Fun and Unique Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand

The surprisingly fun city of wildlife, history and chocolate

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Year visited: 2017

Time of year: April

Why Visit Dunedin?

That’s what everybody asked us as we traveled through New Zealand and told them the rest of our plans. Why are you going to Dunedin?

Apparently, they don’t get many tourists there.

But I can’t see why! Dunedin is a large city, steeped in history and full of wildlife. Actually, a lot of cruise ships stop at their port there, so they do get more tourists than it might seem. And they have plenty for those tourists to do.

The real reason we came to Dunedin was simple: that’s where the penguins are.

The Otago Peninsula stretches out from the Dunedin harbor into the point where the Southern and Pacific Oceans meet. It is home to the yellow-eyed penguins (the world’s rarest penguin) and the little blue fairy penguins (the world’s smallest penguin!). It also home to the albatross, seals, sheep, and lots of other birds and wildlife.

We found plenty of things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand! And even though the first night we arrived I missed the adventure and beauty (and sun!) of Queenstown, Dundedin grew on me and became a special part of our trip!

About Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin, New Zealand is a city of about 128,000 people near the bottom of New Zealand’s south island. It is located on the edge of the Otago Peninsula, a small strip of landing jutting out into the meeting of two oceans, and full of unique wildlife.

One of the best things to do in Dunedin is to explore the Otago Peninsula!

Dunedin is a popular cruise ship port, and as such will have a lot of day trippers from the cruise ships. It is also a college town, and is home to the University of Otago.

Dunedin’s Scottish Influence

The city has a deep Scottish influence, being settled by Scots in the 1800’s, and even being named after Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. You can see the Scottish influence in the city’s architecture, the local cuisine, and even in the weather (perhaps why they settled there?).

Our tour guide told us how Dunedin was modeled after Edinburgh, which I thought was cool at the time. But now, having been to Scotland and fallen in love with Edinburgh, I appreciate it even more! I would love to go back to Dunedin and compare the two cities.

If you like Dunedin, you’ll love Scotland:

Topography of Dunedin

Dunedin. Is. Steep.

The steepest residential street in the world (Baldwin St.) is in Dunedin (trying to climb it is one of the fun things to do in Dunedin!). The city is very hilly, so be aware that when you’re walking around the city centre, it is not flat.

Weather in Dunedin, New Zealand

The weather was very similar to Western NY (or Scotland). Partly sunny, partly cloudy, increasingly chilly. The weather blows up from Antarctica (how cool is that?) so it can suddenly turn a decently sunny day into a cold, cloudy, windy afternoon.

We were there the very beginning of April (which for them is fall). At some points during the day I was ok without my jacket, although I already had long sleeves and a sweater on. But by the end of the day I had a long sleeved shirt, a light sweater, a spring jacket, my fingerless gloves and my new hat.

It definitely got chilly in the evening with the wind. Locals will tell you to be prepared for all types of weather in one day. Definitely dress in layers in Dunedin.

How to Get to Dunedin

Dunedin is the seventh largest city in New Zealand. It is easy to get to from any of the major cities in New Zealand.

Flying Air New Zealand over the south island.


You can get to Dunedin by flying from another city in New Zealand. Most likely you will fly into Auckland when you first arrive in New Zealand. We flew with Air New Zealand from Auckland to Queenstown, and I highly recommend using them.

We then flew a budget airline, Jet Star, from Dunedin back to Auckland. I would not suggest flying with them, but if you want to save money, just be aware that drinks are not free, carry-ons are not free, and there are strict weight limits on bags (typical budget airline drama).


If you don’t want to fly, you can take a bus to Dunedin from Christchurch. You can see available bus journeys and book tickets on the Rail New Zealand website.

Dunedin Railways

When we visited New Zealand in 2017, we could take the “Queenstown connection” provided by Dunedin Railways. They booked a green cab to take us from Dunedin to Pukerangi, where we met the train that ran from Dunedin and back.

