When talking and writing about New Zealand, I usually list Wellington as my favorite city, Queenstown as the “most fun” city, and places like Rotorua and Mount Cook and Milford Sound as must-visits.
But what about Auckland? people ask.
Auckland is the largest city in New Zealand, and usually the city most international visitors will find themselves in first. And while I've often overlooked Auckland in the past, the truth is that it's still a really cool city with lots of things to see and do.
If you're visiting New Zealand for the very first time, here are the things you should definitely do on your first trip to Auckland.
The best things to do in Auckland
Get a view from the Sky Tower
Just like the CN Tower in Toronto and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Auckland, too, has a famous tower in its skyline: the Sky Tower. Used for both telecommunications and tourism, the Sky Tower rises an impressive 328 meters (1076 feet) over the Auckland city center as part of the SKYCITY entertainment complex. Fun fact: It's currently the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the very least, you should visit the main observation deck at 186 meters and the Sky Deck viewing platform at 220 meters – tickets to visit both of these are $29 NZD for adults. From here, you get an incredible view over the city of Auckland and its harbors, and on a clear day can see all sorts of nearby islands.
Some other things you can do at the Sky Tower include:
- Having dinner at Orbit, the only revolving restaurant in New Zealand (reservations definitely recommended).
- Doing the Sky Walk, where you walk around an outdoor platform 192 meters above the ground.
- Or, for the real daredevils, you can jump off the Sky Tower by doing the SkyJump.
>> Get Sky Tower tickets here. <<
RELATED: Adventure in the Sky in Auckland
Get to know the Auckland waterfront
Once you've gotten a lay of the land from the Sky Tower, I recommend taking some time to walk along Auckland's extensive waterfront. If you start near the ferry terminal at Queens Wharf, you can walk all the way along the waterfront past Viaduct Harbor and into the Wynyard Quarter.
Along this route you'll pass a ton of restaurants, cafes, and bars, along with plenty of cool boats – and even a building *shaped* like a boat. You'll get an idea of why Auckland is nicknamed the City of Sails.
The Wynyard Quarter especially is worth exploring, with parks and public spaces and lots of events, music, and activities going on. On a nice sunny day, this part of Auckland absolutely comes alive!
Taste the best ice cream in NZ at Giapo
There's lots of ice cream to be found throughout New Zealand (and even in Auckland), but if you want the best and most innovative ice cream experience, you need to head to Giapo. Here, the ice cream creations are more like art than food – you can get all sorts of intricate creations, from a colossal squid to a replica of the Auckland Harbour Bridge on top of your cone.
You'll most likely have to wait in line here, but I promise that the wait is worth it. Every order is hand-crafted, and the ice cream is made in-house using organic New Zealand milk. (And it's not just me saying they're good – Giapo frequently tops lists of the best ice cream shops in New Zealand!)
My favorite flavor was the Kofe Samoa (and it's vegan-friendly!), while my husband Elliot really loved their take on hokey pokey, which is a New Zealand specialty.
Visit an Auckland museum
Speaking of art… if you run into bad weather in Auckland, there are plenty of museums you can check out to pass the time.
- Auckland Art Gallery – The largest and most extensive art museum in New Zealand, with more than 15,000 works in its collection. ($20 NZD)
- Auckland War Memorial Museum – This is both a memorial and museum, with the museum housing collections focusing on New Zealand's cultural, natural, and military history.
- New Zealand Maritime Museum – Located right next to Viaduct Harbor, this museum covers maritime history from the first Polynesian explorers all the way up to New Zealand's recent success in ocean races like the America's Cup.
Get out of downtown
Auckland's downtown area is where a lot of tourists end up, but the truth is that it's Auckland's *other* neighborhoods that really shine the most.(If you insist that you don't like Auckland, then you probably never left the CBD!) Make sure to hop on a bus at least once to explore another neighborhood.
You'll find hip bars and cafes and cool boutiques in Ponsonby; upmarket stores and a nice garden in Parnell, Auckland's oldest neighborhood; and some of the city's nicest beaches in Mission Bay. I also love the history and architecture in Devonport, as well as the beach in Takapuna.
Climb a dormant volcano
Want to get active in Auckland? There are plenty of green spaces and parks to enjoy throughout the city, and even some volcanoes you can hike. There are actually 53 volcanoes in and around Auckland (there's a reason New Zealand is so geothermally active, after all!), and you can climb several of them. The most popular is Maungawhau/Mount Eden, which takes only about an hour to climb.
Go to a nearby island by boat
My last Auckland must-do will take you out of the city center for at least half a day, but I really think this one is worth it! From the ferry terminal, you can hop on a ferry to several different nearby islands. My top two picks are:
- Waiheke Island, where you can rent a bike, visit beaches, and taste some delicious wine (Cable Bay Winery was my favorite!).
- Rangitoto Island, which is a volcano! There's a walking track that circles the island, which will take you across lava rock and through native New Zealand bush.
Both of these take less than an hour to get to, and make for fantastic afternoon trips from Auckland. (And if you want to visit these on a tour, here's a Rangitoto Island tour, and a Waiheke Island tour.)
RELATED: A Day Trip to Waiheke Island
Where to stay in Auckland
I've stayed in quite a few different neighborhoods in Auckland over the years, including hotels in Takapuna and the CBD, an Airbnb in Ponsonby, and even a hostel once in Parnell. For your very first trip to Auckland, though, I recommend staying somewhere central so you can walk to most places (though ride share services like Uber are available in Auckland, too, along with public transport like buses).
My favorite places to stay in Auckland include:
Grand Millennium Auckland – This upmarket CBD hotel is clean and comfortable, and has a lovely staff. Elliot and I stayed here on our New Zealand honeymoon, and they even surprised us with champagne! There's an indoor pool, a bar, and two restaurants on-site, too. You can walk to the Sky Tower and harbor in about 15 minutes. (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
The Spencer on Byron Hotel – This one is in Takapuna, meaning it's north of Auckland. If you're looking for a nice hotel in a quieter neighborhood and within walking distance to the beach, then this one is for you! (Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here!)
Other top-rated hotels in central Auckland include:
- Hotel DeBrett (a nice boutique hotel rated #1 in the city)
- Sofitel Auckland Viaduct Harbour
- Hilton Auckland (in the boat-shaped building!)
How long should you spend in Auckland?
In order to do all the things listed here, you really need at least 2 or 3 days in Auckland – especially if you decide to visit some of the islands!
You can also base yourself in Auckland for a couple additional days if you want to do some day trips to places like the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, the Hobbiton movie set, or the Coromandel Peninsula, though I highly recommend renting a car to visit other places on your own!
Who is ready to visit Auckland now?
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