Wellington might not be the world’s largest capital city, but it can certainly lay claim to being one of the world’s coolest. From hip-and-happening Cuba Street, to arts and culture-packed Courtenay Place, stylish Willis and Victoria Streets, or historic Thorndon, we’ve found the best neighbourhoods in Wellington to visit.
Cuba Street: where vintage fashion, the perfect coffee and oodles of eats collide
Smack-dab in the centre of Wellington, Cuba Street is the capital’s most colourful and eclectic street, filled with quirky cafes, vintage clothing stores, art galleries and topnotch restaurants and bars. From traffic lights with its pedestrian crosswalk in the hues of the Pride flag to the iconic kinetic sculpture known as the Bucket Fountain, there’s a warm and welcoming atmosphere to this vibrant neighbourhood.
A good place to begin exploring is Midnight Espresso. Take a seat by the window for prime people-watching and order a vegan spanakopita or ‘sausage’ roll to go with your coffee. Afterwards, check out the vintage fashion at Hunters and Collectors, Ziggurat or Spacesuit nearby – there are oodles of yesteryear treasures awaiting discovery.
Spot of lunch? Cuba is foodie heaven: you can’t go wrong with a Cuban burrito at Fidel’s, gnocchi with ricotta and pecorino at new eatery Liberty, hand-rolled and oven-fired bagels at Best Ugly Bagels (above), Mexican at Flying Burrito Brothers or contemporary New Zealand eats at Olive.
Stay: Naumi Studio Hotel Wellington is in a striking historic building and boasts 116 rooms that embody Cuba’s funkiness with retro details like floral carpets and vibrant wallpapers.
Courtenay Place: the life of the party
Hot on Cuba’s heels is nearby Courtenay Place. Regarded as the city’s entertainment hub, it’s where locals go after dark. Stop by the recently restored St James Theatre to catch a ballet or live performance, visit The Opera House for an opera or symphony, pop into BATS Theatre for stand-up, or catch a film at the 1920s Embassy Theatre, where The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King had its world premiere.
To keep the evening’s excitement going, visit one of several award-winning restaurants in the area such as Mr Go’s, where cream cheese wontons and Taiwanese popcorn chicken are just some of the shareable pan-Asian dishes on offer.
If you’re after more relaxed eats, step into Lulu’s, one of the city’s best bars. Order a Kupe’s Odyssey (Absolut vodka, passionfruit, absinthe mist, lime, cranberry and mango) in the covered courtyard.
At The Garden Hotel, punters drink – and partake in the pub quiz – under a forest of hanging plants. Farther away, Hawthorn Lounge is an intimate, speak-easy style cocktail bar hidden behind a nondescript black door.
Stay: The eclectic QT Wellington, just a block over from Courtenay Place, embodies the city's creative spirit with opulent furnishings and bold patterns throughout.
Willis and Victoria Streets: the home of local fashion labels
When it comes to the heady world of fashion, New Zealand has long punched above its weight, and Wellington’s Willis and Victoria Streets are the places to nab some seriously cool couture.
From Augustine to Zambesi, a veritable alphabet of labels have a presence in this upscale neighbourhood, making it a haven for retail therapy (or simply window shopping).
There’s lots to check out, so pace yourself. When it’s break time, stop at Chaat Street for authentic Indian street food (the Kashmiri kanti, with pan-tossed lamb and spicy Kashmiri chillies, is a local favourite), or wander down stylish Chews Lane – which connects Willis and Victoria Streets – and step inside The Hudson for a well-deserved coffee (or wine) while you consider your next wardrobe investment.
Stay: Perched on Ghuznee Street between Victoria and Cuba Streets, boutique establishment The Intrepid Hotel has a number of surprises up its sleeve, not least the speak-easy style bar at the back (Puffin) and the curiosity shop near the lobby. Each of the 18 rooms is decorated with an original work of art and a unique rug, so no two stays are the same.
Thorndon: for history and views
Home to some of Wellington’s most significant historical sites, including the beehive-shaped New Zealand Parliament (free tours available), heritage-laden Thorndon might best be described as “an oldie but a goodie”.
Near Parliament you’ll find historic churches such as the wooden cathedral, Old St Paul’s, the childhood home and garden of famous author Katherine Mansfield (which you can tour), and the National Library – here’s where to glimpse New Zealand’s founding document, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, or the Treaty of Waitangi, signed in 1840 by captain William Hobson, consul for the British Crown, and Māori chiefs from across New Zealand.
After spending your morning diving into New Zealand’s history, treat yourself to a hearty meal. Eat at a historic pub like the Thistle Inn or The Backbencher, across the street from Parliament and famed for its puppets of New Zealand politicians hanging from the rafters. Or head up to the Wellington Botanic Garden ki Paekākā for lunch at Picnic Cafe among the flora. Afterwards, go a leisurely stroll on one or more of the many beautiful trails.
Finish up by taking the Wellington Cable Car down to the CBD and soak up the views of Wellington Harbour from a different angle.
Stay: The five-star InterContinental on Grey Street is where visiting heads of state, celebrities and athletes like the All Blacks (and Wallabies) stay when they’re in town. There are 236 rooms, many with excellent city views, and three restaurants to choose from.
Image credit: Johnny Hendrikus (Rainbow Crossing and Bucket Fountain); Nicola Edmonds (Best Ugly Bagels); Celeste Fontein (Lambton Quay); all images courtesy of WellingtonNZ.