I can assume if you’ve landed on this page that you’re planning a trip to Dunedin. Congratulations – you’ve chosen wisely! Dunedin is (in my slightly biased opinion) the most beautiful city in New Zealand. You’ll find dozens of viewpoints, beaches and other natural attractions as well as heaps of history. This Dunedin itinerary will show you the best places to visit and give you some tips on how best to spend your time in this scenic southern city.
Dunedin Itinerary: Three Days
You’ll never see everything Dunedin has to offer in three days, but you can see most of the highlights. This Dunedin itinerary will take you to some of the best beaches in the city as well as the historic centre, the beautiful Otago Peninsula and some lesser-known sights.
I’d recommend spending your first day in Dunedin in and around the city. Go for a wander down George Street, eat at one of the outdoor dining spots in the Octagon, visit the Dunedin Railway Station (where you can board a train to Taieri Gorge), check out the unique street art and maybe visit a museum or art gallery.
It’s a compact city centre and there are heaps of old buildings scattered around. For something a little more off the beaten path, check out the Warehouse Precinct, where you’ll find some great places to eat (try Good Good if you’re a burger fan) and some interesting old buildings.
After that you’ll want to see some of that world-class nature. Head to St Clair Beach, where you can stroll around the esplanade, go for a swim in the saltwater pool or try your hand at surfing. You can also drive or walk along John Wilson Drive for awesome views. There are other beaches nearby too, including Smails Beach (check out the Karetai Road Track if you’re up for a short hike).
If you’re keen for more exploring, drive up to Tunnel Beach, a short distance from St Clair. There are great views on the walk down and the beach is accessed by a historic tunnel. If you’ve got more energy you could drive all the way to Brighton or Taieri Mouth – so many pretty beach scenes in these parts and the Taieri River Track is a good workout.
To end the day you could watch the sunset out at Brighton, drive up to Signal Hill Lookout or Unity Park Lookout.
READ MORE: 30 Stunning Viewpoints in Dunedin
Day two of my Dunedin itinerary focuses on the Otago Peninsula. It’s the most iconic nature spot in Dunedin and there is heaps to see. I’d start by driving up Highcliff Road, stopping occasionally to take in the views of Otago Harbour. You could do the Soldiers Memorial Track, which only takes 10 minutes or so.
READ MORE: 30 Fun Things to Do in Dunedin
From there you can visit Larnach Castle, which is interesting enough, but not quite in the same league as the castles you’ll find in Europe. Sandfly Bay is nearby too, and there’s a great viewpoint close to the car park.
You may have had enough of beaches and coastal views by now (I never get sick of them though), so you can either head around Hoopers Inlet to Allans Beach or head straight for Portobello. This is a good place to stop for lunch. From there you’ll drive to Taiaroa Head, the nesting grounds of the famous royal albatross. There are good views on offer in these parts, and if you visit around sunset you can do a little blue penguin tour. These creatures are adorable!
After a solid chunk of sightseeing you’ll probably want to relax a bit – so either stop off at Macandrew Bay on the way back to the city or just chill out in a nice café somewhere.
Of course, if you want to spend longer on the Otago Peninsula there are a lot of options. The Harbour Cone Track is a highlight, and if you feel like staying the night nearby there are options in Portobello, Macandrew Bay and beyond. It’s a different vibe to staying in the city but there are enough places to eat and drink to make it a viable option.
The final day of my Dunedin itinerary will take you to a few less common spots. Everyone knows the Otago Peninsula is a must-see, but the other side of the harbour has more than enough to recommend it too. First up I’d drive to the top of Mount Cargill for panoramic views of Dunedin and its scenic surrounds. I reckon this is the best “city” viewpoint in New Zealand, and if you’re keen for a walk the Organ Pipes are a fun spot to visit. It’s also the perfect spot for sunrise in Dunedin.
On the way to Mount Cargill you can also visit Nicols Falls – it’s not on most tourist’s radar but everyone loves a good waterfall (and this one is good, especially after rain).
After Mount Cargill I’d advise a trip out to Port Chalmers. It’s a cute little seaside village, and in better times is where the cruise ships come in. Stop there for lunch or carry on a little further to Careys Bay Hotel. Then drive up the hill to Orokonui (a bird sanctuary) or Heyward Point.
There are some nice beaches in this area, including Long Beach, Purakaunui Beach and Murdering Beach. Next up I’d drive down to Doctors Point, where you can visit the Arches and two other beaches on a short walk (low tide only).
READ MORE: 26 of the Best Beaches in Dunedin
If you’d prefer to do a day hike on this day then I can’t recommend the Silver Peaks highly enough. It’ll take around four hours to do (or longer there’s a hut up there if you want to spend the night) and the views are spectacular. Do check the weather before heading out though – people have had to be rescued before!
READ MORE: 18 of the Best Walks in Dunedin
If you’re only in Dunedin for a short time and won’t be visiting other areas, it could be worth doing a day trip to somewhere like Oamaru or the Catlins. The drive up to Oamaru should take 90 minutes, but there is a lot to see along the way. Highlights include the Matanaka Farm Buildings, the Tavora Reserve and the Moeraki Boulders.
The Catlins is the other obvious day trip destination. Start off by visiting Nugget Point (an awesome sunrise spot) and then visit the various beaches and waterfalls throughout the Catlins. There’s a lot to explore, and it’s probably best to stay a night there, but it can easily be done as a day trip.
And that’s the end of my whirlwind Dunedin itinerary! As you can see, there is so much to see in and around Dunedin, the only problem you’ll have is choosing what to do and what to miss. Hopefully this post has made that a little easier.
Dunedin Travel Guide
In this section I’ll give you a few tips on how to get the most out of your trip to Dunedin.
- Where to Stay: There are plenty places to stay in Dunedin, from the big hotels of the city centre, to motels scattered all around the city to quieter locations like Portobello and Port Chalmers. If you want to stay by the beach then St Clair is a good option.
- What to Eat: Some of my favourite places to eat in Dunedin include Good Good (burgers, chicken etc), Great Wall (cheap but delicious Chinese takeaways), Emerson’s Brewery (good solid sit-down meals), Hungry Hobos (award winning toasted sandwiches and cheese rolls, soup) and Prohibition Smoke House (barbeque). There are also heaps of great cafes in Dunedin – we compiled a list of the best ones.
- Getting There: Dunedin airport is a long way from the city, and it’ll cost you around $20 to get a shuttle into town. If you’re driving, it takes around three and a half hours from Queenstown and four and a half from Christchurch.
- Getting Around: Dunedin, like most places in New Zealand, is most suited for people who have their own transport. You can still see a lot using the bus network though, including St Clair Beach, Tunnel Beach, Brighton, Portobello, Port Chalmers and much more. You can easily have a great trip to Dunedin using public transport and your own two feet.
Are you planning a trip around New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!