Most visitors to New Zealand begin their journey in Auckland. International flights arrive in Queenstown, Wellington, and other major cities, but most likely, your flight will touch down in Auckland first. This is the city that greets visitors from all over the world, and welcomes them to Aotearora.
While Auckland is by far the most populated city in New Zealand (home to over 1 million people, in a country with a population of only 4.5 million), it is not the capital of the country. It’s easy to see why people make that assumption, but that title belongs to Wellington.
Auckland is the economic center of New Zealand, though. Most of the international and financial business is done here. The city is also the warmest region of the country, as it’s located in the Northern part of the North Island. This means high humidity, hot summers, and fairly mild winters.
Tourism here is high, of course, since most travelers spend at least a little bit of time in the city. With plenty of tourist attractions, restaurants, independent shops, events, arts and culture, sports, and everything else, it is an easy place to pass the time.
One thing to know about Auckland is that it generally has a bad reputation with other Kiwis (based on my personal experiences). The majority of New Zealand residents live within the city confines, but the other 3+ million Kiwis give it a hard time (sometimes jokingly, sometimes not jokingly). It is more or less the opposite of what most Kiwis consider to be “ideal”. It’s a big concrete city full of people, where business and money take precedent.
If you spend time in any other part of the country, you’ll quickly see the differences between Auckland and the rest of New Zealand.
However, Auckland is still worth a visit. I’ve written about Auckland before, and you’ll see that it’s not necessarily my favorite place either. Whether you “like” it or not, it is hard to not spend time in this city; sometimes out of necessity, sometimes because it’s convenient, sometimes because you realize it has everything.
While Auckland technically consists of many neighborhoods, many regions, and stretches from the East to West of the North Island, the focus of this guide will be on the CBD (Central Business District), or what many would call the “downtown” area. This is where most tourists will stay and spend their time.
I just wanted to collect some of the restaurants, shops, and other places that I really liked. These are places I found during my 4+ visits to Auckland. This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but I wanted to share some recommendations for anyone who plans to visit Auckland.
The Mexican Café // 67 Victoria St W
This restaurant is located just across from the Sky Tower, above the street-level shops. AMAZING happy hour deals make it easy to get some cheap food & drinks.
Frida Cocina Mexicana // 85-89 Customs St W, Viaduct Basin
The restaurants along the Viaduct Basin are generally a little more upscale—you’ll see a lot of business people having lunch here. However, it’s a stylish little spot on the harbor with delicious margaritas.
Elliott Stables // 39 Elliott St
Elliott Stables is a food hall tucked away just off of Queen St & Wellesley St. There are 11 different eateries (juice bar, pizza, sushi, etc.) to choose from. It’s a fun spot to go with friends and fellow travelers.
International Food Court // Queen St
I cannot remember where exactly this place is located but there is a sign on the street for it, and you walk downstairs into a food court. There are a range of foods to choose from, including Indian, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Greek, and more. This is also a cheaper option compared to a lot of restaurants.
Sunflower Vegetarian Restaurant // 50 High St, Shop 6
This vegetarian/vegan café features mostly Thai food. It’s a quick and easy option for anyone else that doesn’t consume meat.
Aroy Thai // 13 Commerce St
A casual Thai restaurant with various locations around both Auckland and Wellington.
Wine Cellar // 183 Karangahape Road, St Kevins Arcade
This is the “sister” to Purangi Winery, the place I went to every week while living in the Coromandel. At the Cellar, you can get the homemade liqueurs & ciders from the winery. It’s also a music venue.
The Albion // 119 Hobson St
This is a hotel bar, located on the ground floor. My British friends took me here because it’s inspired by English culture. The tavern/restaurant is very stylish, comfortable, and laid-back. It’s not a party bar, but it’s a good place to grab a drink.
Cassette Nine // 9 Vulcan Lane
Cassette Nine is definitely more of a…”cool” bar (you really can’t say cool, hip, or trendy without sounding old, can you?). It’s also a music venue, so there’s live music most nights. It’s popular with backpackers and university kids, and it a good place if you’re looking for a party atmosphere.
Spitting Feathers // 16 Wyndham St
Spitting Feathers is another British style pub. It’s a very casual place, an easy spot if you want to watch sports or just have a couple of drinks.
Sierra Coffee // 2 Lorne St
There are plenty of Sierra Café locations around Auckland, but I like this location in particular because it’s comfortable, and the owners are really nice.
The Coffee Club // Multiple Locations
There are 61 Coffee Club locations all over New Zealand, but it started in Australia, and now has cafés in many countries. Consider it the Starbucks of Australasia (but better). Coffee Club is great simply for its convenience.
Albert Park Café // 18 Kitchener St
This cute little café is right across from Albert Park (as you could probably guess). It’s a nice stop if you’re visiting the Art Gallery.
Lorne St Café // 10 Lorne St
Another sweet and simple café. Lorne St is a good place to just sit and relax.
