Our first destination on the South Island was the oldest established city in New Zealand – Christchurch. If you’ve been here for a while, then you know how much we love trains. As self-proclaimed train connoisseurs, we can confidently tell you the best way to get to Christchurch is by riding the train from the picturesque Picton. With all of the breathtaking views, it was easily one of the top train rides of our life, and we couldn’t have asked for a better arrival to Christchurch.
Check out our short video of the Coastal Pacific Train…
Although Christchurch is considered the oldest city, many of the historical sites were destroyed in the tragic earthquake in 2011, and most of the infrastructure is brand new. The city is building back, and some parts are still under construction. But the hope and creativity being ingested are evident and highly contagious.
Fondly referred to as the garden city, it is a verdant oasis laced with British charm and peppered with vibrant murals and hip eateries. There is no shortage of places to visit in Christchurch, especially since it’s constantly kept fresh with the ongoing construction of new exciting spots. In this post, we share our absolute favorite things to do in Christchurch NZ that made our short stay wholesome and memorable.
And, check out this short video of Christchurch…
9 Things to Do in Christchurch, NZ
1. Ride the Christchurch Tram
Arguably the best way to get the lay of the land, get around and see the city at the same time is to do the hop on hop off Christchurch Tram tour. You can tick off all the iconic spots while riding a heritage tram, experiencing a bit of history, and getting live commentary from knowledgeable drivers. The entire circuit takes 50 minutes to complete, but your ticket is valid for an entire day, so you can hop on and off at your leisure.
2. Christchurch Cathedral and Cardboard Cathedral
Once the most iconic building in the city, the Christchurch Cathedral was severely damaged by the earthquake and is still being reinstated. It is estimated to take its central place in Cathedral Square in full stance at the end of 2027. But in the meantime, you can visit the new, temporary Cathedral that was constructed out of cardboard tubes. The choice of cardboard as the main building material was inspired by the desire to create a lightweight, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable structure that could be built quickly. It is earthquake proof and provided a place of worship and community in the aftermath of the earthquake. It is a symbol of resilience for the people of Christchurch.
3. Turanga Central Library
Books are our favorite downtime companions, so Turanga Library was a great find. The design of the library was derived from the colors and landscapes of Christchurch’s surroundings. It was meant for every visitor to feel a sense of belonging upon entry. You can admire the architecture and design of the building, which is also perfect for photographs, then get cozy with a good read for a while. The space is also well-equipped for remote work and creators. And to knock you back into full gear, head to the library cafe to refuel and enjoy spectacular views over the Christchurch Cathedral from the rooftop terrace.
4. Christchurch Botanic Gardens
To understand where the city gets its reputation as the Garden City, you must visit Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The lush oasis in the middle of the city is over 150 years old. It consists of ten gardens framed by mature trees and filled with unique plant species from all over the world. Just the rose garden alone features a whopping 250 species.
The gardens are contained by the iconic Avon river, which should be at the top of your places to see in Christchurch. The best way to experience the majestic river is by taking a ride in the classic punts – a must-do activity when in Christchurch.
5. Admire Street Art
Go on a long stroll and pay tribute to the stunning street art. It served as a crutch after the tragic earthquake devastated Christchurch in 2011. Murals became the glimmer of hope between the rubble. You will come across pieces tucked into all kinds of nooks and crannies, capturing the essence of the city. We used this map to guide us on the hunt for Christchurch’s best street art and couldn’t put our cameras away the entire time.
6. Christchurch Art Gallery
If you loved the thriving street art scene in Christchurch, you must follow it up by visiting the iconic Christchurch Art Gallery. It hosts some of New Zealand’s most prominent art collections. The exhibitions are constantly changing, so do keep an eye on their website or just arrive and be surprised!
7. Ride the Gondola to Mount Cavendish
The best place to get views of the city is from Mount Cavendish. The best way to get there is to ride the famous Christchurch gondola. It only takes about 10 minutes, but what a way to take in the scenery! If you have time, spend some time hiking at the top of the mountain and visit the restaurant situated up there before heading down, which you can do by hopping back on the gondola or taking the walking route.
8. Indulge in Scrummy Sustenance
Coming from Wellington, where we were absolutely spoiled with the extraordinary dining scene, we were not expecting much. But where Christchurch lacks in historical charm, it makes up with funky spots to eat and drink!
You don’t have to search hard for a decadent cup of joe, whichever way you like it, thanks to the booming coffee culture. We practically camped out at C1 Espresso, situated in a former post office building, for the fantastic coffee and big breakfasts. But what elevated the experience is the unique food delivery – think pneumatic fries.
For a foodie, Christchurch, New Zealand is a playground. There is something for everyone, and new places are constantly popping up. Take a stroll down New Regent Street, built in the 1930s. It is now considered one of the top Christchurch tourist attractions, peppered with amazing eateries. And for lunch, head to the Riverside Market. It’s a chic indoor market full of cool options from sweet to savory and nibbles to proper meals of every cuisine.
For those after a unique dining experience or perhaps short on time and need a two-in-one shortcut, the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant is for you. The experience includes a fine dining four-course dinner that you enjoy while watching the city sights out of the tram window for about 2.5 hours. Sounds like your perfect meal?
9. Explore the Surrounding Nature
Christchurch, New Zealand is surrounded by easily accessible beautiful nature. One of the closest outdoor adventures to the city is a coastal walk from Taylor’s Mistake to Sumner beach. The hike starts in the bay named after a captain named Taylor. He beached his ship in the wrong bay, and ends in a quirky coastal suburb. The walk will take about one hour and treat you to some spectacular views.
In just over an hour, you can reach one of the best places to visit near Christchurch – the Banks Peninsula. It is considered one of New Zealand’s most unique landforms, covered with hills and carved-out bays. You can embark on a 10-mile hike through Banks Peninsula’s reserve or see it by car.
On our stay in the city, we only scratched the surface of everything Christchurch has to offer. We absolutely loved everything we saw and did. Christchurch, New Zealand is a regenerating city that is waiting to be rediscovered again and again. While we look forward to returning, if you make it there before we do it for the second time, please let us know what new things we should see in Christchurch. In the meantime, wish us good luck as we head to our next destination, the adventure capital of the world – Queenstown, to take on some daring activities.