15 Best New Zealand Cities You Must Visit!

Last Updated on November 8, 2023

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Snow-capped peaks, coastal glaciers, fish-filled rivers, and rainforests are some of the treasures found in New Zealand.

New Zealand is one of the few destinations in the world that boasts of surreal beauty and elegance.

Its topography is fascinating and makes it one of the few places where you can indulge yourself in several adrenaline-fueled sports such as jet boating, skydiving, hiking, and skiing.

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Wondering what are the best places to visit in New Zealand? Or where the cool places in New Zealand are?

Well, one thing that is for certain is, while the New Zealand countryside is breathtaking, New Zealand cities are also a must-visit.

Not only do these must visit cities in New Zealand have various attraction sites, but they also offer excellent accommodation and a range of dining options.

Settling in one of the best New Zealand cities during your vacation also allows you to gather momentum for exploration.

It is due to these reasons why I have decided to compile a list of the best New Zealand cities.

As a local, I know that there are so many varied and exciting cities in New Zealand to visit, but I’ve narrowed it down to the 15 best cities in NZ shown on this list

Depending on the length of your vacation in New Zealand, and how many cities in New Zealand you plan to see, you can decide to visit a few or all of them.

But what is the best city in New Zealand for you? Is it one of the major cities in New Zealand? Or perhaps one of the less well travelled places?

It’s now all up to you to pick your favourite cities of New Zealand and add them to your ‘must-visit’ list.

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Best New Zealand Cities

Discover the top cities to visit in New Zealand, view out across forest towards large harbour with many skyscrapers and apartment buildings leading up hillside towards hills in the distance under a cloudy sky
Photo by Pat Ho on Unsplash

1. Wellington

Despite not being the biggest city in New Zealand, it is the country’s capital. There are lots of activities that happen at Wellington. That aside, it is one of the must see places in New Zealand.

It is surrounded by nature and its rich in culture, history, and cuisine. There are a lot of action-packed adventures in Wellington, such as mountain biking and kayaking.

To get a beautiful view of the city, make sure you ride a cable car up to the Kelburn hill. Don’t forget to visit the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum to learn more history about the country.

The city is also famous for its amazing restaurants, cafes, and bars. If you want to enjoy New Zealand’s cuisine, then head down to Cuba Street.

Wellington is truly one of the best places to go in New Zealand, and is many people’s first stop.

It is also one of the safest cities in New Zealand, which makes it one of the best places in New Zealand to live!

🛌🏼 Find the best Wellington accommodation

2. Auckland

No list of cities in New Zealand would be complete without Auckland.

Did you know that Auckland has a larger population than the whole of South Island? This makes it the biggest city located in North Island, New Zealand, with a population of 1.5 million.

There are a thousand things you can do in Auckland. Do you love hiking? Then you can check out the Rangitoto, which is a volcanic island full of superb hiking trails.

Make sure that you pick the trail which will take you through the lava fields. Taking a stroll through the Cornwall Park or climbing Mount Eden can be an ideal way of spending an afternoon in Auckland.

Being one of the best places in New Zealand, you can get five-star accommodation here. Visitors looking for New Zealand major cities should definitely check out Auckland.

🛌🏼 Find the best Auckland accommodation

3. Dunedin

Dunedin is one of the best New Zealand cities, though it’s relatively small in size. But that doesn’t stop it from being one of the most popular cities in New Zealand!

The first thing you must do when you are in Dunedin is to explore the city’s vibrant art scene. Dunedin is one of the top cities in New Zealand for street art.

As it so happens, Ed Sheeran is a popular art subject here. Gain inspiration from these unique street paintings and take lots of pictures.

You could also visit the Royal Albatross Centre and get to see blue penguins popularly known as Korora by the natives.

While hiking through Dunedin, you could make time to enjoy Speight’s beer at the Dunedin Brewery. You could also learn a thing or two on how to make beer.

For those who like culture in all its forms, Dunedin is the best city in New Zealand to live.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Dunedin

4. Christchurch

You might have heard more about Christchurch because of the two major earthquakes that hit the city back in 2010 and 2011.

8 years down the line, Christchurch has rebuilt itself to be one of the best New Zealand Cities, and one of the top places to visit in New Zealand for tourists.

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Whenever you are in Christchurch, you should visit the Botanic Gardens which have been a top attraction site since 1863. It is the perfect honeymoon getaway.

