public, and a donation is suggested.
4. Peek inside Katherine Mansfield House
If you are still feeling energetic, a short walk to Katherine Mansfield House at 25 Thorndon Road is well worth a visit.
This was the birthplace of one of New Zealand’s most famous authors.
It is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am-4 pm, for $10 per adult. For those of you who enjoy literature and history, the house offers insight into the inspiration for the author’s books and a view of early New Zealand houses.
Otherwise, head back down in the direction of Lambton Quay.
5. Take the Free Tour of Parliament House
It’s an easy walk from the Wellington train station to Parliament Buildings on Molesworth Street. Just look for the Beehive, and you will discover the trio of:
- Parliament House
- The Beehive and
- Parliament Library.
The grounds in front of Parliament House offer a beautiful setting to enjoy lunch or a takeaway coffee under the majestic Pohutakawa trees, native to New Zealand.
To take the tour of Parliament, head to the doorway between The Beehive and Parliament House for an informative free one-hour tour between 10 am-4 pm.
Parliament House dates back to 1899, built-in Takaka Marble, a wonderful landmark of Wellington.
The tour showcases the debating chambers along with a beautiful wooden interior. And the tour will take you down to the basement of the building to view the stabilising structure designed in the event of earthquakes, an exciting feature of the building.
6. No mistaking it’s a Beehive
The Beehive opened in 1977 as the office for the Ministers of the Crown.
There was an option to extend the current Parliament building, but a decision was made for this new and different structure, with the usual controversy over cost and design.
However, the Beehive is a distinctive building and, once inside, can be a little disorienting due to the shape and similar interior layout. You may find it difficult to find your way out.
7. Gothic Parliament Library
The free tour includes the Victorian Gothic-style building and Parliament Library. The building dates to 1899 with a beautiful wooden carving interior and stained glass windows.
The library provides an information and research function to Parliament and parliamentary staff members, with requests each year numbering about 13,000.
The public can also access information.
8. Always a favourite, Old Government Building
While at Parliament grounds, you may have noticed a beautiful old building across the road. The old Government Building is one of our favourites.
Did you guess it was a wooden building?
Built in 1876, mainly of native Kauri, it was the second-largest wooden building in the world until 1998.
Today, the Victoria University Law School uses the building. When it is open to the public, you can view the offices once allocated to civil servants and visit the old cabinet room.
9. Honouring the fallen at Wellington Cenotaph
On the corner of Lambton Quay near Parliament Buildings and the Old Government Buildings is the Wellington Cenotaph.
The Cenotaph is a memorial to those who lost their lives in WWI and WWII, with a service held every Anzac Day (25th April) in commemoration.
If you want to extend your walk, a visit to the National War Memorial Hall of Memories on Buckle Street is well worth a visit (currently closed for Earthquake restoration).
The art deco memorial hall has six small alcove chapels dedicated to different New Zealand Armed Forces branches. At its entrance is The Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, overlooking the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park. A park dedicated to countries with a shared military history with New Zealand.
10. New Zealand Supreme Court
Diagonally across from the Cenotaph is the highest court in New Zealand, the New Zealand Supreme Court. You can’t miss it.
The exterior is encased in recycled bronze representing native New Zealand trees, the Pohutakawa and Rata.
If no court is in session, view the courtroom through the main doors. Why? It’s amazing.
The courtroom is encased in a copper orb representing the seed of another New Zealand native tree, the Kauri. Very unique.
11. Walk Lambton Quay Golden Mile
If you love to shop, Lambton Quay is the place to be. You won’t be disappointed if you are known as part of the “Golden Mile”.
With so many high-end shops, including the previously owned David Jones (previously Kirkcaldies), Wellington’s equivalent to Harrods of London.
You have a selection of boutique shops and well-known brands.
And remember to look up as you walk along Lambton Quay, as there are many beautiful old buildings to view.
12. Learn the History of Lambton Quay
Lambton Quay is the main business district of Wellington.
The pavement you are walking along was the original shoreline in 1840, and at various points on the pavement, you will find plaques of the original shoreline.
At weekday lunchtimes, the pavement is busy with workers escaping their tower offices to refuel for the afternoon.
13. Ride the Wellington Cable Car
While walking along Lambton Quay, look out for the sign for the Cable Car Lane.
The Wellington Cable Car is an iconic funicular that has been in operation since 1902, with an annual number of users reaching one million in 1912.
Today the Wellington Cable Car provides transport for workers and university students between Lambton Quay and the suburb of Kelburn.
It operates every day for $7.50 return for the 5-minute trip each way. And the ride to the top provides spectacular views across Wellington Harbour.
At the top of the cable car is a cafe, museum and the Wellington Botanical Gardens to explore.
And from here, you can take the free shuttle to Zealandia (Wildlife Sanctuary) at the top of the cable car.
14. Take the Zealandia Shuttle
A Zealandia Free electric shuttle stop is at the top of the cable car.
If there is one thing must-see place in Wellington, it is Zealandia. This outdoor sanctuary is unique for a city covering 225 hectares with over 40 rare species of native wildlife.
The eco-sanctuary is surrounded by a predator fence to protect native birds, reptiles and fauna. You can choose to explore by yourself or with a guided tour. You may even see a Kiwi on the twilight or tours.
15. Shopping at Old Bank Arcade
This beautiful building, built on the corner of Lambton Quay and Willis Street, was opened in 1901 for the Bank of New Zealand.
Today the building is a small shopping arcade where you can browse the shops and cafes on two levels.
If you wander downstairs, you will find the old safes used by the bank now transformed into shops. And if you are in the mall on the hour, you will be treated to the animated musical clock.
A Walking Map of the Lambton Quay Area
Wellington on Foot
Wellington is an easy city to navigate and explore on foot, whether spending one day in Wellington or a short stay.
Make sure to include the Wellington waterfront for cafes, bars and restaurants.
And if you want to explore more of New Zealand, away from the cities, some suggested road trips enjoy are:
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