Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Christchurch is a top destination in New Zealand and the largest city on the South Island, known for its cultural attractions and outdoor adventures. Unfortunately, it has been hit with several tragedies in recent years, including four major earthquakes during a 15-month period, with the last in 2011. Luckily, many of its original attractions still stand, offering plenty of things to explore while in the city. Check out these top things to do in Christchurch.
Start your exploration of the area in a spectacular way with the gondola ridecable car ride up the slopes of Mount Cavendish in the Port Hills. It offers stunning 360-degree views, 1,640 feet above sea level. To the west you’ll see out across the cityscape of Christchurch, over the Canterbury Plains and the high peaks of the Southern Alps. Look north and you’ll see beautiful beaches and the Pacific Ocean, while south and east are jaw-dropping views of Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere and Lyttelton Harbour. At the top you’ll also find a dramatic reconstruction of the area’s history offered through an immersive time tunnel ride.
If you want a closer look at those stunning landscapes, you may want to hop on the TranzAlpine train which travels from Christchurch to Greymouth. The five-hour rail journey travels through the Canterbury region and the Southern Alps toward the South Island’s west coast. One of the world’s most scenic train rides, it brings passengers from the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains through 16 tunnels and more than five viaducts with views of snow-capped peaks, icy rivers, forests, gorges and river valleys.
When so many buildings were destroyed during the quakes, the city really needed some brightening up, so local artists decided to do just that, filling it with eye-popping street art. You can even follow an interactive guide to hunt for the finest pieces. You’ll see all sorts of creativity and masterpieces adoring building walls, from inspiring large murals right through to small, inspirational paintings. There are hundreds of them, so you can easily enjoy an afternoon of fun capturing photos and figuring out which are your favorites.
Sumner Beach is the most popular beach among the locals, just a short drive southwest of the city. It draws many to swim or surf, and the sandy beach itself is ideal for relaxing in the sun. There’s also a wonderful promenade alongside it that’s ideal for a stroll. There are lots of other options if you’d prefer to find a more secluded stretch. Camp Bay, near Diamond Harbour, is less than an hour from the city and has sandy alcoves nearby for enjoying seclusion. Further away, drive through the Banks Peninsula to Le Bons Bay where you’ll find an expansive stretch of sands bordered by rolling hills and a river where seals are often spotted.
The Botanic Gardens is a wonderful place for a stroll, to beat jet lag and enjoy the lush greenery. It boasts one of the finest collections of native and exotic plants in New Zealand. Behind the original curator’s house which was converted into a restaurant is an edible garden and beehives. The Memorial Rotunda is a well-known landmark that sits within Harman’s Grove overlooking the Primula Garden, surrounded by daffodils, erected to commemorate bandsmen who died in World War I.
The city offers heritage trams that will bring you to many of its top landmarks and attractions. Just some of the sights you can take in include the Avon River, Cathedral Junction, Canterbury Museum and popular New Regent Street. The knowledgeable drivers also share details about the city and its history, as well about what you’re seeing, along the way. If you buy a full-day ticket you can hop on and off as you please, boarding at any one of the 17 stops along the route.
The Christchurch Art Gallery is housed within an impressive building that’s considered a work of art itself with its glass facade that resembles the flow of the Avon river. It’s home to one of the country’s most important public art collections, including everything from classics to modern works from New Zealand to internationally-based artists in a light and airy space spread across two floors. Its ground floor also hosts a gallery shop and the Universo Brasserie & Bar.
One of the most attractive spots in the city is this especially picturesque outdoor pedestrian mall that follows New Regent Street. It was built in Spanish Mission style in the 1930s and is lined with some outstanding bars and eateries, including a fabulous gelato shop. Enjoy a coffee at The Caffeine Laboratory, considered one of the city’s best spots to fuel up for the day, a cocktail at The Last Word and fine dining at Twenty-seven steps.