You can also take a boat ride along the Avon River. Don’t leave without taking a picture of yourself at the Bridge of Remembrance, one of the must see things in New Zealand.

Towards the southwest part of the city, you can spend a hot afternoon at Sumner Beach. There are lots of restaurants in Christchurch where you can taste the local foods.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Christchurch

5. Tauranga

You must include Tauranga in your New Zealand travel diaries. It is one of the fastest-growing cities in North Island and considered by many to be the best city to live in New Zealand.

What makes Tauranga one of the best areas to live in New Zealand is the variety of landscape nearby.

It’s home to pristine, white sandy beaches such as the Waihi and Ohope Beach. Perfect for surfing and diving. You could also climb Mt Maunganui and enjoy a picturesque view from the top.

If you have the courage, you could get on a gyroplane ride and tour Tauranga from a bird’s point of view. Tauranga is one of the best places to see in New Zealand from the air.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Tauranga

See the nicest place in new zealand, long rocky outcrop covered in grass with large flat area of fields spread out behind under an animated cloudy blue sky

6. Napier

There is no doubt that New Zealand is popular for its landscapes. Located a few hours’ drive from Wellington, Napier is a charming place, and another of the top New Zealand cities.

Considered one of the best places to live in New Zealand for fans of design, Napier boasts of an art deco architecture which is embraced all over the city.

Napier will completely take you back in time since the locals there create an enticing old fashion atmosphere.

It’s the top city in New Zealand for anyone who enjoys nostalgia – even the cars in Napier are mostly vintage!

While visiting, make sure to join a walking tour and learn more about the Napier’s history.

Since Napier is one of the New Zealand popular cities, it attracts lots of tourists, so you can expect to get a variety of cuisines here, both local and international.

At Hawke’s bay, you can indulge yourself in wine tasting as well.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Napier

7. Queenstown

A quick Google search for “New Zealand biggest city” should be enough to convince you to visit Queenstown. This is where all the fun happens in New Zealand. It’s practically a paradise.

Queenstown is the birthplace of bungy jumping. A visit there can give you access to this extreme sport at the Kawarau Bridge.

There are several ski resorts such as the Coronet Peak and Cardrona. Don’t worry about how to get there since most packages are inclusive of transport.

You can also board scenic cruises and go for a trip.

If you lead an active lifestyle and enjoy some adrenaline, Queenstown is the answer to the question: where is the best place to live in New Zealand?

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Queenstown

Could this be the best town in New Zealand? View of coastline with tall grass-covered hills leading down to white sandy beach with calm blue water under a cloudy sky
Photo by Rich Hay on Unsplash

8. Nelson

If you want to embrace your inner hipster, Nelson is one of the best cities to visit in New Zealand.

That’s because out of all these places in New Zealand to visit, Nelson is well-known for hosting the best festivals. A good example is Art Explo Nelson, which showcases a different kind of art.

Before planning your trip, make sure you check the calendar of Nelson festivals. There is also the Nelson Winter Music Festival which has been held yearly for the last two decades.

Nelson is a historic gem where you can get yourself an antique souvenir, but it also might be the best city in NZ for caffeine lovers.

The locals here are in love with coffee. You can try and find out why by visiting the Coffee Factory Café and Pomeroy’s.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Napier

9. Palmerston North

It’s the kind of city that offers the diversity of a major town as well as a gateway to popular attraction sites. Palmerston North is a student city so you can generally find cheap restaurants and bars around.

This also makes it one of the top cities to visit in New Zealand if you’re on a budget.

Inside the city, there is an internationally recognized theatre scene, which is a must-see. There are a variety of art galleries and dining options.

While you are in Palmerston North, one of the best things to do is go for a walk in the Manawatu Gorge Track. Here, you can get spectacular views of the nearby rivers, roads and wind turbines.

The weather changes quickly so make sure you carry warm clothing.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Palmerston North

Head to some of the must visit cities in new zealand this year, view of geothermal pool sat in volcanic ground with a sign saying "Oyster Pool" in the foreground and people crossing a bridge in front of trees in the distance

10. Rotorua

Since the 1800’s, Rotorua’s geothermal wonderland has been one of the leading attraction sites in New Zealand.

The city boasts of several geothermal features such as spouting geysers, volcanic crater lakes, bubbling mud pools and colourful sinter terraces.

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If you wish to marvel at these geothermal wonders then you can visit Wai-O-Tapu Park as well as Kuirau Park.

When exploring geysers and mud pools, ensure that you keep a safe distance and take note of warning signs.

