What to Do in Nelson City
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 in Nelson City. The notoriously sunny weather in Nelson makes the activities here pretty much doable all year round. Whether you’re looking for an outdoors experience near the city or looking for ways to have fun and relax, there are heaps of activities to experience in Nelson, New Zealand.
If the ocean draws you, then relax on Tahunanui Beach or kayak around Nelson Haven to see historic lighthouses and unusual natural formations. More of a mountain person? There are walks that will surround you in gorgeous mountain scenery. 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 city, look no further!
1. Visit 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, go go-karting or visit Natureland. Another popular way to get to Tahunanui Beach is by cycling down the Rock Road (Nelson’s waterfront).
Location: Tahunanui Beach, just off State Highway 6 when heading south.
2. 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 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.
3. Get on Your Bike!
Or hire a bike, because it’s not likely that you’ll have your own bike if you are travelling around New Zealand… Whatever type of cycling experience you are looking for, Nelson will have it. Gently ride along the picturesque Rocks Road along the waterfront between Nelson and Tahunanui Beach, or tackle the adventurous Dun Mountain Bike Trail. For a whole list of biking options, check out Mountain Biking in Nelson Tasman.
Location: All around Nelson.
4. 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.
Location: Botanical Reserve, Hardy Street
5. Check Out the 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.
Location: The Queen’s Gardens are off Bridge Street. The Miyazu Japanese Gardens are on Atawhai Drive.
6. 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 in on the corners of Trafalgar and Hardy Street. The World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum is on 1 Cadillac Way. Founders Park is on 87 Atawhai Drive.
7. 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 (about 12 minutes drive from Nelson).
8. 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 on 110 Trafalgar Street, start visiting some of the cool and quirky stores. The Bead Gallery on 153 Hardy Street is always a treat with a huge colourful array of beads on display. 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: Nelson city centre
9. 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. For more information, check ou the 11 Nelson Art Galleries That Will Inspire You.
Location: Nelson city centre and Richmond.
10. Do 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 walk 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 (1hour 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 out of Nelson on State Highway 6, or Glenduan Bay, 12km out of Nelson on State Highway 6.
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, as craft beer is kind of a big thing here, but Nelson does have a significant amount of craft breweries). To start with, there’s the Founders Brewery in Nelson (Atawhai Drive), but as you travel down the coast, you have the chance to check out around 10 different craft beer breweries!
Location: Nelson and beyond.
12. Taste Your Way Through Nelson’s Wine Region
The Nelson region is home to about 25 cellar doors. Although these cellar doors are not in the city centre itself, 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.
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 a guide of Cheap Eats in Nelson for you to treat your taste buds while saving on the cents.
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. It’s a jewel in the Nelson region.
Location: Brook Street