Things To Do

25 Of The Best Things To Do In Dunedin In 2023

By Sarah Bramhall
2nd Aug 2023

People pass by cool artwork in Dunedin, one of the best things to do in Dunedin.

Quirky urban cool, natural wonders, arty happenings and more than a few places to quench your thirst, Dunedin is full of contrasts and curiosities. Get amongst it with 25 of the best things to see and do.

  1.  Beach Hopping | Dunedin has a beach for every occasion, long white stretches of sand with the perfect surf break, hidden coves for cosy picnic dates and epic Instagrammable spots with views for miles. Pack your swimmers and pick a direction, with 30 or so to choose from, there’s no shortage of options. Tunnel Beach, Brighton Beach and Warrington Beach are a few local favourites.

  2. Pedal The Harbour Path | Rent a bike or BYO to glide alongside the water and wildlife of the Otago Harbour on the newly minted cycle path which runs between Port Chalmers and Portobello. So scenic you’ll be hard-pressed to keep your eyes on the path, the ebb and flow will also take you past numerous photo opps, at least one brewery, a gin distillery, and plenty of places to stop for a snack. Cycling is hard work after all.

  3. Gallery Gazing | Art runs in the veins of Dunedin and it has long been an enclave of some of New Zealand’s renowned talents, and equally a nurturing ground for rising stars. Spend a few days perusing the private inner-city galleries like Gallery de Novo, the Blue Oyster and the Artists Room, or venture out to picturesque suburbia to stop into Bellamys or FE:29. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery does a good line in touring exhibitions and a pretty impressive in-house collection to boot.

  4. Gothic Noir | There’s no way you can truly experience the full gothic noir of this historic city without a classic ghost tour. Hair Raiser Ghost Tours will take you into the more macabre corners with stories of unfortunate events and gory goings-on to match and Tales from Darkest Dunedin fully embraces the cemetery vibe, illuminating the life and death of residents from the distant and not-so-distant past.

  5. The Hocken | IYKYK, or you find out. Secreted away in these hallowed halls of literature and art are some of New Zealand’s most impressive collections of works including pieces by Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere. Take a tour and get an insider’s glimpse.The great hall looking at the south wall at Olveston Historic Home, decorated with a chandelier, stain glass windows and picture frames, one of the best things to do in Dunedin.

  6. Olveston | You may think historic homes are only for your nana but think again. Olveston is part art gallery, part museum and part historic design dream home with a dash of Downton Abbey style. Go for the mind-boggling array of trinkets and artefacts from around the world, the fascinating ‘servants quarters’ or even the ridiculously fancy wallpaper. A visual feast with heritage kudos.

  7.  Bookish Happenings | Dunedin is literally lit when it comes to books and all things writing-related, earning its stripes as a UNESCO City of Literature.  There are some awesome bookstores to quench your thirsty mind, from the quirky enclave that is the Dead Soul’s Bookshop, the mysterious allure of the Hard-to-Find bookstore or the cosy tome-filled University Bookstore.
  8. Wild Things | If cute, furry, fluffy things are your vibe then this place is practically a one-stop-shop for New Zealand’s interesting creatures. What’s more, some of these dudes are becoming increasingly rare as climate change kicks in.  Whether you’re a dedicated twitcher or not, the birdlife in Dunedin is next level with little blue penguins, endangered yellow-eyed penguins and supersized royal albatross, plus the full spectrum of other natives.  The playful antics of the resident seals and sea lions can add a touch of adventure to beach visits too.

  9. Orokonui | If you’ve never been to a cloud forest, it’s every bit as mystical as it sounds. It just so happens, New Zealand’s largest mainland wildlife sanctuary hides in the hills surrounding Dunedin and it’s a trip well worth taking. Colourful, cheeky native kaka, tui and fantails flit between the sun-dappled trees and Takahe strut around like they own the place. Sneak a look at tuatara and the dazzling geometric bodies of jewelled skink, or wander through the calm hush of the forest to behold New Zealand’s tallest non-native tree.

  10. Night At The Museum | The kind of grown-up fun that should be had at museums more often, the Otago Museum brings the collections to life and injects a bit of swagger into the whole shebang with regular after-hours happenings such as ‘gin and the collection’, screen printing and wine and themed event nights with all the trimmings.The yoga instructor standing in prayer in the Tropical Forest at Otago Muesuem. One of the best things to do in Dunedin.

  11. Yoga With Butterflies | As if yoga wasn’t relaxing enough as it is, throw in an indoor tropical rainforest setting and the hypnotic fluttering of live butterflies, to reach a pretty close approximation of nirvana—the blissful state—not the grunge band.

  12. Harbour Cruise | Make like you’re a marine biologist and take a boat tour of the Otago Harbour, which teems with all sorts of sea life but is also just plain gorgeous as a day on the water. Both the Monarch and Port to Port offer wildlife cruises with enough rare species, natural landmarks and historical tales to leave David Attenborough swooning.

