Explore Dunedin like a local and discover this stunning part of New Zealand renowned for its rare wildlife and unique character. We reveal all of Dunners’ secrets: the best things to do in Dunedin but also our favourite spots to eat and drink, recommended day tours, the best places to stay and as a bonus, the top free things to do in the “Edinburgh of the South”.
Best things to do in Dunedin
See some New Zealand wildlife
One of the best things to see in Dunedin is of course its wildlife! Head out on a photography mission to Aramoana or Sandfly Bay to try and capture penguins, sea lions, seals and maybe an Albatross if you’re lucky. There are some organised guided day trips that we can book for you at Flight Centre like the Peninsula Encounter Tour which will take you to private conservation areas where you can hopefully see some penguins, fur seals, sea lions, albatross, and another 25+ species of seabirds and waders, so just ask us when you’re planning your Dunedin trip.
Speight’s Brewery is one of the most iconic places to visit in Dunedin! They have some tours you can do there to learn about their 145 years of brewing history. And of course the tour ends with a tasting of their famous beer! We can book this for you at Flight Centre as well, so make sure you ask for more details on that one!
Wondering what to do in Dunedin? If you're not staying there, it's still definitely worth going to New Zealand’s only castle. Pre-book a tour to get an insight into some of Dunedin’s deep and dark history! The castle has featured on TV shows such as American show, Ghost Hunters International as there are multiple reports that William Larnach’s ghost has been spotted in the rooms! Make of that what you will...but don't worry the ghost doesn't visit the Larnach Lodge where you might be staying of course!!
Looking for fun things to do in Dunedin? Get in your wetsuit for a surf at St Clair, St Kilda or Aramoana Beach. Legendary surfers, such as the late Andy Irons, have been reported to have surfed at Aramoana Beach. Oh and trust us, definitely get in your wetsuit - this stretch of coast is beautiful but the water temperature barely gets above 15 degrees in the height of summer!
Otago Museum remains one of the best things to do in Dunedin! Many new exhibitions, events and venues happen during the year so every time you come back, there is more to discover. The museum also features a planetarium with shows happening sometimes multiple times a day and is home to Tuhura, New Zealand’s biggest science centre! In this part of the museum, you can find a tropical forest with exotic butterflies and even a 5m-high waterfall.
Best places to eat and drink in Dunedin
The recently opened Catalyst (286 Princes Street), near the Exchange whips up a mean brew. We’ve had our fair share of flat whites in NZ and around the world and we can’t put our finger on a better one! We're not saying they do the best coffee in the world, but hey, we all know New Zealand certainly does some of the best coffee, and Dunedin is up there with Wellington for the best in the country, and if this is the best in Dunedin, well then maybe it is the best in the world!! They use real, organic, free range, and local ingredients in all of their dishes and coffees and you can definitely tell the difference. Keeping with this, they send their food scraps, coffee grinds, napkins and paper towels away to be turned into bio-active compost! Chic interior décor and mood lit outdoor seating fits the vibe perfectly, Catalyst is definitely one of the best food places to visit in Dunedin!
The Vogel Street Kitchen
We think most Dunedinites will agree when we say The Vogel Street Kitchen (76 Vogel Street) is the best place for brunch in Dunedin. We could give you so many others but we couldn’t go past Vogel Street being the absolute first place on our list. Located right in the heart of Dunedin’s re-vitalised warehouse precinct district, this café is a great place to stop while taking a tour of Dunedin’s street art.
Tahuna Camp Store
If you hadn’t had the chance to experience a Dunedin sunset, head to St Kilda Beach with some fish and chips from the nearby Tahuna Camp Store. Trust us, the sunset from St Kilda is one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see! Pair that with a crispy blue cod from the Tahuna Camp Store and you’ve got yourself a winning kiwi combo.
Jizo Japanese Restaurant
Jizo Japanese Restaurant (56 Princes Street) is Dunedin’s original Japanese restaurant serving unreal ramen and Japanese curry! They’ve also got a full keto and vegan menu with loads of options which is pretty cool. They’re considered by many to be the best Japanese restaurant in Dunedin and it’s easy to see why!
The Italian restaurant Zucchini Bros (286 Princes Street) makes the best pizza and pasta in town with great soups and breads to start too. We highly suggest the number 13 pizza with mushroom, pepperoni, bacon and olives or the chicken and mushroom penne. Although we must also say that the title of best pizza and pasta is hotly contested by Esplanade Italian Restaurant in St Clair. This place offers a truly unique dining experience looking out over the surf at St Clair beach. Oh and we also have to give a shout out to Spirit House in St Clair too for their incredible Vietnamese fried fish steak!
Bacchus Wine Bar & Restaurant
If you’re after a fine dining experience, then Bacchus is the place to go (1st floor, 12 The Octagon). Centrally located, it occupies one of the city's oldest buildings and is the longest established restaurant in Dunedin, having been in operation for over 21 years! They have a great hoisin pork belly, or you could try their fillet steak on mustard mash which is really nice too.
Mr Fox Lounge & Tapas Bar
We love the new Mr Fox Lounge and Tapas Bar underground in the heart of Dunedin’s Octagon. We highly suggest the Bay Roadie foxtail (cocktail!) made with vanilla vodka, Frangelico, white crème de cacao, cream and Dunedin’s own Bay Road peanut butter - delicious!
