Free Things to do in Christchurch, NZ

Christchurch was definitely an adjustment after spending several days in the most beautiful parts of New Zealand.

I say this only because I’m not much of a city girl and prefer the mountains and sheep farms to tall buildings and nice restaurants.

But I very much enjoyed the experiences that Christchurch has to offer and was pleasantly surprised at the free things you can do in Christchurch.

Before I get to my list, let me add a slight bit of backstory so you know where I’m coming from.

In 2011 Christchurch suffered a massive earthquake which destroyed buildings and took many lives, leaving most the city in a state of rebuilding. By the time we visited, you could still see some of the devastation and a small glimpse at what it must have looked like back then.

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However, so much of what has been rebuilt is beautiful and speaks of a bright future in spite of its painful past. And some of the places we visited (like the Container Mall) were direct results of this tragedy but great reminders of New Zealand’s ingenuity and resilience.

It was definitely a neat experience to explore downtown and we captured as much of the highlights as we could for you. The only thing we wanted to do but didn’t was to hike outside the city, which I’ve been told, is very beautiful.

Steve and I only had one day to explore Christchurch so this post will highlight what we did and what we recommend. (This is a list of free things to do in Christchurch but we are adding our lodging and restaurants first, in case you’re interested in what we thought of them. If not, just scroll down to the free section.)

I hope this list gives you some great ideas of things to do if you have plans to visit.


(Heartland Hotel Cotswold)

There are many places to stay right in the city but if you are looking to save some money or just prefer a quieter place to lay your head, I recommend staying at the Heartland Hotel Cotswold.

outside view of motel

One of the charms of the Heartland Hotel is its unique layout and design. If you prefer modern accommodations, you might not enjoy a stay here. Although they do have modern amenities, the entire estate is fashioned after the Tudor era.

Out of all the motels we stayed in, this one was the most spacious, it felt like we had rented a small house, except there was not a kitchen. It was also the quietest place we had stayed at, even though it was located close to so many things. Also, the toiletries were probably the nicest we had while in New Zealand. 🙂

living room view of hotel. One couch, a chair and a table set

The adjoining restaurant (also keeping with the theme) served a nice buffet breakfast that we thoroughly enjoyed before heading downtown for the day.

view of stairwell in the Heartland Hotel Cotswold


(BASE Woodfired Pizza)

The Container Mall was a neat place to visit (more on that in a minute) but the highlight was definitely the little place we ordered lunch.

store front of the Woodfired Pizza in Christchurch, New Zealand

Steve and I still talk about how good that pizza was! It fed both of us nicely which saved us money and the guy pictured below was just awesome. He found out we were from the states and talked to us a bit about how much he would like to visit. (Which was so nice because we had actually had a rude encounter with someone not an hour earlier. So he made our day!)

employee holding up a Pizza

HIGHLY recommend Base Wood-fired Pizza!

(Cafe Valentino)

Steve was very excited to take me here. He heard it was this little hole-in-the-wall, quiet joint that served awesome food. The only thing the review got right was the awesome food. haha

After a long day of walking in the wind, the last thing I wanted to do was enter a packed restaurant whose average customer was dressed far better than my casual and wind-blown self. But, walking in, that was what we were faced with. Also, we had no reservations.

Café Valentino in Christchurch, New Zealand

The attendant was more than gracious, however, and found a place to set us up even though there weren’t any available tables. We didn’t have a waitress assigned to us so the attendant took care of us, himself. If I lived there, this guy would have earned a customer for life. Even though I felt super self-conscious with everything going on, he made us feel like we were valued guests.