  13. Tee Off | If your idea of leisure involves plus fours and immaculate greens, then it would be rude not to sample Dunedin’s historic courses, after all, it’s home to the first golf clubs in the country.  There are no airs and graces here, but some great terrain, epic views and maybe the odd ball ending up in the Pacific if your swing is powerful enough.

  14. Farmers market | Always a good time, the Otago Farmers Market is a highly social affair and the array of regional produce, meats, cheeses and ready-to-eat food brings out the punters early. Luckily for those of us who prefer a more leisurely pace on weekends, it runs until noon so there’s plenty of time to snaffle crowd faves like Abdul’s saj pizzas or the crispy light savoury crepes at Bing's.

  15. Geological Curiosities | Natural pyramids, the massive sea arches, and ‘organ pipes’ made of basalt columns are just some of the strange and awe-inspiring feats of nature in the Dunedin area. Being built on a long-extinct volcano has benefits in the curious landscape department it seems.Beers ready for tasting at Arc Brewing Co in Blueskin Bay, Dunedin. One of the best things to do in dunedin.

  16. Sample The Brews | Practically the birthplace of beer in New Zealand, it’s more or less a rite of passage to sample the local brews. The ever-classic Speight’s Brewery mingles bevvies with a historical look at the origins of beer and brewing, plus the famed spring water tap outside makes for a good yarn. But look further to the newer contenders of the craft beer scene to find the vibe and fresh hoppy goodness of Arc in Blueskin Bay, Steamer Basin, Noisy Brewing, and Emersons in the central city.

  17. Museums | Some people think museums are a bit old skool, but somehow Dunedin has nailed it with the combination of oldy-worldy Victoriana mixed with highly-interactive exhibits plus a side-order of the slightly bizarre, but in a good way. When the museum mood strikes you, cruise through the diverse collections of the Otago Museum, Toitu Otago Settler’s Museum or the intriguing Museum of Natural Mystery, and bump your IQ up a notch.

  18. Gin Tasting | Dunedin and gin are a match made in heaven. There’s something about the dramatic scenery and ever-changing sky that calls for a dash of the ol’ juniper juice when the sun goes down, and sometimes even a breakfast gin to greet the day. Three exceptional local distilleries—No. 8, Sandymount, and Dunedin Craft Distillers—are laying down the good stuff and offer tours and tasting sessions so you can fully appreciate the nuances of each variety. 

  19. Vintage Shopping | If you like to rock a retro look, this is the city to shop in. Discover endless emporiums of vintage and preloved garb and goodies, including good pickings at the many charity stores. Scour the racks for mid-century treasures, 70’s masterpieces and everything in between. Try Two Squirrels Vintage Emporium, Finders Keepers, Shop on Carroll, Box of Birds, Paper Bag Princess, Jorjarose and Taste Merchants to get your shopping spree started.

  20. Hit The Trails | Bust a move and head out for a walk when the great outdoors is calling. The diverse terrain includes plenty of scenic coastal options, forest-laden hill climbs or sedate strolls for a more chilled-out pace. Traipse through the greenery around Ross Creek, strike out along the skyline of Flagstaff or explore the ocean views for miles from the Sandymount track.Locals jumping off the wharf over the Otago Harbour on a sunny day.

  21. Get In The Water | This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds if local surfies had their way because seasoned riders know that Dunedin has some of the most epic breaks in the country. With gentle inlets and a harbour to boot, paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing and swimming are all within easy reach.

  22. Stargazing | For keen star-hounds, there are plenty and stellar viewpoints with dark skies to feast your eyes on the constellations and Aurora Australis. Jump on a Southern Stargazing tour which weaves in Maori legends of the skies from anti-gravity chairs or stop by The Planetarium for an entertaining 360-degree experience.

  23. Larnach Castle | Channel your inner Harry Potter for a visit to New Zealand’s only historic castle, which gives off total Hogwarts vibes from its lofty possie high on the Otago Peninsula. You can explore inside the castle all the way to the turret outlook, keeping an eye out for the various spooks that are reputed to haunt the place. 

  24. Street Art | Dunedin was at the forefront of the street art movement in New Zealand and has grown a collection of works from local, national and international artists to over 116 at last count. Turn corners to find massive walls of colour, scuttle down inner-city alleys to spot hidden motifs or scour the wider city to feast your eyes. Dive into this handy map.

  25. Cafe Crawling | The locals here take good food and great coffee extremely seriously and you’ll find this reflected in the amazing cafe culture. Go on a pilgrimage between the hip heritage-inspired spots in the central city to the quirky cool joints in almost every suburb, each with its own spin on Dunedin food done right.

Out and about after dark? Of course you are, here are 10 rad things to do in Dunedin at night.

Image credit: DunedinNZ, Olveston Historic Home, Otago Museum, Arc Brewing Co, Dunedin NZ.

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