Although New Zealand’s northern cities get more attention, there are so many incredible things to do in Dunedin, one of the most southernmost cities in the country.
Located near the bottom of the South Island, Dunedin has access to incredible wildlife experiences, beautiful beaches, and the rare opportunity to build a snowman in New Zealand!
Gaining popularity in recent years for Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world, it’s started to appear on tourist itineraries around the country. But most tourists visit for a day, stopping to see the street before driving through to Milford Sound.
Don’t make the mistake of skipping one of New Zealand’s most beautiful cities.
This guide will teach you the 15 best things to do in Dunedin so you can fill a few days at the southernmost city in New Zealand. You’ll find a mix of free activities, natural adventures, and historic locations to explore.
Read this list to have the ultimate Dunedin visit.
20 Incredible Things to Do in Dunedin
1. Spot the World’s Smallest Penguins
New Zealand is home to the most species of penguins in the world. They have both the rarest penguins and the smallest penguins on their shores.
Visit Dunedin for an opportunity to see the little blue penguins in the wild, also known as “fairy penguins” in Australia.
The blue penguin colony in Dunedin is one of the largest in the country, offering a better chance of seeing multiple groups of penguins coming home after sunset.
The Royal Albatross Centre runs daily tours on their private reserve where you can watch the little blue penguins return from a day of fishing. They raft in the water, often coming in two or three packs to waddle up the beach to their hilltop homes.
It’s one of the most incredible experiences in Dunedin and a must for all animal lovers.
Book ahead, as they fill up quickly!
2. Go on a Wildlife Encounter
Penguins aren’t the only wildlife you’ll find in Dunedin.
The coast is full of unique animals that you may not be able to find anywhere else in the world.
Some of the unique animals include:
- New Zealand fur seals
- New Zealand sea lions
- Northern royal albatross
- South Island Kaka
- Dolphins – You can swim with them at Porpoise Bay (though it’s a big drive, it’s worth it!)
- Yellow-eyed Penguin (the rarest species in the world) – Found at Penguin Place.
Book a wildlife tour that combines viewings of these amazing animals, including the little blue penguins. It’s possible to witness the giant sea lions basking beneath a stunning lighthouse. You can also visit the nests of the largest birds in the world, the albatross, whilst spot both species of penguin in a single day!
Whilst in town, we also recommend visiting the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Affordably priced, it’s a great way to enjoy local wildlife.
Engaging with the wildlife is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Dunedin so be sure to include some animal sightseeing on your visit.
3. Check Out the Steepest Street in the World
Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world – Baldwin Street.
This residential street was built at a shockingly steep angle. You’ll see people’s homes with cars parked in the driveway, and wonder how they ever managed to get their vehicle up the hill!
Walk up the steepest street in the world for a classic photo op – and to say you’ve done it.
Take your time though – it isn’t a race!
Did you know? There was a tense moment in 2019 where the city lost the title until the Guinness World Record committee re-evaluated and returned the title.
4. Unwind on a Local Beach
Dunedin may be colder than most of New Zealand, but it’s still spectacular on a warm day!
One of the best things to do in New Zealand is to check out the beaches and Dunners is no exception.
Whether you’re looking to relax on white sand, surf some killer waves, or spot some lazy sea lions, the city has more than enough options for you.
Pack a bag and spend the full day at the beach. You may need a jacket in the spring and fall, but come summer you’ll be able to enjoy it in your bikini.
The Best Beaches in Dunedin:
- Tunnel Beach – with access that has to be seen to be believed – you’ll actually have to make your way through a tunnel carved into rock!
- Doctor’s Point
- St. Clair Beach
- Brighton Beach
- Murdering Bay
- Long Beach
- Aramoana Beach
5. Walk the Dunedin Street Art Trail
This free activity is fun for all ages!
Pack a beverage to sip as you enjoy this free 90-minute self-guided walk of over 30 walls of street art in downtown Dunedin.
The colourful art stretches high up the sides of historic buildings and takes you through some cool streets of Dunedin.
Download a map and grab your camera to capture the beautiful work of local and international artists.
6. Get a Dose of Art, Culture & History: Explore Dunedin’s Past at the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
Dunedin is the second-best city in New Zealand for museums (after the capital, Wellington).
One of the best museums in the city is Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, which explores the history of life in New Zealand. The museum tracks life Downunder from Māori life to the European settlers and finally to new migrants.
The highly interactive museum will transport you through time to help you understand what life used to be like in New Zealand and how it’s evolved to what you see today.
Keen for even more? We recommend checking out the following galleries and museums:
- The Otago Museum – in particular their butterfly exhibition.
- The Dunedin Public Art Gallery – make the most of their interactive, DIY space on the ground floor.
- The New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame – tucked inside the railway station, this is a fun spot to explore.
- The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery – Weird and wacky, this museum can’t be missed!
- Caitlins Lost Gypsy Gallery – Welcome to a uniquely Kiwi experience at the ‘museum of tinkering’.
7. Enjoy a Pint at a Local Pub
Dunedin is a Scottish-founded city, and you’ll see that in their love of pubs. The city is one of the few in New Zealand where beer is treasured above wine.
