Best things to do in Christchurch
Find out more about those top places in Christchurch
Perpetually overshadowed by Auckland in the North Island, Christchurch is the beguiling capital of New Zealand’s South Island. Until recently Christchurch was one of the country’s best-preserved Victorian cities with a host of iconic attractions, including the early 20th century Anglican cathedral. However, devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 saw 80% of the historic city center crumble and today the city is in a constant process of renewal. Jaw-dropping buildings, including the Italianate Old Post Office and Palladian-style Government Building, survived the quake and new buildings are popping up with regularity giving the city a non-stop buzz. What is more, the circular TranzAlpine train route departs daily from the city and offers spectacular views of the Southern Alps from specially designed observation carriages.
Christchurch, famed for its Victorian architecture, is also home to a fleet of tramcars that have trundled round the city’s streets since the early 20th century. While a ride on the tram is worth it for the old world ambiance alone, they also pass by many of the city’s most famous attractions including Cathedral Square.
The capital of New Zealand’s South Island takes its name from the Christchurch College at Oxford University. Unsurprisingly, the city takes' inspiration from England’s most ancient university in other ways as well with the River Avon transformed during the summer into one of New Zealand’s most picturesque sights with punts (traditional canal boats used in Oxford) plying its waters. All in all, this is Christchurch’s most evocative experience.
Christchurch’s premier tourist attraction is undoubtedly its award-winning botanical gardens that line the banks of the River Avon. Covering around 30 acres, the gardens are New Zealand’s largest and encompass a variety of native and exotic plant species that are housed in thematic areas. For lovers of flora and fauna, make sure to take one of the guided tours that tell you more about the garden’s history and their conservation efforts.
Located west of Christchurch in the Southern Alps is New Zealand’s tallest mountain, the rugged Mount Cook, which is known by the Maoris as Aoraki. Tours take you to the heart of the Mount Cook National Park where you can marvel at the breathtaking peak alongside numerous glaciers and crystal-clear Alpine lakes. If you have time, make sure to make the short hike to the Tasman Glacier.
Christchurch made world headlines in 2011 when a devastating earthquake flattened much of its Victorian core and claimed the lives of nearly 200 people. The fateful day is immortalized at Quake City, a museum dedicated to preserving fragments of the ruined city, including the cathedral’s famed Rose Window, and the traumatic experiences of locals.
One of the world’s greatest train journeys leaves daily from Christchurch on a circular route. Starting nearly the Southern Ocean, the train climbs towards the Southern Alps providing breathtaking views of the glacier-capped peaks before descending towards the picturesque town of Greymouth on the Tasman Sea coast.
Owing to its position on the shores of the Southern Ocean, Christchurch is known worldwide as the gateway to Antarctica. The International Antarctic Center was built to coordinate the efforts of New Zealand, America and Italy’s expeditions to the frozen continent and today it houses a museum that offers fascinating insight into the world’s last great frontier. Tours of the museum encompass a series of thrilling exhibits, including a -18 °C ‘storm chamber’ and the chance to take a ride in a Hägglund – a vehicle specially designed for Antarctica.