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Dunedin is the second largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. It sits on the east coast, next to the Otago Peninsula. This city has a rich Scottish, Māori, and Chinese heritage, with grand architecture, several world class museums, and historic homes.

On a visit to Dunedin, it’s also worth spending some time on the Otago Peninsula. Visit animal sanctuaries, watch as little blue penguins return to shore after a day of feeding, and go hiking.

Dunedin is also one of the endpoints of the Southern Scenic Route, one of the best driving routes in New Zealand.

Interesting Facts about Dunedin

Dunedin is the main city in the Otago region of New Zealand. It sits near the southeast corner of the South Island. It is located on Otago Harbour and the city spills over onto the Otago Peninsula.

Dunedin gets its name from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh. The Māori were the first to settle the area (around 1300 AD) followed by Europeans in the late 18th century.

A gold rush in the 1860’s drew a lot of people to Dunedin and for a time, it was New Zealand’s largest and most affluent city. Museums and art galleries opened, the grand railway terminal was built, and colleges and banks opened. This prosperous era left its mark on the city. Since this boom time, the population has decreased, although Dunedin still remains one of New Zealand’s largest cities.

The Otago Peninsula is home to several gorgeous beaches and animal sanctuaries. Yellow eyed penguis, little blue penguins, seals, and the royal albatross can all be seen here. Visiting one of these animal sanctuaries is a top thing to do in Dunedin.

In 2014, Dunedin was designated a UNESCO Creative City of Literature.

Best Things to Do in Dunedin & the Otago Peninsula

Below, we have listed the things to do geographically. First, I start with the best things to do in Dunedin, followed by things to do on the Otago Peninsula, and ending with a few things to do outside of the city.

Best Things to Do in Dunedin

1. The Dunedin Railway Station

This historic railway station was constructed in 1878 in a Flemish Renaissance style. This station connected Dunedin to Christchurch and Invercargill and at its peak, over 100 trains per day traveled through here.

Nowadays, fewer trains travel through this railway station. A portion of the station has been converted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society. On Saturdays, the Otago Farmers Market takes place in the parking lot.

You can photograph the railway station from the outside, gaze at the mosaic floor in the booking hall, or visit the Hall of Fame museum.

Dunedin New Zealand

Dunedin Railway Station | Things to Do in Dunedin

2. Visit the Butterfly House in the Tūhura Otago Museum

On display at this museum are natural science exhibits and human artifacts from the South Pacific. The Planetarium has shows throughout the day. The highlight for us was the butterfly room. Enter a greenhouse filled with tropical plants and count how many different species of butterflies you can spot.

Otago Museum Butterfly | Things to Do in Dunedin

Interesting Fact: In 1981, Queen Elizabeth visited this museum. While here, Christopher John Lewis attempted to shoot her but missed.

The museum is free to visit but the butterfly room and planetarium have a small fee. Get hours and pricing on the official website.

3. Baldwin Street, the Steepest Street in the World

Baldwin Street is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the steepest street in the world. It has a gradient of 34.8%.

The city was laid out as a grid and Baldwin Street just happened to climb one of the steeper hills in Dunedin.

Baldwin Street briefly lost its status as the steepest street in the world in 2019, when Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech, Wales took the top spot. The residents of Dunedin appealed the decision and after careful review, the results confirmed that Baldwin Street is the steeper street.

Seeing this street is a bit overrated in our opinion. Looking up Baldwin Street from the bottom doesn’t look that impressive, but if you drive or walk to the top, it looks a lot steeper from its highest point.

Baldwin Street Dunedin | Things to Do in Dunedin

Baldwin Street | Things to Do in Dunedin


Top of Baldwin Street

The view from the top of Baldwin Street

4. Enjoy the View from Signal Hill

For panoramic views of Dunedin, Otago Harbour, and the Otago Peninsula, drive to Signal Hill. It takes about 7 minutes to drive here from central Dunedin.

