Christchurch City Guide

Christchurch is the beauty of New Zealand writ small – a place where European heritage succumbs to the wildness of nature and the proud vibrancy of indigenous traditions.

Gateway to the South Island, the city of Christchurch has long captivated those from across the seas, its treasured maritime heritage and proximity to the spectacular Canterbury Plain offer an enduring appeal. Yet this is a city in transition, as its people continue to rebuild and renew what was lost in the terrible earthquake of 2011.

Expect a warm welcome in this special corner of New Zealand, where the influence of land and sea continue to hold sway. Christchurch is among the most fascinating destinations on the archipelago, showcasing wonderful heritage and the very best of community spirit.

Enticed by Christchurch? Discover the city’s highlights, history and culinary offering in our in-depth city guide.

Architectural Highlights

Christchurch has one of the most fluid and ever-changing town plans on Earth, with countless buildings destroyed and rebuilt in its 250-year history due to earthquakes. This has given Christchurch and its residents a sense of communal pride rarely seen in modern cities, and its charming architecture feels all the more precious for its fragility. Here are a few prized highlights to look for.

Riccarton House & Bush

Christchurch cathedral
The outskirts of Christchurch are dotted with historic manor houses and homesteads built by European settlers who first began farming on the Canterbury Plains over 250 years ago. One such heritage building is Riccarton House, a beautifully-preserved former farmhouse which belonged to the Deans family, one of the first to settle on the Plains. Located two miles from the city centre, this exquisite timber home is surrounded by colossal Kahikatea trees, some of which are over 600 years old.

Peacock Fountain

Christchurch art gallery entrance
One of Christchurch’s newest architectural additions; the Christchurch Art Gallery is a wonderful example of how the city is embracing modern building design and overcoming the after-effects of the 2011 earthquake. A striking masterpiece of angles and glass, the building is as impressive on the inside as it is without, with a wonderful collection of works showcased in spacious and contemporary exhibition spaces. Those looking for an injection of culture would do well to visit, with a fine mix of classical and modern art on display.

Peacock Fountain

Peacock fountain
The Peacock Fountain is one of Christchurch’s oldest and most beloved landmarks. Purchased by the Honourable John Peacock in 1904, it was erected for ‘the purpose of beautifying Christchurch’s natural reserves’, and subsequently placed in the centre of the Royal Botanic Gardens. For several decades, the fountain was placed into storage, but in 1993 it was reinstated in the gardens, and continues to delight visitors today with its colourful display.

Cultural Features

Punting on the Tranquil River Avon

Punting on the River Avon
The River Avon dissects Christchurch on its way from Avonhead to the Heathcote Estuary, and has, over the centuries, become an integral part of the city’s culture and identity. Unlike other cities, where rivers are penned in by buildings and infrastructure, the banks of the Avon remain mostly wild and untouched, providing natural green spaces for locals and visiting wildlife. One of the absolute must-tries of visiting Christchurch is a punting experience on the Avon, during which you’ll see the Botanic Gardens and some of the city’s key heritage buildings beyond the tree-lined banks of the river. With Scenic Freechoice, a leisurely trip down this wonderful river is yours to savour.

Christchurch Botanical Gardens

Christchurch botanical gardens
For over 150 years, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens have been central to local life in Christchurch. Revered for their seasonal blooms, with spectacular bed displays throughout the year, this spacious park is a popular spot for locals and visitors to escape the city and enjoy nature. The park is bordered by the Christchurch CBD and the River Avon, so it’s an unmissable highlight for anyone visiting the city. At its centre lies the Peacock Fountain, which visitors are encouraged to drop a penny in for good luck.

Antarctic Centre

Penguin swimming under the surface of the water
Christchurch may not be the first place you’d think of for Antarctic adventure, but the curators and team behind the award-winning International Antarctic Centre haven’t let that stop them creating a truly immersive polar experience in the heart of the city. Considered one of the best visitor centres of New Zealand’s South Island, the Antarctic Centre gives you the chance to experience the extremes of the Antarctic, from its wildlife to its weather. Take a ride on a Hagglund snowmobile, experience Antarctica’s freezing temperatures and encounter regional wildlife, including little blue penguins.

Culinary Delights

With the fertile soils of the Canterbury Plain to the west and the well-stocked waters of Heathcote estuary and Pegasus Bay to the east, Christchurch has fresh food and produce on its doorstep. Discover some of the city’s must-try dishes and delicacies below.

Christchurch Crayfish

Christchurch crayfish served with vegetables

Since its inception, Christchurch has been revered for its exquisite seafood, with the Heathcote Estuary and southern seas proving a plentiful larder for over a century. One of the most popular seafood dishes in town is crayfish, which is served simply with lemon and often deep-fried. Both commercial fisherman and amateur divers regularly catch crayfish, such is its prominence on Christchurch’s shores.

Where to try it: Regarded as the best place in New Zealand for fresh crayfish, the Kaikoura highway on the outskirts of Christchurch hosts a caravan of roadside seafood vendors, whose catches are some of the freshest on the island. Sit by the water’s edge and sample some of the finest seafood you’ll ever taste.

 

Hangi

Hangi served on a plate

Hangi is a traditional form of Māori cookery, which has recently experienced something of a resurgence across New Zealand. It involves slow cooking meat and vegetables in special underground pits, serving them up with local herbs and spices. Hangi is very popular on NZ’s North Island, but it’s possible to enjoy it in the south too.

Where to try it: In recent years, several new hangi restaurants have opened in Christchurch, but the most popular place to enjoy the cuisine remains the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Here, visitors can enjoy Māori cultural performances complemented by a traditional meal, for an immersive experience of New Zealand’s indigenous heritage.

Kina

Kina served on a plate

New Zealanders love their seafood and are adventurous when it comes to sampling delicacies from the depths. One such exotic seafood offering is kina, a type of sea urchin native to these waters. Kina has been a delicacy for centuries, and is often served simply as an appetiser, similar to an oyster. If you’re feeling curious, give it a try.

Where to try it: Fisherman’s Wharf. This beautiful restaurant specialises in serving fresh seafood from the waters east of the estuary, and offers wonderful views over Lyttelton for an added bonus.


Discover Christchurch with Scenic

Christchurch is just one of the fascinating destinations you can explore and uncover during your time in beautiful New Zealand, and our luxury escorted tours can help you experience it in total comfort and refinement. Click here to browse our collection of New Zealand touring holidays or call our team today on 0808 115 3441.