Bordered by blue water and closed in by green hills, Wellington is the perfect weekend getaway. From the eclectic and vibrant Cuba Street to the glimmering waterfront and its array of buzzy restaurants, we’ve created the ultimate guide to spending 48 incredible hours in Wellington.
Start your day with coffee and a hearty breakfast at Cuba Street institution Midnight Espresso, where you can people watch while enjoying the vegan “spud chunks” (potatoes with vegan garlic mayo and chilli). Have a sweet tooth? Floriditas desserts including brown sugar pavlova, apple and tamarillo speculaas crumble, and Valrhona chocolate choux will thrill your tastebuds.
Lively Cuba Street is where community and kai (“food” in Māori) collide. Tattoo parlours stand alongside gourmet restaurants, vintage clothing boutiques, record stores and the iconic Bucket Fountain, creating a bohemian vibe.
There are some 55 galleries and museums in Wellington – everything from the harbourside Wellington Museum to the National Tattoo Museum. One to check out is City Gallery Wellington, located in Te Ngākau Civic Square next to the Whairepo Lagoon and harbour. The gallery is the main hub for contemporary art in the capital, with an international reputation for showcasing artists from New Zealand across its seven galleries. Look up when you enter: perched atop the gallery is Ronnie van Hout’s Quasi, a five-metre hand with a face in the middle.
There are plenty of fun things to do within walking distance of the City Gallery. The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (free to visit) is a few metres away on the waterfront and it’s easy to spend hours viewing its exhibitions and learning about the natural and social history of New Zealand – there’s even a resident 500-kilogram giant squid with eyes the size of basketballs.
Continue along the waterfront and you could end up at Oriental Bay, which has a beautiful sandy beach to relax on. Go in the opposite direction to take a bright red cable car up to the Wellington Botanic Garden and soak up stunning views of the city and harbour below before exploring the lush gardens.
A stroll from the cable car is the beehive-shaped New Zealand Parliament and nearby National Library, where you can see the original Treaty of Waitangi (one of New Zealand’s most important founding documents) and Women’s Suffrage Petition – women in New Zealand won the right to vote in parliamentary elections before any other self-governing country.
Wellington reputedly has more restaurants and cafés per capita than New York. If you’re feeling peckish, Hannah’s Laneway is a hidden foodie gem. What were once factories and warehouses have been converted into award-winning eateries such as the Wellington Chocolate Factory and Shepherd. Chef and co-owner of the latter, Shepherd Elliott, emphasises local ingredients: when beef is on the menu, for example, it usually comes from the South Island.
At the corner of Cuba and Vivian Streets, fine dining establishment Logan Brown is housed in an old bank. This award-winning restaurant takes pāua (abalone) to the next level: it’s wrapped in fresh pasta with coriander, basil and lime beurre blanc in the venue’s signature pāua ravioli dish.
For more relaxed fare, Chaat Street by Vaibhav Vishen does authentic Indian street food designed for sharing. Dig into the pav bhaji (spicy mashed veggies served with fluffy butter buns, a classic dish in Mumbai), or the crowd favourite Kashmiri kanti (lamb tossed with tomatoes, Kashmiri chillis and red onions) for an exhilarating kick to the tastebuds.
You may want a drink after – and if that’s the case, a “hidden,” speakeasy-style bar is a fantastic choice. Try Puffin on Ghuznee Street, where an ever-changing wine list and taxidermied peacocks await; Night Flower, across from Puffin, up a staircase and behind a door; or Hawthorn Lounge, where Old Hollywood glamour gets a chilled-out Wellington twist. They’re all a solid way to cap your holiday.
Where to stay
Naumi Studio Wellington is in a beautiful old building on Cuba Street. The 116 rooms embody the area’s quirkiness with floral carpets and wallpaper, and you’ll find the elegant Lola Rouge restaurant and bar on the ground floor, serving wok-tossed pork belly and a smoke bubble-topped rosé vodka confection named Invisible Rose.
Image credit: Sulthan Auliya; Johnny Hendrikus (Cuba Street).