Signal Hill | Things to Do in Dunedin

The view from Signal Hill | byvalet/shutterstock.com

5. Tour the Olveston Historic Home

The Olveston house was constructed between 1904 and 1907 for David Theomin, a wealthy merchant. It was built in the Jacobean style. When Dorothy Theomin died in 1966, the house was donated to Dunedin and it became a museum.

Visitors can now tour the house and see the collections of furniture, weapons, artwork, and ceramics amassed by the Theomin family.

The Olveston Historic Home is open every day except for Christmas. Entry is by guided tour only. Get hours and pricing on the official website and make your tour reservation in advance.

Olveston Historic Home | Things to Do in Dunedin

Olveston Historic Home | Things to Do in Dunedin

6. Visit the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

This museum recounts the history of Dunedin, from the first Māori settlers to the arrival of the Europeans and the Chinese, to recent migrant groups. There are 14 themed galleries and a café.

The museum is open daily and free to visit.

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum | Things to Do in Dunedin

7. Lan Yuan, Chinese Garden

Lan Yuan is a Chinese garden that sits next to the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. It opened to the public in 2008 and was a partial gift from Shanghai, Dunedin’s sister city.

Stroll through the gardens, have dumplings and tea in the Tea House, and go shopping at the gift shop. The Chinese Garden is small and a visit here lasts 15 to 30 minutes if you only plan to stroll through the gardens, longer if you plan to have tea in the Tea House.

For hours and pricing, visit the official website.

Lan Yuan Chinese Garden | Things to Do in Dunedin

Lan Yuan | Things to Do in Dunedin

8. The Dunedin Botanic Garden

The Dunedin Botanic Garden is New Zealand’s first botanical gardens. It is over 150 years old, is over 30 hectares in size, and contains more than 6,800 plants. On a visit here, you can see plants from around the world, plus a few endangered species.

On the Volcano Trail, walk up the Dunedin Volcano for a geological history lesson and views over the gardens. This walk takes about one hour.

The Botanic Garden is open from dawn until dusk and is free to visit. A visit here lasts one to two hours.

9. Walk the Dunedin Street Art Trail

Spread over several streets in the heart of Dunedin are more than 30 works of art created by local and international artists. These range from murals to sculptures to decorated benches.

The walk starts on Vogel Street and takes about 2 hours. Pick up a map in the Dunedin Visitor Center. Learn more here.

Dunedin Street Art

Dunedin Street Art Trail | RENATOK/shutterstock.com

10. The Octagon

This eight-sided plaza sits in the heart of Dunedin. This hub is lined with shops and outdoor cafes as well as the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Dunedin visitor center, and a bus station. Sitting on the plaza is a statue of Robert Burns, a Scottish poet.

The Octagon Dunedin | Things to Do in Dunedin

Restaurants along the Octagon | Things to Do in Dunedin


Dunedin Octagon

The Octagon and St. Paul’s Cathedral

11. Visit a Brewery or Distillery

Dunedin is home to six breweries and multiple distilleries.

Speight’s is the oldest brewery in New Zealand, established in 1876. Taking a guided tour of this brewery is one of the best things to do in Dunedin.

Emerson’s is another very popular brewery in Dunedin. They opened in 1992 and offer brewery tours and guided tastings. You can also visit their taproom for a snack, sharing plate, or dinner.

More breweries in Dunedin include Steamer Basin, Arc Brewing Co., and Noisy Brewing Co.

If you prefer to go gin, vodka, or rum tasting, there are three distilleries in Dunedin: Sandymount Distillery, No.8 Distillery, and Dunedin Craft Distillers.

12. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery

This was the first public art gallery in New Zealand. On display are historic and modern artworks by local and international artists. It also has an extensive collection of decorative arts, with glassware, ceramics, furniture, and textiles.

