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Christchurch is New Zealand’s second biggest city and the largest on the South Island. It’s a gateway to the adventure and scenery that the South Island of New Zealand is renowned for. However many people just pass straight through. Hang around for a bit and you will find it has its own charm, a friendly village vibe in a large city.
At the very least I would recommend staying for at least one night, but ideally 3-4. When I lived in the south island, I spent plenty of time in Christchurch, often going for a weekend every month or so. Even then, I still discovered new things to do and see in the Garden City.
As many just pass through on to the other riches the South Island has to offer, most traveller just spend two days in Christchurch. Whilst no where near enough time in my opinion, this perfect two day itinerary will get you to see the best that Christchurch has to offer.
The Perfect 2 Day Itinerary for Christchurch
Spending Day 1 in Christchurch
Cafe culture is a big thing in New Zealand. The kiwis love their coffee and so they should with the abundance of excellent cafes and coffee shops around. My favourite one in Christchurch by far is The Antigua Boatsheds cafe on the river Avon. Set in a rustic wooden boathouse, where you can sit overlooking punting on the river, their coffee is noteworthy and breakfasts are hearty. I always went for the eggs Benedict with a flat white, it became my kiwi thing, and was never disappointed. Even though I rarely stayed in Christchurch for long, I did complete their loyalty card to receive a free coffee!
Botanical Gardens and Hagley Park
Christchurch isn’t called the garden city for nothing. The Botanical Gardens are spread over 52 acres and has over 50000 species. Even if you aren’t interested in the flora, it is still a wonderful place to get lost for a few hours walking in peace. If more open space if your thing, head to Hagley Park. Hosting a golf course and a cricket ground as well as plenty of other sports pitches at various times of the year, there is plenty to enjoy in the park. Cyclists, runners and walkers all use the park and it’s a peaceful place to pass the time.
There are plenty of museums in Christchurch to keep you entertained. Near Hagley Park is the Canterbury Museum with exhibits showcasing the south of New Zealand from Maori times through to the current day. Rutherford’s Den, a short walk away in the Arts Centre, was the home to Ernest Rutherford, considered the father of modern nuclear physics. It now contains a Victorian style lecture theatre and many interactive exhibits that showcase some of his findings on radiation.
Learn all things earthquakes at Quake City, a museum dedicated to the devastating earthquakes that struck Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. Finally, Christchurch Art Gallery contains modern and more traditional art, as well as Maori pieces in a beautifully designed building.
After being in the city all day it’s time to head to the beach. Sumner is an upmarket suburb with a beautiful beach looking out over the Pacific Ocean. If you time it right, you may be able to check out some surf lessons. If relaxing if more your thing, walk along the wide beach before taking lunch or have a drink in the Beach Bar.
On your way back from Sumner, take the summit road to head up to the Port Hills. The winding roads lead up to magnificent views across the city and across the sea. Fingers crossed for a good sunset.
Little High Eatery
Head back into the city and go to the Little High Eatery for dinner. This indoor market has countless food stalls with food from all over the world. Go with a full wallet and an empty stomach. If you’re still in need of liquid refreshments at this point, make your way to New Regent Street and visit Wilko for their selection of craft beers and cocktails. It’s one of my favourite secret spots in Christchurch.
Day 2 in and around Christchurch
As Christchurch is the base of New Zealand and US Antartica Programs, it makes perfect sense to have the International Antarctic Centre just a stones throw away from Christchurch Airport. The museum has exhibits on the history of the white continent, Scott and Amundsen and the current operation of science bases on Antartica. There’s also the chance to roam around outside on a Hagglund, a Swedish designed vehicle that is specialy adapted to driving around on the Antarctic ice.
My personal favourite at the Antarctic Centre is viewing the penguin exhibit. Unfortunately not the emperor penguins that roam the continent, but little blue penguins that are native to New Zealand and have been rescued around the South Island.
If you have a car for a road trip, then this is the perfect excuse to use it. If not, it’s easy to hire a car from the airport. But you’ll need it as you’ll be heading out to Akaroa, one of the best things to do around Christchurch.
The Banks Peninsular is an extinct volcano that give the east coast of the South Island its bulge when looking at a map. The drive from Christchurch is wonderfully scenic like everything else in New Zealand, passing undulating green fields on rolling hills.
The main town of Akaroa has a French vibe and French flags are still common from its 19th century French colony that was based on the peninsula. From the town, it’s possible to take harbour cruises to try to spot dolphins or penguins in the bay.
Return to Christchurch in time for dinner at one of the many restaurants along Oxford Terrace. On a summers day, sit outside and enjoy the evening sitting across from the River Avon. Late into the night and on weekends, these places turn into stylish cocktail bars that are open to the early mornings.
Where to stay in Christchurch
Christchurch has an abundance of accommodation options from 5 star hotels in the city centre to backpacker hostels and homestays. The Crown Plaza Hotel and Novotel and international brands with a presence in the city. The Ibis Hotel is a great option for a midrange option located bang in the middle of the city.
Urbanz offers dorm beds and is close to everything if you’re staying as a backpacker.
For just a couple of days between flights, Jucy Snooze, located within walking distance of the airport is a popular spot with a wide variety of rooms from dorms to doubles and family rooms that is open 24 hours for those with airport connections.
How to get around Christchurch
The centre of Christchurch is very walkable and it is possible and enjoyable to walk from as far west as Hagley Park to as far east as the Te Kaha stadium. There is also an excellent bus network that criss crossed the city with the centre at the bus interchange on Lichfield Street. Fares are $4 and need to be paid in cash. Alternatively, for those staying longer, its possible to buy a Metrocard for cheaper fares without carrying change.
There is an excellent cycle path that leads out to Sumner and cycling around Christchurch is equally feasible.
To get further away, a car is needed. Being a grid city, it is relatively easy to drive around Christchurch but you may end up waiting at traffic lights for longer than you may like. Except during the peak hours early in the morning and later in the evening, the traffic in and around Christchurch is never particularly bad.
Is Christchurch worth visiting? Summing up the best 2 day itinerary in Christchurch
In my opinion, Christchurch is massively underrated. It’s a beautiful city that is large enough to have everything but still small enough to have a close knit vibe. As a jumping off point for the rest of the South Island, many don’t take the time to explore Christchurch fully, but if you’ve only got 2 days in the Garden City you’re now armed with the best places to visit to get a small slice of what Christchurch has to offer.
Check out my other posts on New Zealand:
- 11 Best Things To Do on the West Coast of New Zealand
- The 5 Best Hikes Around Franz Josef, New Zealand
- 6 Best Weekend Trips from Christchurch
- A Night On Fox Glacier
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.