They no longer offer this connection service, so at the moment there is no way to travel by train into Dunedin. The only train trips are scenic day trips from the city.

Things to Do in Dunedin, New Zealand

The front facade of the Dunedin Railway Station. This is the second most photographed building in the southern hemisphere (behind the Sydney Opera House).

There are plenty of unique things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand. We were there to see the penguins of course (which is the best thing to do in Dunedin!), and we had booked a tour through Viator that included a tour of the city and the Otago Peninsula.

I am really glad that we had the tour and didn’t try to drive ourselves, because our guide could take us to remote beaches and back roads and tell us about everything so we could actually appreciate it (even if he did drive around the Octagon city center 8 times while telling us a story, and we worried he would never go anywhere else!).

We visited a lot of these Dunedin attractions with our tour guide, but you can also visit on your own. Check out the New Zealand travel website for lots of available tours and things to do.

  • Good to Know: Most of these things to do in Dunedin were within walking distance of our downtown hotel.

Visit the Dunedin Railway Station

The Dunedin Railway Station is the second most photographed building in the entire southern hemisphere (second only to the iconic Sydney Opera House)!

Exploring the historic building is definitely one of the best things to do in Dunedin. You can even get ice cream at the little cafe inside the station.

Take a Dunedin Railways Scenic Ride

In addition to exploring the historic rail station, you can board a train and take one of the scenic rail journeys offered by Dunedin Railways.

When we visiting Dunedin, we did the Taieri Gorge rail trip, connecting from Queenstown. They no longer offer the Queenstown connection, but you can still take the train trip (now known as their “Inlander” route), as a day trip from Dunedin.

They also now offer many other scenic routes to choose from, and even themed train rides, like the Twilight Train or the Quiz Train!

The train pulling into Pukerangi.

The Royal Albatross Centre

The Royal Albatross Centre on the Otago Peninsula is one of the best things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand. Here, you can learn about all the local wildlife that live on the peninsula, and have a chance to spot one of the world’s largest birds, and one of the world’s smallest birds!

You can visit on your own, or include a stop here as part of a guided tour of the peninsula. You can also book a tour that will included both the Royal Albatross Centre and The OPERA.

The OPERA-Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance

(formerly Penguin Place)

A penguin in the hospital at Penguin Place.

The OPERA initiative stands for the Otago Peninsula Eco Restoration Alliance, and is a conservation that protects and helps penguins and other wildlife. It was formerly known as Penguin Place, when we visited in 2017.

A tour here will include a presentation on their conservation efforts, time to meet the penguins up close in their rehabilitation center, and a tour out to see penguins in the wild! You will walk under their tarp covered tunnels, to avoid intimidating any of the penguins and other wildlife you will see on the tour. You can read all about our experience seeing penguins at OPERA and the Royal Albatross Centre.

Baldwin Street

Baldwin Street in Dunedin is the steepest residential street in the world!

Our tour guide took us to the bottom of the street, where we could walk to the top if we so chose (we didn’t quite make it to the top…).

He used to be able to drive tours up the street, but they are now banned from driving tours up this residential street. That’s because apparently some tourists did not realize that “residential” meant these were people’s homes, not their own personal cafés where they could just stop in and help themselves to a cup of tea!

If you do visit Baldwin Street, remember that people live here, and please be respectful of their homes and privacy. It is a fun street to (attempt to) climb, with a great view at the top.

Toitu Otago Settler’s Museum

This is a legitimate dress made out of books!

The Toitu Otago Settler’s Museum was easy to find, since it was right next to the train station in Dunedin. And the best part is it’s FREE!

The first part of the museum focuses on the history of the area and the Maori people, which I found interesting, because I know absolutely nothing about New Zealand history. I was glad to get to learn something about the area I was in.

