The Scots were on their way to heaven and when they stopped off in Dunedin, they thought they’d arrived. – Mark Twain
Home to spectacular beaches and remarkable architecture, enchanting wildlife and world-class street art, Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s most beautiful cities. Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Dunedin captivates the hearts of tourists and locals alike with its awesome attractions and wide range of outdoor activities. I remember going on scenic flight over Dunedin and it’s just hard to imagine all of this natural beauty is part of one small city. Here are some of the incredible things to do in Dunedin:
Admire the Dunedin Railway Station
Considered the most photographed building in New Zealand, the Dunedin Railway Station is Dunedin’s most iconic building. The Flemish Renaissance style architecture features light Oamaru stone on black basalt rock, giving it the distinctive light and dark pattern, which is common in historic buildings in Dunedin. The attention to detail in this grand design by architect George Troup is simply outstanding! It’s not just the exterior that enchants its visitors, the interior hall of the Dunedin Railway Stations features stained glass windows and detailed mosaic floor made of thousands of tiles.
The railway station used to be the country’s busiest which catered to over 100 trains per day. Today, it is only used for tourist excursions by Dunedin Railways.
Experience the Train Journey Aboard the Taieri Gorge Railway
A great way to relive the glory days of Dunedin’s rail system is by getting aboard the Taieri Gorge Railway to experience one of the most spectacular train rides in New Zealand. The Taieri Gorge Rail Journey takes you from Dunedin Railway Station to the amazing landscapes of Taieri River Gorge, most of which cannot be seen from the road. The four hour train ride offers lots of breath-taking views and fascinating engineering marvels along the way.
READ MORE:The Taieri Gorge Railway, Dunedin
Explore the Otago Peninsula
Along the east coast of Dunedin, lies the picturesque Otago Peninsula – a great place to explore the outdoors with beautiful bays, sandy beaches and clifftop views. The Otago Peninsula is also one of the best places to see wildlife in New Zealand from yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, sea lions and royal albatross.
Stroll in Some of the Best Beaches in Dunedin
Dunedin features some of New Zealand’s best beaches and coastal scenery. Some of these beaches are only a few minutes’ away from the city centre. Here are some of the best beaches in Dunedin:
- St Clair and St Kilda Beach – Two of the best beaches (it’s really one long beach) near the city centre known for its long stretch of sandy beach and great surf. It’s also home to Dunedin’s version of Bondi Icebergs Pool, the Saint Clair Saltwater Pool. Here, you can also find the St Clair esplanade, a great place for a walk or to unwind with several cafes and restaurants with beach views.
- Brighton Beach – Another great beach about 20 minutes’s drive from the centre, Brighton Beach is one of the best beaches to watch the sunset in Dunedin.
- Smails Beach – One of my favourite beaches in Dunedin, Smails Beach has fantastic views from above. Compared to other beaches close to the city centre, it has a very secluded feel as you walk along its shores.
- Sandfly Bay – Another great beach in Dunedin, Sandfly Bay is known for its glorious views from above and its unique sand dunes towards the beach. It’s also known to be a great place to spot penguins.
- Tunnel Beach– One of Dunedin’s gems, Tunnel Beach captures the beautiful rugged coastline. It’s a bit of a walk (takes about 30 minutes return) to go down the beach from the carpark so be prepared for the steep walk on the way back.
Full posts about these beaches and other beaches in Dunedin are found in our New Zealand South Island focused blog, See the South Island. One important thing to note when visiting the beaches in Dunedin is don’t expect tropical weather. It can be quite cold at times so make sure to check the weather before you go and bring something warm, just in case the southerly winds arrive during your visit.
Explore the City Centre of Dunedin
The star of Dunedin’s city centre is the The Octagon, an eight-sided plaza lined with stunning heritage buildings such as The Town Hall, St Peter’s Cathedral and The Regent Theatre. On a nice day, The Octagon is a great place to sit under the sun with its well manicured lawns and cozy seating areas (we’re still waiting for this area to be closed to pedestrian traffic). The Octagon is also an awesome spot to dine al fresco with its many hip cafes and restaurants. At night, this area comes to life with its many cool bars and clubs.
Across either side of The Octagon lies George Street and Princes Street, two of the main streets lined with fashion boutiques, retail shops and galleries. Other interesting streets to check out if you’re out for a wander close to The Octagon include Bath Street, Moray Place and Stuart Street.
Discover Some of Dunedin’s Best Day Walks and Lookout Points
With its unique rugged landscape, there are heaps of walks / short hikes that you can do in Dunedin. Here are some of our favourite short hikes in Dunedin:
- Mount Cargill and the Organ Pipes– Panoramic views of the Otago Peninsula and nearly all of Dunedin’s city centre await at the top of Mount Cargill, Dunedin’s highest peak. Along the same track is a short detour to the Organ Pipes, one of Dunedin’s coolest rock formations made of hexagonal basalt columns. Check out the details of these walks and other hikes below in our New Zealand South Island focused blog, See the South Island.
- Pineapple Track– A local favourite, the Pineapple track is located above a hill and traverses along the length of Dunedin and offers awe-inspiring views of the city, Mosgiel and its surrounding landscapes.
- Heyward Point– Heyward Point is great hike above some of Dunedin’s best coastal views. It’s located just above Aramoana beach in the northeast coast of Dunedin. Check out the map for its location.
- Sandymount,Lover’s Leap and The Chasm– Located on the ocean side of the Otago Peninsula, these three hikes in the same area offer wonderful coastal views and incredible natural landscapes.
