Start here if you’re planning a trip to Queenstown! We’ve been to visiting Queenstown for years now and have plenty of tips to help make your trip a success. After reading this Queenstown travel guide you’ll have all the tools to plan the perfect trip, whether it’s a weekend getaway from Dunedin or part of your dream trip to New Zealand.
Queenstown Travel Guide
You’ll find heaps of information about Queenstown in this post, including how to get there, what to do while you’re there and some tips on where to stay and what to eat. We’ve got dozens of posts about Queenstown, so if you’re looking for more details about a particular place there will probably be a link!
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Getting to Queenstown
Flying over the Southern Alps into Queenstown Airport makes for a great start to your trip. From the airport you can catch a bus into town ($2 with a Bee Card — 6am til midnight) or rent a car.
The roads leading to Queenstown from all directions are full of interesting things to see. A common route is to drive from Christchurch to Queenstown via Mount Cook — it’s one of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand and you could spend days (or weeks) exploring it.
You can also travel to Queenstown from Wanaka (and the West Coast), Dunedin, Invercargill, Central Otago and Fiordland. The drive from Queenstown to Milford Sound is a popular day trip — it’s a long way though!
Māori had been visiting the Queenstown area for centuries before Europeans arrived, mostly travelling in summer to collect pounamu (greenstone). European settlers arrived in New Zealand in the mid 1880s and the goldrush started in Queenstown in the early 1860s. There was gold found all over the Central Otago area, with many towns cropping up and then mostly falling to ruin. Evidence of that gold mining history is best seen in Arrowtown (20 minutes from Queenstown) at the Chinese Village, the Lakes District Museum and the historic streets of Arrowtown.
After the goldrush Queenstown became a bit of a sleepy backwater, eventually finding its niche as one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist towns. Things like bungy jumping and jet boating were pioneered there, and it’s still known, in New Zealand at least, as the “Adventure capital of the world”.
The main part of Queenstown is centred around a few blocks close to Queenstown Bay. You’ll find countless shops, cafés, restaurants, bars and galleries as well as all the typical New Zealand city sights (cinema, chain stores, fast food).
Queenstown Bay is the perfect place to go with an ice cream and enjoy the views, and if you’re up for a walk you can check out the gardens or the track to Sunshine Bay.
Beaches and Viewpoints
The best thing about a trip to Queenstown is all the cool scenery you’ll see. Mountains and lakes are the main menu items, and there are countless places to see them. Viewpoints in Queenstown include the two gondolas (Skyline and Coronet Peak), various points on the road to Glenorchy, the road up to the Remarkables Ski Area and scattered spots around the town itself.
There are some good beaches in Queenstown too, from Queenstown Bay which is right in town to Bob’s Cove along the road to Glenorchy. I reckon Bob’s Cove is the best one to visit, both for the quality of the beach and for the short walk up to one of the best views in the Queenstown region.
READ MORE: Where Are the Best Beaches in Queenstown
Queenstown is one of the top destinations in New Zealand for walks. There’s a Great Walk (Routeburn Track) and several other multi-day hikes as well as heaps of day walks and shorter strolls.
Queenstown Hill starts in town and is fairly short. If you’re looking for a full day walk it’s hard to look past Ben Lomond. There are lots more — check out our post about the best walks in Queenstown!
Other Things to Do
There are plenty of other things to do in Queenstown, including extreme sports (bungy jumping, jet boating, sky diving etc), skiing, boat trips on Lake Wakatipu (we did the Earnslaw recently), galleries, vineyards, mountain bike tracks and much more.
READ MORE: 15 of the Best Things to Do in Queenstown
If you’re looking for a Queenstown itinerary, for anywhere between three and seven days, you’re in luck! I wrote this post recently; it should give you a good insight into what you can see during a trip to Queenstown and how to organise it all.
There are several small towns close to Queenstown which are worth a visit, whether you’re on a day trip or staying a night or two. Arrowtown is the most popular, mostly because of its quaint historic town centre and the walks nearby.
READ MORE: 10 of the Best Things to Do in Arrowtown
Glenorchy is another town that should be on your itinerary. The drive there is one of the most scenic in New Zealand and there’s heaps to do in Glenorchy and nearby Paradise and Kinloch.
READ MORE: 8 of the Best Things to Do in Glenorchy
Paradise isn’t really a town, but you should definitely go there as it’s home to one of the best short walks near Queenstown.
Kingston is another small town that’s worth seeking out while exploring Queenstown (or travelling onwards to Te Anau and Milford Sound). There’s an old steam train that runs occasionally, as well as a nice beach in front of town. The road to Kingston features some nice views too.
Wānaka is only an hour from Queenstown and is similar in some ways. It’s also a very popular tourist town, situated on a lake. It’s just as beautiful but slightly smaller and less hectic — check out our Wānaka content — we have a lot of it!
READ MORE: 18 of the Best Things to Do in Wānaka
Where to Eat
Whatever food you’re craving you’ll find in Queenstown. For us that usually means burgers (Fergburger is a must-try when in Queenstown), BBQ (Flame is a great South African BBQ restaurant), Southeast Asian street food (Hawker & Roll or Kiseki Sushi), ice cream and desserts (Patagonia) or cookies and milkshakes (Cookie Time is a south island icon).
There also lots of bars scattered around town, as well as a few cafés right at the city centre. If you want to eat outside, head for Steamer Wharf (there are several bars and restaurants there with al fresco dining) or just grab some takeaways and head to the beach.
If you want to combine a boat trip on Lake Wakatipu with a delicious meal you should consider doing a cruise on the T.S.S Earnslaw. The buffet lunch at Walter Peak Station is the perfect place to try a wide variety of New Zealand meats (and some nice desserts). If you’re vegan / gluten free you may not be inclined to go with some of my suggestions — you’ll be well catered for in Queenstown though!
Where to Stay
There are many great accommodation options in Queenstown. We highly recommend choosing a hotel with a view of the Remarkables and/or Lake Wakatipu. Queenstown hotels with 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.
There always seems to be something going on in Queenstown, including sports events, concerts and festivals. Some good ones coming up include the Gibbston Valley Winery Concert on February 11 2023 and the New Zealand Golf Open from March 2 – 5 2023.
In central Queenstown you’ll find all the typical New Zealand chain stores as well as art galleries, boutique stores and those shops selling cheap souvenirs. There’s also a market close to Steamer Wharf where you can buy local crafts etc. Just outside of town (close to the airport) is Five Mile Shopping Centre which includes big shops like Kmart, the Warehouse etc. Arrowtown is also a cool place to shop, and there’s a craft market there on Sundays.
That’s the end of our Queenstown travel guide — hopefully it has given you some ideas for your trip. If there’s anything you’re still confused about, send us an email or ask your question in the comments below.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!
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