The Must-Dos in Hamilton: The Hub of the Waikato Region
Situated on the banks of New Zealand’s longest river, Hamilton is a picturesque city brimming with arts, shopping and dining! It’s the metropolitan hub of the North Island Waikato region offering a wealth of city and outdoor experience. Enjoy the river along a cycle trail, at the award-winning Hamilton Gardens or on a river cruise. Catch one of the national events taking place here every year or just enjoy a casual quick visit to one of the museums. The city also makes an idyllic base for exploring the regional highlights, from the Middle-earth magic of Hobbiton to the glowworm spectacle of the Waitomo Caves. There are so many possibilities, which we’ll guide you through with this list of things to do in Hamilton!
While you’re here, check out more must-dos in Hamilton and trip-planning advice in The Complete Travel Guide to Hamilton.
1. Explore the Hamilton Gardens
If you only have time to do one thing in Hamilton, make it a walk around the picturesque Hamilton Gardens. Encompassing 133 acres (54 hectares) by the Waikato River, the Hamilton Gardens has 21 themed gardens representing civilisations from around the world and throughout history. There’s plenty of photo opportunities, a gift store and a cafe. Plus, take a Hamilton Gardens Guided Tour for more of an insight – more info on Viator and Tripadvisor. Plus, it’s one of the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.
Location: Hungerford Crescent, Hamilton East, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
2. Visit the Waikato Museum
Delve into the history and culture of the Waikato region at the fantastic Waikato Museum. The museum has an ever-changing schedule of exhibitions focussing on the rich Maori heritage of the area, as well as displaying local art. It is a fantastic option for kids too, with dedicated kids exhibitions and learning zones. What’s more, the Waikato Museum is free-entry and is one of the activities you can rely on on a rainy day in Hamilton.
Location: 1 Grantham Street, Hamilton city centre.
3. Wine and Dine in Hamilton City Centre
A tantalising range of gourmet dining experiences awaits on the streets and laneways of Hamilton city. With award-winning restaurants, and artisan sellers of cheese, tea, ice cream and more, there is something to suit all styles and moods. So have a wander around and see why Hamilton is fast becoming a top foodie hotspot in New Zealand. Check out our top dining recommendations in The Foodie Guide to Hamilton.
Location: See specific locations in the link above.
4. Cycle or Walk Alongside the Waikato River
Hamilton sits on the banks of New Zealand’s longest river, the Waikato River. To make the most of the spectacular river scenery there is an expansive walk and cycle trail following the river. Walks along the river are well signposted from the city. Or hire a bike to do the Te Awa River Ride, spanning 70km (43 miles) from Ngaruawahia in the north to Lake Karapiro in the south. Find out more in our guide to Mountain Biking in Waikato.
Location: Waikato River – see specific locations in the link above.
5. Watch the Birds and Tuatara at Sanctuary Mountain
Connect with nature and enjoy an educational experience at Sanctuary Mountain (Mt Maungatautari). This wildlife sanctuary is just under an hour’s drive from Hamilton central. Experience one of the self-guided walks through the forested mountain protected by a predator-proof fence or get more insight (and better chances to see rare birds) through a guided walk. Additionally, see the “living dinosaur” the tuatara on the tuatara enclosure tour. Find out more about the different tours available on Viator or Tripadvisor. We also list this activity in our 10 Things to Do in Hamilton with Kids.
Location: Tari Road, Pukeatua, approximately 55km (34 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
6. Go for a Walk and a Coffee Beside Hamilton Lake
Circumvent some or all of Hamilton Lake on the walkway found close to the city centre. The 3.8km (2.4-mile) paved walk takes you through a number of intriguing landscapes. Venture through lakeside vegetation, grassy parklands ideal for a picnic, over boardwalks, past various playgrounds and to a cafe where you can indulge in a well-deserved coffee. Ducks, geese, pukeko and other birds can often be spotted along the way.
Location: Ruakiwi Road or Lake Cresent, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
7. Catch a Show, Game or Event
Hamilton is often the chosen city to host national cultural and sporting events. Some of the biggest events are the Balloons Over Waikato hot air balloon festival, the New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays, the Waikato Show, the Great New Zealand Food Show, the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival and much more. See what else is happening in New Zealand in New Zealand Events Calendar: What’s Going On?
Location: All around Hamilton
8. Enjoy a Cruise on the Waikato River
Whether you’re watching the sun’s reflection off the large-volume river or the raindrops, a cruise along the Waikato River is a must! Join Waikato River Explorer for an all-weather scenic cruise between the Hamilton Gardens and the Waikato Museum. The boat features a cafe and a fully licensed bar so you can indulge in some goodies while you enjoy the views from New Zealand’s longest river. Trips depart every 90 minutes. See more like this in the 10 Romantic Activities in Hamilton for Couples.
