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A Day in Dunedin: Things to See and Do

A Day in Dunedin: Things to See and Do

This is a post for people who have a short time in Dunedin and want to see the best this beautiful city has to offer. Spending a day in Dunedin can be relaxing or hectic and involve exploring the city’s history as well as its natural wonders. Join me on a quick tour of Dunedin!

Sunrise Viewing (if you can be bothered getting up)

Drag yourself out of bed and go and watch a sunrise. Or don’t — I reckon less than half of planned sunrise awakenings actually happen. The point is you planned to, and if you do wake up and decide to stay in bed instead you’ll really appreciate that lie in. On a busy trip or if you’re staying in a nice hotel a lie in can be the best thing possible — treasure them. Also watch some sunrises if you can.

Mount Cargill and St Clair Beach are two of our favourite sunrise spots in Dunedin — Mount Cargill is a bit of a drive but St Clair is an easy one to do.

Survey the Area

Whenever I get to a new city I like to try and get to the highest point possible early on. Not only will you get the best views but maybe the city will make a bit more sense when seen in its entirety.

In Dunedin there are plenty of options — Mount Cargill, Signal Hill, Unity Park Lookout and Rotary Park are all ones you can drive to and see views straight away, while there are heaps of viewpoints on the various hiking trails around town.

READ MORE: 30 Stunning Viewpoints in Dunedin

Wander Around the City Centre

Park the car for a few hours and explore the historic city centre of Dunedin. Grab some brunch at café in the Warehouse Precinct, do some high street shopping on George Street, go to some museums and see the famous Dunedin Railway Station.

It’s a very walkable city centre (especially now that the George Street redesign is done) and there’s always an interesting old building to catch your eye. Throw in some great eating options and you’ve got heaps to keep you busy. You can also walk to the Botanical Gardens, Otago University and Baldwin Street (steepest street in the world) — so much to explore in a relatively small area!

Beach Time

Next up, assuming the weather isn’t horrible, I recommend visiting one of Dunedin’s many beaches. St Clair is the obvious one as its home to all the restaurants / cafés. It’s probably the best for tourists to explore as there are short walks nearby (Second Beach and John Wilson Drive), a playground for the kids, good surf just offshore and plenty of chances to people watch (St Clair is a favourite with locals and tourists).

READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in St Clair

If you’re after a wilder scene you could head for the Otago Peninsula (Smails Beach, Sandfly Bay, Allans Beach) or Tunnel Beach just to the south of the city. If you feel like a drive you could do the first part of the Southern Scenic Route to Brighton or Taieri Mouth.

READ MORE: 26 of the Best Beaches in Dunedin

An Afternoon Walk / Scenic Drive

If you still have some energy you might want to check out one of Dunedin’s hiking tracks. There are lots to choose from, from the slopes of Mount Cargill to scenic trails above most beaches and coastal areas. The Harbour Cone, Sandymount Recreation Reserve and Karetai Track are good options on the Otago Peninsula. Closer to town you have Tunnel Beach, the Town Belt, Ross Creek and the Pineapple Track.

Travel slightly north of Dunedin and you have Doctors Point and the Silver Peaks. So many choices — our post about the best walks in Dunedin might help you choose!

READ MORE: 18 of the Best Walks in Dunedin 

The Arches, Dunedin, New ZealandSilver Peaks, Dunedin, New Zealand

Dinner and Nightlife

If I were doing this itinerary I’d probably need a nap before dinner! Where you go for dinner may depend on where you’re staying. If that’s in th3 city centre you’ll have lots of choice. The Octagon / Lower Stuart Street is home to the biggest cluster of restaurants and bars — the outdoor seating provides a great atmosphere, especially on Friday/ Saturday night.

READ MORE: Dunedin Itinerary: How to Spend Three – Seven Days in Dunedin

St Clair is another good spot for dinner and drinks, especially in summer when it’s light until well after 9 pm. Port Chalmers is another option, especially if you’re going to Orokonui Sanctuary, Aramoana etc. beforehand.

READ MORE: 6 of the Best Things to Do in Port Chalmers

Getting Around Dunedin

You don’t need a car to see most of the things mentioned in this post. Dunedin is a small city and is decently connected by bus. If you don’t have a car I’d focus on the city centre and St Clair / Tunnel Beach.

Walk around the downtown area and bus to St Clair Beach or St Kilda (for Karetai Track + Tomahawk Beach and Smails Beach) for a few hours before heading back to town. You can walk to the Botanical Gardens, Otago University and Baldwin Street from the city centre too so you’ll find plenty to keep you busy during your day in Dunedin using public transport!

Are you planning a trip to Dunedin? Check out our Dunedin Travel Guide for lots of tips!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.