Visitors to the city of Dunedin will be pleasantly surprised by this metropolitan city in the South Island of New Zealand which perfectly balances an appreciation of history and heritage with a modern push for great food, art, incredible natural attractions and unique encounters with wildlife that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
The itineraries have been carefully selected so that you can travel to these Dunedin attractions with our featured tour operators or self drive if you have your own vehicle.
It is best to allow a few days to experience the best that Dunedin has to offer but if you are short on time, we’ve got you covered with suggested itineraries for a 1 day visit from Queenstown or a 3 day stay to help you maximise your time here in this great city in the South Island.
The City Highlights – Culture, History & Art
After settling into your hotel or arriving in Dunedin by car, find a place to park because Dunedin is a walkable city.
Begin by heading to The Octagon- an eight sided plaza- where the city’s main streets intersect. From here most of the attractions that you will visit today can be found in and around The Octagon.
The first stop is the Otago Museum, Otago Community Trust Science Centre and the Perpetual Guardian Planetarium which are all conveniently housed under the one roof in Dunedin.
Learn about the history and culture of the city as you wander the halls of the museum. The Science Centre is perfect for energetic children who can get involved in the interactive hands on displays. Or perhaps you want to learn more about the universe at the planetarium?
The Otago Museum is a family friendly activity with something for everyone to enjoy and will certainly keep the children entertained for a few hours.
Otago Museum has free entry, however the Science Centre and Planetarium do charge admission fees.
From here, head north on foot 300 metres to the Dunedin Railway Station. Why? Because this heritage building is affectionately known as the ‘Gingerbread House’ due to it’s Victorian design and it makes for a great photo opportunity. It is after all the most iconic and photographed building in New Zealand.
Built in 1906, the extravagant railway station is now home to a restaurant, art gallery and sports museum as well as operating a daily tourist railway journey to Taieri Gorge (see Day 3). Head inside to marvel at the elaborate design of the high ceilings in the foyer and booking room but don’t linger because there are more sights to see today in Dunedin.
By this time, you will likely be hungry and luckily The Octagon is littered with cafes and restaurants. After a bite to eat, grab a map and head off on the Dunedin Public Street Art Trail.
From the past to the present, this walk will take you along the streets of the Dunedin where you will see commissioned artworks from local and international artists who have turned blank walls into their personal canvas.
The result is a vibrant, colourful and creative city embracing modern art. These street artworks bring public art to the streets for a much larger and diverse audience to enjoy. There are 28 artworks to date and you will find them in the streets that intersect around the Octagon.
As you navigate your way through the trail, you will come across some of Dunedin’s older heritage buildings and cathedrals including St Paul’s Cathedral, Dunedin Law Courts, Dunedin Prison and more which is why we say that the city does a great job a blending heritage buildings with modern architecture.
The next stop for the day is Emerson’s Brewery for an afternoon tour of the highly awarded and hugely popular microbrewery.
Operating since 1992, this brewery has been busy producing unique blends of beers for locals and tourist. You can find this brewery, bar and restaurant open daily on Anzac Avenue- twenty minutes walk from The Octagon.
Emerson’s Brewery offer tours for visitors who want to go behind the scenes and see how the beer is made at every step of the process. Tours last 45 minutes and run several times a day.
After the tour, enjoy samples from their range including seasonal and vintage brews that they have on tap at any one time. If you time your tour right, you can stay on for dinner.
After a busy day exploring Dunedin, finish the evening by listening to live music at a local gig. Check local gig guides for the latest information.
*If you have a gap to fill during the day you could add or swap an activity and pay a visit to Baldwin Street– Dunedin’s and indeed the world’s steepest street in the world. Accept the challenge and climb the street to be rewarded with views of downtown Dunedin.
Heritage Homes and Unique Wildlife Encounters
Now, that you have explored the city highlights, allocate a day to visit the Otago Peninsula. Here you find historic period homes and unique wildlife encounters that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
First stop is the Olveston Historic Home within Dunedin. This period home was built and occupied by a wealthy family from 1906 to 1966 and is now open to the public for guided tours.
The home is a living time capsule of period living from the early 20th century and remains preserved and restored. Filled with over 240 artworks, statues, antique furniture, manicured gardens and even a 1922 Fiat 510 Tourer you will be transported back into the past for a brief while.
The 60 minute guided tours give you access to both the home and the gardens while you learn about the history of the family and the home. Join the first tour of the day around 9.30am before continuing onto Larnach Castle.
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s ONLY castle situated in an idyllic location within the Otago Peninsula- 20 minutes drive from Dunedin city.
Visitors from Europe may be accustomed to viewing castles but this one is unique to New Zealand. Although its architectural style with towers and turrets technically make it a castle, the design is similar to a manor home.
