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If you only visit one place in New Zealand, Queenstown should be it. This charming, energetic resort town attracts everyone from young backpackers to those seeking a luxury escape. Travellers are drawn by incredible scenery, world-class adventure sports, exquisite luxury lodges, and the exciting vibe of the city’s walkable downtown.
Plus, Queenstown is a great base for exploring the nearby regions of Wanaka, Arrowtown, Glenorchy, and Fiordland National Park. If you run out of things to do in Queenstown itself, you don’t have to look much further afield to find plenty of new options.
There are so many things to do in Queenstown that it would take a year to check them all off. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, these top 10 Queenstown experiences will help you get started.
Your accommodation probably won’t come with lake views. However, there are still countless ways to enjoy the iconic beauty of Queenstown’s lakefront.
Savour an ice cream in summer or a mug of mulled wine in winter at the small beach downtown. Enjoy dinner at one of the lakefront restaurants. Stroll through the Queenstown Gardens. Walk far enough along the lakefront path through the Queenstown Gardens and you can enjoy views of the picture-perfect Remarkables Range.
Located just 20 minutes from downtown Queenstown, the historic mining settlement of Arrowtown is bursting with atmosphere and charm.
And Arrowtown has more to offer than just history. The picturesque town centre is lined with cozy local cafes, boutique shops, and fine restaurants. In addition, you will find walking trails to explore at the nearby Arrow River.
Walk a block down Shotover Street, and you will begin to get an idea of how many adventure activities are on offer in Queenstown. Queenstown is known as the “Adventure Capital of New Zealand.” Therefore, if you want to try out skydiving, bungy jumping, jet-boating, paragliding, or any other adrenaline activity you can think of, Queenstown is the place to do it.
The classic Shotover Jet is a great option for almost anyone. Meanwhile, serious adrenaline junkies could easily spend a week sampling everything from a canyoning trip to the heart-stopping Nevis Canyon Swing.
Even if thrillseeking is not your thing, it’s worth taking a jet-boat ride or 4WD tour for the scenery alone. For instance, the Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari ventures deep into Mount Aspiring National Park, where you will find some of the most unforgettable natural scenery anywhere in New Zealand.
This quintessential Queenstown experience has something for everyone. Most importantly, you will find the best views in Queenstown at the top of the Skyline Gondola.
While riding the Skyline Gondola is worthwhile in itself, you can easily combine it with the activities on offer at the top for a great half-day excursion. Lunch or dinner at the Stratosfare Restaurant is a great way to relax while soaking in the splendor of Lake Wakatipu and the Southern Alps; your travel consultant will help arrange a seating time that maximizes the daytime or sunset experience.
Other activities at the top of the Skyline Gondola include the Skyline Luge (an entry-level adrenaline activity perfect for all ages), paragliding trips, and a canopy zipline course. Or, if you are up for a challenge, why not hike to the top of Ben Lomond?
The famous TSS Earnslaw steamship cruise to Walter Peak Station combines two essential Queenstown experiences. First, a cruise on the turquoise waters of Lake Wakatipu. And second, a visit to one of New Zealand’s most beautiful high country sheep stations.
You can simply book a return steamship cruise if you are short on time. However, the best way to experience Walter Peak High Country Station is with lunch or dinner at the historic Colonel’s Homestead. This experience also includes a farm show, where you can watch highly-trained sheep dogs rounding up the flock.
The lunch is great for families with children. On the other hand, dinner is better for couples, as the atmosphere is more sophisticated and you won’t return to Queenstown until 10 pm.
One of the best parts about Queenstown is how much wilderness surrounds the town. If you run out of things to do in Queenstown itself or want to escape the bustle of downtown, the serenity of nature is only minutes away.
There are three ways to experience the wilderness surrounding Queenstown. Firstly, driving around and sightseeing from the car. Secondly, booking an activity that takes you into areas that would be otherwise inaccessible. And finally, getting out there and hiking some of New Zealand’s top trails.
The best scenic drives around Queenstown include:
Activities booked with Queenstown’s top operators can get you even deeper into the wilderness. With Heliworks Queenstown Helicopters, you can land at the base of Earnslaw Glacier and gaze in awe at hundreds of waterfalls cascading from the hanging glacier. With Nomad Safaris, you can follow the treacherous 4WD road through Skipper’s Canyon and marvel at the rugged cliffs and hills all around. And with Dart River Adventures, you can jet-boat into the heart of Mount Aspiring National Park.
If you want a more active wilderness experience, the Routeburn Track is a fantastic option for a day hike. This Great Walk is more commonly done as a multi-day tramp. However, the scenery is rewarding whether you hike 30 minutes through beautiful beech forest or 7 hours return to the top of Harris Saddle.