It is open daily and free to visit.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery | Things to Do in Dunedin

Dunedin Public Art Gallery | Things to Do in Dunedin

Best Things to Do on the Otago Peninsula

Spending some time in Dunedin is a great experience but the Otago Peninsula is amazing. This beautiful peninsula is home to a historic castle, breathtaking coastal landscapes, and some of the best wildlife experiences on the South Island of New Zealand.

13. Tour Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle. This enormous house was built by William Larnach, with construction beginning in 1871. Materials from around the world were used to build the house, including Italian marble, Glasgow brick, Cornwall blackstone, and Marseilles cobbles.

In 1898, William Larnach committed suicide in this house. Legend has it that Larnach Castle is haunted.

Larnach Castle New Zealand | Otago Peninsula

Inside Larnach Castle | Otago Peninsula

The house was sold by the Larnach family in 1906. It changed ownership a few times. The Barker family purchased it in 1967, restored it, and then opened it to tourism.

The castle is open 365 days of the year. You can tour the house guided or unguided. It’s also very worthwhile to tour the gardens around the house, which have been awarded “Garden of International Significance” status by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

Get hours and pricing on the official website.

14. See Yellow Eyed Penguins at the Penguin Place

The Penguin Place is a conservation reserve on the Otago Peninsula that works to increase the numbers of the yellow eyed penguin.

The reserve is a stretch of land that runs from the coastline of the Otago Peninsula, inland to the penguin nesting sites. This reserve is a sanctuary for the yellow eyed penguins who need the forested areas to make their nests. On this stretch of land, the Penguin Place is planting trees to restore the habitat of the yellow eyed penguin.

Penguin Place Beach | Otago Peninsula

The beach at Penguin Place

The Penguin Place also runs a rehabilitation center, where they treat penguins that are injured or sick, so they can be returned to the wild.

The money from tourism funds both the nature reserve and the rehabilitation center. Tours are offered all year and include a walk through the nature reserve and a visit to the rehabilitation center.

Yellow Eyed Penguins | Otago Peninsula

Yellow Eyed Penguins in the rehabilitation center

The best time to see yellow eyed penguins is during molting season, which is in March and April. From May to September, chances are low to see the penguins, as they are generally out to sea and rarely return to land. They return in October to lay their eggs and consistently make appearances through April.

This is one of the best experiences in Dunedin, since you are almost guaranteed a view of the yellow eyed penguins at the rehabilitation center and your money supports the conservation work. On the official website, learn more about the Penguin Place and make your tour reservation in advance.

15. See Little Blue Penguins in the Wild

The little blue penguin is the smallest penguin in the world. They get their name for the blue coloration on the top of their bodies.

One of the best places to see little blue penguins in the wild is at the Royal Albatross Center. At sunset, the little blue penguins return from sea, crossing the beach to get to their nests. The Royal Albatross Center is the only blue penguin viewing location that allows nighttime photography.

On your visit, you take a 90-minute tour. This tour is offered in the evening, when the penguins return to land after spending the day fishing in the ocean. The tour starts off with a 20 to 30-minute talk about little blue penguins and the history of New Zealand. Then, you walk down a long series of steps to the viewing platform on the beach.

From this platform, you will watch as penguins return to land. They walk across the beach, climb over the boulders and rocks, and then walk to their nest in the hills near the beach. The Royal Albatross Centre guarantees that you will see at least a few penguins or you get your money back.

Photography is allowed without a flash. You will be taking photos past sunset when it is rather dark, so photography is challenging.

On the night we did this (at the very end of March) only a few penguins made an appearance. We enjoyed this experience, but you have to be prepared to take a tour late in the day (followed by a long, dark drive back to Dunedin, if that is where you are staying) and the chance that you will see just a few penguins. It’s nice that photography is allowed on this tour, but since you will be taking photos at night, don’t expect to walk away with high quality photos of penguins. Our photo was taken with a Canon R5.

