Free things to do in Wellington with kids

Free Things to Do in Wellington with Kids

Wellington, New Zealands capital city, also known as the Coolest Little Capital, can be found at the southern tip of the North Island.  I actually spent a large part of my childhood here, having lived in Wellington twice before I took off to the Mainland (South Island).  Now looking with my parent hat on, I was really surprised how there were so many free things to do in Wellington.  Some things remain the same, like Frank Kitts Park and its huge slide and the iconic bucket fountain, but many are new which was exciting for me to discover for the first time.

Wellington City itself is a buzzing CBD, quite dense and highly populated, whereas the Wellington Region includes the suburban areas of Porirua, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt, the Kapiti Coast, as well as the Wairarapa.  This article will be focusing mostly on what to do in Wellington’s central city.

Cities are often places where you are caught out, having to spend a lot of money on fun activities for kids, but we found there were tons of things to do in Wellington for free.  Not only are there often free events in Wellington, there are plenty of walks, viewpoints, playgrounds, museums and art to see for free. I really think some of the best Wellington attractions are free.

This article will cover

Why Wellington is so Unique?


One of the things I love the most about Wellington is that it’s a very walkable city.  There are so many activities close to the CBD, or there are plenty of regular buses to access other areas.  What you may (or may not) know about New Zealand cities is that public transport is far less frequent than major cities around the world, as our population just can’t justify the cost.  But Wellington is an exception and you can get anywhere by bus. As such, our kids were very excited about trying out their first double decker bus on our trip to Wellington.

What puts Wellington on your must see list on your New Zealand itinerary is the arts and culture scene.  Wellington is full of an amazingly diverse population of people that is inclusive, quirky and open minded, leading to amazing showcases of art, design, small businesses etc.  A quirky cafe that may be a bit odd in other areas, is celebrated, popular and part of the scene here in Wellington. We loved the thought provoking artworks on the street and the innovative container markets on the waterfront.

If you love coffee.. (what parent doesn’t live on coffee?) then Wellington is the perfect spot for you, as it is known for its cafe culture and amazing coffee.  Perhaps it is the large business population right in the city centre demanding excellence, or maybe Wellington is just super passionate about brewing those beans, but any local will passionately regale you in their own favourites.  This is not a place to seek out your Starbucks, we make good coffee in Wellington.

Weather in Wellington

When planning your family holiday in Wellington, weather will actually play a big part.  They say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day. It is, or was a slogan for the city. And you can’t!  Sun beaming on your face as you walk hand in hand on the Wellington Waterfront as the kids eat ice cream.  It’s perfect isn’t it. So if Wellington is like this when you arrive, do all of your outdoor must do Wellington activities now!

Wellington is the windy city.  If you are thinking, oh we can cope with a bit of wind…. Then you haven’t experienced Wellington wind.  Gale force winds, sideways rain pushing cyclists of their bikes, as commuters battle inside out umbrellas as they rush into a cafe to take shelter and hope the blown shut door doesn’t dismember a finger.  Do you get my drift? I love Wellington, I do, but it’s wind chill factor leaves much to be desired. (And don’t ask how many hands we needed to control our school uniform skirts.. There’s never enough)

If you are interested in the temperatures in Wellington and wondering what the weather will be like in Wellington, check out this quick infographic below.

Top Tip:  Take every opportunity when the weather is good to do your outdoor activities, and save your museums, Beehive tours and art galleries to fill in the crazy weather.  Good luck my friends!

Shall we dive on in? I could have created a top 10 things to do in Wellington, but I just couldn’t choose, so take a look below as we detail all our favourite things to do in Wellington for families.  Perhaps you can choose 10 of your favourites.


