11 Top Tourist Attractions In Christchurch, NZ
Author Michael Law and photographer Lana Law visited Christchurch most recently in the fall of 2023.
Christchurch is a city in transition that still retains much of what made it a great place to visit in New Zealand prior to the devastating 2011 earthquake. Home to stunning parks, historic architecture, interesting attractions, and a youthful vibe, this gateway city to the South Island is well worth a stop.
During my most recent visit, I saw evidence of how hard the rebuilding process has been for this city. Interesting and innovative projects throughout the city are being built from the ground up in a modern way while other buildings stand damaged and awaiting their fate giving the place a half-finished sort of feel. Several buildings under construction are historical buildings and some of the city's most important attractions, including museums and the Christchurch Cathedral.
Christchurch is a very walkable city. I parked my car at the Botanical Gardens in Hagley Park and was able to stroll through the gardens and right into downtown where most of the key attractions are located, check everything out, and wander back the same way.
One thing to be aware of is that hotel accommodation is tough to come by. Only a few large hotels are operating and their rates tend to be expensive. Because of this, I didn't stay in the city, I was able to base myself at an Airbnb in lovely Govenenor's Bay, and day trip to the city.
Explore the city with my list of the top attractions and best places to visit in Christchurch.
1. Botanical Gardens
Home to over 10,000 plants of all shapes, colors, and sizes, the city's incredible Christchurch Botanical Gardens is, without a doubt, my favorite attraction in the city.
Delightful walkways wind their way through the park past the main attractions like the Rose Garden, ornate fountains, and small lakes. The Archery Lawn area of the park is home to massive trees including huge Sequoias, Monterrey Cypress, Cork Oak, and Coast Redwoods. It's here that you'll also find the unique water feature and sculpture called Regret by Sam Mahon, which incorporates an interactive fountain that visitors can activate.
The park is also home to multiple installations of public art. One of the most interesting pieces is found in Kiosk Lake and is titled Diminish and Ascend. This piece nicknamed the Stairway to Heaven, is a set of aluminum stairs that, when viewed from certain points, gives the illusion of ascending into the clouds. Be sure to snap a few photos for your Instagram here, the picture will definitely entertain your followers!
If it's the height of summer and you have young kids with you, a splash pad (called a paddling pool in New Zealand) is adjacent to the gardens.
Address: Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch
2. Hagley Park (North and South)
Located in the heart of the city, Hagley Park is a favorite destination for locals craving a bit of wide open green space. The park is home to a golf course, rugby, cricket, soccer, and hockey fields, a fitness course, and extensive walking trails. It's where the folks of Christchurch come to compete and get some exercise.
The park is huge and is divided into a north section and a south section with the Christchurch Botanical Gardens sandwiched in the middle area. The Avon River winds its way throughout the park and marks the separation of the botanical gardens from the rest of the park. If you'd like to ride in a punt down the river, the tours leave from the 130-year-old Antigua Boat Sheds landing on the park's edge. Here you'll also be able to hire canoes, and kayaks, rent bikes, or have a riverside coffee and snack at the Boat Sheds Cafe.
You'll also find two pretty lakes. On Lake Victoria, model sailboat enthusiasts practice on the weekends. Admission to the park is free as is the parking.
Address: 14 Riccarton Avenue, Christchurch
3. Riverside Market
One of the city's great rebuilding success stores is the lively area of fresh food, restaurants, and shops known as Riverside Market. Housed in an architecturally stunning building, the market is home to the city's best food stalls, and the aromas of all that great food will have you placing an order in no time flat! Or, if it's a sunny day, snag a prime table on one of the riverside patios.
It's not all about prepared food here, Riverside Market is also the go-to destination in Christchurch for the freshest produce including fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood, and cheeses. A perfect stop if you are renting a home with a kitchen and want to dine in.
Once you are rested and refreshed from all that eating, it's time for a bit of shopping. All manner of small boutiques sell creative and one-of-a-kind items that are perfect for that blank spot on your wall or to find a gift. Riverside Market is easily walkable from the Botanical Gardens.
Address: 96 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch
4. Cardboard Cathedral
The earthquake almost completely flattened Christchurch's main cathedral and even today, nearly thirteen years later, the painstaking job of rebuilding is far from over. However, faith is unbending and where there's a will there's a way. The congregation has been helped by an innovative architect, Shigeru Ban, who created what is affectionately known as the "Cardboard Cathedral."
This bright and airy structure is built out of 60-centimeter cardboard tubes, and steel beams, has a polycarbonate roof, and the walls are made from shipping containers. The inside looks and feels a bit like a miniature model made of matchsticks.
According to its builder, it will be able to stand for 50 years to come. It's a quiet and contemplative place that's well worth a visit.