If you have a bit of spare time or need a rest after sampling the many activities on offer, there are enough things to do in Queenstown’s town center to keep you occupied for at least half a day.
Encounter New Zealand’s rarest and most unusual bird species up close at the Kiwi Birdlife Park, and learn about ongoing conservation efforts. Amble through the Ivan Clarke Gallery, with its quirky paintings of cats and dogs in human roles. Stroll along the network of paths running through Queenstown Gardens, savoring views of the Remarkables Range. And to round off your day, enjoy a frosty drink at one of the town’s ice bars.
If you won’t be traveling any further south than Queenstown, this makes a great base for exploring Fiordland National Park. You can visit the iconic Milford Sound or the larger and more isolated Doubtful Sound on full-day coach and cruise combo trips. Otherwise, view the dramatic fiords from above with a scenic helicopter flight.
Visiting Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound makes for a long day trip. If you want to cut down on travel time, swap your return coach trip for a scenic flight back. One of the best ways to experience the grandeur of Fiordland National Park is from the air.
If you enjoy fine wines, you should not miss a tasting at one the top vineyards in Central Otago. This arid wine region has the perfect microclimate for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. In addition, the viticulture here is unique in New Zealand.
Most of the wineries around Queenstown are dotted through what is known as the “Gibbston Valley of Vines.”
You can visit cellar doors for tastings as you pass by. Alternatively, enrich your Central Otago wine experience with a guided day tour or a self-guided bike-to-wine tour.
Top wineries include Gibbston Valley Winery (where you can also tour a wine cave), Peregrine, and Amisfield Winery.
If you wish to venture farther afield, Maori Point Winery and Rippon Winery are located near Wanaka. Each are approximately an hour’s drive from Queenstown.
After the Lord of the Rings trilogy started the trend, movies from around the world have filmed scenes in New Zealand. And with its wealth of natural scenery, Queenstown and its surrounds have been used in countless films.
The best way to visit Lord of the Rings filming locations is with a 4WD tour to Glenorchy. Even non-fans will enjoy the beautiful views along the way.
You may also recognize scenes from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Water Horse, and even Taylor Swift’s music video for “Out of the Woods.”
With so much to see and do around Queenstown, how do you make the most of your time?
This 3-day Queenstown sample itinerary will give you an idea of how you could schedule your stay.
When you arrive in Queenstown, spend the afternoon exploring the lakefront. Unwind with a coffee or ice cream at one of the lakeside cafes, and listen to talented street performers playing on the outdoor piano.
In the evening, ride the Skyline Gondola to the Skyline Complex for dinner overlooking the stunning Wakatipu Basin–a perfect introduction to the region.
Start your day off bright and early with one of Queenstown’s top adrenaline activities! If you want to pack in as much as possible, combine the 30-minute Shotover Jet with a bungy/canyon swing package and finish it off with a skydive–this will fill most of your day. Or, if you want to combine adrenaline with breathtaking wilderness and Lord of the Rings filming locations, spend the morning venturing deep into Mt Aspiring National Park with the Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari.
When you’re ready for a break, head to Arrowtown for lunch or an afternoon coffee at one of the picturesque cafes and stroll down the historic main street.
If you have time left in the afternoon, wander around downtown Queenstown, browsing shops and galleries or even trying a cocktail at one of the ice bars.
This evening, step aboard the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship and cruise to Walter Peak High Country Station for a dinner to remember.
You can’t see and do everything in three days, so today you need to choose which experience matters most to you. Or you can add a fourth night in Queenstown and pack it all in!
If this is your one chance to see Fiordland National Park, spend the day on a coach/cruise trip to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. For a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, upgrade to a scenic flight back to Queenstown. Or, if you want to sample more than one activity today, squeeze in a helicopter fly-over of Fiordland National Park this morning before moving on to the next adventure.
If you want to spend a leisurely day sampling the best vintages of Central Otago, join a gourmet wine tour including lunch and tastings.
If you can’t wait to explore the trails around Queenstown, take a few hours or a full day to hike a portion of the Routeburn Track.
And if Lord of the Rings filming locations are your priority, book a 4WD tour to the region’s most recognizable filming locations. (If you already visited Glenorchy on the Dart River Jet Wilderness Safari, the Queenstown Lord of the Rings Tour will take you to a different set of filming locations).
You can browse South Island and New Zealand itineraries including Queenstown at the following links:
Most include three nights in Queenstown, so if you want to include the top 10 things to do in Queenstown, you can modify your itinerary to suit the suggestions above.
If you book your all-inclusive holiday package with New Zealand Travel Organiser, your travel consultant can help customise your New Zealand holiday to make the most of your stay in Queenstown.
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