Views over the Hutt Valley from Mt Kaukau track
Summit of Mt Kaukau, overlooking Wellington Harbour

One day Wellington Itinerary

Someone once asked me what I would do with only one day in Wellington.  Firstly, spend more than a day, but if I absolutely had to choose, this would be my suggestion

  • Go up the Cable Car ($) and walk down through the Botanic Gardens
  • Walk back past the Beehive, then stroll down the Wellington Waterfront
  • Stop at Frank Kitts Park for the playground and follow the waterfront walk to Te Papa
  • Choose one section of Te Papa to explore
  • Head to Mt Victoria for sunset

I have more on all of these activities below 🙂

26 Free things to do in Wellington with Kids

1.  Explore the Golden Sand Beaches of Oriental Bay

Easily the best beach in Wellington, Oriental Bay is an easy flat walk from Wellington Waterfront.  The beautiful golden sand, shipped in from Golden Bay (South Island), is the perfect place to build sandcastles and the bay is a great place to take a dip on a sunny weekend day. 

Kids will enjoy the water fountain (which operates on a schedule) as well as the playground on the Freyberg Beach side.  More importantly, there is also a great ice cream shop nearby. 

Where to find it: Oriental Parade.  You can take a bus or walk, just follow the waterfront

2.  Marvel in amazing Street Art in Wellingtons CBD

Perhaps the most fun thing to do in Wellington is to find the amazing street art and take a ton of photos.  Wellington is known for its eclectic culture and the incredible street art just adds such atmosphere and fun to the city.  We had heard about a few streets, but to give you a start, here are some awesome places to find street art.  

Keep your eyes peeled around the city, but let me tell you where to find street art in Wellington’s Central City.

  • Eva Street, Leeds Street and Hannahs Factory Laneway 
  • Opera House Lane off Courtenay Place (my favourite of them all)
  • Egmont Street
  • Cable Street between Te Papa and Waitangi Park
  • Cuba Street and Swan Lane
The kids loved looking for Wellington street art and made a scavenger hunt out of finding their favourite.  Easily one of the most unique things to do in Wellington.
Eva Street, near Courtenay Place
Phil and Teds Stroller in Wellington Central City
Nathan and Kipton from Backyard Travel Family become part of the street art on Opera Lane in Wellington
Opera House Lane
Cheeky Kipton finds fun in the Wellington Street Art in Wellington City
Nathan and Kipton from Backyard Travel Family checks out the Street Art in Wellington City
3.  Explore Te Papa: New Zealands Best Museum

Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand is a great free thing to do in Wellington.  You could easily spend a whole day here, but we chose a floor per afternoon as the wind really picked up in the afternoons when we were here.  

The best thing about Te Papa is the amount of interactive displays and the ability to be hands on, which is great for kids.  Our 4 and 5 year olds loved the Pasifika Discovery Centre on Level 4, where they learnt about polynesian tattoos and drew their own, played their own music and played with puzzles.  There is a Maori Discovery Centre too on the same floor, but somehow we missed it. 


If you were only going to choose one floor, do check out the main floor exhibits with the animals and the earth.  The kids experienced an earthquake in the Earthquake house and tried to build their own structure that could withstand a good shake.  It does get super busy during the school holidays, so if you can visit at another time, it will be much quieter.  

The other place kids will love is the outdoor Bush City on Level 1.  They can explore the cave, walk on the boardwalk amongst native trees and dig for fossils in the sand.  It can be pretty windy here as it is on the Wellington Waterfront, so leave this activity for a good weather day.

Gallipoli Exhibition with Weta Workshop

The Gallipoli exhibition is currently running at Te Papa, and while perhaps not appreciated by young children, your older children may enjoy it.  One of the highlights of the Gallipoli Exhibition is the giant lifelike artworks created by Weta Workshop. Every bead of sweat and strand of hair is incredibly real and extremely moving.  This fact alone is worth a visit to this incredible exhibition. If you don’t make it to a Weta Cave tour, this is the next best thing to experience some of Weta’s amazing works.

(For those unaware of some poignant New Zealand history, in World War 1 New Zealand lost a lot of lives in Gallipoli after they landed at the wrong beach and practically climbed a cliff to win an unwinnable battle, even though they were severely outnumbered.  ANZAC Day, our remembrance day, helps us remember those who sacrificed their own lives in this battle.

Te Papa is a Wellington Must Do so make sure you leave more time than you think.  Its a wonderland in there.

