21 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Auckland
Author Michael Law visited Auckland in March and April 2023 as part of an extended trip through New Zealand.
The harborside city of Auckland is New Zealand's only true metropolis and the vibrant economic heart of the country. Known as the "City of Sails" and boasting a population of nearly 1.7 million people, or nearly half the country's total population, Auckland sprawls out between Manukau Harbour to the west and Waitemata Harbour to the east. The city's compact central district sits right beside the waterway.
Auckland was our point of arrival and departure on our most recent trip, and we spent several days soaking up the vibe of the city's waterfront and downtown, as well as exploring the attractions outside the city center. Having not been to the city in well over a decade, we were shocked and impressed with the transformation the city has undergone.
While many people fly in and head out to see other parts of the country, this is definitely a worthwhile place to visit and spend some time.
Auckland is home to some of the country's finest museums and galleries but is also popular for its fine beaches. Also worth checking out are the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, which provide a taste of New Zealand's spectacular national park scenery right on the city's doorstep.
For more sightseeing ideas have a read through our list of the top tourist attractions in Auckland.
- 1. Auckland's Waterfront and Downtown
- 2. Sky Tower Auckland
- 3. Auckland Harbour Bridge Adventures
- 4. New Zealand Maritime Museum
- 5. One Tree Hill
- 6. Devonport
- 7. Auckland Art Gallery
- 8. Auckland War Memorial Museum
- 9. Waiheke Island
- 10. SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium
- 11. Auckland Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises
- 12. Stardome Observatory & Planetarium
- 13. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
- 14. East Coast Beaches
- 15. Albert Park
- 16. West Coast Beaches
- 17. Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
- 18. Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens
- 19. Auckland Zoo
- 20. Howick Historical Village
- 21. Puhoi
- Where to Stay in Auckland for Sightseeing
- Map of Tourist Attractions in Auckland
1. Auckland's Waterfront and Downtown
Auckland's waterfront is the best place for tourists to head to enjoy the city. With restaurants, shops, hotels, fabulous views over the water, and a fun vibe day and night, this is the city's showpiece area. On our last visit to Auckland, this is where we spent most of our time.
The waterfront is divided into several main areas. Running from the west these are the main areas.
A short scenic stroll from Viaduct Harbour is the trendy North Wharf area. It's packed with restaurants and less touristy than Viaduct Harbour. Whatever cuisine you are in the mood for, you'll likely be able to find it here at slightly cheaper prices.
Ten restaurants fill old maritime sheds dating from the 1930s, which have been wonderfully restored but still showcase their original purpose and some of their gritty heritage.
After dinner, be sure to work off all the calories with a short stroll down to Silo Park. Here you'll find seven restored silos, a children's playground, public art installations, and good views out over St. Marys Bay. Take a quick tour through Silo 6 if an art show is taking place, or perhaps you'll be lucky enough to catch a movie projected against Silo 7.
The regeneration of Viaduct Harbour is a legacy of New Zealand hosting the America's Cup yachting regatta and has turned this waterside area into one of the city's main entertainment and dining hubs.
The vibrant waterside cafés and restaurants are great places to visit and linger over lunch or dinner. In the evening, the harbor area is packed with people strolling the docks taking in the nighttime scene. See if you can snag a table at Bivacco for some of Auckland's best Italian food.
As well as being one of the country's major marinas, Viaduct Harbour's lively calendar of events is also worth checking out. Every Sunday, from 9am to 12noon, the Flower Market here brings in crowds with live music and street food, while regular free events during summer months are a favorite with local families.
Ferry Terminal and Queen Street
The imposing Ferry Building, built in 1912, forms a striking English-Baroque landmark on the harbor front at Queen's Wharf. It's from here that ferries depart for all the outer islands and other parts of the city across Waitemata Harbour.
We used this as our key landmark when we wanted to find our way from Viaduct Harbour over to the downtown core and the attractions of Queen Street. An easy stroll south from the ferry terminal takes you into a pedestrian-only area with the modern Commercial Bay shopping center off to your left.
Queen Street is a pleasant area with all manner of local and international shops. If you've forgotten something or need to get supplies prior to heading to explore the rest of the country, this is the place to do it.
You'll know you've found the top of Queen Street when you see the stunning marble façade of Auckland Town Hall.
2. Sky Tower Auckland
Auckland's needle-like Sky Tower is the city's most prominent landmark and, at 328 meters high, is New Zealand's highest building.
If you're looking for a place to snap the perfect city panorama, then the observation deck here — reached by zooming up to the top of the building in a glass elevator — is just the place to get your camera out, with views stretching into the distance for 80 kilometers on a clear day.
For many Sky Tower visitors, though, it's about more than the view. New Zealanders are renowned for turning attractions into thrill-seeking opportunities, and the Sky Tower doesn't buck the trend. Visitors can enjoy dizzying views by walking the exterior 192-meter-high Sky Walk platform around the tower's pergola, and those looking for a total adrenaline rush can base-jump off the platform on a Sky Jump.
A restaurant and gift shop are also available on-site. Also, be sure to catch a glimpse of the tower at night when it's lit up to great effect.
Address: Victoria Street W, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Auckland
3. Auckland Harbour Bridge Adventures
The central harbor is dominated by Auckland Harbour Bridge, completed in 1959 and more than one kilometer long and some 43 meters high, which connects downtown Auckland to the northern districts and the sandy beaches of the bays farther north.
The bridge also offers plenty of fun things to do to add a thrill to your sightseeing experience. One of the top-rated thrills to experience is the Auckland Harbour Bridge bungee jump, an experience that includes traversing an exclusive bridge walk before plunging 40 meters to the harbor water below.
If bungee jumping is not your thing, you can still enjoy the incredible views from the top of the bridge by joining a guided Auckland Harbour Bridge Climb.
Address: Quay Street, City Center, Auckland, New Zealand
4. New Zealand Maritime Museum
New Zealanders have always been deeply connected with the sea, and the well-curated New Zealand Maritime Museum explores this connection, offering a comprehensive survey of the country's seafaring history.
Exhibits trace the country's history from the arrival of the first Polynesians and include Maori canoes and outrigger boats, whaling equipment, and old instruments and implements. One gallery is devoted to New Zealand's modern yachting success and includes the yacht in which the New Zealand crew, skippered by Sir Peter Blake, won the America's Cup in 1995.
Many of the vessels held in the collection regularly sail, which adds a real dose of excitement to a sightseeing trip.
Address: Corner of Quay and Hobson Streets, Auckland 1140, Auckland, New Zealand
5. One Tree Hill
For many Aucklanders, the volcanic cone of One Tree Hill (Maungakiekie) is the symbol of their city. The 182-meter-high hill sits amid the lush Cornwall Park with a series of flower beds and stands of mature trees set amid walking trails.
One Tree Hill takes up the southwest corner of the park, and the slopes contain remnants of a Maori Pa, a fortified village located here during the pre-European era. At the top of the hill is a lone obelisk built over the grave of Sir John Logan Campbell who gifted this swath of greenery to Auckland to be used as a city park. There are fantastic views across the cityscape from the hill summit.
Having done this activity recently, I can assure you a trip to the top is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared for a long walk up a relatively steep, paved roadway. The walk is 1.8 kilometers each way with a 77-meter elevation gain, so if you were planning on bringing grandma for a leisurely stroll up to the top, think again!
The large tree that used to stand on the summit and gave the place its name was repeatedly vandalized and had to be removed in 2001. In 2016 nine new seedlings were planted with the plan to have one eventually chosen as the replacement.
If you have mobility issues and want to access the top with a vehicle, call Auckland Town Council, they will assign you a code that will open the gate.
Address: Manukau Road, Epsom, Auckland, New Zealand
For a bit of light sightseeing and a break from the urban jungle of downtown Auckland, take a short, scenic, and cheap ferry trip across Waitemata Harbour to Devonport. This delightful seaside area is an enjoyable spot and offers unrivaled panoramas back toward the city.
Devonport's waterfront area has a modern pier complete with seaside restaurants offering decent fare and even better views. If you are traveling as a family and have young children that need to burn off a bit of energy, a fantastic park with a variety of play structures is nearby.
Be sure to wander along King Edward Parade from the pier area to see well-preserved 19th-century homes and Victoria Road to do a bit of shopping in the interesting and eclectic shops.
7. Auckland Art Gallery
Auckland Art Gallery is the city's most impressive cultural site. Housed in an impressive French Renaissance-style structure built in 1887, the gallery is home to New Zealand's most extensive art collection with more than 15,000 artworks on display.
