Discover the best things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand, with this fantastic city guide. This comprehensive Christchurch itinerary contains exclusive insider tips from a local, Paul Schwalger. And having been there twice, I also included many of my own tips. Often being the starting point of an epic New Zealand road trip, visitors don’t tend to stay here for long. But as the diverse tourist attractions in this city guide will prove, Christchurch is definitely worth a visit!
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Christchurch itinerary featuring insider tips from a local
A New Zealand native, I ‘met’ Paul on Instagram when he was still living in the Netherlands, my home country. Having lived abroad for ten years, he recently returned home to Christchurch. But following the devastating Christchurch Earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, the cityscape of his hometown has completely changed. Whilst still exploring Christchurch 2.0, Paul has shared some great insider tips to include in this exhaustive Christchurch itinerary.
12 Best things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand: top tourist attractions
I visited Christchurch, New Zealand, in the winter of 2018 and again in 2019. Since our last trip, the world has changed drastically. I therefore put extra effort in compiling this Christchurch itinerary. I tried to include only tourist attractions that are still operating post-Covid and sights that remain accessible. However, for the lastest information, I recommend you to visit the website ChristchurchNZ.
1. Cardboard Cathedral
Thanks to social media, I was already familiar with this famous Christchurch sight well before I had set foot in the city. Made of cardboard tubes as one of the main building materials, Cardboard Cathedral is one of the must-see Christchurch landmarks. However, born amidst the rubble of the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake, its history is far less colourful than its eye-catching stained-glass windows.
The modern looking cathedral was built to replacing the iconic ChristChurch Cathedral that was damaged during the earthquake. While the original church was built in Gothic Revival style using dark brown stones, Cardboard Cathedral reflects light and optimism. To me, Cardboard Cathedral therefore feels like the ultimate symbol for Christchurch 2.0.
2. Christchurch street art
When we first visited New Zealand in 2018, my main reason for including Christchurch in the itinerary was its incredible street art scene. Once again born in the aftermath of the destructive earthquakes, the outstanding murals dotted across the city definitely make Christchurch worth a visit.
Being a street art blogger, I obviously couldn’t miss out on visiting one of the latest street art capitals in the world! As you can see in my separate blog post about the amazing street art in Christchurch, the city sure didn’t disappoint in this aspect.
Read my article here: Christchurch Street Art: Art with a Heart
3. Christchurch Art Gallery
During our explorations of the city, the striking Christchurch Art Gallery stood out from all the other buildings we came across. Enjoying the airconditioning as it was blistering hot outside, we decided to have a wander around the gallery.
Amazingly, entrance to Christchurch Art Gallery is free which is extraordinary considering its scale and impressive collection. Moving from classic New Zealand landscape paintings to modern art, this art gallery will appeal to all different types of visitors. And not only to those in need of airconditioning.
4. Christchurch tramway
Perhaps not as famous as its San Francisco or Lisbon counterparts, but the heritage Christchurch tramway is an iconic Christchurch sight. Climb on the restored 19th-century tram cars and enjoy a hop-on hop-off tour along the top Christchurch tourist attractions.
Alternatively, opt for the Christchurch tramway dining experience for a gastronomical sightseeing tour of the city. During this 2.5-hr tour you’ll get to savour a 4-course dinner whilst enjoying the city’s main sights from the comfort of your seat.
Book your dine & drive experience here.
5. Punting on the river Avon
The special handcrafted Edwardian flat-bottom punts make for yet another unique transport means to explore Christchurch. Gliding through the river Avon, the 30-minute punt offers special views of the city and its revitalised Avon River Precinct.
Entering areas you’d never be able to reach on foot or by car, I find boat rides always present a city from a refreshing perspective. Even if it’s a place you’re familiar with already, seeing it from water level suddenly opens up such surprising viewpoints.
Take opportunity of the discounted combi ticket for the Christchurch tramway and punt.
6. Christchurch Gondola
After seeing Christchurch from land and water, why not also see it from the sky? Hop on the Christchurch cable car and enjoy a bird’s-eye view over Christchurch city and its absolutely stunning surroundings.
