Nelson City Center, Nelson, New Zealand

Top 10 things to do in Nelson, New Zealand!

Last updated: 14th July, 2023

Known for its sunny climate, stunning natural surroundings, great beer and thriving art scene, Nelson is definitely somewhere to visit while exploring the Nelson-Tasman region of New Zealand! In this post i’ve compiled my Top 10 Things to Do while you’re in Nelson!

Where is Nelson?

Nelson is a vibrant city located in the northern region of New Zealand’s South Island. It is situated on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay, which is part of the larger area known as Nelson Tasman. The city is surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, including mountains, national parks, and beautiful coastlines.

Map of Nelson!

What is the best time to visit Nelson?

Nelson is a destination that can be enjoyed year-round. The summer months are popular for outdoor activities and beach visits, while the shoulder seasons of autumn and spring provide pleasant weather and fewer crowds. Winter offers a quieter atmosphere and opportunities for winter sports.

Average Temperatures in Nelson

SeasonAverage Daytime Temperature (°C)
Summer (Dec – Feb)20°C – 25°C
Autumn (March – May)12°C – 20°C
Winter (June – August)6°C to 14°C
Spring (Sep – Nov)9°C to 18°C

How to get to Nelson

As Nelson is one of the biggest cities in the Tasman region, it is well connected and easy to get to, no matter how your travelling!

By Car:

Nelson is well connected by road, and would be a fantastic road trip to take while exploring New Zealand. It is about 5 hours drive away from Christchurch, where you can opt for an inland drive through the Nelson Lakes National Park, or along the stunning South Island Coast.

By Public Transport:

Nelson has bus connections from various cities in New Zealand. Intercity and Naked Bus are two popular coach services that operate between major cities and Nelson. Buses usually arrive at the Nelson i-SITE Visitor Centre, located in the city center. The travel time and availability of bus services will depend on your departure location.

By Ferry:

If you are coming from the North Island, welcome! From Wellington, you can catch either the Interislander or Bluebridge Ferries that travel from Wellington Harbour over into Picton. Both ferry services offer stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds during the crossing. Once you arrive in Picton, you can either rent a car or take a bus to Nelson.

Bluebridge ferry from Wellington to Picton on our way to Nelson, New Zealand
View from the Bluebridge Ferry!

By Flights:

Nelson has its own airport, Nelson Airport, which is well-connected to major cities in New Zealand. Several domestic airlines, including Air New Zealand and Jetstar, operate regular flights to Nelson. Flights to Nelson depart from various airports, such as Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, among others. The flight duration will depend on your departure location.

10 Top things to do in Nelson!

1. Take a wander around Nelson’s awesome Markets!

Nelson is renowned for its vibrant and diverse markets that offer a wide array of products, from fresh produce and local crafts to delicious food and unique creations. They offer a lively atmosphere and a great way to meet the locals! Here are some of the notable markets in Nelson:

Farmers market in Nelson, New Zealand

Nelson Saturday Market

Held every Saturday in Montgomery Square, the Nelson Saturday Market is a must-visit for locals and tourists alike. This bustling market showcases a vast range of stalls offering fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal products, handmade crafts, clothing, jewelry, and much more. Live music performances add to the lively atmosphere, making it a delightful experience for all.

  • Where: Montgomery Carpark, Nelson
  • When: Saturday 8am – 1pm

Monty’s Sunday Market

Monty’s Sunday Market takes place on Sundays at the same location as the Saturday Market. It offers a slightly smaller but equally diverse selection of stalls. Visitors can browse through an eclectic mix of locally made arts and crafts, clothing, accessories, home decor, and fresh produce. The market provides a platform for local artisans, designers, and producers to showcase their talents and products.

  • Where: Montgomery Carpark, Nelson
  • When: Saturday 8am – 1pm
Farmers market in Nelson, New Zealand

Nelson Farmers Market

The Nelson Farmers Market is held on Wednesday mornings in Morrison Square. It specializes in fresh, locally grown produce, offering a wide selection of fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey, free-range eggs, and more. This market provides an opportunity to support local farmers and sample the region’s best seasonal produce.

  • Where: 23 Halifax Street, Nelson
  • When: Wednesay 8am – 1pm

2. Visit the World Of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum

The World of WearableArt & Classic Cars Museum in Nelson combines wearable art and classic cars. The museum features stunning wearable art pieces from the renowned World of WearableArt Awards Show, showcasing creativity and craftsmanship. Additionally, the museum houses a collection of classic and vintage cars, highlighting the beauty and engineering excellence of these vehicles. It’s a unique and captivating attraction that celebrates art, fashion, and automotive design, and has a little something for everyone!

3. Cycle Tasman’s Great Taste Trail

The Tasman Great Taste Trail is a popular cycling and walking trail that leads you through the heart of the Tasman district! The trail winds its way through diverse landscapes, including coastal areas, vineyards, orchards, forests, and charming rural towns.

Biking through a forest near Nelson

The trail forms a loop that starts and finishes in Nelson, a vibrant city known for its arts and culture. The trail is divided into several sections, allowing visitors to choose the distance and duration that suits their preferences. It’s a shared pathway, meaning it can be used by cyclists, walkers, and runners alike.

Trail Information

Distance: This is classed as a New Zealand Great Ride, and the trail is around 200km long!

Trail Description: The Tasman Great Taste Trail caters to a range of fitness levels and interests. It offers both on-road and off-road sections, with varying degrees of difficulty. Some parts of the trail are relatively flat and suitable for all ages and abilities, while others involve gentle climbs and descents, providing a bit more challenge for experienced cyclists.

One of the highlights of the Tasman Great Taste Trail is the opportunity to explore the region’s renowned food and beverage offerings. The trail passes through numerous vineyards, orchards, and artisan food producers, allowing visitors to sample local wines, ciders, craft beers, and delicious fresh produce along the way!

Vineyards near Nelson

4. Stand in the Center of New Zealand!

It’s just cool to be able to say you stood in the absolute ‘Center of New Zealand’, right!? And if you’re in Nelson, you aren’t far off! The geographical center of New Zealand is located atop Botanical Hill, at the edge of Nelson City Center. There are some beautiful walks that take you up to the summit, where you can enjoy the novelty while taking in the awesome views over the city!

Getting there:

There are multiple walking tracks that lead to the center of New Zealand, allowing you to select the one that suits your preferences and fitness level. The tracks are well-marked, and signposts along the way will guide you towards the center.

After a moderate walk, you will reach the summit of Botanical Hill, which is marked by a distinctive monument or a trig point. This point signifies the calculated center of New Zealand, considering the country’s main islands and their respective landmasses.

5. Check out Tahunanui Beach

Tahunanui Beach is a gorgeous beach only a few minutes drive from the heart of Nelson City. With golden sand, crystal clear waters and excellent facilities, it’s a perfect spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a few hours!

Tahunanui Beach, Nelson, New Zealand

6. Explore Nelson’s Gardens and Parks

The city and its surrounding areas are dotted with numerous gardens and parks, each with their own style and charm! Visiting these is a lovely way to reconnect with nature in a peaceful environment.

Queen’s Gardens

Located in the heart of Nelson city, Queen’s Gardens is a picturesque Victorian-style garden. It features an elegant fountain, tree-lined pathways, vibrant flower beds, and tranquil ponds. The gardens provide a peaceful retreat with plenty of benches to relax and enjoy the serene atmosphere.

Parks in Nelson, New Zealand

Miyazu Japanese Garden

Inspired by Nelson’s sister city, Miyazu in Japan, this garden showcases traditional Japanese design elements. It includes water features, stone lanterns, a teahouse, and meticulously maintained vegetation. The Miyazu Japanese Garden offers a peaceful and reflective environment.

