Top 10 things to do for free in Christchurch

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Otherwise known as Aotearoa, New Zealand is a destination that ranks highly on most travellers bucket lists. 

Whether you’re a backpacker on a budget, an outdoor fanatic looking for exciting thrills or a family on vacation, there’s something here for everyone. Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, and offers a wide range of entertaining activities for all tastes.

Once you factor in the cost of food, transport and accommodation, you may find that travelling around our beautiful country is far from cheap. While our city is just a short drive from plenty of great spots, people often overlook many of the fun things on offer around Christchurch.

That’s why we created this guide – to take a closer look at the top 10 free things to do in Christchurch.

1. Visit one of the many markets

Christchurch is home to a fantastic selection of weekend markets that operate throughout the year. If you love the community-vibe, and strolling through stalls that sell art, crafts, jewellery, fresh produce and gourmet food, then you’ll have lots of fun here.

Here are some of the top markets in Christchurch:

Riccarton Sunday Market

Located at the Riccarton Racecourse (165 Riccarton Road), this market operates on Sundays from 9am – 2pm. They are the largest open air markets in New Zealand, and regularly attract crowds of more than 10,000 people.

“It has been described as part flea market, part farmer’s market, part craft fair and a great family experience. They are a wonderful example of the local culture and an important destination for every visitor to Christchurch.”

The best part: all profits that are generated from operating the market are returned to the community through the local Rotary Club. In the time since they opened in 1989, the Riccarton Markets have put more than $3 million back into community projects.

“Equally as important, it makes an immense contribution to the commercial and business life of Christchurch.”

Christchurch Farmers Market

If you’re after a taste of the local cuisine while strolling through a relaxed market environment, then this is the place for you.

Here at the Christchurch Farmers Market, growers and traders from the surrounding area gather to sell their fruit and vegetables, freshly baked goods, meat, fish, dairy, preserves and so much more.

“Small but varied with a great atmosphere and setting to enjoy a hot coffee and some wonderful food options whilst browsing through the market stalls on the banks of the river. Recommend.”

This market operates every Saturday from 9am – 1pm at the Riccarton House and Gardens (16 Kahu Road, Riccarton). There is no parking on-site, but you’ll find plenty of places to park your car in the surrounding streets. It’s also important to note that this is a dog free event:

“For Hygiene, Health and Safety reasons and for comfort of people all dogs must remain out of the main market area. Dogs are welcome on the grass behind the house only but must be on a lead.”

Friday Street Food Market

“One of the most popular spots at the city centre on Friday – The Friday Street Food Market brings together the best food trucks and food stalls from different cuisines around the world with live entertainment, buskers and more!”

On Fridays, market sellers and performers gather in Cathedral Square to serve up delicious food and play live music. If you’re around the central city on a Friday, this is a great place to visit for a slice of local entertainment.

Opawa Farmers Market

“The Opawa Farmers Market prides itself on having the best selection of fresh local produce in Christchurch, including a wide range of organic products from well known and trusted local growers. Here, you will find organic fruits and vegetables, artisan bread, French-style pastries, free-range eggs, Italian cheeses and more.”

This market operates from 9am – 12pm on Sundays at 275 Fifield Terrace, Opawa. For more information on what to expect, you can find out all the details on their Facebook page.

Christchurch International Market

This market began in 2013 as a social enterprise designed to create business opportunities for migrants and refugees, with a focus towards women and ethnic communities.

“Market participants and beneficiaries have come with their own stories about their homes and culture. The market will give the opportunity to share their stories with the people of Christchurch, giving us an experience we may never receive otherwise.”

If you’re after a taste of something different, and a connection to another side of Christchurch, then this is the market for you.

When: Thursdays and Saturdays from 11am to 5pm.

Where: 301 Tuam Street, Christchurch Central.

Other markets in the surrounding area

Riverside Market: operating 7 days per week, this enclosed market provides great entertainment for the family year-round.

Akaroa Farmers Market: this market is a bit of a drive from Christchurch, but it’s definitely worth the trip.

For more information about the other markets around Christchurch, check out this guide.

2. Take a stroll through the Botanic Gardens

“You won’t go anywhere to find a better botanic garden. It has everything you require and more. Beautiful manicured lawns, spectacular colorful flower gardens, very old and beautiful trees, even down to Bonsai. A must see in season the rose gardens. A children’s playground and pool. Lovely walks, meander through the pathway alongside the beautiful Avon River. A very up-market cafe, alongside a shop overloaded with local crafts etc. On a warm sunny day or a cold clear day it is still a great adventure to go visit.”