Where to find it: Cable Street, Wellington or access via Wellington Waterfront walk

4.  Wellington Cable Car Museum

The Cable Car Museum can be found at the top of the Wellington Botanic Gardens near Upland Road.  While the Cable Car itself does cost, the museum is totally free. You can even sit in a historic cable car which our kids loved.  The museum is small but the old photos are pretty cool and a great way to see Wellington in yesteryear. 

Of all the Wellington tourist attractions, the Cable Car itself really optimizes Wellington, so even though tickets aren’t free, you should also put this on your New Zealand must do list.  A common circuit is to go up the Cable Car on a one way ticket, then walk down through the Wellington Botanic Gardens (The gardens are quite steep and hilly, so it’s much easier with kids to start from the top)

While you are up at the Cable Car Museum, make sure you check out the view over the city (to the left of the Cable Car terminal)  It is the most iconic Wellington view, with the harbour in the background and the famous Cable Car heading down.

Where to find it:  At the top of the Cable Car Station, opposite the terminal, or road access via Upland Road, Kelburn.  You can also walk through the Wellington Botanic Gardens to get here.

5.  Wellington Botanic Gardens

A great place to explore, including a good sized playground (always top of the kids list)  What I found really unique about the Wellington Botanic Gardens, was that it felt like you were transported to a different place, not in the centre of the city.  It is unlike other botanic gardens, which have lovely flower gardens and are flat, perfect and perhaps a little boring.  

The Wellington Botanic Gardens are hilly and wild, forest like in some areas.  There are a myriad of trails that to be honest, got us a bit lost. But if you are happy to meander and see where the trails lead you, then not a problem at all.  There are concrete paths and bush tracks, a beautiful duck pond with gazebo and plenty of native birds to spot.  

Discovery Garden

Perhaps our favourite thing to do at the Wellington Botanic Gardens was the Discovery Garden. I love anything that is hands on interactive for the kids, and this fenced off Discovery Garden was perfect.  The kids spent ages using bamboo poles to build shelters, discover new herbs and plants and see what was growing in the fruit and vegetable garden. I really love that the kids can see the practical use for all these plants. It is often used for school groups, but you can visit for free when the schools aren’t in there, so definitely drop past.

Botanic Gardens Map

A map of the Botanic Gardens is a must, so save this one here to your phone, or pick up a paper copy at the Treehouse Visitor Centre (To my kids disappointment its not actually a house in a tree, but it is up high. 

Top tip:  Take the Cable Car up, then walk down through the gardens as it is really steep.  A number of the paths are concrete so you could bring a stroller, but if you miss something and have to head back up hill, you’ve been warned, you will need some muscles. 

Extra Activity: The Space Place (used to be Carter Observatory) is a good spot for kids who are interested in Astronomy.  It does cost to enter, but thought I would mention if this would interest your kids.  

How to get here:  Take the Cable Car to the top of the gardens and walk down, or access it via any surrounding road.  Take a look at the Botanic Gardens map link above.

6.  Visit the Beehive

The Beehive is Wellingtons most iconic building and home to New Zealand Parliament.  There is no question as to why it is called the Beehive, because it is shaped as exactly that.  Much to my 4 year old’s disappointment, it does not contain any honey.

If you are looking for some great photos of the Beehive, head to the steps at the bottom of Bowen Street, where it meets Lambton Quay.  You can also take a guided tour of the Parliament Buildings between 10am-4pm. They are free and you can book online. In school holidays, you can do Kids in the House Tours.  Do make sure you book these in advance, as they had booked out for the days we were there. You will also need to go through security to enter and there are places to leave your camera, bags etc.

How to get here: Take a train or bus to the Wellington Train Station and it is just across the road on Molesworth Street.

7.  Walk Mt Victoria for epic city views and Instagram Spot

If you only have time to do one walk in Wellington, make it to the Mt Victoria lookout.  Yes, you can drive to the carpark at the top or take the bus, but the views are worth so much more when you actually walk there.  There are a number of trails to the top, but the summit track (purple marker) will be the fastest. It is quite steep, but that doesn’t last too long.  With some stops at the Maitarangi Nature Trail on the way, it took the kids (4 and 5 years old) about an hour to walk to the top, but would probably only take adults about 30-40 minutes.  For more information on how to access this walk and what you can find along the way, click here 

How to get here:  Take a bus to the top, or start the Lookout Walkway from Majoribanks Road.  You can also drive to the top up to Lookout Road.

