And, while it is the seat of government, there’s nothing grey about downtown Wellington with its lively café culture, quirky public art works, and distinctive Kiwi architecture.
As the home of Te Papa - the national museum and art gallery, Royal NZ Ballet, State Opera, NZ Symphony Orchestra, several professional theatres, and Sir Peter Jackson’s international film empire, Wellington is a city brimming with creative talent.
Two inner city university campuses add to the city’s youth and talent pool, and crowds drawn to major cultural events such as the annual World of WearableArt fuel the constant artistic buzz.
With all that, it’s no wonder that Lonely Planet once dubbed Wellington "the coolest little capital in the world".
Dramatic harbour setting
Wellington’s compact café-filled central city - poised between the hills and a dramatic harbour setting - offers visitors more than its fair share of art galleries, museums, fashion and design boutiques, all within a short walk from each other.
The cityscape is one form of public art with its blend of old and new - from simple wooden colonial houses to imposing heritage buildings and post-modern architecture.
Noteworthy architecture includes the 19th century Parliamentary Library, the 1970s Beehive and the 21st century Supreme Court building. In Civic Square, old meets new to create a modern public piazza linked to the waterfront, close to the Wharewaka / Māori canoe house and Te Papa's imposing form.
The waterfront walkway and main shopping streets are populated with creative flair - quirky Wellington-themed art works, sculptures and a writers’ walk of quotations about the city.
Bars, nightclubs and restaurants hum into the early hours in Courtenay Place - the city’s main entertainment hub - alongside the stately St James theatre and cinemas, including the Embassy Theatre which hosted international film premières for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Wellington is renowned for its sophisticated food scene including more than 300 cafés, bars and restaurants, and claims more places to eat and drink per capita than New York.
Wellington’s top restaurants - and some of New Zealand’s finest dining establishments - include Matterhorn and Logan Brown where the focus is on fresh, seasonal, local food.
Guided food tours introduce visitors to gourmet food stores, coffee roasters, cafés and restaurants.
Boutiques for New Zealand fashion design names populate the shopping precincts of Victoria and Featherston streets, while Cuba St is the face of emerging designers.
Galleries and museums
Wellington is home to numerous galleries and museums, including Te Papa Tongarewa - the national museum of New Zealand, the City Gallery, and the Museum of City and Sea - each with their own store of creative works from New Zealanders past and present.
Te Papa is a contemporary museum of innovative and interactive displays - beloved by adults and children alike - that showcases New Zealand’s diverse art and visual culture in collections featuring wildlife, history, Māori culture, contemporary art and culture.
Museum of Wellington City and Sea, in a significant waterfront heritage building, offers an insight into the city’s social and cultural history.
Film and theatre scene
Wellington’s thriving theatre and film scene has produced some of New Zealand’s best known actors, performers, film and television industry professionals.
Often referred to as 'Wellywood', Wellington is the home of film director Sir Peter Jackson and his production facility, and was a location for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies and King Kong.
Weta Cave offers a behind-the-scenes look at the special effects used in the Jackson movies, including film interviews with Weta co-founders Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and Jamie Selkirk. The mini museum showcases characters, props and displays from more than 20 years of Weta history.
Visitors can also embark on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit tours location tours, or self-drive to the more accessible locations.
Wellington’s calendar of large scale international events includes the World of WearableArt awards and the International Arts Festival.
WOW - a spectacular show where fashion and art collide - attracts entries from more than 300 international designers that show to sell-out crowds over a 10-night period.
Wellington is world's 'coolest little capital'
On the film trail around Wellington
WOW: An off-the-wall art extravaganza