Christchurch travel guide
Christchurch is the biggest city in Canterbury and the largest city in the South Island. It is also the city you’re most likely to fly into when arriving down south.
Sitting on the banks of the beautiful Avon River, Christchurch is recognised as the oldest established city in New Zealand. Even walking around the city now, you’ll find beautiful English architecture.
In recent times Christchurch has faced more than its fair share of challenges (in the form of earthquakes and a tragic mosque attack), but it has come through even stronger and keen to rebuild.
In fact, it is now one of the most unique cities in New Zealand as urban regeneration sits alongside its beautiful historic buildings.
Tourists and locals alike love the Garden City and the beautiful tranquillity that can be found there – even as the second-most populous city in the country.
When you’re ready to explore, you’ll find lots of fantastic museums, adventure activities and wildlife centres in the city. One thing’s for sure – you won’t run out of things to do there.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Christchurch is one of the few cities worldwide that operates as a ‘gateway’ to Antarctica?
An Overview of Christchurch
|Elevation||20 metres above sea level|
|Main attractions||Christchurch Gondola, the International Antarctic Centre, lush gardens, museums, adventure activities and markets.|
|Neighbouring destinations||Timaru, Akaroa, Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura and Tekapo.|
The History of Christchurch
Christchurch has a colourful and long history.
The first people, the Moa Hunters, were thought to have arrived around AD 1000. They were later either killed or absorbed into a tribe when the North Island Māori came to the area between 1500 and 1700.
During the 1800s, a group of European settlers established themselves in the area and in the early 1850s, Canterbury was made an official province.
Christchurch got its official ‘city status’ in July 1856 by Royal Charter, which makes it one of the oldest, if not the oldest, city in New Zealand.
Due to its increasing population, Christchurch suffered several epidemics and the city became very polluted. However, in the 1880s a sewage system was put in place which helped overcome this.
Over the early years, many Māori people and settlers died from European diseases too, especially the Spanish Flu Epidemic which took place in 1918.
Thankfully, Christchurch is now a vibrant and pollution-free city, so don’t skip it off your itinerary!
The Geography of Christchurch
Christchurch is situated along the Avon River which flows through the city centre until it eventually runs out into an estuary.
The inner city itself is notably flat (unlike Auckland and Wellington), but the Port Hills provide a welcome change of scenery as you head over towards Lyttelton.
Like many other cities in New Zealand, the area around Christchurch is extremely seismically active. This is due to the country’s location on the Pacific Ring of Fire.
One of the first recorded earthquakes occurred on the 1st of September 1888; this was known as the North Canterbury Earthquake. Since then, the city has encountered plenty of seismic activity over the years.
The earthquake that lives in the memory of all New Zealanders was the shake of 2011. This was one of the worst earthquakes in our country’s history, sadly killing 185 people and injuring over 1,500.
Things to do in Christchurch
There are endless things to do in Christchurch so you’ll have no problem finding activities to jam-pack your itinerary.
Top activities and attractions include:
The Christchurch Gondola
the Christchurch Gondola [save 10% with the promo code NZTTPLAY] – this attraction offers stunning views of the city, the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps. Combine it with a ride on the historic tram and with punting on the Avon River.
Lush Green Spaces
Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Hagley Park North and Mona Vale Garden Park are some of the top areas to relax amongst Mother Nature.
Christchurch is home to the Canterbury Museum (which is due to close for renovations soon, double check it’s open at the time of your visit), the Air Force Museum of New Zealand and Quake City.
The most popular options include the Riverside Market, Christchurch Farmer’s Market, Riccarton Sunday Market and Lyttelton Farmers’ Market.
The International Antarctic Centre
Located right by the airport, the International Antarctic Centre [promo code NZTTPLAY] is known for its immersive experiences and wildlife.
Talking about animals, kids will love Orana Wildlife Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.
You’ll find plenty of adventurous options in the Garden City, including Christchurch Adventure Park (with the longest zipline in NZ), Alpine Jet Thrills, paragliding and skydiving!
There are nearly 200 pieces of street art in the city so take some time to wander around and take photographs.
He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools
The He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools are beautiful seaside hot pools. Just be sure to book your spot in advance.
New Regent Street
Pay this spot a visit for great cocktail and whiskey bars, restaurants and ice creams (it’s Rollickin Gelato that you’ll want).
Sumner, New Brighton, Corsair Bay and Taylors Mistake are all great choices if you want to spend some time by the seaside.
Save Money on Your Visit
As a reader of NZTT, you’re entitled to a range of discounts in the region.
Pick up a bargain through BookMe (no promo code required), or save 10% on anything sold through Klook using the following promo codes:
- Accommodation – NZTTSTAY
- Activities, attractions, transport and SIM cards – NZTTPLAY
- Rental cars – NZTTROADTRIP (pay upfront, not on collection).
Also check out the following local specials…
Places to Eat in Christchurch
As Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island you won’t be short of food options. Here are some of the best places to eat:
Little High Eatery
This is a wonderful choice if everyone in your group wants to choose their own cuisine. This upmarket food court is home to eight different local and family-run restaurants, and you can order from all of them while sitting at the same table.
Spice Paragon is an Asian fusion restaurant that prides itself on fresh ingredients, bold flavours, and an authentic experience.
