The best things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand

Looking for things to do in Dunedin? You better get a cup of tea. The list is long.

Often referred to as the ‘Edinburgh of the South’, Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s coolest, most underrated cities. (It’s WAY better than Edinburgh).

The small, walkable city is filled with bustling cafes, shopping boutiques and outstanding street art. It’s home to the world’s steepest street, rare wildlife, stunning beaches, outstanding mountain bike trails, castles and pyramids. Yes, pyramids.

Kick off your adventures in the heart of the city, starting at The Octagon, an eight-sided plaza surrounded by shops, restaurants, galleries and a tourist information centre.

Things to do in Dunedin
Dunedin Railway Station © James Lewis

With gothic architecture lining the streets, it doesn’t take long to notice the city’s Scottish influence. The word Dunedin comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh.

Head out of the city centre and you’ll find dramatic hills and jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches.

These are the best things to do in Dunedin New Zealand. Hopefully, you’ve got your tea now.

Natural wonders and outdoor pursuits

Explore Dunedin’s amazing natural wonders from spectacular volcanic formations through to epic coastlines full of hidden gems, you’ll need your camera at the ready.

Tunnel Beach Dunedin, New Zealand © DunedinNZ

Explore stunning beaches and geological quirks

Dunedin’s beaches are spectacular, highly photogenic and great Instagram fodder. From rugged dramatic sandstone arches to soft golden sand beaches, Dunedin has it all.

In the winter months, these are wonderful places for romantic walks and wildlife spotting and it’s quite likely that you’ll have a beach all to yourself. Whilst in the warmer months there are plenty of prime spots for swimming, paddling and soaking up the views. Surfing is an all year round pastime here, with some of the best breaks in New Zealand, but it’s a tightly held secret….until now.

Tunnel Beach

Arguably the most famous of Dunedin’s beaches, a trip to Tunnel Beach is a bucket list activity for many visitors to the city. Tucked away on the southern coastline, Tunnel Beach is a mix of natural and man-made wonders, with a huge sandstone arch and hand-hewn staircase tunnel cut into the cliff itself

Doctor’s Point Beach

Doctor’s Point Beach is one of Dunedin’s best secret beaches. It is located on Dunedin’s northern coast. The long sandy beach skirts the serene Blueskin Bay and is home to Taoka’s Arches. They are a small series of sea caves separating the two sides of Doctor’s Point Beach. Just make sure you visit at low tide
because you can’t get through when the water rises.

Taoka Arches Dunedin
Taoka Arches at Doctor’s Beach © DunedinNZ

Dunedin’s pyramids at Victory Beach

Head to Victory Beach if you want to see Dunedin’s pyramids. Unlike Egypt’s version, Dunedin’s pyramids were formed naturally as a result of volcanic activity more than 10 million years ago.

The Little Pyramid has a walking track to the top, with extensive views of Okia reserve, the wetlands, dunes and ocean from the beach, you can see the wreck of the SS Victory, which sank in 1861 after a drunk sailor ran the ship aground.

The Dunedin pyramids
Dunedin’s pyramids © DunedinNZ

The Organ Pipes

The Organ Pipes are an outstanding collection of interlocking stone basalt pillars created during the volcanic formation of the Otago Peninsula. They’re similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, but with mountain-top views.

Make a day hike of it and head up the Mt Cargill Track from Bethunes Gully, or the shorter option down from the Mr Cargill Road carpark to see one of Dunedin’s most incredible rock formations.

The Organ pipes Dunedin things to do
The Organ Pipes © DunedinNZ

Spotting wildlife

The Otago Peninsula is known as the ‘wildlife capital of New Zealand’. So it goes without saying that spotting rare and native species is a must-do while in Dunedin.

The best way to view wildlife is with a guided tour which has access to private beaches and conservation areas, along with expert commentary.

Royal northern albatross © DunedinNZ

Taiaroa Head at the tip of the Peninsula is home to the only mainland breeding colony of northern royal albatross in the world.

These impressive birds have a huge three-metre wingspan and can travel more than 100 kilometres an hour. Depending on the time of year, at the Royal Albatross Centre you’ll spot adorable fluffy chicks, fledgelings practising their take-offs and the largely monogamous breeding pairs, soaring above the headland overlooking the harbour entrance.

Natures Wonders Argo Wildlife Tour © DunedinNZ

The New Zealand fur seal is commonly found on the beaches and rocks around Dunedin and at Nature’s Wonders at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. A visit to the seal pup nursery has to be one of the cutest experiences around.

These curious little creatures loll about in the rock pools and oceanside undergrowth awaiting the return of their mothers.

This close encounter is combined with an adventurous ride on four-wheel-drive Argo vehicles to reach the remote reaches, against a stunning coastal backdrop.


The world’s smallest penguin, the blue penguin is another wild local resident that nests in the area. These petite marine birds are just 25 centimetres tall and make a comical sight as they waddle in from a day at sea.

Blue Penguins Pukekura has an amazing tour at dusk, where you can watch the magic unfold from the comfort of a purpose-built viewing platform, giving up-close viewing and an experience you’ll never forget.