Stop in at Emerson’s Brewery for a guided tour of their beer-making process. There, you’ll enjoy finishing off with a tasting paddle of Emerson’s classic brews.
Alternatively, you can check out Speights Brewery, which has been in Dunedin since 1876.
Speights is beloved across New Zealand. It’s best enjoyed with traditional New Zealand food, like a meat pie.
If you’re keen to sample even more local food, we recommend you check out the Otago Farmers’ Market. It runs every Saturday from 8.00 am – 12.30 pm at the Dunedin Railway Station on Anzac Avenue.
8. Visit the Most Southern Writers Walk in the World
As a UNESCO City of Literature, Dunedin has some incredible attractions for bibliophiles.
One of the best book-themed things to do in Dunedin is to walk the most southerly Writers Walk in the world. The town’s central Octagon has a statue of Robert Burns, the famed Scottish poet, and a series of plaques that detail the heritage of Dunedin, as well as some fun facts.
If you want more book-themed fun, check out Dutybound Book Bindery to watch old fashioned bookbinding practises. Shop Hard to Find Bookshop and Stafford 6 Books for some great new literature. Stop by Reed and de Beer Galleries to visit an astonishing rare manuscript collection.
9. Live Your Bridgerton Fantasy at Larnach Castle
Visit the only genuine castle ever built in New Zealand, Larnach Castle. Built by William Larnach in the 1800s when he decided his family needed a castle to live in (don’t we all?), the structure became the first and last of its kind in Aotearoa.
Over time, it’s been restored to house beautiful gardens, fascinating artefacts from around the world, and a ballroom that would put the Beast to shame.
You can tour the grounds yourself or visit for high tea to get the royal treatment.
10. Cycle Down Signal Hill – Or Just Enjoy the Views
Signal Hill is one of the best vantage points in the city. It’s often touted as being the best place in Dunedin to watch the sunset.
You can walk to the hill from Downtown Dunedin, or get more adventurous and cycle with a mountain bike. There are many tracks up the hill that suit all abilities. It’s one of the gems mountain bikers come from around the country to ride.
At the top of Signal Hill, you can enjoy panoramic views of the Otago Peninsula and get the clearest view of the sun setting over the harbour.
11. Talk to Parrots at the Botanic Gardens
There are so many stunning gardens in New Zealand thanks to their unique flora and warm climate.
Dunedin is home to the first Botanic Gardens in New Zealand, where some European plants were imported to give the settlers the feeling of home.
Visit this historic and stunning attraction to see the Water Garden, Winter Garden Glasshouse, and the Aviary. Chat with the local parrots before exploring more of the many paths through the gardens.
12. Watch the Southern Lights
An incredible (and free!) activity in Dunedin is watching the Southern Lights (Aurora Australias).
Dunedin is one of the very few places where this phenomenon occurs, though it is tricky to spot.
Tunnel Beach and the Otago Peninsula are two of the best spots to watch the Southern Lights in action, and they’re both in Dunedin!
The best time to see the southern lights in New Zealand is during the winter season (March to September), around midnight when the nights are clear. Bundle up, as you may also get some snow in Dunedin at this time. It’s worth being cold for incredible sights like this though!
13. Go on a Self-Guided Architecture Tour
Unique architecture abounds in Dunedin, one of the first major cities settled by Europeans in New Zealand. You can tell that the Europeans wanted a taste of home, bringing with them their unique architectural styles.
The grand buildings of Dunedin are a sight to behold. The Dunedin Railway is a gothic-style building that towers over the water and has become one of the most-photographed heritage buildings in the country. It’s one to keep your eyes peeled for!
The University of Otago in Dunedin also boasts classic architecture from Scotland, with ivy-covered walls and Scottish street names.
Go on a self-guided architecture tour of Dunedin to explore all of these unique buildings. Be sure to have your camera to hand.
14. Hike the Otago Coast to Lovers Leap
Looking for an amazing photo op? Or one of the best scenic hikes in Dunedin?
Walk the coast to Lovers Leap and The Chasm. Follow the Sandymount Road trail on an easy walk with stunning payoff. Though the track has changed recently, a new site of platforms has been built.
This trail has massive coastal views, including the sea arch known as Lovers Leap and The Chasm. You’ll explore dramatic cliffs, natural flora, and get amazing ocean views as you walk this extremely photogenic track.
What a fantastic way to spend an hour or so in Dunedin!
15. Ride Back in Time on the Taieri Gorge Railway
Vintage train rides are reserved for European cities, right?
Dunedin is home to one of the most scenic train journeys in the world: the Taieri Gorge Railway.
This vintage rail journey departs from the historic Dunedin Railway Station to pass through 4 and a half hours of stunning bridges, tunnels, and untouched New Zealand landscapes. You’ll even pass through the second-largest operational iron structure in the world – the Wingatui Viaduct.
Whether you’re looking for a cute Instagram shot, to experience an antique train, or to go off the beaten path, this is the perfect Dunedin activity.
16. Take a Dip!
Though Dunedin isn’t exactly known for its weather, there are a number of fantastic swimming pools in the city.