During the 10-minute gondola trip, you’ll get to enjoy 360-degree views thanks to the glass-enclosed cars. This allows you to see the snow-capped mountains of the Southern Alps and Kaikoura Mountains. Looking down, the spectacular Banks Peninsula and Pacific Ocean will be visible . The Christchurch gondola ride is an unforgettable experience and, literally, one of the highlights of your Christchurch itinerary.
Book your tickets for the Christchurch Gondola here.
7. Canterbury Museum
Founded in 1867 by German-born New Zealand explorer Julius von Haast, the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch is a cultural treasure trove. Besides being home to the world’s largest collection of moa bones, Canterbury Museum is a great place to learn more about the country’s earlier people.
While the Māori galleries tell the story of the region’s first settlers, I was intrigued to learn about the local connection with Antarctica. Because, being one of the southernmost cities, Christchurch was often the starting point for Arctic expeditions. Access to Canterbury Museum is free so do make sure to visit and learn more about the rich local culture.
8. Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Often referred to by locals as just the ‘Gardens’, the Botanic Gardens are located in the central city next to the Canterbury Museum and the historic Art Centre. Covering 21 hectares, it’s a perfect destination for a peaceful stroll.
The neatly manicured grounds with its fragrant rose garden and expansive collection of exotic and native flora form a surprising contrast with the torn down buildings just a few streets away.
Paul’s personal tip for the Christchurch Botanic Gardens:
Go out for an afternoon walk around the Gardens before heading to the Art Centre for a coffee and a cake. Formerly the site of Canterbury College, you’ll find Rutherford’s Den in its Clock Tower. Named after Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics who was a student here, this exciting interactive museum provides great insight in the world of science, inventions and local history.
9. Hagley Park
Impressed with the 21-hectare Botanic Gardens? Well, that’s nothing compared to the 165 hectares of Hagley Park. Sprawling from the Botanic Gardens, the vast Hagley Park, is both the green and historical heart of Christchurch.
Housing the first British settlers who built huts along the river Avon from the 1850s, North Hagley Park became known as Settlers Corner. You can still find the memorial for the natural spring they used, known as Pilgrim’s Well, in the Botanic Gardens.
The early European settlers started planting trees here to create a recreational green space. Today Hagley Park is a lush open space, perfect for peaceful strolls along the river Avon and beautiful flowers and plants. Being home to rugby fields, cricket ovals, tennis and basketball courts and even a golf course, the park is also great for more active visitors.
10. Christchurch Adventure Park
If you’re after a true blood pumping activities in Christchurch, then you’d definitely want to include Christchurch Adventure Park in your Christchurch itinerary! The park is especially popular with bikers, but also great walking trails for more tranquil outdoor activities in Christchurch.
Are you thrill seeker looking for an adrenalin rush? Then you’l be jumping at your chance to zipline down the highest and longest ziplines in New Zealand. Offering spectacular views from the Pacific Ocean to the Southern Alps, this might be the most exhilarating way to do some sightseeing! However, with a zipline of just over 1 kilometre long at 150 metres high, this Christchurch activity isn’t for the fainthearted!
Are you ready for the challenge? Book your tickets for the zipline experience here!
11. Riccarton House and Bush
While a lot of tourists skip Christchurch for the preference of beautiful landscapes, Paul says there are some great options close to town. One of them being Riccarton. Located west of Hagley Park, the suburb of Riccarton is close to the central city.
“Riccarton House and Bush is home to the earliest settler houses in Christchurch and the oldest remaining native forest. Some trees are 600 years old. Having such dense native forest so close to the city is pretty special. It’s a great place to go for a walk and be inundated with the sounds of birds.”
Insider tip: Right next to Riccarton House, you’ll find the year-round Christchurch Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings. Selling artisan products, fresh meat, cheese and delicious treats, this vibrant market is a local gem.
12. Port Hills
Located just outside of the city, Port Hills is another fantastic destination for nature lovers. This hills range between Christchurch and its port Lyttleton, are the remnants of the eroded Lyttleton volcano crater.
