Queenstown is probably New Zealand’s most popular tourist town (I can’t be bothered researching whether that’s technically the case) and you can easily see why. It’s a town almost completely dedicated to tourism, meaning you’ll find endless things to do, eat and see. There are so many fun things to do in Queenstown, and the Queenstown area in general, that you’d need weeks to do it all. I’ll show you some of the best options, which will hopefully make your Queenstown trip planning a little easier.
Sept 19 2023: There’s currently a boil water notice in Queenstown and Frankton following a number of local illnesses. Find out more here.
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The Best Things to Do in Queenstown
I’ll get right into my list of the best things to do in Queenstown, keep reading all the way to the end for some of my travel tips and local knowledge (I live in Dunedin and visit Queenstown often).
Hang out in town
The main tourist part of Queenstown is centred on the waterfront area and a few surrounding streets. It gets fairly busy and there is heaps going on, including buskers, weekend markets, art galleries and heaps of food options. Pay a visit to Happy the Singing Sheep Dog (singing is a stretch, he’s cute though), chill out at Queenstown Bay, grab a drink in the dozens of bars or part with your cash in one of many shops.
Do a Hike
One of the best things to do in Queenstown is also the most obvious – go for a hike! There are heaps of great hikes in and around Queenstown, and some of the best start right in town. I’d recommend doing either Queenstown Hill or Ben Lomond if it’s your first time in the area.
Queenstown Hill is far easier while Ben Lomond is a bit of an adventure. Both tracks give you awesome views over Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding mountains. Other hikes in Queenstown include Moke Lake and Lake Alta.
READ MORE: 14 of the Best Walks in Queenstown
Chill out at a Beach
Queenstown Bay is the main beach in Queenstown, but there are also some others worth checking out. Most are found on the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy – I’d recommend Sunshine Bay if you want somewhere to relax on a hot day or Bob’s Cove if you also want to see a stunning viewpoint.
READ MORE: Where Are the Best Beaches in Queenstown?
Walk the Historic Streets of Arrowtown
Arrowtown is a short drive from Queenstown and it has a far different vibe. The centre of town is full of historic buildings and it’s a joy to explore by foot. You can also check out the remains of the old Chinese gold mining village or do one of the hikes in the hills above town (or around Lake Hayes).
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Arrowtown
For easy views over Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountain Range you’ll want to shell out for the trip on the Skyline Gondola. You can also grab a drink or bite to eat at the top. If you’d rather save your money you can walk to the area at the top of the Gondola (Cecil Peak) for free along the Tiki Trail. It’s steep though!
Once at the top you can do a short walk, barrel down the hill in a luge or tackle the Ben Lomond Track.
Visit a Ski Field
The ski fields in Queenstown aren’t just a winter thing – in the warmer months you can drive up there and do some hiking. We’ve been up to the Remarkables Ski Area a couple of times and it’s worth it for the drive alone. You’ll see over the whole Queenstown area and at the top you’ll find the hike to Lake Alta.
Coronet Peak is closer to Queenstown and there’s a gondola at the top — another awesome spot to see Queenstown from above!
Drive to Glenorchy and Paradise
The scenic drive to Glenorchy and Paradise is easily one of my favourite things to do in Queenstown. There are so many things to see along the way, including beaches, viewpoints and hikes.
Once at Glenorchy you can hang out by the lake or do the Glenorchy Walkway. This is one of the best short hikes in the Queenstown area, especially in winter when snow covers the mountains.
READ MORE: 8 of the Best Things to Do in Glenorchy
From Glenorchy you should keep driving to Paradise. It’s basically just a road sign, but the scenery is great and there’s an excellent short walk. This is Lord of the Rings country and you can see why they chose to film there!
Eat some of New Zealand’s Best Food
New Zealand isn’t exactly known as a foodie’s paradise, but Queenstown is a little different. It’s New Zealand’s most popular tourist town, and there’s nothing tourists like more than to eat good food. You can find pretty much anything in Queenstown, but the most famous thing to eat is Fergburger. I’d rate it as the best burger in the South Island (possibly New Zealand) and it has the queues to prove it.
Also make sure to try Patagonia Chocolates, Cookie Time and the hawker rolls at Hawker and Roll and Madam Woo.
