Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. A series of devastating earthquakes rattled the city in 2010 and 2011, and these events have left their mark on the city. Learning about these earthquakes is one of most popular things to do in Christchurch, but you can also visit a wildlife reserve, drift on the Avon River on a punt, go hiking, ride the gondola for a bird’s eye view of the city, and so much more.
We first visited Christchurch in 2015. At that time, the damage left by the earthquakes could really be seen throughout the city. Some buildings were leveled, scaffolding was supporting some of the larger buildings, and the city had a somber feel to it.
Eight years later, Tim and I returned to Christchurch and it is incredible how well this city has recovered. It barely resembled the city we saw in 2015, as the buildings and infrastructure were repaired and new, shiny buildings have been added throughout town.
To learn more about these earthquakes, their impact on Christchurch, and the resilience of the people who call this city home, be sure to visit the Quake Museum, which we’ll mention again later in this guide.
But first, here are a few more interesting facts about Christchurch.
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Interesting Facts about Christchurch
This city sits to the north of Banks Peninsula, and taking a day trip to Akaroa is one of the best things to do in Christchurch.
Christchurch was first settled by the Māori people. They cleared the forests from what is now the city of Christchurch. Europeans began to settle in Christchurch in 1840 and in 1856, Christchurch became the first city in New Zealand by royal charter.
A series of earthquakes rocked Christchurch not that long ago. In September 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, followed by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February 2011. This earthquake was one of the strongest ever recorded in an urban area at that time, causing widespread damage and killing 185 people. Aftershocks continued to rattle the city through September 2014. By this point, more than 1500 buildings needed be demolished.
Since these earthquakes, the city has made an astonishing recovery.
Christchurch is one of several gateway cities to Antarctica. Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the port of Lyttelton as their departure point. You can learn more about this at the International Antarctica Centre.
Best Things to Do in Christchurch
In no particular order, here are the best things to do in Christchurch. Later in this guide, you can see all of them on a map.
1. Punting on the Avon
Drifting through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on a punt is one of the best things to do in Christchurch.
This 30-minute tour is one of the most relaxing, scenic things to do in the city.
Punting on the Avon | Best Things to Do in Christchurch
There are two places to do this in Christchurch, from the Antigua Boat Sheds and from the Worcester Bridge.
We did this from the Antigua Boat Sheds. Starting on Cambridge Terrace, just a short walk from the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial, you will board the punt and then slowly drift into the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on the Avon River/Ōtakaro. About halfway through the journey, your punter will turn the boat around, returning you to the starting point.
This was more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Our punter filled us in on history of Christchurch, identified trees and animals that call this park home, and did it all with a wonderful sense of humor.
This is a great mid-morning or mid-afternoon activity, as you can simply sit back and enjoy the view, taking a break from sightseeing and being on your feet.
Be sure to book a spot in advance because this is a very popular thing to do in Christchurch. You can do so on the official website.
2. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens & Hagley Park
The first English oak was planted in 1863, founding the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Since that time, native and exotic plants have been added to the gardens, including a massive redwood tree. The Avon River flows through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, and you have the option to visit a number of conservatories, see the New Zealand Peace Bell, the New Zealand Icon Garden, and the Rose Garden.
The Christchurch Botanic Garden is free to visit. You can stroll through the gardens or do what we did, go Punting on the Avon. Get opening hours here.
Surrounding the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is Hagley Park. This park is home to polo grounds, picnic areas, cricket grounds, and a golf course.
3. Visit the Canterbury Museum
This museum is located just north of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on Rolleston Avenue. It is located inside of a historic building that was built in a Victorian Gothic style and on display are Māori artifacts, the skull of Haast’s eagle, sledges used in expeditions to Antarctica, and the skeleton of a South Island Adzebill.
Canterbury Museum | Best Things to Do in Christchurch
Currently, the historic building on Rolleston Avenue is undergoing a major renovation. Some exhibits of the museum can be seen at its temporary location at the CoCA building on 66 Gloucester Street. The redevelopment is expected to take until 2028.
Learn more about the museum and get hours and pricing on the official website.
4. Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū
Housed inside a modern building constructed of concrete and glass is one of New Zealand’s most important public art collections. The building itself is a work of art, and inside you can see everything from modern art to historic paintings. There are also numerous temporary exhibitions.
Get hours and pricing on the official website.
Christchurch Art Gallery | Natalie Khalaman/shutterstock.com
5. Quake City
A visit to this museum is a must-do if you want to learn more about the earthquakes and their impact on Christchurch.