Blue penguins in Dunedin
Blue Penguins in Dunedin New Zealand © DunedinNZ

Dunedin also has a significant and endangered New Zealand sea lion population. This is one of the rarest species of sea lion in the world and it’s not unusual to come across them on a number of beaches around wider Dunedin. They tend to be incredibly protective of their patch, so give them plenty of space if you see them.

Watch the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis)

Dunedin is one of the few places where you can see the Aurora Australis. The sneaky southern lights can be unpredictable. According to locals, they tend to occur with only 30 minutes’ notice, and the displays can be spectacular.

The Aurora happens all year round. But the best time to view it from Dunedin is around midnight between March and September.

The best places to view the aurora close to the city are Second Beach, Tunnel Beach, Sandfly Bay and Hoopers Inlet. Look south towards the horizon and watch in awe.

The Aurora Australis from Second Beach © DunedinNZ

Join a Southern Skies Star Gazing tour to learn about the unique celestial features of the Southern sky, while also sharing stories and waiata (songs) about how Māori viewed the stars and planets.

If indoor stargazing is more your style, head along to the 360-degree planetarium at the Tūhura Otago Museum. Sit back in comfort while you enjoy one of the many regular shows.

The Tūhura Otago Museum Planetarium © DunedinNZ

Cycling and mountain biking in Dunedin

Recreational cyclists and hardcore adventure-seekers can both slake their thirst for two-wheeled leisure time with the growing range of bike-centric trails and pathways in Dunedin.

Cruise the gentle Otago Harbour cycling and walking path which currently runs all the way from St Leonards on the West Harbour to Portobello on the Otago Peninsula side. You’ll discover gorgeous waterside views, plenty of refreshment opportunities and quite often wildlife popping up nearby.

Otago Harbour cycle path © DunedinNZ

You can rent an electric bike from Dunedin e-bike hire and make a day of it, jumping on board the Port to Port ferry to ‘cycle the loop’ around almost the whole harbour.

If multiday cycle journeys are your thing, then Dunedin is a great starting point for the Otago Central Rail Trail, which kicks off in Middlemarch, a hinterland township in greater Dunedin and goes all the way to Clyde in Central Otago.

Mountain bikers are in no way neglected here though. One of New Zealand’s best downhill tracks is literally in the middle of the city at Signal Hill Reserve. On the weekend, you can hop on a shuttle bus from the bottom of the hill, so there’s no hard slog to start each run.

Dunedin’s urban and historical bucket list

Tackle the world’s steepest residential street

Baldwin Street Dunedin holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s steepest street.

Of all the things to do in Dunedin, this is the one that will hurt your legs the most. But you’ll have the satisfaction of getting a selfie at the top to prove you conquered the slope.

Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden

If a stroll around a garden is more your pace, head to the Lan Yuan Chinese Garden. This traditional and serene garden was built by Shanghai artisans as an inner-city haven for peaceful contemplation and is the only genuine Chinese scholar’s garden in the Southern Hemisphere. You can soak up the peace over tea and dumplings.

Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden Things to do in Dunedin
Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden © DunedinNZ

Larnach Castle

Merchant baron and politician William Larnach built Larnach Castle in 1871 as a gift for his beloved wife Eliza. Larnach spared no expense with his lavish home, which is now one of the most famous sights in Dunedin.

Explore the restored castle and gardens at leisure, check out the 360-degree views from the turrets and stop into the ballroom for high tea, or a dram or two of whiskey. If you’re after a special accommodation experience, the castle has three different options ranging from family-friendly to boutique lodgings.

Larnach Castle © DunedinNZ

Tūhura Otago Museum

Tūhura Otago Museum is one of the most popular indoor family attractions in Dunedin. Among the many fascinating exhibits and galleries, the interactive science centre has 41 interactive activities, a double helix slide, a planetarium, a tropical butterfly forest and a visual science gallery.

It’s a great place to spend a few hours viewing the collection of more than 1.5 million artefacts from the wider Otago region and further afield.

Olveston Historic Home

A must-visit for lovers of art, antique furniture, ceramics and statues, little has changed inside this Edwardian mansion designed for one of Dunedin’s most prominent businessmen in 1900.

Inside the pool room © Olveston Historic Home.

Olveston is a genuine time capsule of national significance because it is a fascinating glimpse into the past. Like a little piece of Downton Abbey in Dunedin, you can explore the lavish family rooms, serene gardens and the one-time servants’ quarters.

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum

The 100,000 objects in the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum highlight the culture, technology, art, fashion and transport achievements of the Otago region. Highly interactive displays provide an engaging look at the past, from the more recent developments right back to the early settlement era of the region.

Dunedin street art

Dunedin’s rich and diverse creative community have taken art to the streets.

Down side streets, alleyways and around every turn, vibrant whimsical street art can be found around almost every corner. You’ll find Ed Sheeran, shiny metal bulls, extinct native eagles and a steampunk style submarine, among the many weird and wonderful creations. Check out all there is to discover on Street Art Cities Dunedin.