Location: Hamilton Gardens, Hungerford Crescent, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
9. Do Some Shopping!
With three shopping malls and a city centre full of interesting boutiques, Hamilton is one of the best places to stop for shopping on the North Island. Pick up something handcrafted, New Zealand-made and unique at one of Hamilton’s boutiques, such as what is down the stylish Riverbank Lane off Victoria Street or the attractive European-style Casabella Lane in the city centre. Shopping malls with high street brands include Centre Place, Te Awa & The Base and the Chartwell Shopping Centre. See more activities like this in the 8 Luxury Activities in Hamilton.
Location: The Riverbank Lane – 298 Victoria Street. Casabella Lane – 307 Barton Street. Centre Place – 501 Victoria Street &
56 Ward Street. Te Awa & The Base – Corner of Te Rapa Road and Avalon Drive. Chartwell Shopping Centre – Corner of Comries and Hukanui Road.
10. Take a Trip to the Hobbiton Movie Set
Don’t pretend like it wasn’t on your bucket list anyway! But did you know Hamilton is a great base to visit the Hobbiton Movie Set or take a tour to it? See the home of Bilbo Baggins and enjoy a drink at the Green Dragon Tavern on a two-hour guided tour o this Middle-earth attraction near Matamata. Check out our How to Get the Best Hobbiton Discount if you plan to visit independently. Otherwise, there are some fantastic guided tours with transport from Hamilton included, such as with Headfirst Travel (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Clem and Judy Richards (on Viator and Tripadvisor).
Location: Buckland Road, Matamata, approximately 46km (29 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
11. Enjoy High Tea and a Plantation Tour at Zealong
It’s the only tea plantation in New Zealand so don’t miss this unique foodie experience! Experience a guided plantation tour of the Zealong Tea Estate where you’ll learn about how this plantation came to be, about the picking and processing and much more. The tour concludes with a ceremonial tea tasting and the added option of indulging in high tea. Check out more experiences like this in the 7 Things to Do in Hamilton for Foodies.
Location: 495 Gordonton Road, approximately 11km (7 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
12. Get Your Arboretum Fix
Yes, Hamilton has not one but two arboretums! Stick to your travel budget and experience the great outdoors at the Taitua Arboretum. There are various-length walks throughout the arboretum of mature trees, lakes, gardens and picnic spots. Alternatively, the Sculpture Park at Waitakaruru Arboretum is a little further out of the city and has a small admission fee but is still well worth a visit. This former quarry has been transformed into a stunning display of more than 100 sculptures, 20,000 native and exotic trees, gardens and more.
Location: Taitua Arboretum – Taitua Road, Temple View, approximately 11km (7 miles) from Hamilton city centre. Waitakaruru Arboretum – 207 Scotsman Valley Road, Tauwhare, approximately 20km (12 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
13. Taste Beer and Tour a Local Brewery
See why Kiwis love their craft beer at Hamilton’s homegrown brewery, Good George Brewing. Pop in for a brewery tour in Old St George’s Church (what would The Lord say?!) and you’ll even get a Good George glass to take home with you. The brewery is also open for tastings and food. Note that tours only take place at 5.30pm on weekdays and twice a day on weekends.
Location: 32 Somerset Street, Frankton, approximately 2km (1 mile) from the city centre.
14. Take a Trip to the Waitomo Caves
If it’s not on your itinerary already, make sure you include a trip to the Waitomo Caves during your stay in Hamilton. There’s an array of experiences to see the glowworms from the family-friendly Cave World tour (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor) to the extreme caving experience of Glowing Adventures (on Viator and Tripadvisor). There’s so much to cover in this popular area of New Zealand that we have a whole guide dedicated to it in The Complete Guide to Waitomo.
Location: Waitomo, approximately 70km (43 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
15. Visit One of the Nearby Kiwi Towns
Hamilton is an ideal base to explore the surrounding Waikato region! How about surfing in the bohemian town of Raglan? Visit the charming Olde English town of Cambridge? Or what about exploring the wildlife-filled wetlands and Sanctuary Mountain near Te Awamutu? Morrinsville is just another area worth mentioning!
Location: Raglan – approximately 42km (26 miles) from Hamilton. Cambridge – approximately 22km (13.5 miles) from Hamilton. Te Awamutu – approximately 28km (17 miles) from Hamilton. Morrinsville – approximately 29km (18 miles) from Hamilton.
16. Check Out the Classics Museum
Petrolheads, don’t miss this fantastic museum and treasure trove in the heart of Hamilton. Take a look at a collection of beautifully-restored cars from yesteryear, as well as petrol memorabilia. Have some food in the 1950s-style Jukebox Diner to top off the experience. The Classics Museum is open daily.
Location: 11 Railside Place, approximately 3km (1.9 miles) from Hamilton city centre.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Hamilton
- The Guide to Hamilton on a Budget
- The Luxury Guide to Hamilton
- The Honeymoon Guide to Hamilton
- The Travel Guide to Hamilton for Families
That’s it for the best things to do in Hamilton. Find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do on the North Island.