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The Top Things to do in Wellington

Looking for things to do in Wellington, NZ? You'll be happy to know it's a city packed with creative arts, world-class events, award-winning cuisine and boutique charm providing visitors with plenty of things to see and do including tours, activities and much more. Wellington has great shopping mixed with slick bars, restaurants and galleries galore. Whether you choose to tour the wine trails of the lower North Island or skip over the Cook Strait on the iconic Inter Island Ferry, or spend some time at Wellington Zoo, you'll be able to find an experience for you in Wellington.

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The Top Things to do in Wellington

Looking for things to do in Wellington, NZ? You'll be happy to know it's a city packed with creative arts, world-class events, award-winning cuisine and boutique charm providing visitors with plenty of things to see and do including tours, activities and much more. Wellington has great shopping mixed with slick bars, restaurants and galleries galore. Whether you choose to tour the wine trails of the lower North Island or skip over the Cook Strait on the iconic Inter Island Ferry, or spend some time at Wellington Zoo, you'll be able to find an experience for you in Wellington.

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Top 10 Restaurants in Wellington, NZ

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by Experience Oz + NZ staff
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Perhaps more than any other destination in New Zealand, Wellington‘s a city that prides itself on its dining culture. The city boasts a wide array of restaurants that span the full range of the budget spectrum, and as a result for those who list food as one of their high priorities while travelling Wellington makes for an excellent choice of locales.

New Zealand’s capital contains an extremely high proportion of restaurants and bars per capita, and within its sheer numbers lie a surprising quantity of award-winning places to eat that cover a wide variety of cuisines. It’s served as the springboard for a number of internationally-recognised chefs, and with its proximity to both ocean and vineyard Wellington provides these talented artisans with quality NZ-style raw ingredients with which to work their magic.

But which Wellington restaurants rank the best of the best? We took a detailed sampling of Wellington’s various dining hotspots and came away with some hand-picked finalists – here, we take a look at 10 of the Top Restaurants in Wellington, NZ.

1. Logan Brown

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Location: Cuba Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Modern Contemporary

Who said that fine dining had to be conducted with a nose in the air? Logan Brown bucks the trend by simultaneously having meticulous standards when it comes to food quality without alienating its patrons with excess snobbery or pomp.

Housed in a building that was formerly an old bank and bringing along with it the high ceilings and exceptional craftsmanship that go hand in hand with the period of its construction, the entire experience from start to finish at Logan Brown feels enveloped in luxury from the food that is both delicious and filling to the service that is impeccable and sincere without feeling artificial or forced at all. Throw in the ornate surroundings and you’ve got a venue that simply oozes “special” all-round.

While Logan Brown offers many of the expected traditional fine dining menu items, it’s the difference in ingredients and their usage which help separate its dishes from those of its peers. The incorporation of elements like wild venison and hare break up the monotony wonderfully while bringing a dash of the unexpected to the proceedings, while the Paua (the Maori name for a species of sea snails) ravioli is a signature dish that simply cannot be matched anywhere else.

Overall, the restaurant’s menu features an ideal balance of local seafood, poultry and meat done in distinctive enough ways to satisfy all comers with dishes that are executed with both great taste and technique. The lamb, in particular, makes one wonder how the kitchen maestros are able to cook it so excellently.

"Simply put, this is a restaurant that rewards the opening of the wallet with an experience that is hard to fault, as every box one could want for in a dining locale is thoroughly ticked."

While traditional 3 course meals are popular here, tasting menus are also offered at a very reasonable price that provide a wonderful sampling of the variety that exemplifies the restaurant. These “taster” courses are sample-sized portions that nonetheless add up sufficiently to leave you feeling full but not excessively so, and each individual course is a veritable adventure for the palate strikingly plated and amazingly cooked.

Special mention must be given to Logan Brown’s wine list, which is truly staggering to the point that even the fussiest connoisseur will be sure to have their palate sated by the offerings here; it’s also well laid out and divided up logically so as not to be overwhelming.

Decor at the restaurant registers on the “tasteful and quaint” end of the scale rather than being unnecessarily chic or contemporary, which feels appropriate given its historic surrounds. Service, meanwhile is simply second-to-none; everything is timed perfectly, there’s a genuine sense of warmth from the staff, and their knowledge on every individual menu item is encyclopaedic.

Nothing is rushed, and guests are left along to enjoy one another’s company rather than having any unneeded fussing over for the sake of appearances. Simply put, this is a restaurant that rewards the opening of the wallet with an experience that is hard to fault, as every box one could want for in a dining locale is thoroughly ticked: in terms of ambience, service, views, food quality, value for money and uniqueness of offerings, Logan Brown is a worthy contender for the title of Wellington’s best restaurant.

2. Ortega Fish Shack

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Location: Majoribanks Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Seafood

There’s a saying that when you’re looking to choose a restaurant in a new city, pick one that’s full of locals – and thus there’s a reason that the Ortega Fish Shack is eternally one of Wellington’s busiest restaurants. As a city that prides itself on the quality of its seafood, Ortega serves as a worthy card-carrier for displaying this to Wellington diners firsthand without being too much of a strain on the wallet to boot.

The restaurant is a more casual offering than some of the other entries on this list, so if you’re the type who feels intimidated by (or rolls your eyes at) more over-the-top presentation, then Ortega is a more than viable alternative. The venue’s nautical / maritime theme throughout is distinctive and different without being tacky, and there’s a friendly buzz here that can be noisy but is never overly boisterous in the old-style house in which it is contained.

Classic, quality cuisine is the name of the game here that makes the most of the adjacent ocean’s bounty, and while the menu is largely dominated by seafood given the restaurant’s motif there are also other options – such as excellent fillet steak, cannelloni and other non-marine offerings – which round out the available dishes.