Located next to Hagley Park and the Avon River, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens are a stunning 21 hectare display of plants from all over the world. They are open from 7am daily, and provide a range of fun activities for the entire family. 

Here are some of the top things to see while you’re here:

  • The Herb Garden – this edible patch is full of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and of course, herbs.
  • The Curator’s House – originally constructed as a residence for the curator of the botanic gardens, this building is now a spanish restaurant that serves up tasty tapas and caters for all kinds of events.
  • The Central Rose and Heritage Rose Gardens – here, you will find a spectacular selection of roses from traditional sources, and modern cultivars (there are over 250 varieties in this garden). The best time to visit the Central Rose Garden is early November. Check out this video for a taste of what to expect.
  • The Glass Conservatory Complex – this area is a combination of four different buildings (Cunningham House, Townend House, Garrick House and Gilpin House) that offer a diverse selection of plants and environments. Cunningham House is home to a range of tropical plant species, Townend House has a range of flowering plant species, Garrick House holds a fascinating cacti collection and Gilpin House features orchids and carnivorous plants.
  • The Magnetic Observatory – this group of buildings was constructed in 1901 to support Captain Robert Falcon Scott with his magnetic surveys in Antarctica. Over the years, it has been used by explorers and scientists to calibrate their instruments before embarking on their journeys to the icy south.

For more information about the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, check out our guide or visit the council website page for opening hours, seasonal attractions and upcoming events.

3. Visit a museum or art gallery

For those who seek knowledge and beauty, Christchurch has a great range of museums and galleries to choose from. 

Here are our favourite picks:

4. Walk on the New Brighton Pier

The New Brighton Pier has been a place that locals visited for entertainment since the late 19th century. In 1894, the original pier, which lasted for 70 years, was opened.

“It provided the citizens of Christchurch with a recreational destination in the traditional British style. Along the way the pier had a “penny arcade” full of games and amusements and even a nightclub, the Shoreline, at the shore end. The pier complemented New Brighton’s role as a favourite seaside outing and, for many years, as the only place where you could shop on Saturdays.”

On the 12th October, 1965, the wooden structure was demolished. After more than 30 years of lobbying by the public, the new pier was opened in 1997. This new site was made from concrete, and now stands as one of the iconic landmarks of Christchurch. Sitting at 300 metres long, the New Brighton Pier is the longest of its kind in Australasia.

For more information about the New Brighton Pier, check out this story by the Christchurch Library.

5. Hike the Bridle Path

The alpine surroundings of Christchurch provide plenty of opportunities to experience splendid views of the city. One of the most popular ways to catch a glimpse of the scenic surroundings is to take the Gondola up to the top of the Port Hills.

But that’s expensive, so why not trek the Bridle Path instead? This steep walk takes roughly 1 hour each way, but the views from the top are breathtaking. If you’re planning to walk the Bridle Path, allow at least 3 hours for breaks along the way a chance to take some stunning photos at the top.

For a full list of walking tracks in the Port Hills, check out this brochure.

6. Explore the new and the rubble in a post-quake Christchurch

Between September 2010 and December 2011, Christchurch experienced a series of devastating earthquakes that caused widespread damage to the city and surrounding areas. 

While this was a tragedy that Christchurch is still recovering from, it presents an opportunity for visitors to experience an interesting variety of attractions…

Red zones:

When Christchurch was originally developed, many of the eastern suburbs were built on reclaimed land. Rather than having solid foundations, the houses and infrastructure throughout these areas were sitting on unstable footing.

When the earthquakes hit, liquefaction bubbled up and destroyed entire suburbs. As a result, the houses were removed and areas cordoned off. These suburbs are now collectively known as the ‘red zone’.

You can explore these red zones by foot or with a bicycle. Keep an eye out for seasonal fruit trees, as there are often edible fruits growing in what was once residential neighborhoods.

Check out these maps to gain a better understanding of where the red zones are, and how to get there.

New buildings and works in Christchurch

Although the earthquakes were a tragedy, it presented Christchurch with a golden opportunity – the chance to create a city of the future.

In the time since the earthquakes hit, a handful of new buildings have been erected that bring Christchurch into the 21st century. Some of the latest developments include the Tūranga Library, Hoyts EntX cinemas and the new convention centre (which is scheduled to open later this year).