One of the best things to do in Dunedin according to us, is to get a pint at the iconic Emerson’s Brewery (70 Anzac Avenue). Dunners’ craft beer scene is dominated by the local Emerson’s drops. Speight’s is the Pride of the South and will always be in the locals’ hearts for putting Dunedin on the beer map of New Zealand, but Emerson’s brings the European style to the surface. Locally brewed in the very building, our favourites include the Orange Roughy hazy pale ale, 1812 or the London Porter. It's also a great spot for a pre-match pint and feed before heading down to the nearby Forsyth Barr Stadium to watch the mighty Highlanders under the roof. Plus, you can book a brewery tour to see how it’s all done too.
Vault 21 is a central city restaurant, bar and nightclub in the Octagon. They offer beautiful comtemporary Asian-fusion food including very tasty shared plates and a great list of delicious cocktails. And from about Thursday night onwards, they move the tables to the back of the restaurant to make way for a dancefloor.
Free things to do in Dunedin
Explore the street art scene
Explore the street art scene with the Dunedin Street Art Map. This self-guided art trail takes about 90 minutes to complete and will take you to about 30 different artworks by local and international artists - a great free activity and one of those fun things to do in Dunedin that will give you the opportunity to discover more of the city!
Looking for unique and fun things to do in Dunedin? Test your fitness by heading up the world’s steepest street! To the city’s dismay, the record was taken off Baldwin Street and given to a street in Wales in 2019. But thanks to the heroics of a local Dunedin surveyor who proved the Welsh recording was inaccurate, the record was returned to Baldwin Street not long after!
Tunnel Beach is a hand-dug tunnel built by John Cargill in the 1870s down to a secluded private beach so his daughter could swim. ALSO apparently haunted as there are reports of his daughter drowning at the beach... Nevertheless, Tunnel Beach remains one of the best free things to do in Dunedin. The city is largely based on the designs of Edinburgh, supposedly one of the most haunted cities in the world, so it’s no surprise that the ghostly culture carried over as well. The beach itself is really nice so definitely worth a visit - just don't think about ghosts while you're there!
Dunedin Railway Station
Built in 1904, Dunedin Railway Station is the 2nd most photographed building in the southern hemisphere (only behind the Sydney Opera House) and the most photographed train station in the world! It’s hands down one of our favourite places to visit in Dunedin.
Top of Signal Hill
If your fitness levels are up to scratch, try biking up the “Big Easy,” one of Dunedin’s top things to do! Bike to the top of Signal Hill to get stunning views right across the city. If you then fancy a hit of adrenaline, bike back down again. Or you can also drive all the way to the top for an easier option.
Drive down Highcliff Road on the peninsula towards Portobello for views right down the Otago Harbour on a clear day (one of the best things to see in Dunedin!). This is a beautiful drive and offers some of the best panoramas in New Zealand (if not the world!!).
Dunedin Botanic Garden
Dunedin Botanic Garden was created over 150 years ago and has been since internationally rewarded. Being New Zealand’s first botanic garden, its collection of native plants and rare species is very impressive! There you can also find plants from all over the world, Southern Africa, Himalayas, Central America... Enough to make any botanic connoisseur fall completely in love with Dunedin. The garden occupies over 30 hectares and is home to a multitude of wild native birds. To make it even better, Dunedin Botanic Garden is open all year round and is entirely free to access.
Best places to stay in Dunedin
Kingsgate Hotel Dunedin
The Kingsgate Hotel in Dunedin has the benefit of being very centrally located and a short walk to the main tourist spots and landmarks such as the Otago Museum. All rooms are spacious with private balconies and are north facing. They offer free Wi-Fi and their on-site restaurant serves a variety of local dishes.
Hotel St Clair
This is a nice boutique hotel with only 26 suites, and located right on the beach front and close to the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool. The Esplanade is a great location to be at too, with lots of cafes and restaurants and a really nice spot to walk along by the ocean. They offer free Wi-Fi and free parking. Plus, Sir Elton John stayed there when he played in Dunedin so need we say more?!
Larnach Lodge at Larnach Castle
Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle, built in 1871 right on the Otago Peninsula. The castle itself is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Dunedin and is definitely worth a visit. Larnach Lodge is an awesome place to stay, built beside the original historic stables and offering amazing ocean views. The lodge has 12 themed rooms - like Scottish, Victorian, or Enchanted Forest to name a few! Plus, as a guest you’ll get the opportunity to dine in the castle if you wish (at an additional cost).
Top day trips from Dunedin
Day trip to the Catlins and Purakaunui Falls
If you’ve been there a few times already, you may wonder what to do in Dunedin now? Well, you should of course do a day trip to the Catlins and Purakaunui Falls! The Catlins is a rugged, sparsely populated area home to many endangered New Zealand wildlife. Here you can find the Petrified Forest and Slope Point, the southernmost point on New Zealand’s mainland. The Nugget Point Lighthouse is also worth checking out, with amazing views along the walk taking you to the lighthouse.
Taieri Gorge railway
If you’re visiting Otago, you have to take a Taieri Gorge railway trip, it’s one of Dunedin’s top things to do! Taieri Gorge railway trip departs from Dunedin Railway Station. At the moment due to COVID-19 the services have stopped but we really hope that they will start again as this is definitely a must do. The journey itself is truly spectacular - one of the world’s most famous train journeys!