(Photo credit: Mt Victoria: Pivot Photography) 

8.  Check out the Windy Wellington sign

Wellingtons answer to the Hollywood sign is here, with the installation called Wellington “blown-away”.  The windy Wellington sign is located on the hills of Miramar (out near the airport) You can see it flying into the city, or from any viewpoint looking over Wellington Harbour.

9.  Visit the Seals at Red Rocks

If you are a little over the buildings in the city and want to head to Wellingtons wilder side, take a walk from Owhiro Bay to Red Rocks to see the seals lazing in the sun. The red rocks are quite a geological site themselves.  I remember being told an old Maori folkstory at school about Kupe, a polynesian explorer who cut his hands while searching for seafood on the rocks, staining them all red.  

Do remember to give the seals some space and don’t get too close. This is their home and habitat.  You can access this area by bus (and a walk from the bus) or drive your car to Owhiro Bay. The walk (Red Rocks Walkway) will take about 40 minutes one way.  You can find more information about how to get here, with this link 


 10.  Otari Wilton’s Bush

This is the one activity on our recent trip to Wellington that we didn’t get to do and I’m truly gutted.  But I am going to tell you why its one of the best free things to do in Wellington with kids, because all of my local friends here in the city just love taking their kids here.

Otari Wilton’s Bush has over 11km of walking trails in beautiful native forest.  One of the highlights is the number of native birds who live here, including tui, kereru, bellbirds and morepork.  You can pick up a brochure for a self guided nature trail at the information centre, or the kids can earn a Kiwi Guardians adventure medal for completing the trail activities and finding the guardian post with code word.  If the kids love heights, walk along the Canopy Walkway, a whopping 19m high above the treetops.

How to get here: You can get to Otari-Wiltons Bush by #14 bus, or drive to the main carpark on Wiltons Rd.

11. Climb Mt Kaukau

Mt Kaukau is the highest visible point on the Wellington hillside.  It can be easily recognised by the tall television tower perching on the summit.  This walk will take 40-60 minutes to reach the top and a mere 30 minutes on the downhill slide.  The walk is predominantly in the forest, but a mere few hundred metres from the summit, you will finally see the whole of Wellington Harbour.  We have written a more detailed account on walking up Mt Kaukau with kids here

How to get here: You can drive here, or take a bus to Khandallah Village and walk, or take the train to Simla Crescent Station.  The walk starts on Simla Crescent.

12.  Get splashed by the famous bucket fountain on Cuba Street

No trip to Wellington can be labelled complete without a visit to the Cuba Street Bucket Fountain.  It has has just turned 50 years old and still continues to splash passers by and delight little ones, guessing when the buckets will tip.  There is a little slide next to the fountain for young children to play on. 

How to get here: You can find the bucket fountain on Cuba Street (pedestrian street) between Dixon Street and Ghuznee Street.

13.  Cross at the rainbow coloured pride crossing

Opened in 2018, this Wellington pedestrian crossing is a little different, in that it is rainbow coloured.  It represents Wellington’s commitment to diversity, inclusivity and the fact that “Everyone is welcome in Wellington”.  

How to get here: You will find the pride crossing at the Cuba Mall and Dixon Street intersection, close to the Wellington Bucket Fountain

14.  Find the Giant Hand atop the City Gallery

We hadn’t planned on a visit to the City Gallery: Wellington’s Art Gallery, but once the kids saw the giant hand sculpture on top, they had to take a look around.  When we visited, the many artworks were beyond our 4 and 5 year old, but they did find a place to draw, and they do have school holiday activities.  In fact, when we were there, they were showing films for kids at the Art Gallery. Exhibits change all the time so I wouldn’t write this off as an older kids activity.  If the day is windy or rainy, this could be a good time to check out something just a bit different. It is free to enter the Wellington Art Gallery.

