You don’t need me to convince you to go to Queenstown. If you’re visiting New Zealand, especially for the first time, I’m pretty sure it’s in your plans. We’ve been exploring the area for seven years now and have poured all that experience into this Queenstown itinerary. It’s a loose 3/5/7-day itinerary with lots of add-ons and side trips.
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You’ll find lots of interesting places to visit in this Queenstown itinerary and most of it isn’t time dependent, so it’s a good idea to choose a whole lot of activities and then be flexible with the order you do them in. The weather plays a huge part, so it pays to plan around it.
Three Days in Queenstown
I’ll start off with a three-day Queenstown itinerary, which is just long enough to see the best of what the region has to offer. Whether you’re flying or driving, arriving in the morning or afternoon, the first thing I’d recommend doing after checking into your hotel is to go for a stroll around town, grab some food (Fergburger is must-try) and head to the beach. Queenstown Bay is in the middle of town and is the perfect spot to visit first.
You could wander around Queenstown Gardens or walk along the other side towards Sunshine Bay.
Another good thing to do on your first day is a trip up the Skyline Gondola (wait if you’re going to hike Ben Lomond though). You’ll see the whole town spread out before you and get a sense of the beauty which surrounds it. There are also some short walks here and you can do the luge.
Depending on what time you arrive you’ll either want to chill out in town (lots of places to eat and drink with lake views) or explore a bit. If you’ve got an hour or two you could drive out to the Shotover River (Morningstar Track is a good short walk), visit a vineyard or two (there are plenty near Queenstown) or do a boat trip on Lake Wakatipu.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
There are many great accommodation options 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.
What About the Weather?
The weather in Queenstown is a bit up and down — plenty of rain but also lots of sun. It’s worth checking the weather (it’s usually accurate) and being as flexible as possible with your itinerary. Almost everything in this Queenstown itinerary is interchangeable — it doesn’t matter which order you do it in, so plan ahead and leave the key walks and scenic drives for the best weather.
Day one of our Queenstown itinerary sees you mostly in town, with day two the perfect time to get out and explore the region. If you’re into hiking you’ll want to do one of the tracks near Queenstown — there are heaps to choose from. If you’re after a full day hike I’d recommend Ben Lomond — the track starts at the top of the Skyline Gondola, or you can walk up all the way from the bottom of the hill, which is a short walk from central Queenstown.
Queenstown Hill is a lot shorter but the views are almost as good, and you could also do the walks on the road to Glenorchy (Moke Lake, Mount Crichton Loop).
Another option is to do a day-walk on the Routeburn Track (a New Zealand Great Walk). The walk to Routeburn Falls is stunning and gives you a taste of what you’ll experience on New Zealand’s iconic multi-day walks.
Not keen on a long walk? Drive to Glenorchy, where you’ll see some amazing views from the comfort of your car. There are several beaches to stop at as well as an easy viewpoint to reach above Bob’s Cove.
Once in Glenorchy you can do a short walk (Glenorchy Walkway), see the famous red boat shed or hang out by lake. You could also continue your drive to Paradise or Kinloch.
READ MORE: 8 Fun Things to Do in Glenorchy
Another option for day two is the TSS Earnslaw cruise. You can take an historic steamship across the lake, with the option to visit a working farm where you’ll have a buffet lunch — it’s a splash-out option but a lot of fun and the food is delicious. Here’s where you can book the TSS Earnslaw Cruise & Walter Peak Gourmet BBQ Lunch. Alternatively, you can book the TSS Earnslaw 1.5 Hour Cruise or other scenic cruises on Lake Wakatipu that only take up to a 1.5 hours if you are short on time.
Day three of our Queenstown itinerary depends on what you’re interested in and what your onward travel looks like. If you’re planning on visiting places like Wānaka and Milford Sound afterwards then you can ignore the next couple of paragraphs. Milford Sound is a popular day trip from Queenstown, whether on a bus, flight or your own transport. There’s heaps to see, and I highly recommend spending a couple of days there, but if that’s not an option a day trip should suffice.
It takes around four hours one way, so definitely a lot of driving. In a day you’ll be able to stop at few places along the way (Mirror Lakes, Lake Marian Falls, lots of roadside viewpoints) and do a cruise through Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound is another option and it requires a lot less driving.
READ MORE: 25 of the Best Things to Do in Fiordland National Park
Wānaka is another day trip option, but again I recommend spending a night or two instead. It’s similar to Queenstown — right on the lake and with heaps of walks in the hills nearby.
READ MORE: 18 Fun Things to Do in Wānaka
Assuming you’re going to spend day three closer to Queenstown, a trip to Arrowtown is a great idea. It’s only 25 minutes away and is far quainter and quieter. Explore the old streets, learn about gold mining history, eat at a cool café and then either head for the hills or the easy Arrow River Trail for a walk. There are also lots of mountain bike tracks.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Arrowtown
Close to Arrowtown is Lake Hayes (a good place for a stroll), Kawarau Bridge Bungy and Coronet Peak, where you can take a cable car up to an awesome viewpoint in summer.
You could also drive up to the Remarkables Ski Area. The views from the road are great and there’s a good walking track up there (Lake Alta). That should be plenty to keep you busy for three days in Queenstown! You’ll obviously want some relaxing time too, especially if you’re staying in a hotel with a nice view.
Five Days in Queenstown
If you’ve got five days in Queenstown you’re in luck– there’s still heaps to do! You could do the walks you missed in the first three days (Ben Lomond, Queenstown Hill, Routeburn Falls, Sugarloaf Pass, Moke Lake, Mount Crichton, Sawpit Gully Track, Lake Alta).
READ MORE: 13 of the Best Queenstown Hikes
Another short drive takes you along Lake Wakatipu towards Te Anau. The drive from Queenstown to Kingston is stunning, and Kingston is a good spot for lunch (only a 40-minute drive from Queenstown).
Then you have all the extreme sports, like skydiving, jet boating, bungy jumping and more. In winter you’ve got several ski fields to choose from – The Remarkables Ski Area, Coronet Peak and Cardrona Alpine Resort are all very close to town. There’s also an ice bar, indoor sky diving, a movie theatre and lots of galleries and shops in town. If you are after some luxurious experience, there are also variety of scenic flight options from Queenstown. Or if it’s a sunny day and you want to relax, spend a few hours at the beach. Bobs Cove is best for this, but Sunshine Bay and Wilson Bay are good too.
READ MORE: Where Are the Best Beaches in Queenstown?
Seven Days in Queenstown
The longer you have the slower you can go, and with seven days in Queenstown you’ll be able to see most of the sights as well as have plenty of time to explore the food scene and relax a bit more.
If you have seven days it could be a good idea to do a day trip to Central Otago. There are several historic towns to explore and some excellent short walks. I’d recommend checking out Cromwell, Bendigo, St Bathans, Poolburn Dam and Clyde if you’re doing a day trip from Queenstown.
READ MORE: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Central Otago
I’m also going to assume that if you’re spending seven days in Queenstown that you’re not going to visit Wānaka separately. If that’s the case, you should at least do a day trip there. If you have seven nights in the area I reckon four nights in Queenstown / three in Wānaka would be the best split (and think about a night in Arrowtown too).
With so much to do in Queenstown it really depends on what your interests are. Hikers will want to spend as much time out on the trails as possible, while foodies will be keen to try all the cool places to eat in town. There’s something for everyone — hopefully, I’ve given you some good options to add to your next Queenstown itinerary!
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