The Garden City: What to do in Christchurch, New Zealand

Updated May 9, 2018

The following is a guest post from Suzy, of Suzy Stories, which started in its humble beginnings as an easy way to document and share with friends and family the inevitable travel stories and memories collected during a gap year exploring the world. Suzy’s blog aims to encompass her favourite interests of philosophy, culture, photography, and food (girl’s gotta eat!) to give an honest and realistic view of the sights to see in the world around us.

Despite being the third most populous city in New Zealand and the largest city on the South Island, Christchurch is sometimes overlooked by visitors planning a trip in New Zealand in favour of the bigger cities in the country. But for those seeking the convenience of a city without the crowds and skyscrapers, and with accessible beaches and beautiful nature areas, then Christchurch is the answer!

Filled with history, culture, and surprises, there are a wealth of things to do in Christchurch itself as well as it being ideally situated for a day or weekend trip to a number of great locations around Canterbury. Here is all you need to know about spending a few days in Christchurch!

What to Do in Christchurch

How to get to Christchurch

As a rather remote city, most visitors arrive into Christchurch by plane. Public transport is easily accessible to take you from the airport to the city and the surrounding areas. The metro bus purple line will take you from the airport to the central bus interchange in about half an hour, and costs $4 NZD for a one-way trip paying by cash (less using a metro card). Taxis are also available, however, they can be considerably more expensive (around $45 NZD) for the same journey.

Transport around the city is extremely easy. If walking isn’t possible then the metro system is reliable and affordable, particularly if you purchase a metro card which takes at least 30% off a cash fare.

What to Do in Christchurch

What to do in Christchurch

As a smaller city, it’s possible to see and do all the main attractions within Christchurch in just a couple of days. From culture to scenic landscapes, Christchurch has plenty of activities to offer visitors with a range of interests.

In 2010 and 2011 Christchurch suffered devastating earthquakes that destroyed many of the historical buildings, as well as homes and in one particular earthquake, loss of lives. The effects of these earthquakes are still apparent in the city today, as areas are slowly rebuilt and rejuvenated. The fabric of Christchurch has been changed by these events, and you can learn more about them by visiting Quake City early on in your stay, to give you a better understanding as you explore the rest of the city.

History

Despite New Zealand being a relatively new country, there are plenty of historical landmarks and heritage building attractions to see in Christchurch.

The Bridge of Remembrance has been recently reopened following renovation works and is a remarkable arch in the centre of town dedicated to those who fought during the wars.

What to Do in Christchurch

The Canterbury Museum sits on the edge of Hagley Park and gives an insight into New Zealand history. With exhibits on nature, recent local events, and significant world history, there’s plenty to learn and explore.

No visit to Christchurch is complete without visiting Cathedral Square, which will serve as a chance to see the remaining structure of the once iconic Christchurch Cathedral.

As you explore the city you may notice a brightly coloured tram making its way along the streets. The Christchurch Tram City Tour takes you along the main attractions of the city allowing you to hop on and off throughout the day for $25 NZD. The tram runs regularly meaning you’ll be able to quickly and easily explore the sights if you don’t fancy walking!

What to Do in Christchurch

Culture

Christchurch has great free activities for art and culture fans. The Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetu, is packed full of local and international artworks, spanning all sorts of styles and eras. Take note of the visiting exhibitions and see what might catch your eye!

In addition, there is the Art Centre, a recently renovated space created as a hub of arts, culture, and entertainment. Housed in the old University of Canterbury buildings, the gothic architecture alone is worth the visit. The arts centre is free to enter however some tours, events, and concerts may be ticketed for a small fee.

What to Do in Christchurch

The many creative and striking works of street art fill the city with life and colour. Take a stroll around the city and you’ll easily be able to spot several artworks on the sides of buildings or interactive installations around the city’s pedestrian spaces. You can also visit the Brockworth Street Art Gallery with its brick-wall canvases, to give you an idea of what you’ll see on the streets. Christchurch is truly a city embracing the culture and the arts and it’s great to see it so widely celebrated.

The Cardboard Cathedral is a prime example of Christchurch’s character. Built in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquakes, the originally temporary building has become a symbol for the resourcefulness and innovation of the city. A fascinating building, it’s literally made out of cardboard and was designed by architect Shigeru Ban who is famed for creating similar structures following disasters around the world.

