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?

A gondola in Christchurch that provides a panoramic view of the city.
Enjoy stunning views from the Christchurch Gondolasave using the promo code NZTT.

Table of contents

An Overview of Christchurch

Population~389,300
Airport codeCHC
RegionCanterbury
Area295 km2
Elevation20 metres above sea level
Main attractionsChristchurch Gondola, the International Antarctic Centre, lush gardens, museums, adventure activities and markets.
Neighbouring destinationsTimaru, Akaroa, Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura and Tekapo.
Lots of people swimming, surfing and enjoy Sunmer Beach in Christchurch.
Sumner Beach is a popular spot just out of the inner city.

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!

Pole boating ride in Avon River.
Punting down the Avon River – life has changed a lot in Christchurch over the years. Photo: Graeme Murray.

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.

A family of four walking on the Port Hills, with the ocean in the background.
The Port Hills provide beautiful views out over the harbour.

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

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. [save with the promo code NZTT].

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.

Museums

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.

Markets

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 NZTT] is known for its immersive experiences and wildlife.

Wildlife Experiences

Talking about animals, kids will love Orana Wildlife Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.

Adventure Activities

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!

Street Art

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).

Beaches

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 Backpacker Deals using the coupon code NZTT.

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

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.

Two women drinking coffee in a modern Christchurch cade.
Enjoy eating and drinking your way around Christchurch. Photo: ChristchurchNZ.

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: Colombo in the City

Offering modern, comfortable accommodation at a great price, Colombo in the City is a great mid-range accommodation choice.

You’ll find it well-located and an easy walk from the city centre.

Plus they have laundry facilities and kitchenettes in-room to help you save money.

Check availability: Colombo in the City.

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.

Glamping: PurePods

With a few glass pods located just outside of Christchurch, these are the ultimate luxury experience. Plus, we have a discount for you!

A lighted accommodation of Kokomea Purepod under a starry night sky.
A glass cabin in the middle of nowhere – how amazing!

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

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.

>>> Explore Akaroa.

A car on the road passing by a signpost.
Driving in and around Akaroa is always a treat. Photo: Graeme Murray.

Cheviot

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.

A glassy lake surrounded by trees in Cheviot.
St Anne’s Lagoon is a lovely place to stop near Cheviot.

Hanmer Springs

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, 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.

>>> Explore Hanmer Springs.

A young girl with her father hidden behind her riding an inflatable raft on a waterslide.
Hit the water slides and hot pools at Hanmer Springs.

Kaikōura

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 [discounted] kayaking, paddle boarding, 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.

>>> Explore Kaikōura.

School of dolphins underwater.
Kaikōura is known for its incredible marine life.

Timaru

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.

>>> Explore Timaru.

Three little blue penguins on the sand in Timaru, New Zealand.
Three little blue penguins on the beach in Timaru. Photo: Timaru Penguins.

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.

A woman walking on the rocky tracks of Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park.
Aoraki Mount Cook is a popular spot for hiking, scenic flights and heli hiking.

From lush gardens to incredible museums, Christchurch (and its surrounds) has so much to offer.