19 of the Best Things to Do in Christchurch: Beaches, Walks and the City Centre
A visit to Christchurch will likely never be the most memorable part of your trip to New Zealand. You’ll almost definitely end up there at some point on your travels around the South Island though, and there are plenty of fun things to do in Christchurch including some nice beaches, hikes and the historic city centre. I’d advise you to only spend a night or two in Christchurch, and if you do that you’ll be able to pack your itinerary with some fun activities. Keep reading for my list of the best things to do In Christchurch!
Things to Do in Christchurch: The City Centre
Christchurch’s city centre was decimated by the 2010 / 2011 earthquakes, but it’s slowly finding its feet again. Every time we visit it looks a little different, and it’s now a nice place to wander for a few hours.
The focal point of Christchurch’s city centre took a bit of a hammering during the earthquakes. The cathedral is now a blocked off ruin and plenty of the other nearby old buildings were destroyed too. These days it’s still a decent place to hang out. There are lots of seating areas, some food trucks and it’s close to most of the places listed below.
New Regent Street
If there was an award for prettiest street in New Zealand, New Regent Street would be in the running. Right in the heart of the central city, New Regent Street is lined with colourful shop houses dating back almost a century. It’s a cool place to go and grab a coffee, a beer or an ice-cream and there are also some nice restaurants there.
The Avon River
The Avon River rambles its way through the centre of the city, through the botanic gardens and beyond. It’s the perfect place for a pleasant stroll and there are some interesting things to see along the way. My favourite spot along the Avon River is the Antigua Boat Sheds – it’s a photogenic spot and from there you can organise a punting trip.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
This is one of the better botanic gardens in New Zealand and there is heaps to explore. Some of the nicer sections of the Avon River wind through the gardens and there are heaps of flowers and plants to check out if you’re into that kind of thing.
If you’re visiting Christchurch on a rainy day, or you just want to absorb some knowledge, a trip to the Canterbury Museum is a good idea. It’s located at the entrance to the gardens, a short walk from Antigua Boat Sheds, and is full of all sorts of informative displays from various points in New Zealand’s history.
Touring Central Christchurch on the Tram
If you’re short on time, or just don’t want to use your legs too much, a tour of central Christchurch on the historic trams is a fun option. We were hosted a couple of years ago and it was a great experience. The stops include most of the sights worth seeing in the city and you can even sit on the same seat as Prince Harry! If that doesn’t get you excited, I don’t know what will.
Little High Eatery
Little High Eatery, a collection of small restaurants in a hawker centre style cluster, is one of the best places to eat in Christchurch. We were enticed there by Bacon Brothers (a highly rated burger joint) and ended up returning to try some of the other food on offer. There’s a nice vibe, with indoor and outdoor seating, and everything we tried there was delicious. Another good burger options are Burger Fuel or Smash Palace (temporarily closed), which are within walking distance.
This odd-looking building was erected after the earthquakes as a temporary replacement for the Christchurch Cathedral. It’s a unique church and is only a short walk from the other places on this list, so you may as well check it out.
There are a few memorials, including the 185 empty chairs (one for every life lost) display in central Christchurch. These earthquakes (especially the second one) had a huge impact on the city, both physically and psychologically and you’ll notice the influence when walking around the city.
There are some cool street art murals in Christchurch – you’ll see heaps when walking around the central city. They come and go a bit as construction booms – I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth seeking them out specifically but they are nice to look at when making your way between the sights.
Other Things to Do in Christchurch City Centre
There are some other galleries and museums to explore in Christchurch. You could also catch a show at the Isaac Theatre Royal, a game of rugby (the seemingly unstoppable Crusaders are based in Christchurch) or go for a night of bar hopping.
You’re unlikely to visit most of Christchurch’s suburbs, but there are a few worth seeking out. These are mostly centred on the coastline and are home to some of the best beaches in the area. Also check out the Antarctic Centre, which we haven’t visited yet so haven’t added to this list!