How to get to the City Gallery: The City Gallery is located in Civic Square, which can be accessed from the block of Victoria Street, Harris Street and Jervois Quay.  Buses go past this area or Lambton Quay, then its only a few minutes walk.  There are public toilets in Civic Square too.

15.  Death by Chocolate at the Wellington Chocolate Factory

What kid doesn’t want to visit a chocolate factory and Wellington has one right in the centre of the city.  Pop down to Eva Lane, right near Courtenay Place and tucked away like hidden gem that it is. What I loved the most was how friendly the staff were here.  The lovely man behind the counter told us about how they only choose a small amount of beans from ethical traders and make a huge effort to support the local Pacific Islands.

Silky smooth chocolate churning at the Wellington Chocolate Factory


While it is free to visit the cafe and peek in at the beautiful deliciousness that is churning, make sure you buy some of their delicious products or even take part in a tour ($) (suitable for older children)

How to get to here: You can find the Wellington Chocolate Factory on Eva Street in the historic Hannahs Factory building.  There is no parking available here.

Choosing some free samples to taste at the Wellington Chocolate Factory
16.  Jump off the platform into Wellington Harbour

Daredevils don’t need to pay for a diving board as Wellington Harbour has its own purpose built platform to cool off on a hot day.  You will find it close to Te Papa, with extra stairs up for height and a ladder to climb out of the water. Obviously not for young children but teenagers will find this a blast.  This is very popular with the locals!

Huge swing bridge overlooking the sea on the Paekakariki Escarpment Track
Paekakariki Escarpment Track Swing Bridge
17. Paekakariki Escarpment Track: Wellingtons best walk and most scenic

This amazing coastal trail is a 10km walk from Paekakariki to Pukerua Bay.  Easily accessible by train at both ends of the track, this 3-4 hour walk (up to 5 hours with stops with kids) will have you walking over swing bridges, through forest and on a clear day, you can see all the way to the South Island.

Be aware that there are many stairs and the trail is narrow, so this is not appropriate for toddlers, unless they are carried in a backpack.  This is one of my favourite things to do near Wellington, so if you have time for a day trip, I’d highly recommend it. For more information about walking this trail and how to get here, check out this article here.

18. Glow worms in Wellington Botanic Gardens after dark

While many will head to the well known glow worms caves at Waitomo and Te Anau, you can see these shiny little glow worms for free in the Wellington Botanic Gardens.  If you head down after dark with a torch (flashlight) you can find these twinkling beauties hanging out in dark, humid spots. Try heading to the Duck Pond and follow the stream through the bush trails up towards Glen Road (at the top on the outside of the Botanic Gardens)  

Keep your eyes out in the overhangs, where they love to hang out. The best time to see glow worms at the Wellington Botanic Gardens is during springtime and after it has rained. Add this to your schedule, as for kids, it’s one of the best things to do in Wellington at night.

19. Shop at the Container Markets on the Wellington Waterfront

Close to Te Papa, on the Wellington Waterfront, you will find the unique container markets.  Boutique small businesses sell their wares to easily the most well trafficked pedestrian walk.  We love to check out small businesses as see what amazing talent is hidden in the city.

20.  Maitarangi Nature Trail

The Maitarangi Nature Trail is one of the best things to do in Wellington with kids and we thought this place was such a good find.  We literally stumbled across it on our hike to Mt Victoria, but you can actually drive up to this awesome natural playground. The kids will love climbing on the logs and hunting for insects hidden in the area, and learning lots of facts about the local flora and fauna.  Find it on the Summit track to Mt Victoria or drive up to Alexandra Road

21.  Frank Kitts Park Playground

Frank Kitts Park is the most iconic playground in Wellington.  I can remember playing here when I was a little girl and much of it hasn’t changed.  The famous white slide still makes you thud as you go around the corner, but for my kids, this tops the list of fun things to do in Wellington.  It is right on the Wellington Waterfront near Shed 6 and only a short walk to Te Papa.