Seafood is without a doubt the highlight at Ortega, however, and tantalising options such as crayfish-and-prawn ravioli, snapper done in a smoky tomato sauce, and astonishingly fresh bluff oysters are all reflective of the combined talents of the restaurant’s chef and the quality of the ingredients with which he gets to work. Each dish is cooked to perfection – multiple visits reveal this to be a consistent theme – and seasoned with beautiful sauce with bread served to soak up any of the delicious remains. Dessert (particularly the mousse) is likewise consistent with the rest of the standards of dishes and a great capper for the dining experience.

"Quirky, friendly, and with an atmosphere all of its own, Ortega Fish Shack is a must-dine for seafood lovers in Wellington."

If you’re looking for a lighter meal rather than a full-blown multi-course affair, Ortega likewise delivers; it boasts one of the best cheese boards in Wellington, and diners are given a platter that is weighed beforehand and then given the chance to eat their fill, paying for only how much is consumed.

It’s an extremely original and nice touch that allows for an appropriate level of snacking without having to either over or under commit. The restaurant also offers a wonderfully diverse selection of domestic NZ and craft beers that can be enjoyed either with a meal or at its bar, and also boasts an extensive wine list that is priced appropriately rather than excessively. Staff are well-versed in the ins and outs of the wine menu, with everything explained in a friendly, non-condescending manner.

Ortega Fish Shack is relatively small in size yet remains incredibly inviting, emitting a familial atmosphere which is reinforced by the down-to-earth and warm attitudes of its staff – particularly the manager, who is more than willing to have a chat with guests and give advice on both food and sightseeing to those who are new to the area.

It’s cosy, intimate and overall friendly, and it’s hard not to come away from an evening here smiling. Perhaps the only downside is that the restaurant’s popularity makes bookings nearly essential, so be sure to take this into account if you’re planning to dine here beforehand. Quirky, friendly, and with an atmosphere all of its own, Ortega Fish Shack is a must-dine for seafood lovers in Wellington.

3. Field & Green

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Location: Wakefield Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: European

Relatively small on size but big on character and making fairly simple dishes surprisingly excellent, Field & Green is one of the newer additions to Wellington's dining landscape, yet it fills a unique void with heart and substance.

Featuring a European menu with a largely English bent, this charming little restaurant offers some of the most "comforting" comfort food you're ever likely to come across. Field & Green offers a modern spin on a number of recognisable British favourites (yes, there are scones and bacon butties, and yes, they're both delectable) and takes flavours that are clean, familiar and fairly simple and makes them no less tantalising for the fact.

While fish-finger sandwiches may not sound like the embodiment of fine dining, they're done in such a fashion to make enjoying even the basics memorable - making the likes of kedgeree, pork belly and other staples better than one might have originally imagined.

Many of these flavours will actually be very original for those who haven't grown up in - or had ancestry direct from - Britain, and as such white might be considered the norm in the Crown lands can be quite refreshing for those of us from the Australia/NZ duo. Portions are also quite generous, so you'll never be leaving here hungry either.

"This charming little restaurant offers some of the most "comforting" comfort food you're ever likely to come across."

The menu on offer here is comprehensive and continually changes, making regular repeat visits all the more enjoyable. Likewise, its wine list is extensive and offers by-the-glass availability for those looking to keep things a tad more reasonable both for the wallet and the brain.

Its wide array of icecreams make for the ideal capper for a meal at Field & Green, with a range of flavours most would have yet to try; think the likes of lavender, blackcurrent and other relative rarities located amongst some of the more globally recognisable tastes.

The restaurant features chic decor replete with plenty of artwork, an open kitchen at the rear, and a calm and relaxed atmosphere conducive to conversation and more laid-back dining surrounds. In addition, while it may sound simple, the overall experience at Field & Green is quite upmarket; it's "simplicity" taken to a whole other level in terms of taste and presentation.

Throw in some quick and friendly service, and you've got one of the more unique dining options in Wellington that's both eminently reliable, and eminently welcoming in Field & Green.

4. Dragonfly

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Location: Courtenay Place, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Modern Asian

Residing in central Wellington and hidden behind a rather inconspicuous facade lies, what we believe to be, Wellington’s best Asian restaurant. Dragonfly provides a venue that produces very defined and distinctive tastes that you will seldom encounter elsewhere – the names of the dishes might seem familiar, but the spins that are given on each of them are original and inventive.

While it’s also one of the higher-end restaurants in terms of price, the uniqueness of both the restaurant’s food and its original Asian / Pacific theming make the monetary investment worthwhile in return for a very memorable dining experience.

Upon entering the restaurant, a mixture of pleasantly Eastern fragrances can be found permeating the air, and the appropriately mellow and subdued lighting makes for a soft and relaxed atmosphere for the dining to come.

Diners have the choice of either eating in the main restaurant area at the restaurant’s front, or sitting around its quirky and characterful bar outdoors which lends its own form of charm to the proceedings. The phrase “sharing is caring” applies at Dragonfly, with a majority of dishes designed to be split amongst several diners in order to cover a wide spectrum of tastes; as a result, it’s a great spot for larger groups whether it be for business purposes or simply a larger scale friend or family affair.

"If you’re looking for a non-traditional dining experience in Wellington, then Dragonfly’s combination of quality and accessibility make for an easy choice."

The enjoyment of the food here all starts with its core ingredients – the meats, for example, are obviously of an exceptionally high quality and have a tendency to fall right off the bone where applicable – that are then applied to a number of flavoursome and fragrant dishes.

Even seemingly simple menu items such as dumplings and lemongrass chicken manage to be simultaneously both filling and light, and the restaurant’s propensity for the liberal use of chives adds some unexpected variation that will leave your tastebuds surprised. The salmon is also exceptional, being done two ways and leading to a powerful yet not overwhelming taste.