To get a taste of where the city is heading, why not stroll around the city center and have a look at the new developments that are taking place? You might want to check out the damaged Christchurch Cathedral (and the temporary Cardboard Cathedral that is replacing it), or perhaps have a look at some of these attractions.

7. Go to a festival

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, and the people here have a reputation for being some of the friendliest and most hospitable folks around. With this in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the city hosts many festivals that are often free to attend.

The World Buskers Festival (now known as Bread & Circus) is a local favourite, and the Christchurch Arts Festival is another event not to be missed. For an up to date list of upcoming festivals, check out the links below:

8. Head to the beach

Being located by the coast, Christchurch has a fantastic selection of beaches within a short driving distance. There’s something for everything at the beach – whether that’s breaking waves to surf or splash in, flying a kite with the kids or even just soaking up some sunshine on a fine day, you’ll never be short of entertainment here.

Here are some of the best beaches in and around Christchurch:

  • New Brighton Beachfamous for its pier and sea view library, New Brighton is also a water sport lover’s dream. Family friendly events are put on throughout the year with a real sense of community. Kite Day in January is one for the calendar!
  • Corsair Bay – just a few minutes drive from Lyttleton, this tranquil place is perfect for a picnic and swimming on the pontoon.
  • Sumner and Scarborough – surfers come here for the waves and swimmers visit to have a dip in the crisp water. With ice cream parlours, restaurants and a playground nearby, this area has things to do for all ages.
  • Taylors Mistake – bring your surfboard and get ready for some epic waves. Not only does Taylors Mistake attract plenty of avid surfers, but it’s also popular with hikers, bikers and runners. There are tracks along the coast that feature stunning views and plenty of wildlife to check out.
  • Waikuku Beach – although it’s about a 40 minute drive from Hotel 115 in Christchurch Central, Waikuku Beach is definitely worth visiting. Popular with fishermen and kitesurfers, you’ll find plenty of things to do here with a beautiful beach and a domain that features a playground, paddling pool, flying fox, tennis court, basketball court and a skateboard area.
  • Woodend Beach – this coastal spot is located just South of Waikuku Beach and features a safe beach for swimming and surfing.

For more information about these fantastic beaches, where they are located and how to get there, check out this guide from ChristchurchNZ.

9. Check out the Imagination Station

“Imagination Station have shown themselves to be a committed long term member in Christchurch’s not for profit sector. They provide high quality, well planned educational sessions for the children of Christchurch and manage to do so at a low cost to the public.”

Located in our newest public library, Tūranga, Imagination Station is a fantastic place to take your young ones for an educational day of fun and entertainment. Here, you will find an abundance of LEGO sets to build awesome creations from, workshops and more.

The idea behind Imagination Station is that by encouraging kids to play with LEGO and embrace their creativity, we can create engaged and lifelong learners. Check out our ultimate guide to family activities to do in Christchurch for more ideas about fun things that your children will love.

10. Take a day trip over to Akaroa

“Akaroa is a small town on Banks Peninsula in the Canterbury region of the South Island of New Zealand, situated within a harbour of the same name… The town is 84 kilometres (52 mi) by road from Christchurch and is the terminus of State Highway 75. It is set on a sheltered harbour and is overlooked and surrounded by the remnants of a miocene volcano.”

There’s nothing better than a relaxed drive to Akaroa on a sunny day. This picturesque township was once the home of a French colony, which has influenced the local architecture and street names, just to list a few things.

Here, you’ll find plenty of walks in the surrounding area, lots of wildlife in the harbour (such as the endangered Hector’s Dolphins) and awe-inspiring scenery at every turn. 

If you want to experience an extraordinary story of environmental restoration, take a short drive to Hinewai Reserve (about 15 minutes from Akaroa township) and hike one of the many trails in this regenerating forest park. Over the last 30 years, the owners of this 1250 hectare land block have let native trees reclaim what was once farmland and the resulting forest is nothing short of spectacular.

For more information on things to do while you’re in Akaroa, check out our list of the top 12 attractions here.

More ideas for free things to do in Christchurch

We hope that this guide has helped you to find inspiration for free things to do in Christchurch. If you’re still scratching your head and wondering ‘what should we do?’, check out some of our other guides below for more ideas:

Hotel115 is a boutique hotel located in the heart of Christchurch city. If you’re looking for a place to stay during your visit that exudes charm, is close to everything, and provides impeccable hospitality, then you might be interested in booking directly with us to get the best deal!

April 11, 2017 by Your friends at Hotel 115

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