Most of the day walks I mentioned above also offer great views. If you are short on time, there are other lookout points in Dunedin that you can drive to such as Signal Hill, Unity Park Lookout, Smails Beach, Sandfly Bay, Soldiers Memorial Lookout at the Otago Peninsula and Flagstaff Lookout near Port Chalmers. Check out the map below for their locations.
See the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis)
Dunedin is one of the best cities to see the southern lights / Aurora Australis. One of the best viewing spots in Dunedin is Hoopers Inlet, located at the Otago Peninsula.
Discover the Dunedin Street Art Trail at the Warehouse Heritage Precinct
One of the highlights of visiting Dunedin is wandering along the City Centre and the Warehouse Heritage Precinct to discover the Dunedin Street Art Trail, which features the work of some of the world’s best street artists including Pixel Pancho and Phlegm.
Shop Local Produce at the Otago Farmers Market
One of the best local things to do in Dunedin is a visit to the Otago Farmers Market held at the Northern car park of the Dunedin Railway Station every Saturday morning from 8:00am to 12:30pm. Some of the best finds here include fresh fruits (including stone fruit and berries near Christmas time) from Central Otago, artisan cheeses and bread and other wonderful stuff including pan-fried dumplings, pastries and pizza!
Admire Victorian and Edwardian Architecture
Dunedin is a stunning city with some of the best preserved Victorian and Edwardian architecture in the southern hemisphere. Apart from the Dunedin Railway Station, some of Dunedin’s architectural marvels include the Town Hall at The Octagon, Law Courts, former Dunedin Prison, First Church, Bank of New Zealand and the University of Otago’s Registry Building.
Spend the Afternoon at Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens
The rose gardens, rhododendron dell and cherry (blossom) walk are some of the highlights of Dunedin’s Botanic Gardens. This impressive green space, located at the northern side of the city is a great place for a picnic lunch, enjoy the sun or a casual wander. It is easily accessible on foot if you are coming from the city centre.
Another garden that may be worth a visit is the Dunedin Chinese Garden, New Zealand’s only authentic Chinese Garden. It’s not free though, entrance costs NZD 9.50 for adults.
Visit a Castle in Dunedin
Perched on a hill on the Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is known as New Zealand’s only well-restored castle. With expansive views over the city, a grand ballroom and enchanting gardens, it’s a wonderful place to explore and spend the afternoon. The entrance at Larnach Castle costs NZD 34.00 for adults.
Did you know? Dunedin has not one but two castles. The other, however, remains in ruins. Another awesome attraction in Dunedin (if you get a chance to visit, access is currently restricted) is the only castle ruins in New Zealand, Cargills Castle located near Tunnel Beach.
Dunedin also has some very well preserved historic houses including Olveston House, Fletcher House, and Chingford Stables.
Walk Up Baldwin Street, the World’s Steepest Street
Up for a challenge? Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world according to the Guinness World Records, Baldwin Street. Located northeast of Dunedin’s city centre, Baldwin street is 350 metres long and rises from 30m to 100m above sea level.
Explore the Museums and Art Galleries
If you love museums and art galleries, Dunedin has a few to explore including Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Otago Museum, Dunedin Public Art Gallery and Moray Place Galleries.
Watch a Rugby Match at Forsyth Barr Stadium or Cricket at the University Oval
If you’re out to experience the local sports scene, Dunedin hosts rugby matches at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. The home team is The Highlanders, who play in the Super Rugby competition, the best rugby league in the world. The All Blacks also play in Dunedin, generally once a year. In summer, there are occasional cricket matches at the University Oval.
Go on a Brewery Tour
Fancy trying the local beer? Dunedin is home to two breweries: Speight’s Brewery and Emerson’s Brewery. These breweries offer tours which take you through every step of the beer-making process including a tasting session at the end. Every November, Dunedin hosts the Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival. Tickets sell out fast so make sure to keep a look-out if you are after some craft beers and gourmet food.
Other Local Travel Tips for Travelling in Dunedin
How to Pronounce Dunedin
I just had to include this section since most people find it hard to say Dunedin. I remember it took me ages to learn how to say it properly. I think it was only after I moved here that I finally perfected how to say this city’s name right. Dunedin is pronounced Dun (as in “done”) – ee (long “e”) – din. Note the emphasis is on the middle syllable.
In case you’re wondering what the Maori name of Dunedin is, it’s Ōtepoti.
Dunedin locals are referred to as “Dunedinites.”
Most people who lived or are from Dunedin are proud supporters of The Highlanders, the professional rugby union team based in Dunedin.
Dunedin: The Edinburgh of the South
One of the interesting aspects of Dunedin is its Scottish Heritage, which is unique to other cities in New Zealand. Dunedin’s name came from the old Gaelic word for Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Dunedin even has some of the street names similar to Edinburgh such as George Street and Princes Street.
Prepare for Dunedin Weather: Four Seasons in One Day
Due to it’s location, Dunedin weather can be a bit tricky. There are days when it’s grey in the morning then it will turn out sunny in the afternoon or warm in the morning then sleet and hail later on. But it’s not as bad as they say. New Zealand weather, in general, is quite complicated.
Map of Things to Do in Dunedin
Disclaimer: We were hosted by Dunedin Railways during our time at the Taieri Gorge Railway. All thoughts and opinions in this post are our own. Some of the links in this post may be affiliates. If you click on one and book something we’ll get a small cut – it won’t cost you any extra and it really helps us out!
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