The castle is a must do attraction when you visit Dunedin and when you visit you will understand why. The castle and garden grounds have been painstakingly restored and it is quite the experience to be here.
You can explore the castle and gardens on a self guided tour but for a richer experience we recommend that you hire the audio guide for additional $5 so that you can hear and visualise the stories and tragic history of the castle as you wander through the rooms.
The guide is currently available in both English and Mandarin Chinese with more languages coming soon.
Much like the Olveston Historic Home, Larnach Castle will also give you a glimpse into period living in the early 20th Century but on a much grander scale. The distinct feature that makes Larnach Castle so special, however, are the stunning views.
Overlooking the bay and surrounding mountain ranges, the beauty of the Otago Peninsula opens up in front of you. The clever design of the gardens and castle capitalises on the picturesque views and will most definitely be a highlight of your visit here. Come in cooler months and you will see the grounds transform into a winter wonderland covered in snow.
If you are feeling peckish, then make your way to the ballroom café or outdoor café for lunch as the afternoon will be dedicated to viewing the unique wildlife of the region.
The Otago Peninsula has been nicknamed the wildlife capital of New Zealand. This afternoon you will witness Royal Albatross from the world’s ONLY mainland nesting place, as well as NZ Furseals, Sealions, dolphins and the world’s smallest and rarest penguins in the world.
Travel to Wellers Rock and jump aboard the MV Monarch for a wildlife cruise to the see all the ‘wild things’ of the Southern Ocean.
This short cruise will bring you close to wildlife as you watch the Royal Albatross in flight over sea or from Taiaroa Head.
Passengers will also see NZ Furseals play on the rocks or NZ Sealions swimming to the remote beaches within the area.
The cruise is the perfect combinations of sightseeing and an eco wildlife cruise as you uncover the incredible scenery and wildlife with the nature reserve of Otago Peninsula.
You’ve seen the Albatross in flight from sea but now you will see their breeding colonies on mainland within the nature reserve at The Royal Albatross Centre on the tip of the Otago peninsula at Taiaroa Head.
The centre has a brilliant purpose built indoor viewing area so you can witness these seabirds in their native environment with minimal disturbance to the wildlife.
Watch as the Royal Albatross return to feed and protect their chicks or fly off out to sea. You may also see nest building and play. Tours take place all day with a 60 minute wildlife tour explaining the story of the Albatross followed by a visit to other viewing areas around Taiaroa Head.
While you are here, you can combine your wildlife viewing with a guided tour of Fort Taiaroa to learn the history and culture of the Pukekura. Once an underground fort in the 1880’s, the area has now become a very popular wildlife destination.
To complete your afternoon of unique wildlife encounters, stay at the centre until dusk and you will be treated to the sights of Little Blue Penguins returning to mainland from sea.
The Little Blue Penguins are the world’s smallest penguins and they can be found here in Dunedin in their natural environment. The penguins waddle up to their homes (burrows) at Pilots Beach every evening at sunset after a day at sea.
Watch as these cute creatures gather in numbers and then begin to very tentatively make their way up the beach making their presence known to their chicks who are often patiently waiting for their parents to return with dinner.
This unique wildlife experience is only available to 100 lucky people every evening on the viewing platform and it is a must do activity in Dunedin.
The third day is dedicated to viewing the unforgettable scenery of Dunedin and surrounds that really put this New Zealand city on the map. Head to Dunedin Railway Station not far from The Octagon as today you will be travelling on the Taieri Gorge Railway.
Who doesn’t love a scenic railway journey? And Dunedin has several. The Taieri Gorge Railway journey to Pukerangi is the perfect activity to slot into a 3 day itinerary. And the trip will not disappoint.
The railway journey covers a distance of 116km through spectacular scenery in Southern Dunedin arriving at Wingatui Junction before branching off through the Taieri Gorge.
See rolling hills across the Taieri Plains as the train successfully glides over the gorge crossing ten tunnels and several bridges and viaducts. The genius of this railway trip is that you will uncover scenery that you cannot see by road.
And the train driver slows down at intermittent periods so that you can take in the scenery and capture that magical shot with your camera.
There is entertaining commentary on board throughout the 4 hour journey but it is likely that you will be too distracted by the scenic views to take it all in.
Get off at Pukerangi to stretch the legs before you continue the journey back to Dunedin and get a second look at the spectacular scenery through the Taieri Gorge.
While on board, enjoy the food at the licensed café selling a variety of New Zealand food, snacks, beer, wine and soft drink.
The train to Taieri Gorge operates twice daily in summer between October to April at 9.30am and 2.30pm. In winter, from May to October the afternoon train is available departing at 12.30pm and returning to Dunedin at 4.30pm.
No trip to Dunedin is complete without take a trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway. This is by far the most popular railway journey on offer.
For more information on other Dunedin experiences, activities and attractions, please visit our main experiences page.