The Must-Dos in Nelson
In a city that is wedged between the magnificent vista of the Tasman Bay and a backdrop of the Tasman Mountains, there are plenty of things to do. The notoriously sunny weather in Nelson makes the activities here doable all year round, whether you’re looking for an outdoors experience or ways to relax on a rainy day, there are heaps of amazing things to do in Nelson.
If the ocean draws you, then relax on Tahunanui Beach or take a day trip to the Abel Tasman National Park. More of a mountain person? There are walks and bike trails in gorgeous alpine landscapes. Culture yourself at the many art galleries and museums. Between craft breweries and wineries, Nelson is also a place to treat your tastebuds. So if you are looking for things to do in Nelson, look no further than this must-do list!
1. Check Out Tahunanui Beach
Swim, walk or just relax at this popular beach just a 10-minute drive from the city centre. Tahunanui Beach is a huge beach, so there’s plenty to explore on foot and room for everyone. We recommend being there for sunset! If you fancy amping up your time in Tahunanui Beach, hire a stand-up paddleboard, try go-karting or let the kids loose at Fun Park. Another popular way to get to Tahunanui Beach is by cycling down the Rock Road (Nelson’s waterfront). See more experiences like this in the 10 Things to Do in Nelson with Kids.
Location: Back Beach Road, just off State Highway 6 when heading south, approximately 5.5km (3.4 miles) from Nelson city centre.
2. Hit the Cycle Trails
The Nelson Tasman region is a hub for cycle trails, two of which are considered “great rides”. The easy multi-day Tasman Great Taste Trail is a popular option taking through Nelson productive wine region. Either ride the whole thing or experience it as an easy day experience, for instance, with Kiwi Journeys (more info on Viator or Tripadvisor). Alternatively, serious mountain bikers will want to tackle the more demanding Dun Mountain Trail. Find out more in our guide to Mountain Biking in Nelson Tasman.
Location: All around Nelson – see specific locations in the link above.
3. Walk to The Centre of New Zealand
Yes, that’s right! The Centre of New Zealand is right here in Nelson. It’s a typographer’s dream! Take the gruelling climb from the Botanical Reserve through some forest until you reach the open hilltop with awesome views overlooking Nelson city and the inland mountains. The track itself only takes about 15 minutes one way to complete. For more ideas like this, check out the 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson.
Location: Botanical Reserve, Hardy Street.
4. Explore Nelson’s Gardens and Parks
Nelson has no lack of green spaces to explore or simply kick back and relax in. The Queen’s Gardens are full of quaint footbridges, water features, sculptures and flower gardens. Additionally, there are the Miyazu Japanese Gardens named after Nelson’s sister city in Japan. They are a great place for an interesting and peaceful walk. See more experiences like this in the 10 Romantic Activities in Nelson for Couples.
Location: Queen’s Gardens – Access off Bridge Street, Tasman Street and Hardy Street, Nelson city centre. Miyazu Garden – Atawhai Drive, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Nelson city centre.
5. Visit the Museums
Along with gardens, Nelson also has its fair share of museums. There is The Nelson Provincial Museum to discover the history of the region and find out what makes Nelson tick! The World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum is perfect for those who love art, whether it’s in the form of attire or cars from the past. Finally, for a museum like no other, check out Founders Heritage Park. This mini pioneer village gives an insight into New Zealand during its early European settler days.
Location: The Nelson Provincial Museum – Corners of Trafalgar and Hardy Street. The World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum – 1 Cadillac Way, approximately 7km (4.3 miles) from Nelson city centre. Founders Park – 87 Atawhai Drive, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Nelson city centre.
6. See Native Birds at the Brook Waimarama Sanctuary
For a true wildlife experience and a chance to encounter New Zealand’s native birds, visit the protected bird haven of The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary. A predator-proof fence around this area of native bush helps the birds thrive in their natural environment. See bellbirds, fantails, kiwi, blue duck, New Zealand robins, as well as native reptiles and bats. If you like wildlife, you might also like our 10 Things You Did Not Know About New Zealand Wildlife.
Location: 651 Brook Street, approximately 6km (4 miles) from Nelson city centre.
7. Check Out Nelson’s Quirky Landmarks and Stores
A walk around the city centre of Nelson is an experience in itself. Once you have checked out the Christ Church Cathedral in Trafalgar Square and the Clock Tower, start visiting some of the cool and quirky stores. The Lords of the Rings fans should get themselves over to Jens Hansen, The Ringmaker (corner of Church Street and Selwyn Place) to see some of the original One Rings made for the movies. The store attendant is usually happy to tell you more about the making of the rings if you ask. For more Middle-earth actions, check out 23 Lord of the Rings Locations You Can’t Miss in New Zealand.
Location: Christ Church Cathedral – Trafalgar Square. Clock Tower – 110 Trafalgar Street. Jens Hansen, The Ringmaker – corner of Church Street and Selwyn Place.