Parks in Nelson, New Zealand

Founders Heritage Park

More than just a garden, Founders Heritage Park is a living museum that celebrates Nelson’s history and culture. The park features heritage buildings, vintage displays, and charming gardens. Visitors can stroll through the gardens, relax on the lawns, and learn about the region’s past.

7. Go on a Craft Beer Trail…

One thing you’ll find about New Zealanders is that we like a good beer! And where better to dip your toes into the craft beer world than the ‘Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand!’

One of the reasons behind Nelson’s strong craft beer culture is its ideal brewing conditions. The region boasts a sunny and temperate climate, fertile soil, and an abundance of high-quality hops, which are essential ingredients in beer production. These factors have attracted brewers who value using locally sourced, fresh ingredients in their brews!

Craft beer scene, Nelson, New Zealand

There are a number of incredible breweries in Nelson and the surrounding areas, and I would definitely recommend you check one (or a few) out when you’re in town! Nelson also hosts the annual Marchfest, a popular beer and music festival that showcases local craft beers from the region! Cheers!

8. …or taste your way around Nelson’s wineries!

Beer isn’t the only thing to benefit from Nelsons sunny climate! The picturesque valley vineyards around the Nelson Tasman region produce some pretty amazing wines. Nelson’s wineries produce a variety of exceptional wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and aromatic white varieties. As you adventure around the area, you can pop into a number of cellar doors and have opportunity to ‘meet the maker’ and try a vino or two!

Nelson’s Wine and Food Festival

In February, Nelson hosts the annual Wine and Food Festival! This is a popular event that celebrates the region’s vibrant culinary scene and showcases the best of local wines and cuisine. The festival highlights the exceptional wines produced in Nelson. Attendees have the opportunity to taste a wide variety of wines, while learning more about them from the passionate winemakers themselves!

Nelson Wine and Food festival

9. Enjoy the Nelson Arts Scene

Nelson has a vibrant craft scene, that can be seen as you enter the city! It is home to numerous galleries that showcase local and national artwork. The Suter Art Gallery, located in the heart of Nelson, is a prominent institution that features a diverse range of contemporary and historical artworks. The gallery hosts regular exhibitions, including solo and group shows, and provides a platform for emerging and established artists to showcase their work.

Arts and Crafts Markets:

Nelson hosts various arts and crafts markets throughout the year, where local artists and artisans showcase their creations. The Nelson Market, held every Saturday, is a popular gathering place for artists, craftspeople, and food vendors. Here, visitors can find an array of handmade artworks, jewelry, ceramics, textiles, and other craft items.

Festivals and Events

Nelson is known for hosting several arts festivals and events that celebrate creativity and cultural expression. The Nelson Arts Festival, held annually in October, features a diverse program of performances, exhibitions, and workshops in various artistic disciplines, including theater, dance, music, and visual arts. The biennial “Sculpture on the Gulf” event showcases large-scale outdoor sculptures along the waterfront, creating a captivating open-air art experience.

10. Explore the Abel Tasman National Park

If you’re in Nelson and looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure, then look no further than Abel Tasman National Park! Located about an hours drive from the city, this national park is renowned for its stunning coastal landscapes, golden sandy beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, and lush native forests. There are many ways to enjoy this area, from hiking the Abel Tasman Coast Track, kayaking around the islands, or just relaxing on the beach and soaking up all that delicious scenery. This is a must-do for travellers in the area!

Accommodation in Nelson

When it comes to accommodation, Nelson offers a diverse range of options to suit various budgets and preferences. From backpacker hostels and budget-friendly motels to holiday parks and upscale hotels, there is something for everyone! To see a list of the best places to stay in Nelson, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly accommodation, check out my post here!

FAQs about visiting Nelson!

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Hello! You made it all the way down the page, incredible! Just wanted to say a big ol’ thanks for reading this article, and I hope you enjoyed it! If you did, feel free to check out some of my other NZ Travel posts here! If not, ahh well.

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