10 Things to Do in Christchurch, New Zealand

When I was living in Christchurch, visitors always asked me what were some of the best things to do in the city. Here are my 10 Things to Do in Christchurch, suitable for vacations of any length.

As a Canadian living in Christchurch and working in the hospitality industry, I was constantly asked by international visitors what are the best things to do in Christchurch, especially if your time in the city is limited. As the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch offers so many attractions and great places to go that it is hard to limit this list to just ten things; however these are my picks for must-dos when you visit Christchurch, New Zealand.

1. The Arts Centre. These former Canterbury University buildings reflect the Gothic revival style popular in the mid-nineteenth century when the University was founded. The historical buildings are perfectly preserved and now contain many different art galleries, clothing stores and crafts markets. The Academy Cinema and Court Theatre entertain Arts Centre patrons and the Arts Market makes the courtyard and streets come alive every Saturday and Sunday, as food and crafts vendors display their wares for visitors and locals alike. Popular restaurants in the Arts Centre include Annie’s and Dux DeLux, a pub with possibly the best patio in Christchurch, its own line of beers (including the must-tries – Ginger Tom and Dux Lager) and live music almost every night. The Arts Centre is suitable for all ages and is one of the best places to spend a sunny afternoon in Christchurch. For more information and a list of events see: http://www.artscentre.org.nz/

2. Oxford Terrace and the Avon River. The Avon River softly winds through downtown Christchurch, decorated by the willow trees and wild flowers that line the banks. Oxford Terrace, follows alongside the peaceful river, allowing you to experience the Avon by strolling along the road. Patios and some of the most popular restaurants in Christchurch line the Terrace and make the Strip (as the locals call it) one of the most popular tourist destinations in town and one of the best places to go for a local beer or glass of wine on a summer afternoon. The best way to experience the Avon, however, is by either renting a boat yourself or going punting. From just $20.00 NZD (as of 2010), an experienced punter takes you on a forty minute relaxing boat ride down the lovely Avon, which also happens to wind through Hagley Park, number 4 on our list.

3. The Grand Tour. I would only recommend this to people who have very little time to spend in Christchurch, as most of the Grand Tour may be seen walking around the city for free. The Grand Tour, however, offers convenience and comfort for those who may not be able to otherwise experience the city. The Grand Tour is a package deal which includes a punt down the Avon River, a tram ride on a circular track which departs from Cathedral Square and offers you an informative tour of downtown Christchurchanda gondola ride which allows you to view Christchurch from above. This can all be done in an afternoon soit especiallyappealsto those worried about time. For more information see: http://www.welcomeaboard.co.nz/

4. Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens. A huge park that takes up a significant portion of the Christchurch downtown area, Hagley Park cannot be missed. Events ranging from Christmas concerts to the annual music festival Sound Day to sporting events and garden shows are held throughout the year in the large green space. If you are pressed for time, at least take a walk through the Botanic Gardens. Located where Hagley Park meets the Arts Centre and next to the Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens are spectacular when in season and offer a peaceful retreat from the city nearby.

5. Cathedral Square. Possibly Christchurch’s most iconic landmark, Cathedral Square, actually offers very little to do and is only really worth a quick walk through. The centre of the square is filled with food and, on weekends, crafts vendors, though if you can make the trip to the Arts Centre, as the quality and price is usually better there. The square houses the Christchurch Cathedral where you may attend mass or just walk through and check out the church. The Cathedral does not take long to see. The square itself is surrounded by hotels, internet cafes, fast food and a Starbucks. This is the tourist hub of Christchurch and while I cannot leave it off the list of things to see, I also cannot highly recommend it.

6. The Christchurch Art Gallery. This imposing building located on Montreal Street right next to the Arts Centre is a must-do for any art lover. The newly renovated Gallery hosts an impressive collection of New Zealand art, from Maori to European, classical to contemporary, with a particularly interesting permanent exhibition of ex-pat New Zealand artists. Constantly changing temporary exhibitions are in tune with the international art scene and for a smaller city Christchurch earns international respect for its world class gallery. For more information, see: http://www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz/

7. Sumner. These pastsix Things to Do have all been located right next to each other in the city centre. Sumner, a suburb of Christchurch, requires about a 15-20 minute drive outside of the city but is certainly worth the trip. With beautiful mansions built into cliff faces overlooking the Pacific Ocean and pristine beaches surrounding a small but vibrant town centre, Sumner is the perfect place to spend a sunny day. After lying on the beach and taking a dip in the ocean, walk into the town centre to explore some of Christchurch’s best restaurants or check out the Hollywood Cinema. The best thing to do in Sumner, however, is drive up one of the cliffs to the start of one of Sumner’s nature walks. Here you can walk along cliff edges, check out the bird sanctuaries on the rocks below and even walk to Taylor’s Mistake, one of Christchurch’s best and most secluded beaches. New Brighton is another popular suburban beach destination but if you have limited time, Sumner offers far more to see.

8. Poplar Lanes and Sol Square. These two sections of downtown Christchurch are pedestrian only and dedicated to nightlife, restaurants and shopping. Sol Square is primarily made up of bars and comes alive at night. Other than a few upscale wine bars, Sol Square is aimed for a bit of a younger crowd, 18-25. This can be fun if you’re up for a night of drinking, dancing and loud music. Some notable bars include Fat Eddies, Cleaners Only, Fish and Chips and Cartel. Poplar Lanes offers daytime shopping (including some great vintage stores) and caters to more of a 25-35 crowd, with live music, more rock bars and lots of patios. Notable bars in Poplar Lanes include Vespa, Goodbye Blue Monday and the Twisted Hop.

9. High Street. If you’re looking for boutique shopping, High Street is the place to go. While Cashel Street offers the standard fare from Glassons to Hallensteins, High Street features high end and local designers, including Annah Stretton, Kilt, Freesia and Aria. High Street also features many high end cafes and salons and makesthe perfect spot for a relaxing day shopping with the girls.

10. Lyttelton. The harbour town of Lyttelton is about a half hour’s drive from downtown Christchurch, through a mountain tunnel and onto the Banks Peninsula. The British influence on Lyttelton is immediately felt, as traditional British pubs, restaurants and general stores offer imported goods and classic British fare. The beautiful views of the Pacific and the busy commercial harbour make Lyttelton worth checking out but it is the hidden garden cafes and bars that can keep you entertained on a sunny afternoon. From ice cream parlours to jazz bars to the eccentric Wunderbar, Lyttelton is full of surprises and if you have the time, certainly worth the trip.


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