If it’s a hot summer’s day in Christchurch, a visit to a beach could be just what you need. Sumner Beach is a decent city beach (it has nothing on St Clair Beach in Dunedin though) and there are some nice cafes and restaurants nearby.
New Brighton Beach and Pier
New Brighton Beach is massive, but the best part to visit is the New Brighton Pier, which extends 300 metres into the ocean (apparently it’s the longest pier in Australasia). I’ve seen some amazing photos of this place at sunrise, so it might be getting up early if you’re into photography.
Riccarton House is one of the most famous old buildings in suburban Christchurch and is worth a look if you’re into history. There’s a café there and the surrounds are very peaceful. The house sits next to Riccarton Bush, one of the last tracts of native forest in Christchurch. If you’re in Riccarton, you could also check out the mall – it’s the biggest in the South Island and has everything you’ve come to expect from a mall.
Orana Wildlife Park
This place is a bit of a drive from the city but it’s a great place to visit, especially if you’re looking for things to do in Christchurch with kids. We don’t have kids and we loved Orana Wildlife Park (we were hosted, just so you know!)– there are heaps of exotic animals and the zoo has done a great job housing them. Highlights include the gorillas and seeing a kiwi, New Zealand’s national symbol.
The Port Hills and Banks Peninsula
For some of the best views in Christchurch, head to the Port Hills and Banks Peninsula. There are plenty of walks in this area or, if you’re feeling lazy or are short on time, you could just do the gondola.
Godley Head Track
I haven’t done all the hikes in Christchurch, but I can’t imagine any of the others coming close to the Taylors Mistake to Godley Head hike. You won’t see better coastal views in Christchurch and the scenes are quite varied. First you walk up above Taylors Mistake Beach and then along to Godley Head, where you’ll see great views of the harbour. There are also some historic gun buildings to check out.
For the best views of Christchurch that don’t require breaking a sweat, head up the Christchurch Gondola. The views from the top overlook the city and distant mountains in one direction, the coastline in another and the harbour and small settlements including Lyttleton in the other. There’s a restaurant at the top and there are some short tracks where you’ll see the best views. We were hosted by Christchurch Gondola back in 2018.
Christchurch’s port town features some nice places to eat and drink and is a quieter alternative to staying in the centre of the city. There are some short walks there, including the track to Corsair Bay (or you can just drive there).
Corsair Bay / Cass Bay
These two bays are a short drive (or a scenic walk) from Lyttleton and are worth checking out on a nice sunny day. There are tracks on either side of the bays and you’ll get some nice views of the harbour and Banks Peninsula.
Governors Bay and Diamond Harbour
A little further around from Cass Bay you’ll reach Governors Bay. There’s a café there with a great view and there are some short walks nearby. It’s a nice little spot and the vibe is very different to the suburban beach spots like Sumner and New Brighton.
Diamond Harbour is a great spot too. You can catch a boat there from Lyttleton or enjoy the scenic drive. There are also a few walks around Diamond Harbour if you’re keen to stretch your legs.
In the other direction (the main road to Akaroa) you’ll find the turnoff to Tumbledown Bay and Te Oka Bay. It’s really scenic drive and the beaches are far different than you’ll see closer to Christchurch. The road to Akaroa has quite a few places to stop, and Akaroa itself is definitely worth a visit.
Day Trips from Christchurch
I’ll be writing a full post about the day trip options from Christchurch, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Some of the best day trips include Akaroa, a cute little town with a French influence, Kaikoura (where you can see whales and dolphins), and inland areas including Castle Hill, Rakaia Gorge and beyond. It’s obviously better to spend a night or two in some of these places though, so do that if you can!
Did you enjoy our list of things to do in Christchurch? Let us know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Orana Wildlife Park and Christchurch Attractions (for the gondola and tram tour). All thoughts and opinions are our own.