8. Experience the Art Galleries
Art galleries are scattered across the Nelson region but a good place to start is with the regional art museum, Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu (208 Bridge Street), otherwise known as The Suter, has a wealth of exhibitions from local artists to the world beyond. Venture to the suburb of Richmond (about 10 minutes drive) and you’ll find about eight different galleries in close proximity, which we list in the 11 Nelson Art Galleries That Will Inspire You.
Location: Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu – 208 Bridge Street. See more locations in the link above.
9. Walk the Cable Bay Walkway
If you’re willing to venture a little out of the city (about 11 minutes drive), there is a spectacular walk to be experienced between Glenduan and Cable Bay in the heart of the Nelson region. The Cable Bay Walkway takes about 3h30min one way or you can return the same way for a full-day adventure. Alternatively, cut the walk short by starting from Cable Bay and just getting some awesome views from the first hill (1-hour return) or get to the edge of some wonderful forest (2 hours return). Enjoy awesome coastal views along the way as you walk high over farmland looking across the coast. What’s more, if you have your own snorkelling gear, we recommend snorkelling at Ataata Point, which is part of the Horoirangi Marine Reserve. Be aware that the Cable Bay Walkway is usually close for lambing season (1 August – 10 October).
Location: You can start the walk from either Cable Bay, 21km (13 miles) out of Nelson on State Highway 6, or Glenduan Bay, 12km (7.4 miles) out of Nelson on State Highway 6.
10. Kayak in Nelson Haven
Hire a kayak or jump on a ferry through Nelson Haven. Visit the unusual natural formation of Boulder Bank, a 13km (8-mile) stretch of rocky substrate, and check out lighthouse standing in the middle of it. Additionally, paddle to Haulashore Island to relax on the beach and watch the sunset.
Location: Nelson Haven, ferry and kayak services run from Wakefield Quay, approximately 2.5km (1.6 miles) from Nelson city centre.
11. Go On a Craft Beer Trail
There’s no better place to taste craft beer than New Zealand’s craft brewing capital! (Ok, so other towns and cities in New Zealand may disagree but Nelson does have a significant amount of craft breweries). Travel down the coast from Nelson and you have the chance to check out around 10 different craft beer breweries!
Location: See the link above for specific locations of Nelson’s breweries.
12. Taste Your Way Through Nelson’s Wine Region
The Nelson region is home to about 25 cellar doors. It’s just a short drive to the start of Nelson’s wine-making region. Richmond is home to nine wineries. A mix of organic, award-winning and historic wines are waiting to be discovered among the vines. Find out more in the 23 Nelson Wineries on the Nelson Wine Trail.
Location: See the link above for specific locations of Nelson’s wineries.
13. Go to the Nelson Market and Monty’s Sunday Market
Mingle with the locals and pick up some bargains at the Nelson Market and Monty’s Sunday Market. Savour the delicious flavours of local produce among the vibrant atmosphere of a classic Kiwi market. The markets occur every Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 1pm.
Location: Montgomery Square.
14. Have a Foodie Experience
The Nelson region is home to many eateries and culinary experiences. Apart from craft beer and wineries, the restaurants and cafes are a great way to treat yourself even on a budget. We put together The Foodie Guide to Nelson for you to treat your tastebuds in Nelson.
Location: Nelson City Centre.
15. Walk the Dun Mountain
For a quick and active city escape, we recommend the Dun Mountain. Not only can the mountain be ridden by bike (see Mountain Biking in Nelson Tasman), the mountains trails are a great way to explore on foot. The Dun Mountain walk is a well-graded track through the hills that form Nelson’s backdrop. The 3-hour return walk also takes you through native and pine forest.
Location: Brook Street, approximately 5km (3 miles) from Nelson city centre.
16. Take a Trip to the Abel Tasman National Park
The Abel Tasman National Park might be New Zealand’s smallest national park but with its pristine golden sand beaches backed by native bush, it’s kind of a big deal. Trips from Nelson to the Abel Tasman National Park depart daily, whether it’s to kayak along its shores or hike some or all of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track Great Walk. Learn more about what to do in Abel Tasman in 10 Amazing Things to Do in the Abel Tasman National Park.
Location: Abel Tasman National Park, 64km (40 miles) from Nelson city centre.
17. Visit Lake Rotoiti in the Nelson Lakes National Park
If you have your own transport, then don’t miss out on exploring the Nelson Lakes National Park! This national park is a hub for beautiful native forest hikes and tranquil lakes. The most accessible lake is Lake Rotoiti featuring a campsite and a few short walks in the area. However, if you fancy getting off the beaten track, we recommend Lake Rotoroa for something a little quieter and with some fantastic hikes to check out. See more activities in the area in the 10 Best Things to Do in Nelson Lakes National Park.
Location: Lake Rotoiti, State Highway 63. 88km (55 miles) from Nelson city centre.
More Must-Dos and Things to Do in Nelson
That’s it for the best things to do in Nelson. Find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do in the South Island.