The Moana Pools are amongst the biggest in the South Island and include a wave pool and hydro slides. These pools are well-heated and housed indoors, making them the perfect Dunedin activity on a rainy, cold day – especially if you have kids!
If you’d prefer to swim outdoors, we recommend heading to the southern end of St Clair Beach where you’ll find the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool. This beautiful pool is nestled into the rocks, just steps away from the ocean – from there, there’s nothing between you and Antarctica!
17. Entertain the Kids
Though many of the aforementioned things to do in Dunedin will keep your kids entertained, there are some activities in the city that are particularly family-friendly.
Whilst visiting Dunners, your whānau might like to include the following stops:
- MegaZone or Timezone for indoor fun.
- Marlow Park – also known as Dunedin’s “Dinosaur Park”, this playground is lots of fun for little ones.
- Harington Point Gun Emplacements & Fort Taiaroa.
- Dunedin Ice Stadium- Ride the ice bumper cars or go ice skating.
- The Living Maze at Wal’s Plant Land.
- Inflatable World – indoor inflatable fun.
- Visit the pyramids in the Okia reserve. These volcanoes look like genuine pyramids – great if you can’t get to Egypt.
- Check out one of the many farmyard tours available in the area.
18. Enjoy Lan Yuan, Dunedin Chinese Garden
The Dunedin Chinese Garden is a fantastic, authentic example of a late Ming/early Ching Dynasty scholar’s garden. These stunning grounds are a peaceful and beautiful reprieve from city life.
They do an excellent job of sharing celebrating Otago’s Chinese heritage for both visitors and locals.
Be sure to include a stop here when planning out the best things to do in Dunedin.
19. Test Your Skills Bouldering
Whether you’re looking for fun, exercise or just an escape from the rain, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Resistance Climbing Gym whilst you’re in town.
Suitable for the whole family (and any level of experience), this purpose-built facility brings bouldering to the deep south. There, you can expect to climb indoor rock walls without harnesses – don’t worry though, the walls aren’t as high as traditional ones and the floors are nice and soft.
The team will teach you the basics and give you plenty of pointers before sending you off to give it a go. With a number of beginner courses (right up to challenging ones), you’ll be freeclimbing in no time.
20. Head off on a Road Trip
There are a number of amazing day trips on offer from Dunedin. We recommend paying a visit to each of the following Southern destinations.
The Moeraki Boulders are a bit of a beautiful mystery in New Zealand. These unusually large, spherical boulders are scattered along Koekohe Beach, though nobody knows for an absolute fact how they got there.
These stunning boulders are located on the sand between Moeraki and Hampden, north of Dunedin. Don’t miss them!
Drive time: 1 hour (one way).
Pro tip: The Moeraki Boulders are on the way to Oamaru so if you’ve got the time, try to visit them both in the same day.
Oamaru makes for a great day trip from Dunedin (with a stop at the Moeraki Boulders on the way).
This beautiful town is home to two penguin colonies, stunning Victorian architecture, the oldest public gardens in New Zealand and Steampunk HQ (an incredibly popular interactive steampunk museum).
Be sure to include a visit to Oamaru should you have time.
Drive time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (one way).
Heading south from Dunedin you’ll find Invercargill – the southernmost city in New Zealand. Another place with strong Scottish connections, it is nicknamed the ‘City of Water and Light’ due to its long summer daylight hours, the frequent appearances of the Aurora Australis (Southern Lights), its position beside the Waihopai River estuary.
Whilst in town, check out Queens Park (with its lovely flower displays and sports facilities), Bill Richardson Transport World (with its massive collection of vintage cars) and Waituna Lagoon (where you’ll find abundant trout and birdlife). For something a bit different, why not drive a digger at Dig This Invercargill?!
Should you have more time, it’s possible to connect to Stewart Island from Invergargill.
Drive time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one way).
Tips for Visiting Dunedin
- Rent a car. Dunedin is highly walkable downtown, but its hard to access from the airport without a car. Taxi rides are extremely expensive and can cost over $80 one way from the airport to the city.
- Pack good walking shoes. You’ll need them for exploring the stunning coastline of Otago and hiking Signal Hill to see the sunset!
- It snows in Dunedin in winter. Being the southernmost major city in New Zealand, visitors aren’t always prepared for the snow that can fall in Dunedin. The city is much colder than Auckland year-round. Pack appropriate clothing and avoid winter if you don’t fancy a walk in some flurries.
- There are things to do at all times of day. The mix of nightlife, wildlife activities, and nature excursions means that there are always activities to fill your day with.
- The Steampunk Movement was invented in Dunedin. You can check out their claim to fame at the Steampunk Headquarters in the city.
- Be prepared for hills! There’s a reason the (former) steepest street in the world is in Dunedin. You’ll definitely get a good leg workout climbing the hills, even to get to local hotels from the shops downtown. If you’re not prepared to climb them, drive or invest in a bus pass.
Don’t miss an opportunity to visit the historically and naturally rich Otago Peninsula in Dunedin.
Enjoy learning about the deep south while having the best getaway of your life.
By Nina of Nina Out and About
Photos by Camilla Rutherford, Miles Holden and DunedinNZ.