10 things to fall in love with in Dunedin
What to see and what to do in Dunedin
Located on the east coast in the deep south of New Zealand, Dunedin has a diverse cultural history that makes it a truly unique travel destination. With Scottish roots that informs the architecture, strong Māori heritage that defines the region, and a population that swells with students during university terms, Dunedin (or Ōtepoti) is a hidden gem amongst South Island cities.
The next time you hire a car for a trip to Dunedin, make sure you check out some of the 10 things to fall in love with in the city, which GoSee has put together. You’ll find plenty to do in and around the area, whether you decide to stay there for all your trip, or just spend a few days. We hope you find some inspiration and get on the road to this fantastic part of the country.
1. Get to know Dunedin’s history at the museum
There’s no better way to get to know a town or city than to visit the local museum. Luckily, Dunedin has two! Otago Museum, located opposite Otago University Central Library, is open daily from 10am-5pm and offers free entry, making it a great choice for those on a budget. The museum has over 1.5 million items, ranging from moa eggs, Japanese armour and local antiquities. Check out their website to see what special events and exhibitions they have on when you visit, but keep in mind that they may charge for these.
The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is another great option, not least because of its visually striking architecture. The museum is only 5 minutes’ drive south of Otago Museum, not far from The Octagon (more on that later). Like that museum, Toitū is open 10am-5pm daily and is also free. Offering 14 themed galleries, at Toitū you can discover the human history of the area, getting to know the who, what and how Dunedin came to be what it is today. There’s also a café and shop onsite if you get peckish or want a souvenir to take away.
2. Enjoy local art on a Dunedin street art tour
Yet another free thing to do in Dunedin! Dunedin Street Art (DSA) is a group of volunteers binging commissioned street art to Dunedin, including from international artists from Belgium, the UK, Argentina and Australia. Primarily located in the Warehouse District south of the Octagon, there are currently nearly 30 pieces of Dunedin street art trail to enjoy. The DSA website has a map showing you exactly where to go, so that you can plan a self-guided tour and read up about the art as you go.
Highlights include the giant Tuatara painted by Belgium artist ROA on Bath Street, a distinctive piece paying homage to Dunedin’s maritime history by UK artist Phlegm on Vogel Street, a huge colourful mural by Dunedin native Sean Duffell on Jetty Street, and Natalia Rak’s “Love is in the Air” on Bond Street. You can support the DSA through donations and even express interest in creating art to keep the scene thriving.
3. Experience peace at the Dunedin Chinese Garden
Location on the corner of Rattray and Cumberland Streets is something you might not have expected to find in Dunedin. Lan Yuan, Dunedin Chinese Garden is a perfect miniature of a traditional Chinese landscape painting, built to celebrate the culture, tradition, history and heritage of Dunedin’s Chinese community and its relationship with sister city, Shanghai. There are various events that happen at the Garden, including celebrations for the Moon Festival and Chinese New Year.
Visitors can either guide themselves through the Garden, or you can take a guided tour to get the most out of the experience. Once you’re done walking around the Garden, you can enjoy tea, dumplings and steamed buns in The Tea House onsite. At the time of writing, Dunedin Chinese Garden is open 10am-5pm daily (except Christmas Day) and is $10 for adults or free for under 13 year olds. If you want more of nature, you can also go to the equally beautiful Dunedin Botanic Gardens, which is just 7 minutes away from the Chinese Garden.
“ If you really want to make a day of it, there is also the opportunity to combine an albatross tour with a wildlife cruise ”
4. Visit an Albatross colony
Located approximately 40 minutes from central Dunedin on the Otago Peninsula sits the worlds only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross. And thanks to the Royal Albatross Centre, you can tour the colony and learn all about these incredible birds and their habits. Tours include either 60 or 90 minute jaunts with a guide, which can be done in a group or privately if you’d prefer. You can also tour Fort Taiaroa, an underground tunnel system built to counter any potential invasions.
If you really want to make a day of it, there is also the opportunity to combine an albatross tour with a wildlife cruise, which takes you around Taiaroa Head to see the likes of fur seals and up to 20 species of ocean birds like little blue penguins. If you have you own Dunedin rental car, this is the perfect kind of adventure to enjoy just beyond the city limits.
5. Eat, drink and mingle with students in the Octagon
Named for the octagonal plaza surrounding the area, the Octagon is Dunedin’s centre, populated by bars, cafes, restaurants, historical buildings and a statue of Scottish Poet Robert Burns. The area has been heavily pedestrianised, meaning you can walk around easily to take in what the Octagon has to offer. You can see significant buildings recognised by the New Zealand Historical Places Trust, such as Dunedin Town Hall, Civic Centre and Public Library. There’s also the Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Regent Theatre if you are keen to enjoy the arts.
