Our insider secrets to all of Wellington’s must-visit places will make your next stay an incredible one. So grab your calendar and start planning
How to spend an epic weekend in Wellington like a travel-pro
There’s good reason the world’s ‘Coolest Little Capital’ has earned a devoted following of fashionistas, food lovers and creatives. A big city on a small scale, there’s plenty to discover on foot or a short distance from the heart of the CBD.
1. Where you should stay
Retiring to QT Museum Wellington at the end of a long day exploring the capital is at once a dream and a wake-up call. Thanks to a $12-million update, the refurbished hotel, a stone’s throw from Te Papa, is rich in daring design detail and home to an eye-opening array of high and low-brow art – one of the biggest private collections in the country.
The former Museum Art Hotel now offers contemporary comfort and high-tech accommodation for the modern traveller. Arriving in the evening, you’ll find a bottle of Central Otago Pinot Noir and a platter of three cheeses waiting for you.
No two spaces are quite the same here. Each is packed with individual personality allowing the whole to exist in harmony. Guest rooms are full of creative twists and turns, plus thoughtful additions including Nespresso machines, nightcaps and even emergency bowties to make your stay as smooth as possible.
Slip into something more comfortable and soak up the playful yet peaceful surroundings or get dressed up to the nines and enjoy the vibrant city life on your doorstep. There’s no need to leave the premises for a taste of Wellington’s fine dining, though. The hotel is a foodie’s paradise with a choice of eateries on site.
For delicious French-inspired fare, the revamped Hippopotamus Restaurant is a must. It’s hard to miss from the street with its gold hippo sculpture yawning above the entrance. Inside, the elaborately styled premises are perfectly in keeping with the rest of the hotel. The mirrored bar set beneath crystal chandeliers offers a chance to reflect. A broad menu of classic comfort food and more adventurous dishes will satisfy even the most discerning diner.
Craving something with a little more heat? New bar Hot Sauce delivers cutting-edge cocktails with bite. Open every day from 4pm, it’s great for an afternoon tipple, pre-dinner drinks or a sneaky nightcap. The ever-evolving menu of small plates and finger food reflects seasonal changes, always with a contemporary twist on Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean and Thai flavours.
Like the hotel and the city itself, this spot is sure to keep you coming back for more.
2. Where you can find art
With a 15-minute waterfront walk between them, you can easily tick Te Papa, Wellington City Gallery and the New Zealand Portrait Gallery off your list. But there is still a host of art hotspots – also in walking distance – that deserve your attention.
Art connoisseurs can expand their collections at Hamish McKay Gallery on Ghuznee St, which represents a well of highly regarded and iconic New Zealand artists, among them Billy Apple, Shane Cotton, Julian Dashper and Séraphine Pick.
Also located on Ghuznee St, Bowen Galleries is dedicated to showcasing new work from New Zealand and Australian painters, sculptors and jewellers, which is also available for purchase.
A 10-minute walk away on Victoria St, Page Blackie Gallery has earned a solid reputation for the resale of New Zealand artworks by the likes of Dick Frizzell, Karl Maughan and Rita Angus.
3. Where you should eat
You’ve probably heard that our fair capital boasts more cafes, bars and restaurants per capita than New York. But it’s quality not quantity that has secured the city’s reputation with foodies.
Join the throng for breakfast or lunch at Prefab. On Saturday, the crowd of eager diners waiting to be seated is testament to its popularity (inexplicably, this brunch haven is closed on Sundays). Masses of glass, concrete floors and high ceilings lend the space a light and lofty air, a welcome counter to the generous portions.
Effortlessly stylish, Loretta on Cuba St delivers seasonally sourced menus (breakfast through dinner) in industrial-chic surroundings. While the focus is on vegetables and grains, richer flavours also feature – think freshly made crumpets in the morning and wild boar ragù with black cabbage, lemon and parmesan after dark. Meals are served on earthenware made locally by Paul Melser.
For a spot of fine dining, Logan Brown, also on Cuba St, offers a la carte throughout the week with degustation-only Saturdays. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Charley Noble in the CBD does sophisticated fare on a grand scale. Freshly shucked oysters from the raw bar are served natural, Kilpatrick or beer-battered. The selection of housemade pasta and wood-fired meat is tempting too. Bookings are only available for groups of eight or more but there’s great people-watching and plenty to keep you sated at the old-fashioned bar while you wait.
For fresh Asian cuisine with stunning water views, you can’t go past the new Pomelo on Oriental Parade.
4. Where you should shop
Splicing through Cuba St, Ghuznee is fast becoming a popular fashion destination. For a mix of luxury essentials and up-to-the-minute streetwear, call in to Caughley, which stocks brands including Chaos & Harmony, Day Birger et Mikkelsen and Pared Eyewear.
One of the newer additions to this stretch, Deadly Ponies specialises in covetable handbags, totes, clutches and purses – all handmade and designed in New Zealand. Next door, Ena offers a carefully curated collection of arm candy, beauty products, clothing, footwear, jewellery and fashion-skewed reading material.
Jump across the street to the multi-functional Precinct 35, which doubles as a homewares/clothing store and gallery. Ceramics, sunglasses and jewellery are artfully installed alongside modern works by up-and-coming local artists.
In need of a caffeine injection after all that shopping? Customs next door offers a simple menu of coffee and toast alongside doughnuts delivered daily by local bakers Little Dough Co.
Wander towards the water to Wakefield St where you can treat tired feet at Shoezies. The footwear favourite stocks premium brands from Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Holland.
Just around the corner, Wellington native Harry’s has made a permanent move to the city after closing its flagship store in Seatoun. The boutique specialises in affordable luxury items, including clothing, beauty, gifts and accessories, and prides itself on personalised service. Ingrid Starnes, Standard Issue and When Harry Ran Away all feature on racks here.
A few blocks down, The Service Depot is an ideal spot to update your wardrobe with the likes of Miss Crabb, Company of Strangers and Nom*D. A fine selection of fragrance, footwear and accessories is sure to please.
5. Secret streets you should visit
Nestled into the backstreets just off Courtenay Pl and behind Cuba St, the Hannah’s Laneway was once Wellington’s best-kept secret, frequented only by those in the know or those living and working in the converted, historic Hannah’s Factory and Hannah Warehouse at its heart.
Now, a recent revamp of the precinct – between Leeds St and Eva St – has put it quite literally on the map, with curious visitors joining locals to indulge in handcrafted confectionery at Wellington Chocolate Factory, sip artisanal beverages at Six Barrel Soda Co. and toast some of the city’s finest craft beer at Golding’s Free Dive.
If a tempting menu of cocktails is more your taste, swing by Hanging Ditch next door with its collection of liquor bottles swaying from ropes above the counter. Across the lane, Pizza Pomodoro offers authentic wood-fired pizza, while the fine-dining set flocks to Shepherd for its locally sourced, ethical ingredients and relaxed atmosphere.
Leeds Street Bakery draws in the breakfast and lunch crowds with great coffee, artisan breads and famous salted caramel cookies (buy two – one for now, one for later).
Not strictly a member of the Hannah’s Laneway family, the Egmont St. Eatery deserves a visit for lunch or dinner. It’s just a stone’s throw away on, you guessed it, Egmont St.
For more information visit: QT Museum Wellington
Words by: Alex Scott.