How to Plan the Best Trip to Hamilton
The metropolitan hub of the Waikato region, Hamilton sits along the banks of the mighty Waikato River. One of the very few inland cities of New Zealand, Hamilton offers an array of experiences on and alongside its famous river, in its bustling city centre, and in the rolling hills surrounding it.
Hamilton is rich in culture where stories are told throughout its museums and art galleries, while your foodie fix certainly will be seen to at the vibrant cafes and restaurants. What’s more, Hamilton makes a convenient base for exploring some of the North Island highlights. The Waitomo Caves or Hobbiton, anyone?
Discover the top attractions, accommodations and more, according to your unique travel style, with this complete travel guide to Hamilton.
Common Questions About Hamilton
We’re not messing around with this travel guide to Hamilton; here are the most common questions travellers have about visiting.
Is Hamilton, NZ Worth Visiting?
Hamilton is by no means a top tourist destination in New Zealand, however, it is conveniently located close to North Island highlights, such as Hobbiton, Waitomo and Raglan.
What is Hamilton, NZ Best Known For?
Hamilton is best known for the mighty Waikato River passing through its centre, as well as hosting the popular Balloons Over Waikato event every year.
Where is Hamilton Located?
What is the Weather Usually Like in Hamilton?
The daily average temperature is 14.0°C/57.1°F, while the yearly average rainfall is 1,264mm/49.8″. Find out more in What is the Weather Like in New Zealand?
How Do You Get to Hamilton?
Hamilton is well connected to the rest of New Zealand by road, located on State Highway 1 and within a 1h40min drive from Auckland, Rotorua and Tauranga. The closest international airport is Auckland Airport with plenty of car rental options available. There is also the Te Huia train linking Auckland and Hamilton. Hamilton is also on the main national bus route, which you can find more information about in Bus Networks in New Zealand.
What to Do in Hamilton
Aside from being the perfect base for day trips to some of the biggest hotspots on the North Island, such as Waitomo and Hobbiton, highlights within the city include the best gardens and shopping opportunities in New Zealand.
The Top Experiences in Hamilton
What are the must-dos? Here are some of the Hamilton highlights:
- Explore the Hamilton Gardens
- Cycle or walk alongside the Waikato River
- Watch the native birds and tuatara at Sanctuary Mountain
- Do some shopping at Riverbank Lane, Casabella Lane or the biggest shopping mall in the country, Te Awa & The Base
- Enjoy high tea and a plantation tour at Zealong…
… And there’s a lot more where that came from over in our 20 Best Things to Do in Hamilton.
Rainy Day Activities
Don’t get caught in the rain! Have a few rainy day backups, such as:
- Visit the Waikato Museum
- Taste beer and tour Good George Brewing
- Check out the Classics Museum.
Find out more about these wet weather alternatives and others in the 11 Things to Do in Hamilton on a Rainy Day.
Where to Stay in Hamilton
Other than the accommodations we recommend on the righthand side of this complete travel guide to Hamilton (or at the bottom if on mobile), we have compiled entire lists of places to stay based on price, what’s best for families or a couples’ getaway, as well as premium stays. What’s more, each list is written by real writers; not some algorithm.
Hamilton for Budget Travellers
If you’re looking for an affordable base while exploring the highlights of the Waikato region, then Hamilton is an excellent option with all the conveniences a city can bring. Hamilton provides a good dose of the metropolitan, with museums, art galleries, eateries and culture, while also offering a chance to escape to nature through the various walks and the nearby wildlife sanctuary. Find out more on how you can visit Hamilton on the cheap with The Guide to Hamilton on a Budget.
Things to Do in Hamilton on a Budget
- Visit the Hamilton Gardens (or take a guided tour)
- Do the Waikato Riverside Walk
- Check out the Waikato Museum
- See vintage cars at the Classics Museum
- See the native birds at Sanctuary Mountain.
For more information on each activity and more, take a look at the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Hamilton.
Cheap Accommodation in Hamilton
Hamilton is a city of motels, which you’ll find scattered across the city in a location likely convenient to you. Hostels and holiday parks, however, are very limited so make sure you book in early. More information can be found in the 10 Best Budget Accommodations in Hamilton.
Hamilton for Luxury Travellers
Discerning travellers will find just what they need and more in Hamilton. Aside from renowned hotel brands in the city, the countryside boutique lodges provide a memorable stay in Waikato. Whether you’re looking for adventure or indulgence, you’ll find both in Hamilton. Embark on exciting horse treks, shop at New Zealand fashion boutiques and even fly over the city in a hot air balloon – the only place you can have this experience on the North Island. Start planning a premium getaway with The Luxury Guide to Hamilton.
Luxury Activities in Hamilton
- Experience the rural side of Hamilton with a horse trek with Karamu Trail Track or Stone Hill Horse Trek
- Play a round of golf alongside the Waikato River
- Float above the city and lakes with the Kiwi Balloon Company
- Discover the boutique shops and laneways of the city centre
- Try your luck at the SkyCity Hamilton casino.
For more details on each experience and a few others, see the 8 Luxury Experiences in Hamilton.