Port Hills is great to explore either on foot or by bike or car. Home to several glorious tracks offering scenic views, Port Hills makes for a perfect half day trip from Christchurch. The route from Christchurch to Port Hills is also popular amongst cyclists.
Tip from Paul: “The windy road to Port Hills offers beautiful views looking back over Christchurch City or out over the Port Hills. In the east of Christchurch a lot of work in restoring wetlands has been undertaken over the last few decades. These are now also beautiful places to walk around.”
Places to eat in Christchurch, New Zealand
During both our short trips to Christchurch we had most our meals in our self-contained apartment. So, lacking information on the best places to eat in Christchurch, I once again turned to Paul for tips.
Paul: “If you’re looking for places to eat that have lots of character, then go to New Regent Street. This is one of the prettiest and famous streets in Christchurch. Alternatives just outside of the city include Lyttelton or Sumner with is popular beach side suburb.
Post-quake new places to eat in Christchurch includes Little High, a collection of eateries in one place. But also the recently opened Riverside Market has been really popular with both tourists and locals.”
Accommodation in Christchurch, New Zealand
On both our trips to Christchurch, we stayed at Christchurch Southwark Apartments. Arriving well after midnight at one of our trips, the 24-hour check-in option was ideal. The apartments are basic, but offer all necessary amenities and include a fridge and sink. The shared kitchen and dining area is massive and well-equipped.
The apartments are located in a newly developed area of Christchurch. It’s surrounded by hip cafés and some great street art. It’s a quick walk into town while the free car park offers parking space for guest.
If you’d rather stay close to Christchurch International Airport, then Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport might be a good option. Located opposite the arrivals hall at walking distance, you literally couldn’t stay any closer.
Find more accommodation in Christchurch here.
Day trips from Christchurch, New Zealand
As you can see from this Christchurch itinerary, there are plenty of sights and activities to keep you entertained for several days. But if you’re looking for great day trips from Christchurch, then have a look at the following suggestions.
Asking for day trips from Christchurch, Paul recommended Lyttleton. Paul: “Lyttelton is a really cute little port town, located at about 20 minutes from the central city by car. It has many trends cafés and eateries, and a busy weekend market.
Home to lovely old buildings and quirky shops, it’s a popular place for artists and galleries. A lot of good local musicians call Lyttelton home. The drive there is also nice, offering great views of the harbour. You can enter the town either through a 2-km long tunnel or from driving over the Port Hills.”
Often overlooked by visitors to Christchurch I really urge you to include Banks Peninsula in your Christchurch itinerary. The 1-hour drive from Christchurch to Banks Peninsula is absolutely stunning. I recommend stopping a few times to take in the glorious vista. Viewed from above, you can see the curious shape of this historical volcano complex.
Besides its extraordinary landscape, I would also recommend visiting Banks Peninsula for its unique wildlife. It’s is one of the best places in New Zealand to see fur seals but also the rare Hector dolphins. Even more special are the possible encounters with blue penguins, the world’s smallest penguins, and the endangered yellow-eyed penguins.
In hindsight I regret we only spent two days on the peninsula. It offers various scenic driving routes, walking and cycling tracks and wildlife experiences. Apart from breath-taking landscapes, Banks Peninsula is also home to some cute towns worth visiting. One of them is Akaroa which is New Zealand’s only French settlement. You can read more about this picturesque town in my (yet-to-write) article about must-visit historical towns in New Zealand.
Looking for accommodation on Banks Peninsula?
Check out the great budget accommodation we stayed at: Akaroa Halfmoon Cottage.
If you’re looking for some fantastic day trips from Christchurch, then I really recommend a visit to Kaikoura. This seaside town is known as the whale watching capital of New Zealand. Besides whale watching boat trip, our main reason to visit Kaikoura was its famous Point Kean fur seal colony. This latter was much easier said than done and deserved a separate blog post.
Read about our ‘Where to find the Kaikoura seal colony’ adventures here.
Planning your own New Zealand trip? Which of these attractions and activities will you be including your own Christchurch itinerary?
Let me know in a comment below!
Thanks, Zarina xx
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