Dunedin, Ōtepoti, Edinburgh of the South. UNESCO City of Literature and home to some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the world, the South Island’s second largest city has countless things to offer both local and overseas visitors. We live in Dunedin and have published over 50 posts about it on here during the last seven years (with more to come). I’m about to put that knowledge to use and show you everything you need to know to plan the perfect trip to Dunedin.
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Dunedin Travel Guide
Getting to Dunedin
There’s an international airport in Dunedin but it only serves Brisbane in Australia. Otherwise, you’ll be flying in from elsewhere (likely Auckland) or arriving by road.
You might be thinking of travelling to Dunedin from Queenstown — and you should. It’s a lovely drive through Central Otago, passing through cute old towns and barren, unique-to-New Zealand landscapes. The drive from Christchurch isn’t as scenic, apart from the last section from Oamaru to Dunedin.
The Dunedin area has been inhabited by Māori since around the 1200s. An abundance of seafood and moa must have made it an attractive spot, not to mention the natural beauty. Sealers and whalers followed in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
In the late 1800s, fuelled by the Otago goldrush, Dunedin became one of the early economic powerhouses of New Zealand. It’s decline turned out to be a good thing as it gave the city’s many grand old buildings a stay of execution.
With 130,000 citizens, Dunedin is the sixth largest city in New Zealand. The University of Otago attracts huge numbers of students to the city and it’s very noticeable when most leave over summer.
The city centre is set around George Street and the Octagon and I reckon it’s the best one to walk around in New Zealand. Lots of old buildings galleries and boutique shops as well as lots of places to eat and drink.
Inner city Dunedin highlights include the Dunedin Railway Station, the Warehouse Precinct and the area around the University of Otago / Otago Museum. If you want to see the city from above, walk up the hill to Unity Park Lookout.
Dunedin is a spread-out city, with suburbs such as St Clair, Portobello, Brighton and Port Chalmers pulling visitors in every direction. St Clair is the easiest to see as it’s only a few kilometres from the Octagon. You won’t find a better beach this close to a city centre in New Zealand.
Port Chalmers features several stunning viewpoints overlooking Otago Harbour. On the other side of the harbour is Portobello — it’s a long drive between the two or you can catch a boat across.
Brighton is around 20 minutes south of Dunedin along the Southern Scenic Route. It’s an awesome drive out there and there’s lots to explore at Brighton Beach.
One of Dunedin’s main drawcards is its abundance of hiking trails. They take full advantage of the nature that surrounds the city and there’s a walk to suit every level of fitness (although a lot of them are uphill). Our favourite Dunedin walks include Sandymount, Silver Peaks, Harbour Cone, Mount Cargill and Heyward Point.
READ MORE: 18 of the Best Walks in Dunedin
Beaches and Viewpoints
There are over 20 beaches worth visiting in and around Dunedin. They’re clustered along the Otago Peninsula as well as the southern and northern coastlines. Way too many to mention them all here. Our top five is: Tunnel Beach, Brighton Beach, St Clair Beach, Allans Beach and Aramoana Beach.
READ MORE: 26 of the Best Beaches in Dunedin
You’ll also find viewpoints you can drive straight to — no walking involved! Some worth finding include Rotary Park, Unity Park Lookout, Signal Hill, John Wilson Ocean Drive and Mount Cargill.
READ MORE: 30 Stunning Viewpoints in Dunedin
Other Things to Do in Dunedin
Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world, is in Dunedin. There is also lots of wildlife (little blue penguins especially) as well as museums, a castle, waterfalls, one of the best dining scenes in the country, bike rides, a trip to Quarantine Island and lots more.
READ MORE: 30 of the Best Things to Do in Dunedin
Within New Zealand, Dunedin is known to have some of the worst weather in the country. It does get colder than other places (it’s very far south), but it also sees more sunshine and less rain than most other cities. Hopefully its reputation as cold, damp and windswept becomes a thing of the past.
You’ll definitely need to bring warm clothes (even in summer), but hopefully the sun will come out and the southerly won’t be too strong. Check the Metservice website to see what kind of weather you can expect.
North of Dunedin the main road winds along the coast to Oamaru. It’s a good day trip destination from Dunedin, but spending a night or two would be better. You’ll pass through several small towns including Waikouaiti, Palmerston and Hampden. Don’t miss the Moeraki Boulders.
READ MORE: 13 of the Best Things to Do in Oamaru
Lawrence is only an hour away (on the road to Central Otago and Queenstown) and Owaka, the gateway to the Catlins, is 75 minutes’ drive away.
READ MORE: 23 of the Best Things to Do in the Catlins
It’s best to walk around the city centre as it’s flat, compact and there’s always something interesting to look at.
You can visit a wide variety of places using public transport. Buses run throughout the city as well as the outer suburbs of Waitati, Brighton, Port Chalmers and the Otago Peninsula. If I was exploring the city by bus for a few days I’d visit St Clair, Tunnel Beach, Brighton, Portobello / Broad Bay (and do the Harbour Cone Track) and Port Chalmers and then spend the rest of the time wandering around the city.
Check out our three – seven day Dunedin itinerary — we’re not big itinerary followers so it’s pretty loose. You can see a lot in a day or two but Dunedin is one city I’d advise to spend a little longer in. The Otago Peninsula alone warrants at least a whole day.
Eating and Drinking
The Octagon and Lower Stuart Street is where you’ll find the biggest cluster of bars and restaurants. Most have outdoor seating — a great area for a drink on a sunny afternoon.
READ MORE: 25 of the Best Restaurants in Dunedin
St Clair is another good spot for an outdoor drink, and you’ll find heaps of other places to eat close to the Dunedin Botanic Gardens and South Dunedin. If you’re into beer you might want to check out Speights Brewery and Emersons.
READ MORE: 25 of the Best Cafes in Dunedin
Where to Stay
Most hotels are in the city centre, but if you prefer to stay by the beach St Clair is a good option (Hydro Esplanade Apartments). There are also lots of Airbnbs on the Otago Peninsula and motels in most suburbs. Good hotels in the city include Chapel Apartments and Scenic Hotel Dunedin City.
George Street is Dunedin’s main shopping destination. It’s being redeveloped at the moment so is a bit of a mess, it should look good when it’s finished though. There are some small malls on George Street but nothing in the suburbs.
The Dunedin Fringe Festival usually happens in March / April. If you’re into sport you can watch the Highlanders play in a flash roofed stadium. Dunedin attracts some huge musical acts considering the city’s size. Recent artists to play in Dunedin include Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Ed Sheeran, with Metallica due to play in April.
Hopefully that’s all the information you need to plan your perfect trip to Dunedin. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below or send us an email.
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