How to Visit Nelson on a Budget
Ah, Nelson: the city of free parks, cheap museums, free food tours, reasonably-priced wildlife sanctuaries and some of the best hostels in the country trying desperately to win your booking… Nelson is definitely a budget-friendly city. Accommodations like hostels practically throw freebies at guests, whether it’s bike hire or chocolate pudding every evening, while the motels, lodges and holiday parks all have their own charms and conveniences. The Abel Tasman, Kahurangi and Nelson Lakes National Parks are all nearby and all come with pricey activities, but at least Nelson city and its free/cheap attractions will help you stick to your budget.
Plan your budget trip, including activities, accommodation and where to eat, with this travel guide to Nelson on a budget.
Budget Tips for Nelson
- Nelson is home to some of the best hostels in the country, many offering free breakfasts, dessert, bike hire and more – so check them out in 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in Nelson
- Stay in self-catering accommodation so you can save money on food
- Fill up your itinerary with the free and cheap stuff to do in Nelson
- If you want to spend more time in the Abel Tasman National Park, stay in Motueka, Kaiteriteri or Marahau which are much closer to the park
- You don’t necessarily need a car to enjoy Nelson, as many attractions are within walking distance of the city centre, it’s easy to get around by bike and there are public buses.
For more generic budget advice, see the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Nelson
There’s plenty to see and do in Nelson without spending a dime. A good place to start is with a walk to the Centre of New Zealand. While the hilltop location only marks the geographical centre of New Zealand, the real highlight is the views overlooking Nelson city, the Tasman Sea and beyond. The walk starts from the Botanical Reserve and only takes around 15 minutes to walk one way.
Get your art fix in and around Nelson city by following our 11 Nelson Art Galleries That Will Inspire You. The biggest artsy highlight, however, is The Suter Art Gallery which features New Zealand’s larged collection of watercolours by 19th Century artist, John Gully, as well as examples of British Modernism paintings and works from Sir Mountford Tosswill Woollaston who is thought to be the founder of modern art in New Zealand. And if you don’t know what we’re going on about, just go there to enjoy the pretty pictures for free.
Nelson might be more known for its vineyards and fruit-growing, there’s a fun and free foodie surprise in the suburbs: Pic’s Peanut Butter World. They offer free peanut butter factory tours with something to amaze all ages between making your own peanut butter to trying different creations.
For more free activities, head to the 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson.
Cheap Activities in Nelson
On top of its free attractions, Nelson also has a wide range of affordable museums, theme parks and a wildlife sanctuary. Two affordable museums include the Nelson Classic Car Museum, costing around NZ$19 per adult, and the Nelson Provincial Museum at around NZ$5 per adult. The former has more than 150 beautifully-restored classic cars, while the latter is all about Nelson Tasman’s social and geological history. Both provide a fascinating visit if you have the time.
A museum with a difference, Founders Heritage Park is a make-shift heritage town with working artisans in some buildings and exhibitions in others. It only costs around NZ$10 per adult to wander around this theme park with a Bristol Freighter plane to get inside, train rides (at an extra fee), a fire station, bus station, cycle museum, gorgeous gardens, a cafe and more.
Finally, for a bit of nature, head to The Brook Waimarama Sanctuary which is the South Island’s largest sanctuary protected by a predator-proof fence. See and listen to riflemen, brown creeper, grey warbler, wood pigeons, fantails, bellbirds, robins, silvereyes, tomtits and more as you wander the network of walking trails past picturesque streams with waterfalls. The sanctuary is around NZ$15 per adult.
For more cheap stuff, see the 14 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Nelson.
Cheap Eats in Nelson
From a vibrant cafe scene to classic Kiwi fish and chips, Nelson offers plenty of variety when it comes to affordable eateries. Treat yourself to some of the local cuisine during your visit without burning through your budget.
A couple of bakeries we like include the Swiss Bakery in Richmond (237 Queen Street) and the Swedish Bakery & Cafe in Nelson city (54 Bridge Street). For good-value cafes, we recommendation Kush (5 Church Street) and Pomeroy’s Coffee & Tea House (105 Montgomery Square).
If you want to try some Kiwi fish and chips, good places to go include Milton Street Gourmet Takeaway (136 Milton Street), Seabreeze Takeaways (51 Vanguard Street) and Victoria Square Fish & Chips (176 St Vincent Street).
And for restaurants with good specials, check out Sprig & Fern (280 Hardy Street), Indian Cafe (94 Collingwood Street) and Nicola’s Cantina (6 Church Street) are good places to go.
For more details on each restaurant and more recommendations, check out the Cheap Eats in Nelson.
More About Nelson
- 10 Things to Do in Nelson on a Rainy Day
- Guide to The Lord of the Rings in Nelson Tasman
- 10 Best Backpacker Hostels in Nelson
- The Complete Travel Guide to Nelson
That’s it from the travel guide to Nelson on a budget. Check out even more money-saving tips in The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget.