Being that there is a large international airport, Auckland is likely the first stop on your trip to New Zealand or your last hoorah (like us!). Either way, you’ll want to designate a couple days to exploring the country’s largest city.
And when it comes to big cities, this one is pretty darn cool: There’s plenty of things to do in Auckland, lots of green space, and a diverse range of food options.
More than a third of New Zealand’s population lives in this metropolis, and the number of residents is growing. Being that 40% of the people living in Auckland were born overseas, this multi-cultural city is brimming with different cuisines, cultures, languages and religions.
You’ll be happy to know that even though it’s a major metropolis, there are lots of free activities and cheap eats if you know where to look. If you’re just arriving in New Zealand, you don’t want to blow your budget right off the bat. And on the opposite hand, if you’re visiting Auckland at the end of your trip, you might not have much cash left to spend.
Whether you have one day in the city or a week, we’ve put together some of the best things to do in Auckland (that don’t cost a fortune!).
1. See a Comedy Show
If you’re up for a night of belly laughs, put a visit to Classic Comedy & Bar on your list of things to do.
With shows ranging from world-renowned comedic acts to first-timers, the admission prices vary. However, it tends to be quite affordable for a fun night out!
The show we went to was mostly first-time comics, and only cost $5 NZD per person! Check their calendar to see what the shows are like during your time in Auckland. Hint: Wednesday nights seem to be the less experienced (and therefore cheaper!) acts.
There is also an onsite bar that serves light pub fare, beer and basic cocktails.
2. Fish ‘n chips and beer
There are few foods more “Kiwi” than a good fish ‘n chips (or “fush ‘n chups” if you want to pronounce it like a real New Zealander). While you can get this meal all around the country (and you definitely should!), there are no shortage of places to choose from in Auckland.
We wanted a craft beer with ours, so The Brewers Co-Operative is where we got our fix, but here’s a list of some of the city’s best fish and chips shops.
3. Visit the Parks
Auckland has a lot of green spaces to explore. Not only will you get a bit of exercise in, but visiting Auckland’s parks is a budget-friendly activity (aka free!).
While there are plenty of green spaces to choose from, Albert Park is located in the city center making it easy to visit, even if you don’t have much time in Auckland.
While the park itself is small, the beautiful assortment of trees are reason enough to make a quick stop. There are also statues, a fountain, flower patches and university buildings that jut up to the park.
Simply pass through on as you wander the city center, or pack a blanket, some snacks and a good book, and stay a while!
4. Eat your way through Food Alley
This food court on Albert Street is an Auckland staple, and celebrates this multicultural city’s Asian influence.
Take our advice and do a walk around the stalls before ordering, because there is a lot to choose from. You’ll find cuisine from from Thailand, India, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Tip: If you’re traveling with a partner who likes to share, convince them to to a “progressive lunch” (or dinner), and split a dish from a few different stalls to try flavors from all around Asia.
5. See the Sky Tower
You’d be hard pressed to go to Auckland and not see the Sky Tower, as it’s an integral part of the skyline. But truthfully, that’s all you really need to do: Look at it.
You can pay to go up inside for a view over the city, or jump 192 meters off the edge (with a bungey cord, of course!). But for most people, just looking up into the sky and seeing the iconic tower will be enough (especially if you’re traveling on a budget).
6. Free Walking Tour
We love taking free walking tours around the world to get a local’s take on the most important parts of their city. Plus, it’s a great way to orient yourself on your first day in a new city (or country!).
This tour lasts 2.5 to 3 hours and takes you past some of the major sights in downtown Auckland (including Albert Park).
Personal Note: If Auckland is your first stop in New Zealand, you’ll learn a ton during this tour not only about Auckland itself, but about Kiwi culture and history. We did this tour at the end of our trip, and while we still found it worthwhile, we would have appreciated it even more had it been at the start of our trip.
This tour meets by the Ferry Building at Queens Wharf every day at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., rain or shine. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a crowd and a guide holding a blue umbrella!
Good to know: Although it is called a “free” walking tour, the guides will ask for tips at the end. You can pay what you’d like, but be prepared to give something. This is true of any free walking tour.
7. View the city from Mount Eden
Mount Eden is a suburb of Auckland, known for the All Black Rugby stadium and a volcanic crater called Maungawhau.
Alright, if you are traveling during rugby season and are able to see a match, we would be so jealous! And we definitely want to see your pictures. #lifegoals
But since getting tickets ain’t cheap and matches don’t happen all year round, let’s talk about the volcanic crater which is both free (yay!) and accessible no matter what time of year you visit (double yay!).
Easily reached via the city’s public bus system, you can make a short walk from the bus stop to the top of the crater.
Once you “summit the volcano” you’ll be rewarded with a lovely panoramic view of the city. And you post a picture to Instagram with a caption that says: “Today I climbed to the top of a volcano!” (Nobody has to know it was an easy climb!)
Tip: Bring a picnic around sunset time for dinner with that golden hour glow.
8. Explore the Prettiest Streets in Downtown
Queen Street is the major road in downtown Auckland, but we preferred wandering around the smaller streets and pedestrian walkways off the main strip.
Follow these tips for a nice midday walk:
Vulcan Lane is very picturesque and is well-known for the historic Queensferry Hotel. This landmark building is the city’s oldest pub, and apparently was popular meeting place for criminals back in the day. (See, we did learn some fun facts on the Free Walking Tour!)
Make your way to High Street, where you’ll find lots of good food from all around the world. Pick something that looks good and order it to go (Sumthin Dumpin is a good choice!).
Now that you have a snack in hand, head to the Lord Freyberg Statue, which is a popular spot for locals to hang out on their lunch break. Eat your dumplings, listen to live music (which is common in this square), and enjoy some world-class people watching! Two of these things are free!
9. Day Trip to Waiheke Island
Take a 40-minute ferry ride to this nearby island for a day trip, or a getaway for a few days (though the latter won’t be cheap!).
While on Waiheke, soak up sun at the beach, sample wine at one of the many vineyards, have a sunset picnic, enjoy local oysters, and just relax!
We have more information on how to visit Waiheke on our Top Things to Do in New Zealand article.
If you only want to go for a day trip, this tour by Fullers looks pretty great. It’s a full day of wine tasting and food pairing, olive tasting, and spirit sampling. It also includes an all-day bus pass to explore the island and an open return ferry ticket to Auckland.
10. Escape to the beach
If you’re craving some time under the sun (or just looking for a cool area to explore!), drive 45 minutes west of Auckland, until you end up at the ocean.
Piha Beach is a rugged beauty with black sand and regular swells that make it popular for surfing. And while it is accessible from Auckland as a day trip, we’d recommend staying the night at the holiday park so you can enjoy the sunset and really soak up the laidback vibes.
Insider tip: Go to The Piha Cafe for a caramel slice, and then thank us after you’ve experienced absolute bliss. Good to know: this is one of the only restaurants in town, and the food is quite expensive. So we’d recommend bringing your own groceries for your actual meals. Picnic, anyone?!
If you’re a serious sun-worshipper, here’s a list of more beaches near Auckland.
11. Get a next-level Ice Cream
Got a sweet tooth? Got an Instagram account where you post pretty food pics? Got a travel partner who likes to split ridiculously large desserts? Got $18 NZD to splurge on ice cream?
In order to consume the inventive creations you’ll find at Crunch Tower, you’ll need to check all the boxes above…
Topped with things like entire candy bars and cotton candy, these treats are anything but ordinary. In fact, they can’t really be called ice cream or milk shakes... There’s a new trendy term for what they are serving up… youngsters these days are calling these creations “freakshakes”. I’m not making that up.
Another place to get your week’s worth of sugar in the form of inventive ice cream creations is Giapo, which is right downtown and known for creative flavors and toppings.
12. Explore the Waterfront
While visiting Auckland, you’ll want to see how it earned the nickname “City of Sails”. Get down to the waterfront where you can look out into the bay at the sailboats, stroll past trendy restaurants and see art installations.
And if you’re in Auckland during the summer months (end of December - end of March), take the waterfront pedestrian path toward Silo Park where you’ll find fun events taking place on the weekends.
They have free movies nights on Fridays; and on Saturdays and Sundays, come for food trucks, games and special events. (Check out the Silo Park website to see if there are any events taking place during your visit.)
We want to hear from you!
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Do you have any questions? Have you visited Auckland? What was your favorite part about this city?
Comment below and we’ll do our best to get back to you!