The permanent galleries host an array of artworks, including European paintings and sculptures that date back to the 14th century. But of particular note, however, is the main New Zealand collection. Located on the ground floor, here you'll find a substantial amount of work highlighting Maori and Pacific Island artists.
Be sure to also visit the New Zealand Historic Art Gallery and Maori Portraiture Gallery on the first floor, which showcases the work of New Zealand's early European settlers. Guided tours are available, and a café and shop are located on the premises.
Address: Wellesley Street E, Auckland CBD, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
8. Auckland War Memorial Museum
Auckland's imposing War Memorial Museum sits on the highest point of Auckland Domain in a vast Neoclassical building dating from 1929, which was erected as a memorial dedicated to the New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I. Today, it houses an impressive collection of artifacts that traces the history of New Zealand from its first Polynesian settlers to the present day and highlights New Zealand's natural heritage.
Of special interest are the Main Maori Galleries, which host a wealth of artistry, including a magnificent Maori gateway dating from the 12th to the 14th centuries; a richly-decorated Meeting House; and the 25-meter-long canoe, dating from 1836, in which Maori warriors once sailed into Manukau Harbour.
The first floor hosts the natural history collection, including reconstructing the country's famed and now extinct giant moa birds. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to the war memorials and displays the story of New Zealand's involvement in world conflict throughout the country's history. Guided tours are available, along with regular lectures and workshops.
Address: Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand
9. Waiheke Island
Of all Auckland's Hauraki Gulf islands, Waiheke Island is the most popular to visit. Around 8,000 people live here year-round, and the island's villages are home to art galleries and a thriving café culture, while the coast hosts plenty of white-sand beaches.
For keen walkers and hikers, a variety of trails wind along the coastline and through the island interior. For spectacular views and a challenging hike, the Church Bay Circuit is an excellent three-hour walk that showcases the best of the island.
History fans shouldn't miss Stony Batter Historic Reserve with its underground tunnel system carved out in World War II in case Auckland was attacked. Regular ferries to Waiheke Island run from Princes Wharf in central Auckland and take from 35-45 minutes.
For those wanting to linger longer, a variety of good accommodation options are available, from beachside cottage rentals to bed and breakfasts.
Location: Hauraki Gulf, Auckland, New Zealand
10. SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium
One of Auckland's top attractions for visiting families, SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's Aquarium allows you to get up close and personal with life under the water. A series of huge aquariums containing aquatic life can be observed from the tunnel walkways with aquariums devoted to sharks, tropical fish, and stingrays.
Kelly Tarlton's also houses an Antarctic Encounter gallery, complete with a snow-filled penguin enclosure, highlighting New Zealand's close association with Antarctica's international scientific communities.
New in 2023 is the Sea Cave Adventure marine zone. Highlighting the creatures that call the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park home, this fascinating exhibit provides education and insight into one of New Zealand's most important maritime treasures.
Address: 23 Tamaki Drive, Orakei, Auckland 1071, New Zealand
11. Auckland Dolphin & Whale Watching Cruises
If you've only got room for a single tour when in Auckland, make it a dolphin and whale-watching cruise. These superb-value tours depart from the centrally located New Zealand Maritime Museum in Viaduct Harbour and all but guarantee a sighting (if not, you can travel again for free).
This exciting half-day catamaran tour features expert guides well-versed in the region and its diverse wildlife and will ensure you have a chance to get as close as possible to creatures, including whales (six species), dolphins, penguins, and birds to snap some great photos.
Much of your time afloat will be spent in the beautiful Hauraki Gulf Marine Park, an area dotted with splendid scenery. In addition to bringing along binoculars, be sure to pack warm (and waterproof) clothing and/or a sun hat, depending on the weather.
12. Stardome Observatory & Planetarium
Whether you're traveling with kids or not, there are plenty of good reasons to want to include Stardome Observatory & Planetarium on your Auckland travel itinerary. Established in 1967 and expanded a great deal since, what started as the public Auckland Observatory is now a state-of-the-art astronomical research observatory plus a major city attraction offering a great deal of fun (and education) for all ages.
Located in the One Tree Hill area, the observatory's two telescopes are accessible to visitors as part of a fascinating presentation, where all guests are given a chance to take a peek at the night sky. The experience consists of a pre-presentation show in the planetarium to provide some perspective, as well as a chance to explore the attraction's exhibits.
