Best Museums in Wellington

Arts & Culture

Visitors can even experience a simulated earthquake

Wellington’s museums highlight the development of the city, the country and its people through sport, money, housing, culture, nature and the sea. Here's 7 unmissable Wellington museums to check out in the capital city.

1. Te Papa

One of the most comprehensive national museums in the world, Te Papa means “container of treasures” in Maori. Fascinating for all ages, this amazing museum displays a 4-metre-long colossal red squid and realistic exhibits of New Zealand’s diverse plants, animals, birds and sea creatures in the Mountains to Sea gallery. With over 1.5 million exhibits, you may need several visits to appreciate all that the museum has to offer.

Awesome Forces describes the island’s geothermal activity that shaped the landscape, and visitors can even experience a simulated earthquake! Visit the National Art Collection, learn about Maori culture in the Mena Whenua and explore the glow-worm caves in the outdoor area.

Location: Cable Street. Open 10.00am to 6.00pm daily. Late night Thursday until 9.00pm. Free entry with charges for some exhibitions and guided tours.Te Papa Museum

2. Museum of City and Sea

The Museum of City and Sea is located right on the waterfront in the historic 1892 Bond Store building where all imports were held until the appropriate import duty was paid. Voted one of the Top 50 Museums in the World, this highly recommended museum features Wellington’s social, cultural and maritime history.

The first floor of the museum has exhibits featuring 101 stories of Wellington life representing a fascinating timeline from 1900 to 2000. The Maori Myths and Legends gallery covers the early inhabitants in the area. Climb the grand staircase to see items salvaged from shipwrecks, chandlery and a replica Captain’s cabin. The highlight is the film about the 1968 Wahine ferry disaster in Wellington harbour.

Location: Jervois Quay, Wellington Waterfront. Open daily 10.00am - 5.00pm. Free entry.

3. Wellington Cable Car Museum

Take a ride in the Wellington Cable Car up the hill from Lambton Quay and appreciate this transportation service which has been in service for over 110 years! At the upper terminal the former Cable Car Winding House accommodates two of the original “grip” cable cars. 

Informative boards and photographs show the history of the cable car which carried over two million people at its peak in 1926. View the old winding gear and enjoy the informative film about the 400 privately owned cable cars that are used by many homeowners in Wellington. Outside the Cable Car Museum the Kelburn Lookout offers panoramic views of the city and harbour.

Location: Upland Road, Kelburn. Open daily 9.00am - 5.00pm. Free entry.Wellington Cable Car Museum

4. Olympic Museum Gallery

This unusual museum is fascinating for anyone with an interest in Olympic sports. It is packed with treasures donated by New Zealand Olympic athletes and gives an interesting look at the people that make up New Zealand’s sporting history over the last 100 years. 

Highlights include the magnificent Te Mahutonga Maori cloak presented by the Maori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, to the Olympic committee in 2004. Other exhibits include uniforms, memorabilia, Peter Snell’s running shoes and the autograph book of Stan Lay who represented New Zealand in the Amsterdam Olympic Games in 1928. The museum also examines the values, philosophy and place of Olympic sport in the 21st century.

Location: TSB Arena building, 4 Queens Wharf, Wellington. Open weekdays and Sunday 10.00am - 4.00pm; closed Saturdays. Free entry.

5. Colonial Cottage Museum

The Georgian Colonial Cottage is the oldest dwelling in Wellington. Exploring the house will introduce you to the three generations of the Wallis family who lived in this charming home in the 19th century. The restored home has original furnishings and antiques to offer a glimpse of life as an immigrant pioneer.

The heritage garden complete with flowers, herbs and chickens gives further insight into how the early settlers lived.

Location: 68 Nairn St, Mount Cook. Admission and guided tours every Saturday and Sunday between 12.00m and 3.00pm. Adults $8; children 5-14 $4.  Colonial Cottage Museum6. Reserve Bank Museum

The Reserve Bank Museum is well worth a short visit to learn about New Zealand’s economic and banking heritage. Watch a film about the history of currency, guess how heavy $1 million in $50 notes weighs and browse the displays of colourful bank notes issued over the country’s history. There are also interesting exhibits showing how coins are “struck” using dies. 

The story of “Bank House” describes how New Zealand hid its cash reserve during World War 2 in a concrete bunker under a house in Upper Hutt! You can even see an early MONIAC (Monetary National Income Analogue Computer) which was built in the late 1940s to illustrate money flow and make complex economic projections.

Location: 2, The Terrace, Wellington. Open 9.30am - 4.00pm weekdays. Free entry.

7. Petone Settlers Museum

The Petone Settlers Museum is appropriately housed in the impressive Wellington Provincial Centennial Memorial Building. It was built to commemorate the centenary of the arrival of the first British settlers. Constructed in 1940, the building served as a popular bathing pavilion for many years before becoming a museum.  

Exhibits and photographs depict the development of Wellington through fire, flood, earthquakes and commercial boom and bust. The museum shows the impact of settlement upon both the Maori and the white Pakeha natives through personal stories. Look out for the picture of the Te Atiawa Chief, Te Puni, on the arched window on the front of this landmark museum building.

Location: The Esplanade, Petone. Open Wednesday to Sunday 10.00am - 4.00pm. Free entry.

Whatever your interest may be, visiting one or more of these Wellington museums is sure to enrich your experience of the world’s southernmost capital city.Petone Settlers Museum