Little Blue Penguin | Otago Peninsula

In addition to tours to see the little blue penguin, you can also take a tour to see the Northern Royal Albatross. Learn more on the official website.

16. Sandfly Bay

Sandfly Bay is a 1.5 km beach on the Otago Peninsula. It is home to yellow eyed penguins, sea lions, and seals.

The Sandfly Bay Track is a 500-meter walking trail to a viewpoint of the bay. The trail continues past the viewing platform to the beach, but this trail closes from early November through late February to protect the wildlife in this area.

Before you go, get updated conditions here.

Otago Peninsula New Zealand Sandfly Bay

Sandfly Bay

Best Things to Do Outside of Dunedin

17. Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach is located a short drive south of Dunedin (only about 10 minutes by car). With dramatic coastal cliffs, sea caves, and a long tunnel, this is one of the most interesting things to do from Dunedin.

To get to Tunnel Beach, it is a steep, downhill, 0.8 km (0.5 mile) walk to the beach. Once at the beach, you can descend farther through the tunnel for a different view of the coastline. Then, it is a steep, tiring, uphill walk (145 meters/470 feet of ascent) to get back to your car.

A visit here lasts about an hour.

Tunnel Beach Hike

Trail to Tunnel Beach

 Tunnel Beach New Zealand

Tunnel Beach


End of Tunnel Beach

The view from the bottom of the tunnel.

18. Photograph the Moeraki Boulders

On the north Otago coast sits a group of massive, spherical boulders, spread out across the beach. These calcite concretions are a popular photography spot on the South Island.

The Moeraki Boulders are located on Koekohe Beach (Moeraki Boulders Beach on Google Maps), north of Dunedin. Park at the Moeraki Boulders Café and it is a short walk out to the beach. At low tide, it is easy to walk right up to and photograph the boulders. At high tide, the bottoms will be covered with water. Our visit was near low tide.

Moeraki Boulders New Zealand

Moeraki Boulders

To get here from Dunedin, it is a 76 km drive that takes one hour. A visit here lasts 30 to 60 minutes.

I don’t think it’s worth going out of your way to visit the Moeraki Boulders (some photos online make them look better than they do in “real life”). But if you happen to be driving between Dunedin and Oamaru or Christchurch, this is an easy stop to add on to the drive.

19. Orokonui Ecosanctuary

This sanctuary is located just outside of Dunedin. The Orokonui Ecosanctuary protects 307 hectares of Coastal Otago forest, which allows native wildlife to thrive.

Native birds such as the kākā, takahē, totoeka (South Island brown kiwi), Kōkō/Tuī, and Kārearea can all be seen here, as well as the tuatara (a reptile).

On a visit here, take a self-guided walking tour or a one to two-hour guided tour of the ecosanctuary. Not only do you get to walk through an ancient, coastal forest but you also have the chance to spot native wildlife in their natural habitat, rather than a zoo.

Learn more on the official website.

New Zealand Guide

20. Southern Scenic Route

The Southern Scenic Route is a 600+ kilometer driving route that connects Dunedin, Invercargill, Te Anau, and Queenstown, New Zealand.

On this drive, you will visit quaint coastal towns, deserted beaches, waterfalls, fiords, and a long list of viewpoints that will take your breath away. Cruise the Milford Sound, go hiking, venture into a coastal cave at low tide, and keep a lookout for little blue penguins and yellow eyed penguins.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse


Purakaunui Falls

Purakaunui Falls

Dunedin is one of the end points of this drive. It takes about 4 days to do this drive, longer if you plan to spend more time in Te Anau, Invercargill, or the quaint towns along the driving route.

It’s a gorgeous drive and well worth it for those who want to thoroughly explore the South Island of New Zealand.

Get the full details on what to see and do along this drive in our Guide to the Southern Scenic Route.

Best Things to Do in Dunedin: 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.