There are a couple of sightseeing operators in Rotorua that provide educational tours all over the geothermal parks in Rotorua.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Rotorua

11. Hastings

Known for its Mediterranean climate, Hastings is one of the best New Zealand Cities. It’s a great place to visit at any time of the year.

There are a lot of wineries; the region of Hawkes Bay produces more than 80% of the wine in New Zealand.

In Hawkes Bay, you can also try out the Pacific Rim cuisine which entails seafood such as oysters.

The city is well decorated, neat and the locals are super friendly. You could go golfing at the Cape Kidnappers as you enjoy the marvellous scenery.

To get the best experience from the area, you should dine at the Elephant Hill which is located just outside of the city.

This luxurious restaurant prepares lots of delicacies and provides world-class accommodation.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Hastings

Wander the new zealand popular cities this fall, view of rushing river with blue water crashing in white foam over rocks between green foliage under a clear blue sky
Photo by Asap PANG on Unsplash

12. Taupo

You will definitely fall in love with the relaxed and small-town vibe of Taupo.

It’s the ideal sanctuary if you are looking to spend some quiet time then you should visit Taupo – it’s considered by many to be the best town in New Zealand.

The scenic backdrops, mountains, and lakes all contribute to the peaceful nature of the town.

You will get the opportunity to explore the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand and marvel at the Huka Falls.

Do you fancy mountain biking? Then, you can go for a ride on the Waikato River Trail.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Taupo

Don't miss these must see things in New Zealand, view across arched bridge leading over valley into dense wall of forest
Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

13. Whangarei

Looking for the best city in New Zealand to visit for outdoor adventure activities? Many people point to Whangarei as that city.

A single day isn’t sufficient enough for you to tour Whangarei. This is why you need to book accommodation early in advance.

You can kick off your adventure at the Tutukaka forest, which is packed with lots of high thrill activities. The Poor Knights Island is also a suitable diving spot.

Additionally, you could explore the Kiwi House and Heritage Park and see live geckos, kiwis, and tuataras. This is possibly the best city to visit in New Zealand for animal lovers.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Whangarei

14. Invercargill

Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Invercargill is one of the most beautiful cities in New Zealand. From a visitor’s point of view, Invercargill is the ideal destination spot.

The city has a warm and friendly atmosphere; for many, it’s the most popular city in New Zealand.

Accommodation is guaranteed, and there are lots of shops, bars, restaurants, and essential amenities. Not to mention, the buildings in Invercargill embrace an art deco heritage.

There are lots of activities to indulge yourself in such as going on a 4 WD Tour or testing skills at Adventure Southland Ltd.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in Invercargill

15. New Plymouth

Before we tell you why you should visit New Plymouth. Just because it is at the bottom of the list, it doesn’t mean that it is a dull city.

Unlike the main cities in New Zealand, most tourists tend to overlook New Plymouth without knowing how much it has to offer.

But it’s one of the best places to visit in New Zealand for nature lovers.

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According to Lonely Planet, the Tanaraki in New Plymouth was ranked the second-best region to visit in the world in 2016.

Not only do you get the opportunity to climb Mt Egmont you could also go for a swim in the aquamarine pools at the Goblin Forest.

As you take a drive along the Surf Highway 45, you can admire the pristine sandy beaches. Not to mention, there are lots of restaurants within the city that prepare amazing food.

🛌🏼 Find the best accommodation in New Plymouth

Frequently Asked Questions

✅ What is the nicest city in New Zealand?

Looking for the nicest place in New Zealand? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for! Fortunately, all of the best New Zealand cities have stunning scenery as well as points of interest and fun things to do.

✅ What is the safest town in New Zealand?

Wellington has been dubbed the safest large city in New Zealand, which is excellent news because it’s the nation’s capital!

✅ What is the warmest place in New Zealand?

Visitors looking for a warm vacation should head to Whangerai on New Zealand’s North Island.

When looking for the perfect destination spots, most people tend to overlook cities since it’s where a significant number of tourists come from.

However, New Zealand cities bring a whole new meaning to urban living. Other than being economic hubs, these cities have dedicated efforts to creating the perfect environment for vacation.

The best cities in New Zealand have lots of incredible outdoor activities lined up for you.

Not only do they offer splendid accommodation and dining, but they are also home to plenty of attraction sites such as museums, parks, beaches, and much more.

Let the above guide on the top 15 best New Zealand Cities help you choose your must-visit places.

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