Typo // 175 Queen St
Typo is a super cute stationary and gift shop. It’s part of Cotton On, a trendy clothing store in New Zealand, so there are multiple locations around the country. Typo is a fun shop to browse, and a good place to buy gifts for friends if you don’t want to go the usual souvenir route.
Unity Books // 19 High St
Independent book stores are generally one of my favorite places. You can find a great selection at Unity Books, and they’re happy to help you find whatever you may be looking for. There’s another location in Wellington.
Tatty’s // 47 High St
Tatty’s Designer Recycle is a vintage and consignment shop, with 2 locations in Auckland. They have a huge inventory, making it easy to find something you love. Everything I saw in this shop is adorable.
Vintage Vixen // 183 Karangahape Rd
There are tons of vintage shops in Auckland, and especially on K Road. Vintage Vixen is one of my favorites.
Paper Bag Princess // 145 Karangahape Rd
Paper Bag Princess is another secondhand clothing shop on K Road that I highly recommend browsing.
Britomart // 130 Quay St
Britomart is a shopping district next to the Britomart transport station. It’s a bit more high-end, with flashy restaurants and shops like Tiffany & Co., MAC, Kiehls, and Ted Baker. It’s really cute, though; even if it’s not in your preferred price-point, it’s fun to hang around for a bit.
What to See & Do
Auckland Art Gallery // Corner of Kitchener & Wellesley
This free gallery features a lot of contemporary art from New Zealand and international artists. It’s the largest art institution in the country. Read more about the gallery here.
Silo Park // Wynyard Quarter, near Jellicoe & Beaumont St
Silo Park is a really cool outdoor, public space in the Wynyard Quarter. It gets its name from the old silos around the park. The park has tons of community events, including a Sunday farmers market, the Friday Night Market, a craft market, and Silo Cinema. All events are free and open to the public.
Sky Tower // Victoria St W & Federal St
The Sky Tower is Auckland’s most recognizable landmark. It’s an icon of the city, and central to the CBD. You can head to the top of the 329 meter building for a view of Auckland, or you can jump off if that’s more your thing. It’s also a casino, a hotel, and an entire entertainment complex. I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time (or money) here, but it is a major tourist attraction.
Auckland Domain // Map
Auckland Domain is a park (one of the city’s largest and oldest) with many attractions. Visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum or see the Wintergardens.
Mount Eden // Map
The best way to get a view of the city is to use the hills. Mount Eden is the city’s highest point, so it’s a popular spot. Walk to the top for 360-degree views. This is a much better way to see Auckland than the Sky Tower, and it’s free.
Devonport // Read More
Devonport is a quiet Auckland neighborhood, reached most easily via a passenger ferry. Beautiful buildings and homes fill this neighborhood, and you’ll find plenty of cafes and shops to keep you busy.
Waiheke Island // Read More
Waiheke Island makes a great day, weekend, or multi-day trip. It’s an easy ferry ride from Queen’s Wharf, and there’s so much to do here. Visit the beaches, wineries, and shops, or go a little more remote and relax in peace.
The Coromandel Peninsula is where Kiwis go on holiday. A ferry ride from Auckland or a short drive, there are lots of little towns, beaches, and great walking tracks. The 2-hour ferry ride will drop you in Coromandel Town, and from there you can join a day tour to various places, and return in time for the ferry ride back to the city.
Rangitoto Island // More Info
Rangitoto is one of many volcanic islands within the Hauraki Gulf. A ferry ride from Queen’s Wharf runs daily. Immerse yourself in the protected natural habitat, and hike up to the summit of Rangitoto.
Waitekare Ranges // More Info
Many people head out to Auckland’s West Coast for more outdoor activities. The Waitekare Ranges are a chain of hills, and a regional park home to native bush and wildlife. This is a great area for hiking and you can find lots of waterfalls here.
There are tons of places to stay in Auckland. You’ll have a huge selection of hostels, hotels, Airbnbs, etc. I stayed in a few different hostels on my various trips to Auckland, but I wouldn’t recommend most of them. But I stayed at one of the YHA hostels in Auckland on two separate visits, and I was very happy with my experience there.
YHA Auckland International // 5 Turner St
This hostel is clean, comfortable, and has great facilities. It’s not a party hostel like most of the others in the city. It’s a great location in general, but it’s also really close to the Sky Bus stop, which is the best way to get to and from the airport.
Airport // Map
Auckland Airport is located about 20 km way from the city center. The simplest way to get to and from the airport is to use the SkyBus. It’s $17 for a one-way ticket, or $30 round-trip (if you need to head into the city & then return to catch another flight). You can hop on any shuttle at any time, so no need to wait around or reserve a seat.
Ferries // Map
Fullers runs ferries from the Auckland waterfront to Devonport, Waiheke Island, Rangitoto, and Coromandel Town. Visit their site for destinations, timetables, & fares.
Intercity and Naked Bus travel all over the country. It’s an easy way to travel to and from Auckland to other major towns and cities. The Intercity bus terminal is at Sky City.
Taking a scenic train journey from Auckland to Wellington (with options to stop off in many places in between) is a great way to travel the North Island. The train leaves from The Strand.