If it’s a night out on the town you fancy, then you have plenty of choice of venues. The Craic Irish Tavern has live music, as does Eleven Bar and Club. There’s also Brew Bar, Albar and Craft Bar and Kitchen to enjoy a tipple and something to eat. If you fancy a dance and staying out late, Catacombs Nightclub should do nicely. As you can see, there are plenty of options to enjoy an evening out in the Octagon!
6. Live out a fairy tale at Larnach Castle
Through Go back in time with a visit to Larnach Castle, located on the Otago Peninsula about 20 minutes from downtown Dunedin. The castle was built in the 1870’s by politician William Larnach, but became a tourist attracted open to the public once the Barker family came into ownership of the property in the 1960’s. Now, tourists and locals alike can tour the castle and surrounding gardens any day of the year.
The castle also hosts weddings and has onsite accommodation for those who fancy a bit of luxury. One of the highlights of staying at the Castle is a ‘Trust the Chef’ dining experience situated at a long table in one of the Castle dining rooms. The menu puts New Zealand style cuisine first and all food is sourced locally.
7. Discover Dunedin’s ‘foodie scene’
For whatever reason, people don’t always associate Dunedin with great food. Let us tell you that this is a mistake! Whether you prefer a casual dining experience at a brewery, or world-class cuisine and fine dining, Dunedin has something for you. Here are some of our favourites:
- Emerson’s Brewery Restaurant – Anzac Avenue: Couple award winning beer with sumptuous food like lamb loin, pork belly and four types of fries.
- The Press Club – Princes Street: For a luxury dining experience, head to The Press Club and enjoy fine dining inspired by French and Asian cuisine.
- Bracken – Filleul Street: A restaurant honouring Dunedin’s Scottish heritage, Bracken features an eight-course degustation with optional whiskey matches.
- ADJØ – Bank Street: Inspired by Scandinavian cuisine, the seemingly simple menu is great for those feeling adventurous and who enjoy the art of food preparation. And did we mention there are over 20 flavours of schnapps to sample?
- Good Good – Vogel Street: There always needs to be a burger place on the list and this is one of the best, with options for everyone including vegans and those with a gluten intolerance.
8. Support local at the Otago Farmers Market
Supporting local is a philosophy in New Zealand. There is an abundance of people trying their hand at all kinds of trades and businesses all over the country and this includes in Dunedin, where over 65 stall holders come together on a Saturday at the Otago Farmers Market. Food, alcohol, flowers, coffee; you can experience it all at the market, and it’s all provided by local vendors.
That doesn’t mean that what’s offered is strictly New Zealand centric either. There’s Syrian street food, savoury Chinese crepes, New York Style pizza and just about everything in between. You can either eat at the market or take ingredients and produce home to come up with your own culinary creations. You can find the market every Saturday morning from 8am-12:30pm at the Northern Carpark Dunedin Railway Station.
9. Walk through history at Tunnel Beach
Jump in your hire car and head along the coast and you’ll find a car park at the start of the Tunnel Beach Track in South Dunedin. This 2km return track heads downhill along a fenced track towards the rocky coastline. Eventually you’ll end up at the hand carved rock tunnel from which Tunnel Beach takes its name.
The tunnel itself was built in the 1870’s and gives way to the secluded beach surrounded by rocky cliffs. The track is easy for all generations and will take approximately an hour. Make sure to check the tides before you explore any of the caves dotted along the track and avoid swimming because of the nature of the beach itself. If you have the time and enjoy surfing, you can also check out St. Clair Beach.
10. Get along to New Zealand’s biggest science centre
There aren’t many places in the country you can enjoy a 5-metre indoor waterfall, exotic butterflies and a three-storey slide, all in one place! The Tūhura Science Centre is New Zealand’s biggest and has enough to keep you busy for a few hours or the whole day, depending on what else you’ve got planned. There’s the tropical forest, which sees you walking through a 28-degree Celsius living gallery filled with butterflies, parakeets, terrapins and carp.
You can also enjoy the sky bridge, waterfall and tropical plants. The rest of the centre boasts over 45 interactive exhibits and a 7 and a half metre slide inspired by the DNA double helix. If you have time, chuck in a 45-minute show at the planetarium for the full science experience!
Ready to book?
Find a great deal on a Dunedin hire car with GoSee
Feeling inspired? Make sure you check out our great deals on car hire in Dunedin. If you’re not sure what kind of car you need, we have some helpful tips on choosing a car rental. And if it’s your first time in New Zealand, find some more information on visiting Aotearoa. We have you have an amazing time in Ōtepoti Dunedin and experience some of the amazing things this southern city has to offer.