The observatory closed temporarily in 2023 for renovations; check to see that it has reopened before visiting.
Address: 670 Manukau Road, Epsom, Auckland 1345, New Zealand
13. Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands
The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Islands are a lush slice of nature right on Auckland's doorstep. Ruggedly beautiful Great Barrier Island is a must-visit for wilderness fans, with a multitude of camping, hiking, mountain biking, and sea kayaking opportunities.
Rangitoto Island is a dormant volcano and home to the world's largest forest of pohutukawa trees. Hiking to the island's summit rewards walkers with stunning views across the Hauraki Gulf.
Tiny Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary for some of New Zealand's most endangered birdlife with various easy walking trails winding through the island's interior. Among the species that keen bird-watchers can spot here are takahe, blue penguins, kiwi, and brown teal. Ferries leave from Princes Wharf in the central city.
In addition to fun tourist-focused sightseeing cruises, fishing charters, and other water-based activities, such as sailing, can be enjoyed here.
Location: Hauraki Gulf, Auckland, New Zealand
14. East Coast Beaches
The city's eastern coast is speckled with gorgeous forest-rimmed beaches that are top swimming and sun-bathing spots for locals during summer weekends. Takapuna Beach, overlooking Rangitoto Island across the water, is one of the finest sandy strips in the city and is deservedly popular. Nearby are both Milford Beach and Cheltenham Beach, which tend to be less crowded.
A short drive out of the city, though, brings you to even more spectacular beaches. To the southeast is lovely Maraetai Beach with its calm waters, an excellent swimming spot even for families traveling with little ones, while a short journey north from Auckland is the golden sand of Orewa Beach.
Be prepared for exceptionally chilly water if you plan to take a dip. The hardy Kiwis will claim "It's just fine mate" as their lips turn blue and they start to shiver!
Location: East Auckland, New Zealand
15. Albert Park
The most central green space in the city is Albert Park with its elaborate Victorian fountain, variety of statuary, and a multitude of flower beds. As well as being a tranquil spot amid the inner-city hustle, the park is home to a variety of small and quirky attractions that will please culture vultures.
Albert Park House contains an eclectic array of ceramics and clocks; a floral clock (dating from 1953) marks the park's Princes Street entry, and the city's Meteorological Observatory at the park's highest point has been marking Auckland's weather since 1909.
The most prominent historic building nearby is the Old Government House, now part of the Auckland University campus. This timber Neoclassical structure (built in 1856) was New Zealand's first parliament. Opposite the Old Government House is the Old Synagogue, dating from 1884, which is now used for cultural events.
Those visiting Auckland in July should check out the Turama Festival, a fun illumination-focused event that has become one of the best things to do in Auckland at night.
Address: Princes Street, City Center, Auckland, New Zealand
16. West Coast Beaches
Auckland's west coast is home to some extremely beautiful beaches, but visitors should be aware that many can be dangerous for bathers unused to their sheer rocks, heavy surf from the Tasman Sea, and treacherous undertow.
Piha Beach is the city's most dramatic spot for a picnic and sunbathing with its volcanic black sand and jutting rock outcrops. It's also a major haunt for local surfers.
If you're looking for a secluded slice of sand though, Karioitahi Beach, at Waiuku in South Auckland, is a long strip of black-sand beach that rarely draws more than a handful of sun-seekers.
Location: West Auckland, New Zealand
17. Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)
Auckland's Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT), located in the Western Springs district, is devoted to the history of technology and transport in New Zealand. Its prize exhibits relate to the New Zealand aviation pioneer Richard Pearse (1877-1953), who made his first flights about the same time as the Wright brothers.
Also interesting, the 90 Degrees South exhibition is dedicated to the trans-Antarctic expedition of New Zealand explorer Sir Edmund Hillary. Other items include old coaches, railroad rolling stock, trams and vintage cars, and a vast collection of black and white photography.
A variety of fun workshops and educational programs are offered, and for a real treat, take a ride on one of the vintage trams that operate from the museum.
Address: Great North Road, Western Springs, Auckland, New Zealand
18. Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens
For a relaxing stroll while exploring the countryside just north of Auckland (it's about 50 kilometers north of the city), the Kaipara Coast Plant Centre & Sculpture Gardens make a good break from the road.