There are clearly hints of a variety of influences of multiple Asian nations’ cuisines intermingled here; elements of Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Indian make the menu diverse and varied, and many individual dishes cross the boundaries between one or more of these at once.

Rounding out Dragonfly’s offerings are a robust wine list and some unique spins on dessert (the sampler tasting plate that combines multiple small portions is recommended) for an evening of dining in Wellington that just comes out in feeling both premium and… different?… to anything else the city has to offer. If you’re looking for a non-traditional dining experience then Dragonfly’s combination of quality and accessibility make for an easy choice.

5. Hippopotamus

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Location: Cable Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: French

“Fine dining” is a term thrown around somewhat too loosely in restaurant circles, however Wellington’s Hippopotamus restaurant on the top floor of the Museum Hotel is one such establishment that proves worthy of the label.

Popular as a destination for enjoying high teas, the restaurant also is a high quality and award-winning dining spot for dinner that features a blend of brilliant atmosphere, food and staff all rolled into one that you might expect of a high-end French dining experience. With more of a formal and upmarket atmosphere that’s suited for special occasions, Hippopotamus is quite “posh”, but in a good way; if you like to dress up and make an event out of dining every once in a while, this venue will not disappoint.

The surroundings both within and outside the restaurant – its altitude and aspect provide wonderful harbour views – are truly opulent, and it’s obvious that no expense has been spared with the furniture, cutlery and overall décor all emitting prestige.

Make no mistake: you are paying a premium price for the privilege as this may be Wellington’s most expensive overall restaurant, but in return you get a premium feel in both food and service that is appropriate for the price point. This carries over to the extensive wine menu, the knowledge and professionalism of the sommelier, the interesting and quirky theming, and the attentiveness of the staff on hand.

"The surroundings both within and outside the restaurant – its altitude and aspect provide wonderful harbour views – are truly opulent."

Food-wise, all the major hallmarks of top-end French food are here, and they are all, without exception, brilliantly presented. Venison, leeks, butter milks – and, of course, cheese – as well as other staple and delicately flavourful French ingredients combine for a smooth and enjoyable array of dishes that display excellent craftsmanship.

Hippopotamus’ degustation menu is also easy to recommend for the indecisive visitor, and comes with matched wine and wonderfully presented courses that cover a nice cross-section of French foods that come in confit, sauteed and miscellaneous other fashions. If you’ve got time (and money) to spare, then this option comes highly recommended and takes some of the difficulty out of determining your own pairings.

Service, too, is likewise exceptional as water and wine are regularly topped up without having to ask, and courses are delivered at ideally spaced out intervals. The restaurant also boasts a fancy cocktail bar that makes for a great pre-or-post dinner drinking venue as well, and serve some rare beverages that are not often encountered.

Overall, in terms of raw quality of food Hippopotamus ranks up there at the very top of the scale with the best in Wellington; however, the price point means that for most this will be a restaurant that is only visited perhaps infrequently. If you’re only going to be visiting Wellington the one time, however and are looking to splash out, you’ll be hard-pressed to find fault with what Hippopotamus offers.

6. Restaurant 88

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Location: Tory Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Vietnamese

Vietnamese is another cuisine that is a relative rarity throughout the world compared with the over-saturation of the likes of Chinese, Italian and French restaurants that are a dime a dozen, and if you’re a newcomer to this kind of cookery then there are few better places to start than at Wellington’s Restaurant 88.

Featuring authentic and fresh Vietnamese food that does a great job of incorporating many of the fresh herbs that are vital for producing its unique taste, this is an easy to recommend “go to” restaurant if you’re unable to decide exactly what you feel like or how much you are looking to spend.

While its tucked-away location may not be situated in the “nicest” part of Wellington (there are plenty of bars and night spots nearby), Restaurant 88 immediately stands out from some of its nearby peers with a more upmarket appearance – a sentiment that carries on upon entering.

The restaurant offers nice, modern décor with a more contemporary theme and a minimalistic approach that’s a refreshing break from the typical Asian eatery that comes across as tacky or trying too hard.

"This is an easy to recommend “go to” restaurant if you’re unable to decide exactly what you feel like or how much you are looking to spend."

This carries over to the price point, too – this is not a “cheap and nasty” takeaway-style Asian restaurant, so be prepared to pay a few extra dollars in return accordingly. And what do you get for that extra monetary investment? Satisfying dishes of good portion size for the price, for one, with a menu that is fairly widespread in terms of choices without being overwhelming.

First-time Vietnamese diners will no doubt be able to find a dish to suit their tastes at Restaurant 88 – of particular note are the starters, which are usually something of an afterthought at many restaurants. Here, they are done proper justice however, and menu items such as the sticky back ribs, duck rolls and prawn sticks may even often turn out to be the highlight of your dining.

Mains are likewise solidly portioned, with the stuffed chicken wings being a major standout and a quite original spin on the use of relatively basic ingredients. Vietnamese coffee also provides a refreshing change of pace from the standard Western style, and has a strong and aromatic presence that helps set it apart from the typical everyday flavour.

Staff here are likewise excellent, offering service that is attentive without being annoyingly so, and are always happy to explain dishes in detail to the uninitiated upon request. As a final bonus, Restaurant 88 is also often listed in the Entertainment Book so discounts are available to reduce prices even further, making for an extremely good value evening out full of different tastes for the palate.

7. Boulcott Street Bistro

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Location: Boulcott Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Bistro-style

Another long-running fixture of Wellington dining, the Boulcott Street Bistro is one of Wellington’s most consistent restaurants across the board as far as the balance of food quality and service are concerned.

