Discover the unexplored corners and hidden gems of this charming city with our ultimate weekend guide for things to do in Christchurch.
While Christchurch Botanic Gardens may be the first thing that comes to mind, there’s so much more to New Zealand’s Garden City. Sure, the gardens are certainly worth a visit, but the rest of Christchurch has truly levelled up following the devastating 2011 earthquake. After more than a decade of restoration and rebuilding, a new city is emerging: one of rooftop bars and jazz clubs, adventure parks and wildlife reserves, buzzing market halls and sultry Mexican cantinas. Spend every minute getting the best out of your NZ adventure with our ultimate weekend guide of things to do in Christchurch.
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Friday: Night markets & punting on the Avon
You’ve touched down in Christchurch and have the whole evening in front of you. The first thing on our list is one of the city’s most iconic attractions: punting along the Avon River. During the warmer months, climb aboard an Edwardian-style boat and let a skilled punter in period attire gently steer you along the Avon River. Glide past the flourishing greenery of Christchurch Botanic Gardens and admire city scenes from a unique perspective. Beloved by locals and visitors alike, these 30-minute boat rides depart from Antigua Boat Sheds in the central city.
By this point, you will have worked up an appetite. Luckily, your next bite is just a short wander away by foot. Head to the Riverside Market, a huge new indoor food market selling everything from fresh fruit to baked goods, potted plants and coffee, and home to popular restaurant outposts including Kaiser Brothers Brewery and Eightgrains Asian restaurant. The market is open until 9pm Friday evenings, with the twinkling lights drawing the after-work crowd like moths to a flame. The promise of a mouth-watering meal, laneway shopping and cool live music are just too tempting to resist.
Once you’ve had your fill, return to your accommodation for a sound night’s sleep. Treat yourself to a five-star escape at the brand-new Fable Christchurch in the heart of the CBD, or opt for a touch of heritage sophistication at Eliza’s Manor, a boutique estate close to the city’s Botanic Gardens.
Saturday: Museums by day and jazz bars by night
Take a deep dive into Christchurch’s recent history this morning with a visit to Quake City. This insightful museum reveals the devastating effect the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes had on the city. You’ll hear personal accounts of the disaster, watch live footage of the earthquake and gain a better understanding of the science behind the quakes through interactive simulations.
For stunning panoramas across the entire city and beyond, make your way to Christchurch Gondola. Embark your gondola, where 360-degree views get better and better the higher you ascend. Upon reaching the summit of Mount Cavendish, take in the CBD and the surrounding Canterbury Plains, snow-capped Southern Alps, Pegasus Bay and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. While you’re up here, be sure to explore the many walking tracks, learn about the history of the area on the Christchurch Discovery ride (entry is free with your Gondola ticket), or simply drink in the views and mountain-fresh air.
If you have little ones in tow, don’t miss a visit to Margaret Mahy Playground, the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s fun taken to the absolute max, with in-ground trampolines, flying foxes, a four-metre-high climbing wall, giant slides and a waterpark set to keep the kids entertained for hours. There are food carts scattered across the park and BBQ facilities onsite, so there’s no need to break away for dinner.
When you’re ready for some nightlife buzz, steer your evening towards The Terrace development. Following the 2011 earthquake, The Terrace (formerly known as The Strip) underwent some serious rebuilding. Inspired by Melbourne’s famous laneways, it has emerged bigger and better than ever. Overlooking the Avon River, these clusters of buildings are host to some of the city’s best restaurants and bars. Go to Fat Eddie’s for jangling live jazz music, woodfired pizza and an extensive wine list. Post dinner, order a cocktail in the glamorous 1930s-inspired Kong bar (be sure to take an Instagram-worthy snap). Or if craft beer is more your thing, head up to The Craft Embassy on Level 1 and order from 30 beers on tap.
Sunday: Wildlife and foodie encounters galore
What better way to start your Sunday morning than with a stroll through the market? The Riccarton Market is open on Sundays from 9am to 2pm, so get in early and peruse over 200 stalls selling fresh produce, second-hand goods, furniture, clothes and plants. When hunger strikes, choose from a variety of food and drink stalls – best enjoyed while sitting and listening to live music. You can even try a hāngī while you’re here, a traditional Māori feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours.
If you’re looking for a more active way to kickstart your day, rise early, zip up your wetsuit and head for the ocean: this morning, you’re going to catch a wave. Christchurch is blessed with an abundance of surf breaks, and you don’t have to travel far from the suburbs to find them. Sumner Beach is a great place to start for beginnings, with gentle waves that are great for long boarding. Surf lessons are available if you’re a novice looking to hone your skills. For intermediate to advanced surfers, make the trip to Taylors Mistake, where a powerful beach break is perfect for short boarders. Pack lunch or a picnic to enjoy on the beach once you’re ready to head back onto dry land.
Nature enthusiasts should make a beeline for Willowbank Wildlife Reserve – one of the best ways to get up close to the natural world in New Zealand. Meet a cute kiwi and learn about the conservation and breeding program set on bringing these flightless birds back from the brink of extinction. Catch a live feeding of otters or gibbons and say hello to the resident alpacas, falcons, tuataras and capybaras.
If you’re keen a foodie, the burgeoning gourmet scene of Christchurch won’t leave you disappointed. For specialty rums and the wild flavours of South America, head to Casa Publica. For gourmet tacos and ceviche with a zesty margarita on the side, Chiwahwah Mexican Cantina Bar should be top of your list. And when you can’t choose, Little High Eatery is a stylish, market hall-style venue housing eight locally run businesses: there’s everything from woodfired pizza to a fried chicken and gin bar, Thai green curry and Chinese dim sum.
Read more: Our Guide to New Zealand’s Wine Regions
Want to explore more of the South Island? Read Laidback Activities in Queenstown: Finding Tranquillity in New Zealand’s Adventure Capital