Luxury Accommodation in Hamilton
Hamilton is not the place for five-star luxury. Alternatively, you’ll find international four-star hotels within the city, while the outskirts and countryside are where you’ll find Hamilton’s boutique lodges and B&Bs. Find out more in the 5 Best Luxury Accommodations in Hamilton.
Hamilton for Families
Between the green spaces and the entertainment centres, Hamilton makes for an extremely child-friendly city. Gardens, arboretums, walking/cycling/stroller-friendly trails are some of the outdoor activities you can enjoy in the city as a family, while top attractions like Hobbiton, the Waitomo Caves and Sanctuary Mountain are all within an hour’s drive of the city. Base yourselves in one of Hamilton’s motels and you’ll have all you need for self-catering amenities, space and a good price. Find out more about planning a family getaway with The Guide to Hamilton for Families.
Things to Do in Hamilton with Kids
- Take a trip to the Hobbiton Movie Set
- Burn off some energy at the Taitua Arboretum
- Delve into the glowworm caves of Waitomo
- Go for a walk and a coffee beside Hamilton Lake
- Do the Mt Pirongia Mangakara Nature Walk.
For more details on each activity and its locations, see the 10 Things to Do in Hamilton with Kids.
Family Accommodation in Hamilton
Some of the best options for families staying in Hamilton are the motels, most offering family rooms and apartments with self-catering facilities. Alternatively, you’ll find hotels and the odd holiday park that is suitable for a tribe. Check out our top picks in the 10 Best Family Accommodations in Hamilton.
Hamilton for Couples
Wine, dine and go on a backyard adventure! Couples will find the right balance of city luxuries and couple-friendly outdoor activities for a romantic escape to remember. Take a scenic cruise of the Waikato River, kayak through a canyon of glowworms, or enjoy the variety of walks, parks and gardens hand-in-hand. After it all, retreat to your lavish inner-city hotel or to your quaint boutique lodge on the outskirts. It’s all explained in detail in The Honeymoon & Romantic Getaway Guide to Hamilton.
Romantic Activities in Hamilton
- Smell the flowers at the Lavender Backyard Garden or Clandon Daffodils
- Enjoy a romantic stroll through Tautua Arboretum, around Hamilton Lake, on the Hakarimata Range or the Riverside Walkway
- Be inspired at the city’s art galleries
- Cruise down the Waikato River with the Waikato River Explorer
- See the glowworms on Lake Karapiro or the Waitomo Caves.
For elaboration on each experience, see the 10 Most Romantic Things to Do in Hamilton for Couples.
Romantic Accommodation in Hamilton
For couples looking for a romantic retreat, the odd luxury B&B and lodge on the outskirts of the city will be your best bet, while those seeking convenience while still setting the right tone can’t go wrong with Hamilton’s hotels. Check out our recommendations in the 5 Best Romantic Accommodations in Hamilton.
Hamilton for Foodies
Hamilton sits in the centre of the Waikato region, famous for its dairy farming but it also holds a few surprises, from vineyards to fruit orchards. Experience a comprehensive tour of Hamilton’s artisans and vineyards on a local food tour or mingle with the locals at the Sunday farmers’ market. Foodies in Hamilton are also spoiled for choice with the array of eateries, ranging from fine dining on contemporary New Zealand cuisine to cheap eats that will take your tastebuds around the world. Plan some of your foodie experiences with The Food Guide to Hamilton: Places to Eat & Food Tours.
Food Tours and Activities in Hamilton
- Embark on a hiking and food tour with Nature & Nosh (more info on Viator and Tripadvisor)
- Tour the Zealong Tea Estate
- Take a tour of Good George Brewing’s very own brewery
- Spend Sunday morning at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market
- Dine at one of Hamilton’s top restaurants.
For more details on each experience, see the 7 Best Foodie Experiences in Hamilton.
Where to Eat in Hamilton
- Zenders Cafe & Venue (439 Ruakura Road)
- The River Kitchen (217 Victoria Street)
- Volare (6 Garden Place)
- Babaganush (379 – 381 Grey Street)
- Chim Thai (111 Thomas Road Unit 9)
- Vilagrad Winery (702 Rukuhia Road)
Foodie Accommodation in Hamilton
Whether you prefer to stay in a well-positioned hotel with its own restaurant and/or proximity to the city’s top eateries or you want to self-cater with produce you’ve picked up from the local market, we list both types of accommodations in the 10 Best Accommodations in Hamilton for Foodies.
More About Hamilton
That’s it for our complete travel guide to Hamilton but by no means the end of our Hamilton travel tips! Check out the following guides for more advice on what to do nearby:
- The Best Day Trips from Hamilton
- Mountain Biking in Waikato
- 10 Best Things to Do in Cambridge
- 5 Best Things to Do in Morrinsville
- 6 Best Things to Do in Te Awamutu
- 15 Best Things to Do in Raglan
Finally, plan more of your North Island trip using the North Island in Two Weeks: Road Trip Itinerary or North Island in One Week: Road Trip Itinerary. You’ll also find more advice for planning an epic NZ trip in The Best Travel Guide to New Zealand.