Housed in a charming, Victorian-style timber venue that is full of character and with a small and cosier interior that radiates warmth, this is a classy yet subtle restaurant that is a great choice in Wellington for special occasions. It’s a relatively hidden gem, as well, tucked away from the city’s central downtown area that’s more than worth the game of hide-and-seek finding it requires.

Equipped with subtle, unobtrusive lighting and lovely décor, the restaurant can get loud when busy due to its construction, but never overly so. The Boulcott Street Bistro offers a fairly limited menu, but it’s intentionally been limited to what they do best – all the core meats in particular are delectably done and universally tender, and those looking for a good steak will be in their element here as the fillet is truly outstanding.

Seafood is also done well, with exceptionally fresh oysters, expertly-prepared fish-of-the-day, and other marine-grown offerings befitting Wellington’s seaside locale. Courses are well timed and spaced out, and even on busier evenings you’re never made to feel rushed.

"The Boulcott Street Bistro is one of Wellington’s most consistent restaurants across the board as far as the balance of food quality and service are concerned."

The Bistro also provides a solidly extensive wine list with a large range of selections that can mostly be had by-the-glass – a nice touch. Dessert here (and crème brulee in particular, with its wonderful texture and flavouring) also warrants a special mention, and is the ideal capper to a pleasant evening of dining.

Every aspect of the food here is faultless, from taste, to texture to aroma and everything in between – simply choose a selection from the blackboard menu and you can’t go wrong. While the menu is far from cheap, the “get what you pay for” adage more than applies here, and given for many this will be a one-time visit it’s well worth loosening the purse strings.

One important thing to note about the Boulcott Street Bistro is that tables cannot be pre-booked. As a result, be sure to arrive early – or intentionally late – as its popularity ensures the restaurant is almost eternally busy.

The restaurant does contain a comfortable bar on-hand, however, that makes waiting far more tolerable, and the bar itself has an impressive number of quality craft beers available with which to sample while passing the time. Add to all of the above positives the delightful and friendly waitstaff, and this is a Wellington restaurant that’s hard to fault in any aspect.

8. Havana Bar

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Location: Wigan Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Tapas

If you’re looking for an enjoyable meal in Wellington and after a more relaxed and laid-back lunch or evening out, this relatively hidden Cuban-style restaurant in Wellington’s back streets may be just what the doctor ordered.

The first thing that’s likely to strike you with a visit to Havana Bar is the restaurant’s architecture; historic and a tad rustic, it definitely stands out from the more modern highrise-style surroundings and its inviting wooden facade belies what’s awaiting inside.

Replete with Cuban-themed décor appropriate of its Cuba Street-area location, the “restaurant” is actually divided into two main sections – a bar, and the restaurant proper – and thus it’s easy to jump from one to the other with a minimum of fuss.

Havana exudes an indie-esque atmosphere as opposed to some of the more pretentious high-end offerings that Wellington is home to; this isn’t fine dining, but rather a bohemian-flavoured evening out specialising in tapas style meals. In addition, while it’s technically a bar, Havana is still highly family-friendly.

"The tapas is the star of the show here, and the majority of the restaurant’s menu are tapas meals designed to be shared amongst friends or family."

The tapas is the star of the show here, and the majority of the restaurant’s menu are tapas meals designed to be shared amongst friends or family, as well as some larger, full-blown mains. There’s immense variety in flavours and combinations of tapas, and the likes of prawns, haloumi, beetroot, pork belly and more serve to make what can sometimes be relatively basic food much more adventurous than it initially may seem.

Dishes are well-presented, too, which helps further their appeal, and those looking for a thorough cross-section of samplings can opt for the degustation menu that covers a huge range of tastes.

Other positives include live music which helps add to the ambience rather than detract from it, as well as Havana’s wide range of cocktails to choose from making it as pleasant a venue to enjoy a drink as it is a meal.

In addition, set menus available at lunch time provide good value for money should you be looking to divert from the neighbouring Cuba Street for a quality bite to eat. It may be slightly out of the way, but Havana is unique and full enough of character to more than warrant the extra effort a diversion requires.

9. Shed 5

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Location: Queens Wharf, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Seafood

For seafood lovers looking for a dining option in Wellington which walks the balance between affordability and fine dining extremely well, it's hard to go past Shed 5. Located in a gorgeous waterfront position overlooking the wharf - and appropriately reflective of the largely seafood-oriented cuisine it so deftly dispenses - it's a centrally-located option that's easy to access from the city.

Shed 5 is situated within a quant, almost heritage-style building that oozes warmth and atmosphere; one that is classy and conducive to having an actual conversation over a meal without noise intruding. This beautiful eye for presentation carries over both to the decor and the dishes, making for an overall vibe that is upmarket yet unpretentious and thus enjoyable for all demographics.

As one might expect given its location, seafood is the star of the show here, with daily produce sourced fresh from the neighbouring fishmonger. Crayfish features prominently throughout, while shellfish such as mussels, Atlantic scallops and squid are also standouts - it's wonderfully fresh and tender regardless of your choice of dish.

"This beautiful eye for presentation carries over both to the decor and the dishes, making for an overall vibe that is upmarket yet unpretentious and thus enjoyable for all demographics."

While the bounty of the ocean is Shed 5's flagship offering, the menu offers a great and diverse selection of choices for each course overall, as lamb, duck and various other alternatives are no less viable or satisfying than their seafood options. Bread pockets served tucked into white napkins set the scene for things to come, with the rest of the meals thereafter all beautifully plated as well.

Wine aficionados will likewise be more than happy, as the wine list is extensive, along with the choice of cheeses with which to pair. For those unable to decide, the friendly and professional staff are always adept at providing solid food-wine combo recommendations.

Shed 5's staff are attentive but not overly so as to be bothersome or annoying, and while its popularity means the restaurant as almost universally busy, there's never a time where service here is anything less than superb.