I ordered Pumpkin Ravioli that was simply incredible! This was not normally a dish I would order but it was so, so good!

plate of pumpkin ravioli served at Cafe Valentino

If you are looking for a restaurant that serves great food and has incredible staff, you need to try this one. I recommend, however, getting a reservation. 🙂

Also, know that they are usually packed so it will not be a quiet place to enjoy your food. It was pretty loud but so worth it and I would visit again in a heartbeat.



mural on a woman on a building in Christchurch

If you enjoy city life, you will like Christchurch. It has beautiful architecture and art is everywhere you turn.

man sitting on a couch made of turf found in Christchurch
Line of storefronts in Christchurch

(Container Mall)

I hesitate to add this one as they are starting to do away with it, sadly. I was quite disappointed, as the Container Mall is such an incredible part of Christchurch’s rebuilding story but leases are up and the businesses need to move on to more permanent dwellings. But I am adding it because I’m not sure how much of it is disbanding.

Container mall in Christchurch

The story behind the Container Mall is that after the earthquake, these shipping containers were sent in with supplies that once emptied were just left sitting around. Business owners who lost their storefronts created mini-stores from the leftover containers and the Container Mall was created.

people shopping at the Container Mall

If you are visiting anytime soon, make sure you stop by to see it, it’s a really neat thing to see.

people shopping at the container mall

(Canterbury Museum)

Steve had this museum on his list of things to do and I’m so glad he thought to add it. (Steve planned our trip to New Zealand as a surprise for me.)

Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

We didn’t realize what time the museum closed for the day so by the time we arrived sometime after lunch, we only had 30 mins to go through.

Indoor replica of an old-fashioned town

I definitely recommend planning at least an hour or two in the museum. I would have liked to have seen all the exhibits and taken our time but we still saw a great deal in the time we had.

museum displays behind glass

The staff was super friendly and you could tell they were passionate about their museum. I would be, too, it was probably one of the nicest we’ve ever been through.

(Botanic Gardens)

Thankfully, when the museum closed, we were able to head right next door to the gardens. It was a beautiful, Spring day when we went so everything was in full bloom.

oriental fish made of stone above a fountain

I was quite surprised at how extensive these gardens were and just how beautiful everything was.

tree beside a placid stream

As soon as you walk in, you are greeted with a large fountain with benches to enjoy the water and ducks. From there you can choose walking paths that snake throughout the entire garden with towering trees and art sculptures along the way. There are also little, hidden ponds off the path where ducks and other wildlife congregate.

bridge spanning the stream

But our favorite spot was sitting along the Avon River where we watched people float by on gondolas.

(Canterbury Earthquake Memorial)

Earthquake memorial found in Christchurch

This was a sobering place to visit, but one I was so glad we saw. We took time to read the names of the people listed and think about the events that changed so many lives that day.

OI Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial

It is a really beautiful tribute and one I highly recommend everyone take some time to visit.

Little figurine left near some flowers at a memorial

(Margaret Mahy Family Playground)

This little city gem was on Steve’s radar the moment he heard of it. haha You should have seen his face when he was trying to explain to me what this place was. I couldn’t quite picture it but it ended up being one of those places you just have to see for yourself.

Man navigating adult-sized playground equipment

If you haven’t figured it out, this place is one “big kid-sized” playground. The entire family can play here. So much of the equipment looks like it’s been super-sized and there were as many adults as there were kids. haha

man on a teeter totter

By the time we made it to the playground, however, we had been walking all day and were pretty near exhausted. But Steve found energy from somewhere and I happily volunteered to film and take pictures. 🙂

adults sliding down a large slide

As you can see, there are plenty of free things to do in Christchurch, so if you are planning a trip to the city, you will have plenty to keep you busy. If you saw something that looked interesting you can click the link in the name for more info. If you would like a visual tour, check out our video below. 🙂

Here’s a video of some highlights of our day in Christchurch:

If you are visiting New Zealand, don’t forget to check out my other posts:

Tips for Visiting Queenstown, NZ

Things to do in Rotorua

Waitomo Glowworm Cave Review

8 Hobbiton Facts You Should Know: A Hobbiton Review

10 Reasons the Polynesian Spa Should be on Your Bucket List

Packing Essentials for New Zealand in the Spring

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