This small, informative museum has interactive displays about earthquakes, videos with interviews of those who experienced the earthquakes, and artifacts from these events.
A visit here lasts 30 minutes to one hour and is great for all ages.
Get hours and pricing on the official website.
6. The New Regent Street Precinct
This colorful street is lined with historic buildings. Shopping and having a bite to eat or a cocktail are the best things to do here. The tram runs down this street, making this one of the best places in Christchurch to photograph the tram, if you are into photography.
Have fish and chips at New Regent Chicken & Chips, have a cocktail at Gin Gin or The Last Word, dine on fresh fish, racks of lamb, and Canterbury beef fillet at Twenty Seven Steps, have coffee and waffles at Waffle Haus, or dine on Mediterranean cuisine at Mashawe Mediterranean BBQ.
7. Riverside Market
This indoor market is home to retail shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s a great place to go shopping or grab a bite to eat. Live music is offered some nights of the week.
Get hours, a listing of shops and restaurants, and what’s on for the live music scene on the official website.
8. The Bridge of Remembrance
This war memorial is dedicated to those who died in World War I and those who fought and died in World War II, Vietnam, and other conflicts. This archway was originally built in 1924 and refurbished in 1989. The arch was damaged in the 2011 earthquake and has since been repaired.
This memorial sits on the pedestrian bridge at Castel Street, one block from Riverside Market.
Bridge of Remembrance | Best Things to Do in Christchurch
9. Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial (Oi Manawa)
This is a memorial to those who died or were seriously injured during the 2011 earthquake. It is located along the Avon River/Ōtakaro, with a memorial wall on the south bank and trees and a seating area along the north bank.
Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial | Best Things to Do in Christchurch
10. Cardboard Cathedral
In 2011, St. John the Baptist Church was severely damaged in the earthquake and later demolished.
Following the earthquake, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban designed this cathedral and it opened in August 2013.
Cardboard Cathedral | trabantos/shutterstock.com
This church, built on the same site as St. John the Baptist church, was originally going to be a temporary structure and it gets its name because it was constructed with 86 cardboard tubes. Metal from shipping containers form the walls.
The Cardboard Cathedral is now a permanent building in Christchurch.
11. The Air Force Museum of New Zealand
This museum contains military aircraft used before World War I until present time. Also on display are art and memorabilia, aircraft engines, photographs, and interactive exhibits.
To get the most out of your visit, consider taking a 45-minute guided tour of the museum.
Learn more, plus get hours and pricing, on the official website.
12. The International Antarctic Centre
This is one of the most interesting museums in Christchurch. It’s part museum, part wildlife reserve, with lots of interactive exhibits that are entertaining and informative for all ages.
The list is long for things to do here.
Watch a feeding of little blue penguins (get hours of the feeding here), ride on a Hägglund (an all-terrain vehicle used in Antarctica), watch the 4D movie, experience what it is like to withstand minus 8°C temperatures, or take a behind scenes tour of the museum.
If you are visiting with kids, the International Antarctic Centre is one of the best things to do in Christchurch.
Learn more about the exhibits, plus get pricing and hours, on the official website.
13. Visit the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
If you want to see New Zealand’s Big 5 (kea, kaka, tuatara, kiwi, and takahe) in one spot, plus a long list of other animals, don’t miss the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.
For visitors to New Zealand, seeing a kiwi is a popular thing to do. The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve offers a 100% guarantee that you’ll see a kiwi in their nocturnal house. Kiwis are nocturnal, so they sleep during the day and are active at night. The nocturnal house is dark during the daytime, so you can enter this very dimly lit building to see one of the few kiwis that live here. Despite the 100% guarantee, Tim and I did not see a kiwi here, although we could hear them moving around.
At Willowbank, explore the walking trails that lead to outdoor exhibits, where you can see the Big 5 as well as capybara, emu, wallaby, tortoises, monkeys, and miniature horses. This reserve also offers animal encounters and guided tours, where you can get up close with lemurs, bees, and capybaras and hand feed some of the animals.
Learn more on the official website.
14. Ride the Christchurch Gondola
For one of the best views of Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour, ride the Christchurch Gondola.
At the summit station, dine at the Red Rock Café, go shopping, enjoy the 360° view, or hike one of the summit trails.
The view of Lyttleton Harbour from the summit station
It’s a 30-minute walk out-and-back to the Cavendish Bluff Lookout. If you want to go farther, you can walk to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial or even hike down to the bottom station.
Get updated hours and pricing here.
15. Hike the Godley Head Loop
Located just outside of Christchurch, this hike forms a loop on a peninsula, offering coastal views and World War II sites.
Godley Head Loop | Heavenlyflower/shutterstock.com
This 9.3 km/5.8 mile hike is done as a loop, starting at the Taylor’s Mistake carpark, runs along the coastline to Godley head, and then loops back across the peninsula, ending at Taylor’s Mistake. This hike is rated as easy and takes about 3 hours.
16. Day Trip to Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula
If you plan to spend several days in Christchurch, one of the best things to do is to day trip to Akaroa and Banks Peninsula.
Banks Peninsula is a small, volcanic peninsula located on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. Sitting in the center of this mountainous landscape is Akaroa Harbour and the small town of Akaroa.
From Christchurch, drive Summit Road for scenic views of Akaroa Harbour. Hike on the Onawe Peninsula, take a 2-hour eco cruise to see Hector’s Dolphins (the smallest dolphins in the world) meet the Shamarra Alpacas, and grab a bite to eat in the tiny town of Akaroa. Get the full list in our article Best Things to Do in Akaroa.
If you happen to have more time in your New Zealand, spending a night or two in Akaroa is well worth it, especially for those who like scenic drives, wildlife experiences, and the charm of a small, coastal town.
Best Things to Do in Christchurch: On a Map
How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.
Tours and Day Trips from Christchurch
Mentioned previously, taking a day trip to Akarao and Banks Peninsula is one of the most popular day trips from Christchurch. There are also a number of tour options for day trips, including those that go to Lake Tekapo and Mount Cook or Arthurs Pass.
How Much Time Do You Need in Christchurch?
One full day gives you just enough time to experience the highlights of Christchurch, including Punting on the Avon, visiting a museum or two, visiting the International Antarctic Centre, shopping, and dining in town.
With two days, you can either spend more time in Christchurch’s museums or day trip to Akaroa, Mount Cook, or Arthur’s Pass.
Where to Eat in Christchurch
The Riverside Market and the New Regent Street Precinct both have a great collection of restaurants, cafes, and bars.
For a unique experience, have dinner at the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant. While on board a historic tram, have a 4-course dinner while traveling through the city center. Learn more and make your reservation here.
There is also a great collection of restaurants on Oxford Terrace between Hereford Street and Cashel Street. We had lunch at Chiwahwah Mexican Cantina Bar but The Craft Embassy, King of Snake, and Sweet Soul Patisserie also get great reviews.
Where to Stay in Christchurch
LUXURY: The Observatory Hotel. This 5-star boutique hotel is conveniently located in the city center, just a short walk from the Botanic Gardens. Take your pick from 33 beautifully decorated rooms. Onsite is the Drawing Room Bar as well as a gym.
UPSCALE: Orari Boutique Hotel. This historic home was built in 1893 and has been recently refurbished. Rooms range from twin to king rooms. This property is located in the city center and it is a short walk to many of Christchurch’s top sights.
MID-RANGE: Designer Cottage. This small property is located in Sydenham, just outside of the city center. Rooms range from a single room, to double rooms with a shared bathroom, to a two-bedroom cottage. Children are not allowed, so this is not a good pick for families, but it is for those who want to stay in a small, quiet, highly rated property.
MID-RANGE: Christchurch Park Motel. This motel is located north of the city center. Rooms are two-bedroom apartments, making this a good pick for families.
BUDGET: Haka House Christchurch. This hostel is located in the city center. Rooms range from dormitory style rooms to private single, double, and family rooms. Lylo is another hostel but it is located 5 miles from the city center, so we think Haka House is a better choice.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Christchurch, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to New Zealand
SOUTH ISLAND: On the South Island of New Zealand, visit Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, spend a few days in Wanaka, hike the Routeburn Track, drive the Southern Scenic Route, visit the Marlborough Wine Region, and visit Franz Josef and Glacier Country. For the full list, read our article Best Things to Do on the South Island.
SOUTH ISLAND ITINERARIES: Whether you have one week or three on the South Island of New Zealand, plan your visit with our one week itinerary, 10 day itinerary, and 2 week itinerary. Each itinerary lists multiple ways to plan your road trip, depending on your interests.
NORTH ISLAND: Top experiences on the North Island include spending a day or two in Auckland, hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, visiting Cathedral Cove, touring Hobbiton, cruising the Bay of Islands from Paihia, and seeing glowworms and blackwater rafting in the Waitomo Caves. For the full list, read our article about the Best Things to Do on the North Island.
We have TONS more information about New Zealand in our New Zealand Travel Guide, including Auckland, Queenstown, Wanaka, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Franz Josef, Christchurch, Wellington, Taupō, and the Milford Sound.
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