While there's a little of a quality-over-quantity approach, a visit here is all about experiencing the many excellent flavours on offer. There's enough diversity of tastes to more than warrant repeat visits, making Shed 5 the ideal choice for bringing along friends or family from afar during their Wellington visit - or for locals with an affinity for seafood looking to celebrate a special occasion.

10. Istana Malaysia

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Location: Allen Street, Wellington, NZ

Cuisine: Malaysian

This long-running Malaysian restaurant has been a staple of the Wellington dining scene for over two decades, and shows no signs of either slowing down or cutting back on its overall quality.

A relatively underrated variety of food in general, Malaysian takes a skilled hand to make it stand out, and the expertise on display at Istana Malaysia is a prime example of this – this is genuine, fresh and wholesome Malaysian cuisine at its best.

While for many the unique spices that Malaysian cooking uses may seem foreign at first, the tongue quickly adjusts and Istana offers a solid selection of food types for all dietary requirements; if you haven’t had Malaysian food before, there will surely be something to suit your palate here.

Dishes that are staples of Malaysia such as Lamb Varuval and Udang Sambal can be flexibly adjusted to the appropriate spice level, and their roti’s (similar to Indian-style bread) are hand-made on site and serve as a tasty compliment to the mains.

"This is genuine, fresh and wholesome Malaysian cuisine at its best."

Istana Malaysia is located in a convenient central location in Wellington city, and upon entering the warm and welcoming atmosphere is immediately apparent – “service with a smile” is an increasing rarity in the Wellington dining scene, but that’s definitely not the case here.

The restaurant is tastefully decorated with themed items without being overly gaudy or stereotypical, and boasts an open kitchen that allows diners to see the chefs in action, which makes for a lively spectacle.

The restaurant also offers a surprisingly extensive wine and beer list, while visitors also have the option to BYO if you’re looking to keep the costs down further. Given that Istana Malaysia is already very reasonably-priced – especially in comparison with many other top-rated Wellington restaurants – it’s possible to enjoy a filling (and fulfilling) meal here that won’t strain your wallet.

Add to this the substantial portion size, and you’ve got one of Wellington’s best-value eats that’s easily accessible and wrapped up in a family-style atmosphere.

The Top 10 Things to do in Wellington, NZ

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Experience Oz Staff
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More than just a political capital city, Wellington has expanded its offerings over the years to become an entertaining and interesting travel destination in its own right; the city sits in a pleasant location with a great outlook, and is brimming with things to see and do that cover all ends of the travel spectrum.

Creative arts, award-winning cuisine, boutique charm and plenty of high quality wildlife attractions can be found either in or just outside Wellington, while it also serves as an ideal gateway for a day trip to any of a number of natural sightseeing hotspots in the vicinity on the North Island.

Culinary culture rules the day in Wellington, and those who love their food and drink will be in their element here; the city boasts more restaurants and cafes per capita than New York City, and has a widespread reputation for offering gourmet dining experiences with some of New Zealand’s best restaurants calling the city home.

Combine all of the above with some fantastic views to be had from a number of great lookouts and other vantage points nearby, a wonderful job of blending European and Maori history, and a rich cultural scene involving some outstanding examples of older architecture, and Wellington offers a complete package to keep both travellers and locals alike busy.

If you’re planning to pay a visit to New Zealand’s “cool capital”, here’s our list of recommendations for the top things to do in Wellington, NZ:

1. Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

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Location: 55 Cable St, Wellington

Wellington’s premier attraction also doubles as the country’s best historical and cultural man-made facility and one of the best overall museums in the Oceania region, with 6 floors worth of incredible displays and interactive exhibitions blending European and Maori exhibits within a building that’s a veritable work of art itself.

There are a dizzying array of things to see and absorb at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to properly experience everything in a single day. The museum features a range of collections covering all aspects of everything “NZ”, from Pacific cultures and art, to separate categories of natural history such as birds, reptiles, fish and much more along with an incredible number of curated items that provide some of the most detailed insight into New Zealand’s past available.

Over 200,000 individual items are contained within the museum, all separated out into some impressive attractions in their own right; highlights include the “OurSpace” interactive exhibition with its interactive wall and thrill rides, a massive Colossal Squid display that shows off the heaviest of its kind ever caught, and the “Awesome Forces” earthquake house that goes into detail on the workings, causes and effects of quakes which have had a significant impact on New Zealand both historically and in recent times.

The museum features a range of collections covering all aspects of everything “NZ”, from Pacific cultures and art, to natural history and curated items providing detailed insight into New Zealand’s past available.

The museum simply offers too many essentials to mention, and personal preference and interest plays a large enough role to make recommendations of any specifics pointless – it’s best to simply ensure that you go (preferably on a weekday outside of school holidays, as its popularity means it’s almost always crowded during peak times) and determine your favourite parts yourself.

The diverse away of displays and emphasis on interaction means that you won’t need to have a specific interest in history either.

As a final added bonus, the majority of the museum is absolutely free to explore, with only special, seasonal exhibitions requiring payment, so if you’re looking for something to do in Wellington that provides the ultimate balance of entertainment vs. cost-effectiveness, you’d be foolish to pass this up. One of New Zealand’s true must-do experiences.

2. Mt Victoria Lookout

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Location: 172 Oriental Parade, Wellington

Most people visiting any city will want to travel to the best available lookout, and Mount Victoria is Wellington’s answer to this, providing an amazing vantage point that looks out over the waters of the Cook Strait and the many landmarks and panorama of the city as a whole.

Easily accessible via a short drive from the city up to its parking area or by walking a scenic track from its base, you’ll want to bring your camera for this one – it’s one of the most-photographed spots in the region, both from the main lookout and the second which sits around a 300m walk away (no parking here).

