Many of our overseas family and friends are visiting New Zealand (and Christchurch) for the very first time in March, while others are returning to a city that has changed considerably since they last visited. Since receiving a handful of messages and emails about what to do in Christchurch from a couple days to a week, I figured it’s about time to update my Christchurch city guide.
Below you’ll find all my recommendations on where to eat and drink, which sights to take in as well as my must-visit beaches and favourite walks. Christchurch is having a moment, so if you haven’t been in awhile, I urge you to come for a visit.
Many of my suggestions fall within close proximity to the central city (as that’s where we live and where I think you should focus a lot of your time) as well as a few key areas I think are worth visiting if you have a vehicle.
Getting acquainted with the city//
With plenty of new cycleways, Christchurch is one of the best cities for cycling in the Southern Hemisphere. The city itself is flat and relatively compact, so it’s best explored by bike. Hire the coolest wheels in town from Action Bicycle Club on Walker Street and you’ll be ready to go.
If you’re wanting to try something a bit different, hire a Lime scooter for a trip or two. I wouldn’t recommend spending your entire weekend on Lime because that’s akin to taking Uber everywhere (it adds up quickly!) but they’re so much fun to use every now and again.
Photo by Bayley Corfield
Where to stay//
The Crowne Plaza
If you’re looking to stay in the heart of the city, there’s no better place to be than the Crowne Plaza. Perfectly located just a stone’s throw from New Regent Street (the prettiest street in Christchurch), Victoria Park, the Botanic Gardens and Oxford Terrace, you’ll be able to get everywhere by foot.
There are plenty of Airbnbs scattered throughout the central city as well as in neighbouring suburbs like St. Albans and Sydenham.
What to do//
Spend a few hours at Tūranga Library
Your trip to Christchurch isn’t complete until you visit the brand new (and flashy) library. Peruse each of the four floors, experience virtual reality and spend some time interacting with the seven-metre touch screen Discovery Wall. Believe me, it’s worth checking out.
Explore the Botanic Gardens
There’s nothing better than an afternoon spent wandering through the tranquil botanic gardens. The idyllic spot makes it clear why Christchurch is referred to as the garden city. From the rose gardens to the various conservatories, it’s easy to spend hours meandering through the grounds. Don’t miss Garrick House, home to the most extensive collection of cacti and succulents in New Zealand. Ilex Cafe is the perfect lunch spot with a new incredible menu. Sit outside or grab a seat inside the bright, light-filled space.
Photo by Bayley Corfield
Visit the Christchurch Art Gallery
An iconic destination for both residents and visitors, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu is the city’s treasury of art, history, images, memories and ideas. Located on Worcester Boulevard, in the central city, combine your visit with a trip to the Arts Centre, the Museum, botanic gardens or for a coffee in the many nearby cafes.
Shop local at the Arts Centre
This newly restored heritage building is the centre of all things creative and cultural in the city. The Gothic Revival style building dates all the way back to 1877 and is now home to a myriad of cafes, boutique shops, art galleries and markets. Grab a coffee at Bunsen, formerly a chemistry classroom before checking out Pepa, a beautiful stationery shop. Next head upstairs to visit Frances Nation, a store dedicated to beautiful and durable wares from New Zealand makers and Indigo & Provisions for a carefully curated selection of fashion and homewares. Don’t leave before stopping at Rollickin’, the city’s best gelato shop.
Photo by Sophie Isabella
Go see a show at Isaac Theatre Royal
The beautifully restored theatre has played an important part in the cultural and creative history of Christchurch since 1863. There’s always something on, from performances by Lorde to the Royal New Zealand Ballet, so be sure to check out the website for dates. It also doubles as the venue for the New Zealand International Film Festival, is a space for fringe theatre performances, talks, weddings, workshops and stand-up comedy. There’s always something on, so
Spend a sunny afternoon in Sumner
Sumner is a beautiful coastal suburb with some of the best surf breaks in the region. It’s a great place to go for a swim (or venture a bit further to Taylors Mistake, which is slightly more sheltered…) After your swim, be sure to grab an ice cream or sorbet from Utopia Ice. With flavours like Vietnamese coffee, matcha coconut and plum and earl grey, you’re sure to find something you like.
By the way, there are cycleways almost all the way to Sumner. If that feels a bit too far, there’s also a direct bus route from the Bus Interchange, which you’ll definitely want to check out whether you’re bussing or not.
Where to eat//
The restored Midland Building is, in my humble opinion, the most beautiful building in all of Christchurch. Home to communications agency, Brown Bread, suiting specialists, Crane Brothers and all-day café and restaurant, Miro, it’s a must-visit. Miro’s menu is extensive, they serve everything from colourful smoothie bowls to the more indulgent eggs benny on hash, plus Allpress cofffee to wash it down.
I’m already breaking my own rules here, but if your guests have a few days at their disposal, I’d highly recommend a day trip to North Canterbury’s best kept secret. Waipara is relatively new wine region, but is producing some of the country’s best wines. Black Estate is my favourite spot for lunch or dinner alongside a few glasses of rosé (their Treble Rosé is unbelievably good!) We made a trip here with my parents last January and had such a great time. If you’re heading to Waipara, I suggest booking accommodation here.