What to Do in Christchurch

Food & drink

It’s safe to say that there is an amazing choice of places to eat and drink in Christchurch. With independent cafes, bars, restaurants, and stalls, picking your favourite can be tough! A few favourites include:

  • The Institution – A charming two story bar and restaurant overlooking New Regents Street. It’s the ideal place to people watch while you sip on a cider!
  • The Last Word – A prohibition style cocktail bar that offers more choices of spirits than you could ever imagine. Try something adventurous and enjoy the classy atmosphere!
  • Burgers & Beer Inc. – Satisfy your appetite after a long day with a tasty dining experience and the yummiest burgers in town. It really does what it says on the tin!
  • Little High Eatery – The perfect place when you can’t decide what you want! Lots of different bars/stalls offering food and drinks with inspiration from all over the world.
  • Hell Pizza – For those times you just fancy ordering a pizza, Hell has you covered. Sample their decadent toppings either by eating in one of their restaurants on ordering to take home. They’re devilishly good!

What to Do in Christchurch

Shopping

For visitors looking to see where they can pick up a souvenir (or even just browse the local stores), the Re:Start mall offers a chance to check out some unique shops that are purpose-built in old shipping containers, adding a colourful and unusual twist to a shopping experience!

New Regents Street is another central area that makes for a great chance to explore local retailers. A pedestrianised street with quirky architecture makes for the perfect place to meander and window shop as you make your way through the city.

What to Do in Christchurch

Nature around the city

Being a coastal city situated alongside volcanic cliffs, there are some stunning areas of nature right next door to the city. Just a 15-minute drive (or ambitious bike ride) to the Port Hills you can enjoy a view over the sloping hills around the bay and overlooking the city towards the mountains in the distance – there’s nothing quite like that view!

Godley Head offers a chance to really explore the jagged coastline and soak up a peaceful atmosphere only a 30-minute drive from the city. As you take a walk along the historic coastal defences you’ll feel a million miles from anywhere, with the vast Pacific Ocean glistening ahead.

A spot of nature found closer to the city is Hagley Park. Home to the Hagley Oval cricket ground as well as the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, it’s a great way to spend a spare hour wandering in luscious greenery. As you watch the punting boats float past along the Avon River (which $28 NZD for a 45-minute tour) it’s easy to see how Christchurch got its nickname “the garden city”!

What to do in Christchurch

Where to stay in Christchurch

Accommodation options in Christchurch are pretty abundant. Generally, staying centrally in Christchurch is easiest to enjoy the city itself, however, if you have your own transport staying in one of the inner suburbs might be preferable for easy parking.

Point Break Backpackers is a small hostel in the outer suburb of New Brighton, about 30 minutes bus ride from the bus interchange. Just a short walk from the beach, it’s a great place if you’re looking to stay a little further out of town and wanting to enjoy the relaxed coastal atmosphere.

All Stars Inn on Bealey is another great deal accommodation, located just on the outskirts of the city meaning it’s only a 15-minute walk to the centre of town. A fresh and new build complex, there’s plenty to enjoy here such as new facilities, free WIFI, spacious rooms, and helpful staff. This is a particularly popular place to stay so it’s important to book early!

Southwark Apartments offer newly decorated studios and apartments near the city centre, within easy walking distance of many of the things to do in Christchurch.

A final low-cost option is the YMCA Christchurch. Located right in the centre of town and across the street from the art galleries, Hagley Park, and various other hotels/hostels, this is the most practical option for travellers looking for easy and central accommodation. The rooms and facilities are sufficient for all your needs, and as it’s a large chain you’ll be sure to find helpful information on the city and activities very easily.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Day & Weekend Trips from Christchurch

Being a somewhat central point on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is a great base for a number of day or weekend trips. Some of the most popular trips are:

Akaroa

A stunning 90 minute drive through Banks Peninsula takes you along the volcanic coastline of this peaceful seaside town. Visit the Giant’s House for an unusually artistic day out!

Arthur’s Pass

Taking you deep into the Southern Alps via a 2-hour scenic drive or along the TranzAlpine train, you’ll reach the tiny village of Arthur’s Pass, where visitors enjoy the outstanding New Zealand landscape, short walks, waterfalls, and the famous kea – the world’s only alpine parrot!

What to do in Christchurch - Day trip to Arthurs Pass

Hanmer Springs

This alpine town just a couple of hours drive from Christchurch is located on the edge of the mountains and is perfect for relaxing at the natural hot pools as well as outdoor activities such as hiking and jet boat rides!

Kaikoura

A 3-hour drive north up the coast from Christchurch takes you to this beautiful town. No trip to Kaikoura is complete without a trip out on the ocean to go whale and dolphin watching, or even swim with the wild dolphins!

And there we have your guide for what to do in Christchurch! As you can see there are many reasons why it’s a great city that absolutely should not be missed off your New Zealand itinerary. Christchurch serves as a great base for getting to the South Island, and travelling some of the amazing places on the island, as well as providing historical and cultural activities suitable for everyone within the city itself. So what are you waiting for? Start planning your trip to New Zealand’s garden city now!

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Things to Do in Christchurch, New Zealand Things to Do in Christchurch, New Zealand

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