Christchurch is one of New Zealand’s top cities to travel to on the South Island. Not only is it ideal for solo travellers, but it is also very family-friendly. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and has endless attractions and activities, as well as day trips to incredible places.
Including Christchurch on your New Zealand itinerary is a must! No matter what season you visit this historic city in, you’ll find loads of things to do in Christchurch. In 2010 and 2011 the city was hit back to back with major earthquakes leaving many historical buildings and monuments in crumbles but today this “quake city” is an eerily beautiful mix of thriving city life against the backdrop of historical ruins and fresh air, unlike any other city in New Zealand.
Top things to do in Christchurch
There are so many fun things to do in Christchurch and so many places to see in Christchurch that you could spend weeks here and still not see it all. This travel guide will help you narrow down what you want to see and do and will include both free things and tours you can book while in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A beautiful trail with history that dates back to WWII, Godley Head begins at Taylor’s Mistake Beach and is an 8.9km loop that showcases coastal scenery. You may spot penguins, whales, and dolphins while walking this trail and will understand why this hike was once a coastal defense area during the war.
The Gondola ride is the best introduction to Christchurch sightseeing. This mellow but breathtaking ride is one of the most popular Christchurch activities where for 20 minutes you are suspended in the air. While in the air you’ll be rewarded with unforgettable views of the Southern Alps, the Kaikoura Mountains, the ocean and harbour as well as stunning views of the city skyline. At the top, there is a cafe, hiking trails, and even a “time tunnel” that gives you an exciting ride through the history of Christchurch.
For an intimate experience, a fine-dining tour is perfect for the chance to relax and spoil yourself as you deserve. Hop onboard a refurbished tramcar for a dinner and sightseeing tour of Christchurch city. The tour provides a drink and a 4-course dinner as you are given a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens, Avon River, and other famous Christchurch landmarks and monuments, some that still being rebuilt after the earthquakes. The meals are all prepared on-site and if you have a specific dietary requirement, just let the chef know prior to arrival.
Wild Penguin Eco-Tour
This day trip from Christchurch to Akaroa & Banks Peninsula is super popular and gets you up close and personal with wild penguins in their natural habitat. A family that takes care of the penguin colony and works on penguin conservation will take you around giving you fun facts and information about the penguins and the local history.
The family has pet sheep that you can interact with as well, for those who love animals. You’ll also get a chance to explore the rugged and beautiful coastline as well as a beautiful art gallery and even a cheese sampling.
Waipara Wine Trail
One of the many recommended day trips from Christchurch, get to explore North Canterbury on a boutique wine tour for a fun day sipping your favorite drink. Get to visit 4 separate wineries in the Canterbury region on this half-day tour from Christchurch for a sample of the areas best wine. On this tour, you will visit Pegasus Bay, Waipara Springs, Greystone Winery, and Waipara Hills Winery where you’ll get tastings of both red and white wines coupled with food samplings and lunch.
This region is known to produce great versions of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc so get ready to taste test sweet and dry wines for a well-rounded wine experience.
Christchurch Sightseeing Tour
This is a truly unique experience to Christchurch by getting picked up at your accommodation and taken to the area that was most devastated by the 2011 earthquake. Your expert guide will give you intimate knowledge of the area, the history, and how the buildings are being rebuilt and repaired to better withstand future earthquakes.
After that, you’ll be taken to the beautiful Mona Vale to wander around the gardens and the historic homestead and beautiful lookout views like the Sign of the Takahe, for unforgettable views of the Christchurch city skyline, the Canterbury Plains as well as the Southern Alps. To finish off your day you’ll be taken to the legendary International Antarctic Centre where you will have an exciting snow and ice play day, a blue penguin encounter, a 4D Movie experience, and an extreme offroading Hagglund ride.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens in Christchurch are a charming spot to visit on a sunny day to explore the 21-hectares of natural beauty. The park itself is over 150 years old is broken down into 10 gardens including a rose garden (with over 250 kinds of roses), a herb garden, a water garden, and more.
Hagley Park is another option, with this park offering 164 acres of pretty scenery. If hiking isn’t your thing but you still love the outdoors, visiting the gardens are some of the best free things to do in Christchurch.
The Christchurch Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum, and The Air Force Museum are all free activities to do in Christchurch when you’re looking to watch your dollar. The museums are perfect for rainy days where you can let yourself get lost in another place and time. Fill your head with stories and legends of New Zealand and the Maori people, their artwork leading all the way up to the modern-day.
Kaikoura Whale Watching
Animal and wine lovers, look no further, this Christchurch activity is the perfect one for you. Join a full-day trip that gives you a close encounter with some of the ocean’s largest and friendliest sea creatures: whales. Your captain will take you around the Kaikoura area looking for sperm whales, dusky dolphins, and a variety of sea birds. After whale and dolphin watching, your captain will take you to a penguin colony as well as a break for lunch before continuing your journey into wine country for some sampling.
What better what to explore New Zealand’s beautiful landscape other than rock climbing? Rock climbing is one of the best things to do in Christchurch as there are over 2,000 climbing routes around the area. This full-day trip will set you up with gear and an experienced guide to show you the best natural things to see in Christchurch.
Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced rock climber, you’ll have an exciting day climbing “the crag” as it is known locally. Your guide will set up several different climbs for you according to your ability and will also provide lunch for you overlooking an indescribable view of the surrounding area.
Lord of the Rings Filming Locations
One of the most popular places to visit in Christchurch is the movie setting for Lord of the Rings, one of the most famous franchises in the film industry. Anything Lord of the Rings themed usually becomes one of the top Christchurch tourist attractions but this tour is also combined with lovely sightseeing as well that is more than just a bonus, it’s an epic highlight. Plus you can go on one of the old-school horse treks, where you can get pulled in a wagon by a team of Clydesdales. This day will really give you a feel for New Zealand’s backcountry and truly wild landscape, it’s no surprise why they chose to film so many movies here.
Mount Cook & Lake Tekapo Day Trip
Another Christchurch must-do is a day trip to Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo. Not only is this one of the most beautiful places to go in Christchurch, but it is also one of the most scenic and stunning places in all of New Zealand. This South Island area is home to breathtaking lakes, glaciers, and lavender farms and is truly one of the best day trips and attractions in Christchurch.
Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand and trekking around the various paths will leave you inspired by the wonders of nature. Take in the fresh air and come back to the city after a little road trip feeling refreshed and renewed.
An excellent choice as a day trip from Christchurch, Hanmer Springs is an alpine town that visitors frequently make their way to in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. This small town is packed with tons to do for both adventurous souls and those who prefer to kick back and relax.
While activities such as bungy jumping and jet boating are popular, Hanmer Springs is most known for its natural hot pools, spa, and stunning scenery that will help you relax into the soothing atmosphere.
Before setting out to sea on your kayak, a guide will give you some tips and tricks on the proper way to paddle like a pro before heading out into the great wide open. You will kayak around Quail Island, exploring the caves, cliffs, and beaches and you’ll find a spot to sit and relax for a lunch that is provided for you.
As you paddle on you will explore around a ship graveyard and your guide will give you stories and facts about the local history and wildlife. This is one of the best water activities in Christchurch that is as much relaxing as it is invigorating.
Whether you find yourself relaxing at Sumner Beach, shopping on New Regent Street, or getting your thrills hiking and rock climbing, there are countless Christchurch attractions and tours for your choosing. Take in the fresh, glacial air and get ready to experience the real reasons why people travel here and love it.