Address: 234 Hereford Street, Christchurch
5. The Arts Center
Unmissable for its incredible Gothic Revival architecture, the Arts Center of Christchurch is a must-see attraction for culture vultures. This lively spot is housed in the former university buildings and is a delight to explore. It's right across the street from the Botanical Gardens so it's easy to find.
Wander through the main entrance off Rolleston Avenue and grab a coffee and a snack at Bunsen. My preference is to grab a sunny seat by one of the windows with views of the courtyard. Suitably fed, take a wander through the historical buildings where you'll find artists' studios, galleries, and museums.
The Arts Center always has something going on with theater shows, talks, and other events.
Address: 2 Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch
6. New Regent Street
The funny thing about New Regent Street is that it's actually full of old buildings that have been revived following the earthquake. Pastel-colored buildings are done up in a Spanish Mission style architecture and are home to an eclectic assortment of shops ranging from tattoo parlors right through to galleries and craft stores.
New Regent Street is also home to a couple of great cafes, my favorite was Cafe Stir. The entire area is pedestrian-only and it's usually easy to snag a table. Try to sit on the western side (the side away from the tram tracks) to enjoy the sunniest tables and the best people-watching.
7. The International Antarctic Centre
If your time on the South Island of New Zealand has left you wondering about regions farther south, this is a good place to visit to learn about what lies beyond. Antarctica is only roughly 4,500 kilometers to the south of Christchurch
Many expeditions to this frozen land have left from New Zealand and the International Antarctic Centre does a great job of showcasing what life is like on the icy wastelands where the winds howl and the temperatures drop to unfathomable depths.
A visit here is fun for all ages, highlights include the Storm Dome where you'll experience a blizzard with wind chill temperatures of -18 Celcius, a chance to see penguins, and the full-on experience of the movie Ice Voyage in the 4D theater. One of the center's most popular attractions, the all-terrain ride, was closed during my visit and at the time of publication.
Address: 38 Orchard Road, Christchurch
8. Ride the Trams
After the earthquake, new tram routes were put in place to make traveling around the downtown area easy and enjoyable. Hop on at any one of the 17 stops on the route and be treated to an enjoyable trip around the city. Key sights along the way include Cathedral Square, Rolleston Avenue, High Street, Riverside Market, New Regent Street, and the Botanical Gardens.
The entire ride takes 50 minutes but with the hop-on hop-off tickets you can ride anywhere you want all day long. The trams are restored historical carriages that are painted in bright colors and make incredible photo subjects, try for a shot of a tram trundling by the Gothic architecture of Christchurch Arts Center.
9. Ride the Gondola
Christchurch goes toe to toe with Auckland as far as beautiful city settings. Unlike Auckland, where you'll need to get out on the harbor to see the city at its finest, in Christchurch, you'll need to get up high via a gondola to fully appreciate the view. A ten-minute ride whisks you from the pancake-flat Canterbury Plains to the top of Mount Cavendish where a spectacular panorama greets you.
From your perch at 1,470 feet (448 meters) to the north, you'll see the city spread out below you and the Pacific Ocean. To the south, the views encompass Lyttelton Harbor and beautiful Goveneror's Bay. To the west, the Southern Alps stretch to the horizon, and if you are visiting between May and September, there's a good chance they will be snow-capped.
Things to do at the summit area include hiking trails and easy walks, two of the most popular are the Cavendish Bluff Lookout and the Pioneer Women's Memorial. Inside the main building, a "Travel through Time" exhibit (included with admission) is an option as is a bite to eat and a coffee at the Red Rock Cafe.
Address: 10 Bridle Path Road, Heathcote Valley, Christchurch
10. Take a Punt down the Avon River
Although some travelers may consider a punt ride on Christchurch's many canal routes a silly thing to do it's their loss as this is a fun and relaxing experience suited to both couples and families. The punts are propelled by a friendly local who provides a running commentary of the history of the sights you pass along the way.
The punts have two routes, but only the Botanical Gardens route is currently operating in 2023. This route starts at the Antigua Boat Sheds and passes by the gardens along a wide stretch of the Avon River. Punts are shared with other riders, although private charters are available. The route takes 30 minutes to complete.
Discounted combo tickets that include the tram, gondola, and Avon River Punt rides are available.
11. Canterbury Museum
Easily located at the Botanical Gardens entrance, The Canterbury Museum is housed in a delightfully old Victorian Gothic building. Even if you don't go inside, it is quite a place to see. And, at the moment, the outside is all you'll be able to see. The museum, one of the top attractions in Christchurch, is currently closed and will be shuttered for the next five years as a massive redevelopment project is undertaken.
The current building will be retained but inside it will be opened up to have a grand atrium, a new cafe, and other new galleries.
In the short term, the museum will be operating a pop-up location showcasing some of the museum's most important items. The location of the pop-up was not available as of the publication date.
Address: 11 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch