1. Walk to the Centre of New Zealand
While “The Centre of New Zealand” might not sound like an exciting place to start on these free things to do in Nelson, there is actually more to The Centre of New Zealand than what it sounds like. A short uphill climb through the forest will bring you to a hilltop with the view of the Tasman Mountains on one side and Nelson city and the Tasman Bay on the other. Walking to the Centre of New Zealand is a quick and free thing to do in Nelson.
Location: Start from the Botanical Reserve, Hardy Street, Nelson. The walk takes about 15 minutes to complete one way.
2. Have a cheap foodie experience
Nelson is renowned for its craft beers, nearby wineries and affordable eateries. To try some of the local cuisines without spending too much, check out what we have in our guide to the Cheap Eats in Nelson. You can also try a craft beer or local wine and keep it cheap by just ordering a glass. Check out 10 Craft Breweries in Nelson You Have to Try and 23 Nelson Wineries on the Nelson Wine Trail.
Location: All over Nelson.
3. Go garden hopping
There is no shortage of gardens in Nelson! Check out the water fountains, quaint footbridges, flower displays and more at the Queen’s Gardens. Additionally, the Miyazu Japanese Gardens are free to visit and is definitely a locals’ favourite.
Location: Queen’s Gardens, off Bridge Street, Nelson. Miyazu Japanese Gardens are on Atawhai Drive.
4. Go for a hike in Cable Bay
Not too far from Nelson city is Cable Bay. The gas money won’t break the bank too much, warranting a place on this list of free and cheap things to do in Nelson. The Cable Bay Walkway is a 3h30min one-way walk encapsulating the breathtaking countryside and coastal scenery. You can start the walk from either Glenduan or Cable Bay.
Location: Cable Bay is 21km out of Nelson on State Highway 6 or Glenduan Bay is 12km out of Nelson on State Highway 6.
5. Check out The Suter Art Gallery (or another free art gallery)
Suter Te Aratoi o Whakat, or “The Suter”, is Nelson’s regional art gallery showcasing local and international artists. With free admission, you can afford to pop in for a quick look at the ever-changing exhibitions and be inspired! In fact, Nelson’s suburbs are so packed with free art galleries and studios that we put together this guide on the 11 Nelson Art Galleries That Will Inspire You.
Location: The Suter, 208 Bridge Street, Nelson.
6. See the One Ring
If you are a fan of The Lord of the Rings, not only should you be looking at 23 Lord of the Rings Locations You Cant Miss in New Zealand, you should get down to Jens Hansen – The Ringmaker to see some of the real One Rings used in the movies. Just ask at the counter and the staff are usually happy to tell you more.
Location: Corner of Church Street and Selwyn Place
7. Take a photo of Christ Church Cathedral
The iconic image of Nelson city has to be that of Christ Church Cathedral that stands tall in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Go have a look, snap up a photo and get on with the other free things to do in Nelson.
Location: Trafalgar Square, Nelson
8. Go to Tahunanui Beach
Who doesn’t love spending time at the beach?! Tahunanui Beach is a popular one with the locals and is just a 10-minute drive from Nelson city centre. To save money on gas, walking from the city centre to the beach takes about an hour along the beautiful Rock Road which follows the coast.
Location: Tahunanui Beach, just off State Highway 6 when heading south from Nelson
9. Visit the Nelson Provincial Museum
You can always rely on a museum for a cheap or free thing to do in New Zealand. The Nelson Provincial Museum is definitely cheap at only around NZ$8 for entry for visitors. Learn about the Nelson region’s history from the early Maori explorers to the early European settlers and beyond.
Location: Corner of Trafalgar and Hardy Street, Nelson
10. Step back in time at the Founders Heritage Park
At only NZ$7 admission, who’s complaining? The Founders Heritage Park is a life-size mock-up of an early pioneer village with working businesses! Go to the bakery, step inside an early plane that would make you rethink air travel, put your friends in the gallows, and so much more!
Location: 87 Atawhai Drive, Nelson.
11. Walk along the Matai River
Follow the pretty Matai River on this easy walking and cycling trail. Start from Collingwood Street and follow the river where you’ll see ducks and street art along the way. You can join this walk up with the Centre of New Zealand (see above) from Matai Road.
Location: Between Collingwood Street and Matai Road.
12. Take the Dun Mountain Trail
For a more adventurous walk around Nelson, try the Dun Mountain Trail. This shared biking/walking trail is well-graded taking you through the hills and native and pine forest. You’ll capture amazing mountain scenery along the way. The 9.5km walk usually takes three hours both ways. Walking the trail is obviously part of the free things to do in Nelson, but if you want to hire a bike and learn more about the trail, check out Mountain Biking in Nelson Tasman.
Location: Start the trail from Brook Street, Nelson.
13. Hike in the Grampians Reserve
Because hiking and walking is always a reliable free activity, we’ll give you one more hike for your free and cheap things to do in Nelson itinerary. The Grampians Reserve forms the hills that are the backdrop of Nelson. There are a number of walks there taking from one to three hours to complete. Expect steep hill walks through native and exotic forest.
Location: Walks start from the south end of Collingwood Street, Allan Street, and Market Road.
14. Visit the bead gallery[Update: The Bead Gallery has closed down]
A fun place to visit, whether you have a particular passion for beads or not, is The Bead Gallery. The vibrant array of beads covering the walls, baskets, various displays and even the ceilings can’t help but put a smile on the face of anyone who walks into the store.
Location: 153 Hardy Street, Nelson