Christchurch Tramway Restaurant
The Christchurch Tramway Restaurant is one of the most unique places to eat in Christchurch as you’ll be dining on a tram as you explore the city!
Thai Orchid Restaurant
If you’re a fan of Thai food (aren’t we all) then you need to visit Thai Orchid Restaurant, as the food and people are both incredible!
Check out our guide to the best cafes in Christchurch too.
The Best Places to Stay in Christchurch
To see the best of Christchurch we recommend spending at least three days in the city. Luckily, there are plenty of accommodation options!
Here are a few of our top picks:
Budget: Hotel Give
This budget-friendly hotel is one of the most affordable options you’ll find in the city. Hotel Give is located right next to the Botanical Gardens and offers a variety of dorm rooms, deluxe rooms and self-contained apartments. You’ll benefit from plenty of fantastic facilities too.
Check availability: Hotel Give.
Mid-range: The Parque
This hotel is situated near some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the Christchurch Art Gallery. There are plenty of studio rooms available and each one is fitted with a private kitchenette, an ensuite bathroom, free WiFi and other amenities.
Check availability: The Parque.
Luxury: Carnmore Hotel Christchurch
Offering a modern design, 88 stylish rooms and a great location, this a fantastic place to stay if you’re looking to visit Christchurch. There are a variety of rooms to choose from ranging from twin rooms to studios.
Check availability: Carnmore Hotel Christchurch.
5* Hotel: The Observatory Hotel Christchurch
This gorgeous hotel is located in the city centre and is just a short walk from a variety of tourist attractions. Not only are the rooms gorgeous, but there’s a fitness centre on-site and car hire is available at the property – this is a hotel to remember!
Check availability: The Observatory Hotel Christchurch.
With a few glass pods located just outside of Christchurch, these are the ultimate luxury experience. Plus, we have a discount for you!
Self-contained accommodation: 2-bedroom rental
This property sleeps four people and is just two minutes from the CBD. Boasting a large open-plan living area, private patio area and garage parking, this place is the perfect modern getaway for a small group or family.
Check availability: 2-bedroom rental.
Travelling in and out of Christchurch
When you’re ready to move on from Christchurch, these articles should help you on your way.
Nearby Towns and Attractions
You find yourself short of things to do in Christchurch but if you’re looking to do a couple of day trips or you’re ready to move on, then you’ve got plenty of options.
The easiest way to get around is to hire a car and then you’ve got complete flexibility. Or you might like to make use of a [discounted] hop-on hop-off bus service to get around.
Akaroa is one of the best destinations in the Canterbury region. It is known for its French history and is located on the Banks Peninsula.
You’ll find plenty of fantastic things to do there, particularly if you enjoy food and wildlife.
Some of the most popular things to do in Akaroa include looking out for dolphins, visiting Akaroa Lighthouse and kayaking in Pohatu Marine Reserve.
Akaroa is a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch.
Cheviot is located halfway between Christchurch and Kaikōura, along the Alpine Pacific Touring Route. On the way, you’ll drive through picturesque vineyards so it’s a fantastic day trip from the Garden City.
During your time there, you’ll want to spend some time on the coast, visit a winery and wander around the Cheviot Museum.
Though it’s unlikely to be a day trip by itself, it is a worthwhile stop on the way through.
Cheviot is a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch.
Continuing North (and heading inland a bit), you’ll find Hanmer Springs, a charming alpine village that’s the perfect spot both for relaxation and adventure. Famous for its thermal hot pools and breathtaking landscapes, this town has a lot to offer.
Some of the best places to visit here include the Hanmer Springs Hot Pools [save 10% using the promo code NZTTPLAY], the Hanmer Springs Animal Park (which is a real favourite with the kids), and A-Maze-N-Golf.
Summer or winter, this is one of our favourite family-friendly spots.
Hanmer Springs is a 1-hour 45-minute drive from Christchurch.
North of Christchurch, Kaikōura is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in New Zealand. It’s a haven for marine life. There, you can swim with dolphins, look out for whales and sea lions, and search for penguins.
If that alone doesn’t manage to convince you then Kaikōura is one of the best spots in the country for watersports; namely kayaking [use the promo code NZTTPLAY to save 10% on this wildlife kayak], paddleboarding, and surfing.
It’s also a top spot to enjoy fresh seafood (known as kaimoana in te reo Māori).
Kaikōura is a 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch.
Looking in another direction, you’ll find Timaru, the second largest city in the Canterbury Region (after Christchurch). South of Christchurch, it’s famous for its Boxing Day Festival, Māori rock art, and penguins, which can be found along Caroline Bay.
Other popular things to do in Timaru include visiting the South Canterbury Museum, walking around Timaru Botanic Gardens and strolling on the South Beach Coastal Track.
Timaru is a 2-hour drive from Christchurch.
Check Out the Rest of Canterbury
Outside of these spots, you’ll find plenty of gems spread across the Canterbury region. With Tekapo, Mt Cook, Oamaru, Methven and Ashburton all an easy drive away, along with Dunedin that’s not much further, it’s time to get out exploring.
With so much to do in the Canterbury region, you’ll want to allow plenty of time whilst visiting.
From lush gardens to incredible museums, Christchurch (and its surrounds) has so much to offer.