Drive the Crown Range to Wānaka
The crown range separates Queenstown and Wānaka, and you should drive it at least once. It’s the highest main road in New Zealand and there is lots to see along the way. It should take around an hour, and there is heaps to do in Wānaka including some of New Zealand’s best day hikes.
Do a Short Walk
You might not want to tackle a tough hike in Queenstown, and luckily there are some far easier options. The Arrow River Trail in Arrowtown, as well as the Glenorchy Walkway and the track in Paradise are all easy and very scenic. Or you could choose something closer to the centre of town like the Morning Star Track where you’ll get a good look at the Shotover River.
Queenstown has billed itself as the “Adventure Capital of the World” for quite some time now. There are heaps of adventure activities to try, including bungee jumping, skydiving, jetboating, hot air ballooning and lots more. I’m not massively into adventure sports but I have done jetboating and it was a lot of fun.
Even if you’re not going to jump, I’d recommend a quick stop at the Kawarau Gorge Bungy. It’s the original bungee jump and the scenery there is awesome – it’s always fun to see people (safely) jumping off bridges too!
Visit Queenstown Gardens
Queenstown Gardens is located right in town (at the far end of Queenstown Bay) and is perfect for a stroll. You can walk around the beach parts or through the middle where you’ll find a big pond. This could be the perfect “romantic stroll” option after a nice dinner.
Get out on the Water
Lake Wakatipu is an inviting place for a cruise, and luckily you have a few options. The T.S.S Earnslaw is an old paddle steamer that plies the route between Queenstown and Glenorchy. You can also jump on a jet boat, which will take you across Lake Wakatipu to the Kawerau Gorge.
Do a Day Trip
Popular day trips from Queenstown include Milford Sound, Wānaka and Central Otago. Milford Sound is a long way from Queenstown and is best done over a couple of days, but if you only have limited time a day trip isn’t a bad idea. You can book bus and boat combo tickets which are decent value considering how far away it is. Or rent a car and drive the scenic road from Queenstown to Milford Sound.
If you want to cut the driving down a bit you could do the Doubtful Sound cruise instead. It leaves from close to Te Anau and is larger and arguably more impressive than Milford Sound.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Te Anau
Wānaka is another obvious day trip destination, although again it’s better to spend a night or two there. Central Otago is the other option – it’s close to Queenstown and there is heaps to see. I’d recommend checking out Cromwell, Bendigo, St Bathans, Clyde and some of the dams and vineyards around Alexandra.
READ MORE: 18 of the Best Things to Do in Wānaka
Do a Wine Tour
Wine is big business in Queenstown and there are quite a few vineyards to visit. You can organise wine tours online or in Queenstown and I reckon it’d be a great day out if you’re into that kind of thing (which I’m not).
Queenstown Travel Tips
- When to visit: Queenstown is a year-round destination. In summer it’s hot and perfect for outdoor activities like hiking and swimming, while the winter sees snowfall and world class skiing. Spring is my favourite time of year to visit (still lots of snow on the mountains) and autumn features the most settled weather.
- Where to Park: It’s hard to get a free park in Queenstown, so I’d recommend parking up at one of the paid parking places. We usually park at the one on Ballarat Street as it’s close to all the action.
- Is it expensive? Queenstown is actually a pretty cheap place to be, in certain respects. Drinks are cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen in New Zealand (especially the happy-hour specials) and there is lots of cheap food around. Accommodation will set you back a little more but it’s not too bad.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
We highly recommend choosing a hotel with a view of the Remarkables and/or Lake Wakatipu. Some options with great views include Ramada Queenstown Central | Novotel Queenstown Lakeside | Hotel St Moritz Queenstown – MGallery by Sofitel | Crowne Plaza Queenstown | Kamana Lakehouse | Copthorne Hotel & Apartments Queenstown Lakeview | Pencarrow Lodge Queenstown | Rydges Lakeland Resort Queenstown.
If you are looking for a hostel or motel, here are some good options within walking distance or near the lakefront JUCY Snooze Queenstown | Absoloot Hostel Queenstown | Adventure Queenstown Hostel | Lomond Lodge Motel & Apartments | Lakeside Motel.
Are you planning a road trip around the South Island? Check out our two-week itinerary!
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