Twenty Seven Steps
A mainstay on every best restaurant list, Twenty Seven Steps is situated upstairs on picturesque New Regent Street. The heritage space is popular and for good reason, serving hearty, flavoursome meals made from locally-sourced and seasonal ingredients. Their wine list is mostly local and their cocktails are some of the best in the city. In 2017, they were named as one of the top 100 restaurants in the country.
New on the scene, Earl is making waves as a laidback all-day eatery in the central city. The casual but trendy Italian restaurant truly captures the essence of post-quake Christchurch hospitality. Here you’ll find satisfying Italian dishes paired with a selection of wines and cocktails. Be sure to try their Aperol Spritz, it’s one of the best in the city. Earl’s has a simple menu that’s incredibly tasty; a place you’ll return to again and again.
If you’re after some quick and easy lunch spots in the CBD, these are my top picks.
Where to drink//
We’ve decided to have a post-wedding brunch at our favourite local watering hole for all our out-of-town guests. One of the most creative and unconventional bars I’ve ever visited, I’m so glad it’s our local. The vibes here are always 100% amazing and the food menu is excellent.
I have been seriously limiting my drinking in the lead-up to our wedding, but could not resist visiting Gin Gin for a botanical chalice. With a gin cocktail list a mile long, this Victoria Street cocktail bar also has negronis on tap — I’m sold.
Located in the most stunning heritage building right in the heart of the city, OGB is a must! Not only are their cocktails amazing (as well as their wines) their menu is also super tasty. Their burger is one of the best in Christchurch.
If you’re a craft beer drinker and love burgers, be sure to add Pomeroy’s to your itinerary. It’s one of the original breweries in Christchurch and their picnic tables are the best place to catch up with friends.
I’d be remiss not to mention the Terrace, which is home to a row of brand new bars and eateries. While somewhat touristy, it’s worth a visit for the beautiful landscaping overlooking the Avon. My top pick is Amazonita, which has a very expensive fit-out (basically the opposite of Smash Palace) and has been mentioned in countless national publications, so you know it’s good.
Best coffee shops & bakeries//
I have chosen a handful of cafés within walking distance to the central city and our wedding venue, but there are plenty of others worth visiting as well including Hello Sunday and Lyttelton Coffee Co.
If you’d like a deeper dive into some of my go-to cafés, have a look at the 10 Christchurch Cafés Worth Checking Out.
My forever favourite, Kadett is dangerously close to my house. It’s a serene, light-filled space on the east side of St. Asaph Street. It’s the café of choice for freelancers and creative types. Try their kimchi toasties or one of their vibrant salads. Oh and they’ve got the best matcha lattes in town. Top it off with a Cakes by Anna slice and you’ll never want to leave.
Given that our ceremony and reception are taking place at Riccarton House, I couldn’t resist mentioning Park Ranger, which is just around the corner. It’s a great spot for a pre-wedding coffee and snack (I have a thing for their espresso over ice with a dash of milk…) The leafy space offers respite from the busy suburb and serves up both indulgent and wholesome breakfast options.
A true Christchurch institution, Little Poms is a stylishly cosy spot for brunch. Serving up all your favourite brunch staples with a seasonal twist, it’s the kind of place you’ll want to return to again and again. Sharing a building with their older brother, Pomeroy’s, you’ll also find a selection of craft beer and wine available. If you like your brunch with cocktails, their mimosas and bloody marys are both worth trying!
If you’re looking for one of the best menus in the city, you can’t go wrong with Uncommon Café on Tuam Street. With coffee by C4 and dishes that are always changing, we’re suckers for their ‘gram worthy hotcakes and decadent French toast. Their breakfast boards are perfect for those s who can never make up their minds. They also have plenty of excellent savoury options including our favourite, For the Dads. Centrally located, Uncommon’s a popular weekday and weekend spot.
A fixture at the Christchurch Farmers Market, Grizzly Baked Goods have set up permanent digs in Sydenham. Along with the best bagels in town (I’m Canadian, so I’ve done my research…) you’ll want to stock up on their freshly baked bread (the rye and sourdough are my favourites) as well as their morning buns and filled doughnuts.
I’m not going to write too much about these walks because you can easily Google them, but I’ll quickly list my favourites:
On a fine day, this track provides stunning views of the harbour, peninsula, plains and alps.
Godley Head Coastal Walk
Follow the coastline from Taylors Mistake, this is an equally good running option.
The first formed link between Christchurch and Lyttelton, this one’s an epic workout. Check out Civil & Naval once you’re in Lyttelton.
Bowenvale Valley: Sweeping views of the city to the alps and coastline!
Washpen Falls: A beautiful (and not too rigorous) walk complete with waterfalls.
I won’t get into day trips because this post is all about Christchurch, but if you want to read about my ultimate place to venture outside of Christchurch, head over here.
As always, if you have any questions or additions, please feel free to leave me a comment or send me a message on Instagram (@vanessaortynsky). I’ll be sure to get back to you.
Photos by Bayley Corfield