This manicured garden trail in a quiet valley setting is packed full of native fauna and hosts an ever-changing array of sculptural art by New Zealand artists. More than 50 sculptures are on display along the one-kilometer pathway at any one time creating garden galleries that highlight the best of the country's contemporary art.
For nature fans, the gardens offer a broad spectrum of New Zealand's many varied landscapes with different sections set out as pine forests, native bush, and typical farmland. Another trail through the native forest is dedicated to conservation and loops across meandering streams and beside waterfalls.
The Auckland Botanic Gardens is also worth a visit and is set amid 64 hectares. Highlights include an impressive collection of 10,000 plants, including a large number of rose bushes.
Address: 1481 Kaipara Coast Highway, Kaukapakapa 0843, New Zealand
19. Auckland Zoo
Set across 40 acres in the Western Springs neighborhood, Auckland Zoo offers plenty of fun things to do for families traveling to the area. Established in 1922, the zoo has several newer features, including a great section-Te Wao Nui-which focuses on regional plant and animal life.
Highlights include more than 1,400 creatures from some 135 species contained in themed areas featuring animals from Africa, Australia, and South America, including giraffes, meerkats, wallabies, and a variety of monkeys.
A variety of unique experiences are available, with fun things to do including an after-dark safari, photography workshops, and junior zookeeper programs that take kids behind the scenes.
If there's still time in your day for the kids to burn off some energy, head to Rainbow's End. This fun theme park features an area dedicated to younger children.
Address: Motions Road, Auckland, New Zealand
20. Howick Historical Village
Those interested in New Zealand's colonial past would do well to pay a visit to Howick Historical Village. This fascinating recreation of a colonial village features some 30 authentic historic buildings dating from the mid to late-19th century, which were disassembled and rebuilt on-site.
Highlights include guided tours, re-enactments, and demonstrations presented by costumed guides and trades folk, as well as a delightful garden. Other fun things to do include taking a wagon ride around the property. A café and gift shop are located on-site.
Address: Lloyd Elsmore Park, Bells Road, Pakuranga, Auckland 2010, New Zealand
About 50 kilometers north of Auckland, the little township of Puhoi is one of the best day trips out of Auckland. Founded in the 1860s by immigrants from Bohemia (in modern-day Czech Republic), Puhoi has kept much of its original early-settler character and retains a bucolic timeless appeal.
The Bohemia Museum, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (built in 1880), and the nearby churchyard with the graves of early Bohemian settlers are a must for history fans, while a clutch of art studios and artisan boutiques provide ample shopping diversions. There are also plentiful hiking opportunities in the surrounding countryside.
Where to Stay in Auckland for Sightseeing
When visiting Auckland on New Zealand's North Island, be sure to consider finding somewhere to stay as close to the city center as possible-especially around the Waitemata Harbour and Viaduct Harbour areas, both of which boast numerous things to do and sightseeing opportunities. To help you, here are a few of our favorite hotels in this lovely city:
- Boasting an excellent location in the heart of the action down by Viaduct Harbour, the QT Auckland Hotel is a hip and happening place to stay. Modern and slightly eclectic rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows, luxury bedding, and a good workspace. A highlight of a stay here is a visit to Rooftop At QT. This is one of Auckland's best rooftop venues, complete with an open-air section offering great views.
- Harbor views and luxury rooms are the order of the day at Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour, along with a great restaurant and an indoor pool with a hot tub.
- Another great waterside option is the classy Hilton Auckland, which comes with quality bedding and a seafood restaurant that's popular with the locals.
- Cordis, Auckland is another great five-star hotel option, and features rooms with butler service, all just an easy walk from the iconic Sky Tower.
- Offering high-end accommodations but at mid-range pricing, The Devereux Boutique Hotel features boutique-style rooms in an older home with exquisite décor and a casual restaurant.
- The Ellerslie International Hotel and Conference Centre is another quality option, located just one kilometer from the aquarium and boasting bright modern rooms, a mix of rooms and suites, and a swimming pool.
- The family-friendly Airedale Boutique Suites is centrally located in the city's central business district and has several larger suites with kitchenettes, along with a gym and laundry facilities.
- Budget-priced but boasting a high standard, Greenlane Suites' rooms come with plenty of space and are perfect for families.
- Those seeking hostel-style accommodations should consider the Haka Lodge Auckland, featuring bright shared rooms and a great central location, perfect for backpackers visiting the city's top attractions.
Map of Tourist Attractions in Auckland
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