The striking colours of the harbour take on a particular beauty when viewed from high above, and the various yachts and other boats at berth with the different styles of buildings in the background coupled with the greenery of the surrounding mountain ranges make for an interesting cityscape.

The mountain is 198 metres high and the 360 degree perspective is well worth the effort if walking – or money if taking public transport – to come to its summit.

The mountain is 198 metres high, and the 360 degree perspective is well worth the effort if walking – or money if taking public transport – to come to its summit. Standout landmarks that are prominently visible from this spot include Wellington Airport, Westpac Stadium and the various colonial-style buildings which dot the hillside facing the waterfront.

At the top of the mountain you’ll also encounter a unique statue named Byrd Monument which was erected to honour American explorer and aviator Richard Byrd who used New Zealand as a base for several important Antarctic expeditions over the course of 25 years.

The walk up to the top is enjoyable but also quite long – expect to spend around 1.5 hours if you aren’t pushing yourself – while bus serves are available throughout the week which can take visitors directly to the top for a reasonable price. Bear in mind that Mount Victoria’s lookouts are also one of the windiest spots in Wellington, so wearing windproof clothing is essential on blustery days.

Regardless of weather, the fact that you simply can’t get comparable views in any other easily accessible spot in Wellington makes Mount Victoria’s lookout a true must-visit during your time in the city.

3. Wellington Botanic Gardens

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Location: 101 Glenmore, Wellington

New Zealand as a whole is famed for the quality of its gardens, and Wellington’s Botanical Gardens are amongst the best of any on offer throughout the country. As one of NZ’s Gardens of National Significance, these gardens have a lot to live up to, and all it takes is a little exploration to see that they well and truly do.

Situated in the aforementioned wonderful spot overlooking Wellington, the Botanic Gardens are a dazzling array of all things floral – exotic forests, stunning rose gardens, lush native bush and smaller specially-themed areas all combine to provide a breathtaking new spectacle to be taken in around every path.

Beginning from the top of the gardens (which is advisable as walking downhill is much easier on the legs), a range of paths wind their way between magnificent trees the specialised gardens over an absolutely massive area; it’s easy to spend several hours or more here, particularly if you’re the type who likes to – literally – stop and smell the roses.

The gardens are built around the trek from the top station of the Wellington Cable Car down to the city, so simply grab a one-way ticket to the top and then make your way down over the course of one or two hours. It’s an extremely photogenic walk, with plenty of spots to pause, rest and take some snapshots – the serene duck pond surrounded by greenery with its charming gazebo is a highlight, as is the amazing rose garden which comes into full bloom in the summer months and where the gardens’ restaurant is located.

As one of NZ’s Gardens of National Significance, these gardens have a lot to live up to, and all it takes is a little exploration to see that they well and truly do.

It’s also a spot that’s not entirely unenjoyable for kids, either – while the image of a floral garden might not seem of much interest for the little ones, there’s a robust playground for them to play on along with a flying fox that’s always popular. It makes for a great spot for a picnic; simply bring some food and drink and relax amongst the greenery while the kids burn off their energy.

The track through the gardens culminates in a cemetery that features some truly remarkable grave stones and emits an atmosphere of peace, and is well worth a quick look if you aren’t the type to find it depressing.

Featuring a wide variation of native NZ and exotic plants of nearly endless varieties spread out over a massive 62 acre area, there’s something for everyone who can appreciate natural beauty at Wellington Botanical Gardens.

4. Ride the Wellington Cable Car

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Location: 280 Lambton Quay, Wellington

The ideal starting point for any trip to Wellington; its iconic cable car system is both a long-standing symbol of the city and a great way to see some of Wellington’s key attractions while taking in great views along the way.

Having been in operation in some form since way back in 1902, the Wellington Cable Car is both a charming and scenic way to navigate some of the city’s steep and hilly terrain, while also being something of an attraction in itself as it’s one of the best ways to see the full panorama of Wellington and its surrounds laid out before you at a very reasonable price.

It’s an efficient and smooth ride that only takes around 10 minutes in total, but the length of the trip is hardly the point – plenty of the other top attractions on this list below wouldn’t be nearly as easily accessible for visitors to the city if it wasn’t for the Wellington Cable Car.

Wellington’s iconic cable car system is both a long-standing symbol of the city and a great way to see some of Wellington’s key attractions while taking in great views along the way.

Taking the Cable Car straight up and back down again is thus missing the point; after travelling to the top and getting an amazing outlook of the harbour and other scenery on offer while grabbing a photo or three, you can use the rest of the stops along its route to make for an full day of sightseeing entertainment.

Staff on the Cable Car are also always very helpful and friendly, and can serve as a great source of information for first-timers to Wellington who are looking for guidance on how to get from A to B. There’s also a cafe at the top which is a nice place to enjoy a spot of refreshment with a wonderful outlook.

If you’re planning to make a day of the other attractions and are willing to do a bit of walking, it’s a good idea to purchase a one-way ticket to the top and then make your way back down to the bottom via the Botanic Gardens (detailed further below). As a great method of transport, an effortless way to get some panoramic views, and a springboard for enjoying a number of other essential Wellington attractions, the Wellington Cable Car should be the first port of all for anyone looking to get their bearings and orientate themselves with Wellington’s layout.

5. Oriental Bay

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Location: Waterfront, Wellington

Water and maritime influence has always played a large part in both Wellington’s and New Zealand’s history as a whole, and Wellington’s own waterfront is the city’s answer to this aquatic reputation.

Other than the views of Mount Victoria (detailed below) and the Cable Car, there’s perhaps no better symbol of Wellington than Oriental Bay with its various waterfront walks and sections of quality sandy beach that can be found mere metres from development on the city shoreline. This is the spot where the combination of Wellington’s culinary, artistic and entertainment offerings all blend seamlessly into a great stretch for a walk, with visitors able to explore as much or as little of the foreshore as they like.

This is the spot where the combination of Wellington’s culinary, artistic and entertainment offerings all blend seamlessly into a great stretch for a walk.

The area is always a hub of activity that’s busy with people enjoying all its offerings, whether it’s swimming in the sea or public pool, stopping to enjoy an ice cream on a warm day, going for a jog or simply relaxing in the sun. From the waterfront, visitors can get a wonderful view of Wellington city during a walk around its curved layout, and its array of pine trees that dot the area at regular intervals can provide a decent respite from the surprisingly-harsh sunshine.

There are plenty of high quality cafes and restaurants littered throughout Oriental Bay offering everything from cheap sausage rolls and meat pies all the way up to international-quality cuisine, as well as an array of bars for those who want to quench their thirst while getting a great outlook onto the harbour and beyond.

Considerable investment has gone into developing and expanding the foreshore by local council, to the point that it’s not well worth the standard of an internationally-recognised capital city. Over time they’ve added playgrounds, well-equipped toilet and shower facilities, impressive fountain, plenty of parking and some quality landscaping that makes the foreshore a key focal point of the city as a whole that’s easy to enjoy at both day and night.

6. Zealandia Karori Sanctuary

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Location: 53 Waiapu Rd, Wellington

For a wildlife experience that speaks pure “New Zealand”, visitors and locals alike can’t go past Zealandia which is truly unique in what it provides – it’s something akin to stepping far back in time to get an in-depth look at how the iconic bird life of NZ existed before affected by the influence of mankind.

Part wildlife park, part tour, part testament to the powers of conservation, Zealandia is a vast sanctuary set within a valley that displays 80 million years worth of the country’s natural history from the prehistoric past all the way up to the country’s colonisation by humans all just 10 minutes from the heart of the Wellington CBD.

The valley of Zealandia is a visual feast comprised of an array of forests, lakes and streams that provide as an enjoyable environment to explore the various wildlife offerings, and its difference to the surrounding city environs makes it almost an attraction in itself.

The facility is laid out as a series of walks that allow visitors to journey through some of the lush flora on offer while seeing the unique bird life and other rare animals going about their day in untouched natural environs. Over 40 species including such New Zealand native icons as large Takahe, Kaka and Tui’s can be seen on both ground and air, with the wildlife free to roam around as they see fit – which maintains a natural atmosphere but can also sometimes make it difficult to get up close with the animals.

Perhaps the most obvious highlight for visitors coming to Zealandia from abroad will be the iconic Kiwi birds that are a national symbol of the country, and here there are over 100 that can be found within the expanse of the valley – although their nocturnal nature means you’ll have to visit during the night to get a proper Kiwi-oriented experience.

Zealandia is a vast sanctuary set within a valley that displays 80 million years worth of the country’s natural history.

Both day and night experiences are available that each offer a totally different perspective on the wildlife; the day time provides a larger number of sighting opportunities due to the sheer volume of birds that are out in the sunshine, while the night tour comes with a more in-depth look at the inhabitants of the night.

Guides are adept at taking night visitors to spots where they are most likely to see the Kiwis, while providing some educational and informative insight as to their behaviour, diet and habitats. There’s even the chance to see glow worms casting their twinkling glow in the darkness – a magical experience that’s popular with both kids and adults alike.

Full credit must go both to the facility’s operators and their volunteer guides who have worked extremely hard to both maintain such a fragile ecosystem while also making themselves available at regular intervals around the valley to answer any questions or provide visitors with guidance when requested. Zealandia is a stunning example of the passion that its staff have shown by being able to showcase such a delicate environment without negatively affecting the endangered species contained within.

If you’ve ever wanted to step directly into a landscape before time, Zealandia is a very reasonably-priced and convenient way to do so during your time in Wellington.

7. Take the Interislander Ferry

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Location:Pipitea, Wellington

While it’s preferred method of getting from the North Island to the South Island and vice-versa, the Interislander Ferry is a truly scenic journey in and of itself that plies its trade between Wellington and the port of Picton on the tip of the South Island. The trip – which covers a distance of 92 kilometres and takes roughly 3 hours to complete – offers some breathtaking views as the ferry makes its way out of Wellington and navigates its way through the series of islands that dot the vibrant blue waters of the Cook Strait.

The vessel features spacious decks that are great for getting unobstructed views of the spectacle, as well as a host of facilities on board including a restaurant in the front end, activities (including a magic show) to keep kids occupied, and a sheltered indoor section that shows a range of movies detailing both the surrounds and the journey.

Sightseeing opportunities abound during the trip, with the Cook Strait a haven for various types of marine life, and spotting ocean-dwellers such as dolphins, seals, whales and orcas in the sections that pass through the Marlborough Sounds and Tory Channel is always a possibility.

The trip offers some breathtaking views as the ferry makes its way out of Wellington and navigates its way through the vibrant blue waters of the Cook Strait.

Weather plays a large role in how enjoyable your journey on the Interislander will be – on clear days its truly spectacular with views that can extend far into the distance, however strong winds are prone to kicking up which can make the experience chilly if you’re looking to enjoy the outer deck.

It’s thus highly advisable to wear layered clothing for your journey; if you get good conditions, you can strip off and relax on the deck in the sunshine, while if you’re unlucky you can protect yourself from the elements and still take in the views over the railing. This can also effect how smooth the ride is, as the waters of the Cook Strait can become fairly choppy under adverse conditions, so if you’re prone to seasickness then be sure to plan accordingly.

There are few experiences in New Zealand that make the simple task of “getting from A to B” as enjoyable as the Interislander does, and even if you haven’t been planning to travel to the South Island when in Wellington it’s well worth doing for a day trip, or staying overnight to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of Picton before returning the next day. Truly worthy of the title of “one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world”.

