My wife and I spent a day in Christchurch, New Zealand before embarking on an REI hiking trip in the southern island. We had no real plans in Christchurch, so we decided to just head to the city center, walk around, and play it by ear.
Luckily for us, Christchurch is a super charming city with lots to do and see within easy walking distance in the central business district!
Christchurch is the largest city in the southern island of New Zealand. In 2011, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake hit the city, destroying much of the downtown business district and killing 185 people. Christchurch is still recovering with many old buildings still shored up with steel beams.
More recently, Christchurch was hit with another tragedy with the mosque shootings that left dozens of people dead. We arrived just three days after the shooting to find thousands of bouquets laid at the entrance to their botanic gardens in remembrance, an indication to me of the compassion of the New Zealand people.
Things to Do
Here are the best attractions we found during our day in Christchurch. Most of these were free!
1. Christchurch Botanic Gardens
You could spend the better part of the day in the wonderful 52-acre Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We really enjoyed our time here. There’s a Central Rose Garden, Heritage Rose Garden, Herb Garden, Rock Garden, and more. For us, the highlight was the Dahlia Garden (my wife loves Dahlias).
We also loved the huge trees and ponds.
There is no charge to enjoy these marvelous gardens!
2. Canterbury Museum
The Canterbury Museum features both the natural history and human history of New Zealand, as well as general science exhibits. Some of our favorite exhibits included the exhibit on Antarctic exploration, the Bird Hall, and the Geology exhibit.
Amazingly, admission is free (except for a $2 NZD Discovery Room geared towards kids).
3. Coffeehouses and Cafes
Christchurch has a ton of charming independent coffee houses and cafes. Our favorite was the quirky C1 Espresso.
In addition to having great coffee, teas, and food (curly fries!), the atmosphere is pretty unique. Housed in a former bank, they kept the bank’s air tube delivery system and actually use it to deliver your food to your table!
They also had a water dispenser made from an old Singer typewriter. The door to the bathroom hallway was behind a sliding bookcase!
Keep in mind that you won’t find any drip-brewed coffee in Christchurch. All of the coffeehouses that we found serve espresso.
4. Christchurch Art Gallery
Calling this just a “gallery” doesn’t do it justice. the Christchurch Art Gallery is a full-fledged museum housed in a modern glass building, with two levels of exhibits of mostly modern art.
The bull on the grand piano in the front is a prime Instagram location!
5. The Arts Centre
The Arts Centre is in Gothic castle-like stone buildings which were formerly used by Canterbury College and two of the city’s secondary schools.
You’ll find interesting stores, restaurants, and galleries here. Definitely worth a visit!
6. Cathedral Square
Located in the center of town is the heavily-damaged Christchurch Cathedral. Worth a look to get an idea of the magnitude of damage the city endured.
The church spire was completely destroyed in the 2011 earthquake, but the church intends to rebuild.
7. The Retail Precinct
This is an area of the city with lots of retail stores, clothing shops, and drug stores centered roughly at the intersection of Cashel and High Street.
We picked up some basic supplies (an iPhone case, bug repellent) and had some ice cream in this area of town.
8. Avon River
If you’re walking around the center of town, you’ll definitely cross the Avon River at least once. You might cross via the Bridge of Remembrance, a war memorial dedicated to those who died in WWI and subsequent wars.
If you’re not alert, you might not realize when you pass by the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, located on both sides of the Avon River near the Montreal Street bridge.
9. Public Art and Architecture
Christchurch struck us as being an “artsy” town, with lots of public art throughout the central business district. Even a temporary wall around a construction site was colorfully decorated!
Near the central square are the “oversized chairs”, a quirky outdoor art installation consisting of oversized furniture covered in artificial turf. Definitely Instagram-ready!
We also liked the architecture of the city, a mix of new and old. With so many buildings destroyed in the earthquake, there are many cool modern buildings!
Overall, we really enjoyed our day in Christchurch and hope you have a chance to visit too!
See the rest of our New Zealand trip
Check out my day-by-day rundown of the rest of our hiking and kayaking trip in New Zealand’s southern island.