How to Get to Dunedin

You can get to Dunedin by car, train, and by plane. Most likely, you will be visiting Dunedin on a road trip around the South Island. Here are driving distances and times from nearby destinations:

  • Oamaru: 115 km, 1.5 hours
  • Invercargill: 200 km, 2.5 hours (most direct route)
  • Te Anau: 290 km, 3.5 hours (most direct route)
  • Queenstown: 280 km, 3.3 hours (most direct route)
  • Cromwell: 220 km, 2.75 hours
  • Christchurch: 360 km, 4.5 hours
  • Lake Tekapo: 290 km, 3.5 hours

You can also drive from Dunedin to Invercargill, Te Anau, and Queenstown on the Southern Scenic Route, but this will add more distance and time.

Where to Eat in Dunedin

We had dinner at 1908 Restaurant, which is on the Otago Peninsula, in between visits to the Penguin Place and the Royal Albatross Center. This small restaurant is located inside of a historic building, serves European and New Zealand cuisine, and is one of the highest rated restaurants in the area.

Buster Greens is a fantastic café that serves breakfast and lunch. This is a busy spot and a great choice if you want healthy food options, superfoods, and really good coffee.

We also recommend Etrusco at the Savoy, if you have a craving for Italian food.

Other highly rated restaurants include No.7 Balmac, Ironic Café and Bar, and Vault 21. You can also try the restaurants on the Octagon (Potpourri Vegetarian Café, Pequeno Wine & Cocktail, Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant, and Prohibition Smokehouse all get good reviews) or eat at the Taproom at Speight’s Alehouse.

Where to Stay in Dunedin

We stayed at Beechwood Boutique Accommodations and had a great experience. Rooms range from studios to one bedroom apartments that can accommodate up to four people. There is a washing machine onsite and each room has a kitchen or kitchenette.

If you like the idea of having a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and washing machine, the Bell Hill Apartments get near perfect reviews.

If you want to stay in a bed and breakfast on the Otago Peninsula, Treetops B&B gets great reviews and overlooks Latham Bay.

If you are on a budget, Work Stay at 123 is the highest rated hostel. It is located in downtown Dunedin just a short walk from the Octagon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Dunedin worth visiting?

With its long rich history and location next to the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin is a nice place to add to your New Zealand itinerary, if you have a lot of time (at least three weeks). Our favorite experiences were the coastal views on the Otago Peninsula and visiting the penguin sanctuaries, as well as hiking out to Tunnel Beach. Since Dunedin is one of the endpoints of the Southern Scenic Route, it is worth spending at least one day here, if you plan to do this drive.

How much time should I spend in Dunedin?

We spent two days in Dunedin and on the first day we went sightseeing in Dunedin, visiting the museums, gardens, and restaurants. Day two was spent on the Otago Peninsula, to visit the animal sanctuaries, Larnach Castle, and Sandfly Bay.

At a minimum, plan on spending one day in Dunedin, which gives you some time to pick and choose between the activities in town and on the Otago Peninsula. For those with an interest in animal conservation and seeing the little blue and yellow eyed penguins, plan on spending an additional day in Dunedin, to visit the animal sanctuaries.

How do you spend a day in Dunedin?

With one day in Dunedin, visit the sites in town in the morning: visit Baldwin Street, Signal Hill, a museum, and then have lunch. Spend the afternoon on the Otago Peninsula, visiting Larnach Castle, Sandfly Bay, and the Penguin Place and/or the Royal Albatross Centre.

Otago Peninsula

Otago Peninsula

If you have any questions about the best things to do in Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula, 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 day or two in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, visit Akaroa and Banks Peninsula, go on a helicopter flight to see Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers from the sky, and learn about the best things to do in Queenstown. 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.

NEW ZEALAND ROAD TRIP: With 3 weeks in New Zealand, visit the highlights on a road trip to the North Island and South Island. If you have less time, you can shorten this itinerary by spending 2 weeks on the South 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.

Dunedin Otago Peninsula New Zealand


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