8. Space Place / Carter Observatory

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Location: 40 Salamanca Road, Wellington

For those looking for a dose of telescopic stargazing, Wellington’s Carter Observatory offers a state-of-the-art facility for peering deeper into the skies that has been enthralling residents and visitors to the city alike for over 70 years.

The observatory aims to provide a comprehensive space-oriented experience that’s more than just simply viewing the solar system; it’s an exhibition that is filled with displays and greatly enhanced by incorporating digital technology into the proceedings that go a long way to making what can be a complex topic more accessible for both kids and the less informed.

An amazing film held in the surprisingly well-equipped planetarium documenting the history of space and the galaxy, as well as short features about each individual planet in the solar system are both entertaining and informative – and help to put a lot of what you’ll be seeing through the telescope into greater context.

Wellington’s Carter Observatory offers a state-of-the-art facility for peering deeper into the skies that has been enthralling residents and visitors to the city alike for over 70 years.

The Carter Observatory also adds a sense of true New Zealand historical and cultural flavour to the standard observatory experience by providing perspectives on the traditional Maori views on the role of the stars, attitudes towards creation, and the universe through the eyes of their culture. Each constellation is given its own little feature, and the differences between European attitudes and naming conventions to other cultures is particularly interesting.

There’s also plenty of chances for kids to get hands-on with exhibits and enjoy themselves while hopefully learning something along the way, while the series of self-guided electronic displays targeted at adults allow visitors to make their way through and absorb the information on offer at their own pace.

The Carter Observatory is located in a scenic setting at the top of the city’s Botanical Gardens chosen to grant the most unobstructed viewpoint towards the sky, and can be reached either via a drive up to the Botanic Gardens carpark or by taking the Wellington Cable Car as mentioned above.

With the introductory video lasting for 45 minutes, a range of talks available and the numerous exhibits and stargazing opportunities all put together, it’s easy to spend several hours at the observatory which makes it great value for money and well worth visiting regardless of if you’ve got a special interest in space or not.

9. Wellington Zoo

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Location: 200 Daniell Street, Wellington

As New Zealand’s first zoo and one of the most highly regarded wildlife attractions in the country, if you’re a lover of animals or have kids along for your trip then it’s a no-brainer to pay a visit to Wellington Zoo.

Perched on a hillside overlooking the heart of Wellington City, while it’s not a massive zoo in a global context, Wellington Zoo offers a wide array of wonderful and weird animals from all over the world and focuses on providing an interactive and immersive experience while still keeping conservation efforts at the forefront. Over 100 different species of animals live here, including native New Zealand favourites such as the Kiwi Bird, Kaka, Kea and Tuatara and numerous animals from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

Over 100 different species of animals live here, including native New Zealand favourites such as the Kiwi Bird, Kaka, Kea and Tuatara and numerous animals from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas.

The zoo is nicely laid out and quite compact, which both helps from getting from one exhibit to the next while saving the legs of children considering parts of it are quite hilly, and features a range of animal presentations and talks throughout the day included in the cost of the ticket price – the bird show, tiger talk and giraffe presentation are all particular favourites.

The staff of Wellington Zoo have also made a concerted effort to keep the animal enclosures as spacious and natural as possible, and its animals all look generally happy, with everything kept immaculately clean and running well. There’s also a large emphasis on being as “hands-on” as possible without disturbing the animals; kids will love it here as there are plenty of chances for them to do hand-feedings as well as slides and other features for them to play and pose on spread throughout the grounds.

Wellington Zoo also offers a variety of other bookable experiences should you wish to spend a bit more money and get a detailed encounter with the likes of cheetahs, lions, giraffes, meerkats and red pandas all available to pay a visit with up close. These last for half an hour, during which you’ll be accompanied by a keeper and get to interact directly and pose for a photo with your choice of animal.

It’s truly a world-class facility that is continually expanding and adding new features, and with its ease of access, well-kept facilities, emphasis on interaction and variety of animals, Wellington Zoo will be sure to put a smile on the faces of both kids and adults alike.

10. Old St. Paul's Cathedral

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Location: 34 Mulgrave St, Wellington

One of the finest examples of 19th century Gothic architecture still standing in New Zealand, Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was opened all the way back in 1866 and has been a long-standing icon in the city.

While it’s no longer functioning as a parish church, it makes for an essential spot to visit on any Wellington itinerary for those who have a fondness for architecture and can respect the finery of human craftsmanship. When viewed from the outside, “quaint” would probably be the best word to describe Old St. Paul’s – it’s got a relatively unassuming white wooden facade – however upon stepping inside it’s easy to see why it remains such a popular local attraction to this day.

Carved English oak features throughout, and is just one of six different kinds of timber used in its construction – all of which have been extremely well preserved and maintained.

Intricately crafted timber woodwork intermingles with incredible, multi-coloured windows of stained glass that are both still in remarkably good condition. The warm and peaceful atmosphere inside is palpable, and it doesn’t require any particular level of spirituality or religious worship to appreciate. Carved English oak features throughout, and is just one of six different kinds of timber used in its construction – all of which have been extremely well preserved and maintained.

Old St. Paul’s Cathedral is rich with history, and there are always knowledgeable and willing volunteers on hand who will go into detail about the building and surrounds’ history and serve as great ambassadors for the church as a whole.

The church also pays its respect to American soldiers who made their way across the Pacific to aid in the defence of New Zealand during World War 2, with a 48-starred flag of the USA displayed on the church’s nave, which can make for an unexpected yet intriguing story to hear firsthand. Just a few minutes’ stroll from the CBD and located near Wellington’s Parliament buildings, while you may only need to spend a short amount of time here, that’s all it will take to gain an appreciation for the man-made beauty of Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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