22.  Find wind turbines in Polhill Reserve

When we flew into Wellington Airport, the kids were really intrigued by the wind turbines on the hill.  As you may know, Wellington is a windy city, so it makes sense that they harness the wind power. If you want to go check out the wind turbines, take a stroll up to Polhill reserve at marvel at the Brooklyn Wind Turbine.  There are beautiful city views and view across the Cook Strait here too. You can also join the Polhill Reserve loop track for a 7.3km walk. There are two play areas near the walk too, so it is a good family walk for everyone.  Click here for more information and a map of this walk

Wind Turbines in Wellington
23.  Free Events: What to do in Wellington today?

Wellington is known for its multitude of free events and displays.  From fireworks on the Wellington Waterfront at Guy Fawkes, to free events at the New Zealand Fringe Festival to the Wellington Christmas Parade, there is always something happening in Wellington.  To find out what’s on in Wellington when you are visiting, click here 

24.  Be a local and check out a market

When I am visiting a new city, some of the best ways to learn the culture, find some fun atmosphere and really get a sense of the place is to find a local market and see what is on offer.

The Harbourside Market is Wellingtons oldest market as is located right down near Te Papa and Waitangi Park, near the Wellington waterfront.  It is open every Sunday morning from 7.30am and is a beautiful fruit, vegetable and food market that has been operating since 1920. Is anyone else thinking Sunday brunch at the Harbourside Market?

(Photo credit: Nicola Edmonds)

The Wellington Underground Market can be found under Frank Kitts Park (ie. near the playground) on Jervois Quay on the waterfront.  This market showcases lots of local artists, designers and small business. It is open every Saturday, rain or shine from 10am-4pm. 

25.  Burn off some steam at Waitangi Park on Wellington Waterfront

If you are looking for some green space in the centre of Wellington, this has a beauty of a green area for kids to run around it.  There is a great skate park here with a wide range of activities from bowls to jumps and rails, suitable for all ages. It also has an innovative childrens playground.

How to get here: Waitangi Park can be found just behind Te Papa and opposite the New World Supermarket on Cable Street.

26.  Visit Wellington Museum for Ship Lovers

One of the first things that will strike you is how beautiful the Wellington Museum Heritage Building is. It used to be the Bond Store, which you may have assumed was a fancy store, but in fact it was a cargo warehouse.   When you enter the Wellington Museum, you will be teleported back to the 1880s, back to the time it was a busy warehouse.

Other free museums in Wellington include:

  • Te Papa (mentioned above)
  • New Zealand Portrait Gallery
  • Pataka Art Gallery and Museum (in Porirua City, 30 mins from Wellington City)
  • The Dowse Art Museum (in Lower Hutt, 30 mins from Wellington City)
  • Petone Settlers Museum (Petone, 20 mins from Wellington City)
  • New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts (Queens Wharf, Waterfront)

The Wellington Museum houses a large collection of nautical history, so if your children are passionate about ships and sea adventures, they may find this interesting.  You can learn the history of the Wahine Disaster, about a ship that sank crossing the Cook Strait in a storm in 1968 where 51 people lost their lives. You will also find Maori history, the history of Wellington and an eclectic, yet strangely mesmerizing collection called the Attic.  Just like your grandmothers attic, this is filled is amazing wonders.

How to get to the Wellington Museum: 3 Jervious Quay, near the TSB Arena and Queens Wharf.

Are these the best things to do in Wellington for FREE?

So there you have it!  These are our top things to do in Wellington for free! We spent a week in Wellington and still didn’t cross everything off our list, so we know there are more than enough things to keep the kids busy on your next Wellington vacation.  If you have any other suggestions to add to our Free things to do in Wellington list, then flick us an email or DM us on Instagram or Facebook! We hope you have an amazing Wellington family holiday!

Spending some more time in the area? Perhaps a day trip to the Putangirua Pinnacles and Cape Palliser



Founder of Backyard Travel Family

Jen is a super organiser when it comes to travel. Having travelled extensively in Europe and Africa, has lived in London and the USA and holidayed in many parts of Asia, she is not a newbie to the travel space

Jen has three young children, 5 and under and travels around New Zealand with them.

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