Dunedin Street Art, NZ street art, Dunedin urban art, graffiti in Dunedin, graffiti trail in Dunedin
Some of Dunedin’s wonderful street art © DunedinNZ

These phenomenal artworks were created by both local and international street artists, including ROA (Belgium), Pixel Pancho (Italy), Phlegm (UK), Natalia Rak (Poland), Dal East (China) and Mica Still (NZ).

It’s one of the most popular things to do in Dunedin and it’s completely FREE.

Dunedin escape rooms

For something fun to do, try one of Dunedin’s escape rooms. Choose between escaping a cell in Dunedin Prison or using logic and magic to solve a mystery at The Savoy. This immersive activity is suitable for teams of two to six people. 

Where to eat and drink in Dunedin

Dunedin offers an amazing selection of artisan producers, bars, distilleries, craft breweries and awesome café culture.

Stop off at the Otago Farmers Market which takes place every Saturday morning to enjoy local produce and artisanal goods, perfect for a gourmet breakfast on the go.

Otago Farmers Market © DunedinNZ

Eat, drink, sleep, repeat

Dunedin eateries and bars give you a real sense of place, with cosy and often quirky venues, delicious locally-sourced ingredients on the menu and an eclectic, friendly style that instantly charms.

Tuck into seafood and local delicacies such as Blue Cod and Little Neck Clams at the likes of Plato, where excellent cuisine meets design kitsch. You can also sample the iconic chowder and seafood platter at the Carey’s Bay Pub, complete with resident fisherman to yarn to over a beer.

Wander the St Clair beachfront and stop off for a sundowner at the Esplanade, where the Italian bistro food and views of the Pacific will have you living la dolce vita. Nearby tītī also takes top billing and is a great spot to people watch as you devour the exquisitely fresh cuisine.

The Esplanade © Neat Places

Sophisticated dining

If you’re looking to indulge, head to Moiety located in the city’s Warehouse Precinct for a five-course degustation with inspired ingredients.

Just around the corner, the Press Club at Fable Hotel is impeccably stylish with a small but satisfying menu and an excellent selection of cocktails, wines and fine whiskeys.  

Tap into the city’s Scottish links at Bracken restaurant, where the modern Scottish cuisine offers an innovative take on traditional dishes and ingredients.

For plant-based dining enthusiasts, a meal at Kindred or Taste Nature should definitely be on the itinerary

Indigo Room © DunedinNZ

Bars in Dunedin

Seek out eclectic, cosy bars and eateries tucked away in secretive spots, like Indigo Room, Pequeno and Mr. Fox, where the cocktails are well worth the effort.

If you like to stay up late, head to Woof! on the corner of Moray Place and Lower Stuart Street. This vibrant bar has great service, awesome drinks and a fun atmosphere. Gin lovers need to call in at No.8 Distillery to get a fix of their award-winning drops, or Dunedin Craft Distillers which literally crafts boutique spirits from bread.

No.8 Distillery © DunedinNZ

Craft breweries

Craft beer is booming in Dunedin and each destination brewery is totally distinct in terms of taste and ambience.

Emerson’s Brewery and restaurant is a popular spot for the thirsty local crowd, with a selection of stalwart favourites and a revolving range of seasonal brews. The food here is hearty and full of international inspiration, including the legendary poutine and thrice-cooked fries, the perfect pairing for a pint or three.

Emerson’s Brewery and Restaurant © Neat Places

While not a craft brewery per se, historic Speights in Rattray Street is one of a handful of gravity-fed breweries in the world and is arguably the birthplace of the beer industry in New Zealand. Take a tour and see where the malty magic happens then head next door to the Speights Alehouse and order a tasting tray and gastro pub tucker.

To soak up the community vibe and enjoy some epic scenery too, head to Arc Brewing Co in Blueskin Bay. This family brewery creates small-batch handcrafted beers that are fresh and flavourful. The relaxed beer garden and cosy indoor space is a popular weekend destination where a different food truck is parked up each day.

The newest and most intriguing cab off the rank is Steamer Basin Brewery, which is tucked down the elusive sounding ‘no name alley’ near Bond Street. In true Dunedin style, this quirky den of delicious brews has real personality, matched only by the colourful array of street art adorning the alley walls outside.

Steamer Basin Brewery © DunedinNZ

Road trips to and from Dunedin

Dunedin is a short drive from Queenstown via the Central Otago Touring Route. The 341-kilometre journey follows scenic highways from the Pacific Ocean to the foot of the Southern Alps via the beautiful Strath Taieri and Maniototo Plains. You can find the full list of activities on the Central Otago Touring Route here.

If you’re taking in the scenic highlights of Fiordland and the Catlins, then the Southern Scenic Route, which starts (or ends) in Dunedin is a fantastic option. 

Things to do in Dunedin
Central Otago © Tourism NZ

We highly recommend taking at least 3-5 days to wind your way along this road, spending time in characterful settlements such as Middlemarch, Ranfurly, Oturehua and Clyde, as well as the larger towns of Alexandra, Cromwell, Arrowtown and Queenstown.

The journey will take you through one of the world’s most extreme wine regions. Take your time to linger over cellar door tastings, long al fresco lunches and talk to local wine-lovers.

For more information on Dunedin head to the Visit Dunedin website below:

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