I really enjoyed the second half of the museum though. They had exhibits of life through the years, so they had a collection of vacuum cleaners and how they evolved, and television sets and how they evolved. It was really fun to see. The very end of the museum had actual “rooms” set up showing scenes of a family in the 50’s and then the 60’s and so on. I am not sure if this exhibit was permanent or temporary, but it was one of the coolest museum exhibits I’ve ever seen.

I was too busy exploring to take pictures, but I did find one dress that was worn to a fundraiser for the library that I just had to take a picture of. It reminded me of the “cut paper” projects we did in sculpture class in college.

First Church of Otago

We did not visit the First Church of Otago (although we walked right by it on the way to our hotel!). This beautiful old church is right near the city centre, so it’s easy to visit while you’re out walking around the town. We meant to visit it, but we ran out of time!

Larnach Castle & Gardens

We also unfortunately did not visit Larnach Castle, but it would be a fun tour or day trip to take from Dunedin. They advertise themselves as “New Zealand’s only castle” (which makes sense that it would be found in the Edinburgh of the south).

You can take a rental car and drive there on your own, or you can book a tour, which can include both the castle and The OPERA tour if you want.

You can even stay overnight in the castle!

Visit a Hidden Beach

Since Dunedin is near the Otago Peninsula, there are a lot of beaches around. Our tour guide took us to the beach where the Southern and Pacific Oceans meet. Some of the beaches you can visit (and maybe even see penguins!) are Sandfly Bay, Allans Beach and Tunnel Beach.

Olverston Historic Home

We stopped at the Olverston Historic Home on our tour of Dunedin. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, but the gardens were absolutely beautiful. We walked around and took lots of pretty pictures!

You can take a guided tour, but we just stopped with our tour guide and walked around on our own for a bit.

Visit a Chocolate Factory

This is my strawberry Oreo hot chocolate (and a strawberry Oreo Cadbury bar) that I ordered in the café. It was SO good!

One of my favorite things we did in Dunedin was to visit the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. They gave us so many free samples of chocolate bars, in addition to all the things we tried on the tour, plus the cafe was amazing!

Unfortunately, the Cadbury Factory in Dunedin has closed down (saddest day ever!). But there is a “replacement” chocolate factory, the Otago Chocolate Company. So you can still get your chocolate fix in Dunedin, and take a chocolate tour!

  • Bonus Tip: If you’re ever in Birmingham, UK, be sure to visit the Cadbury Chocolate Factory there. I promise it will be so much fun!

Hard to Find Secondhand Bookshop

If that name Hard to Find Seconhand Bookshop doesn’t entice you to search for (and in) this store, then we definitely shouldn’t be travel buddies. This is one case where the guidebook in our hotel room was actually really helpful because it told us about this bookshop! And we found it quite easily.

This is one of the best secondhand bookshops I have ever been to. It is simply stuffed with books and hidden rooms with more books. And I love bringing home a book as a unique souvenir, especially one that’s stamped with the Library of Dunedin!

They have even more books that you can order online (not exactly a souvenir, but great if you like books—and saves room in your luggage). We were definitely glad we found this bookshop.

Capers Café

Aaah! They look so good! I just want to eat them right now!

Capers Cafe was another thing that we found in our guidebook. I love pancakes, and they are rumored to have the best pancakes in town, so I was definitely interested.

I will say that it was small and crowded inside. We were lucky to have some people to grab a table when one opened up and guard it while others ordered for us. I got the cookies and cream pancakes. Yum!

Eat Haggis

With Dunedin’s Scottish heritage, it is actually a great city to try some traditional Scottish foods, like the infamous haggis. One of the best restaurants to try in the city is Bracken.

Wander the University

Closing out my list of unique things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand, is to wander the campus of the University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university! We stopped by here briefly on our tour, but if you have time, you can wander around the buildings, and stop by the visitor centre and gift shop.

It’s always fun to see the architecture and history of a university campus, especially one in a city with such rich Scottish heritage! Upon visiting, I immediately wished I had known of this school, so I could have studied abroad here during college!

Where to Stay in Dunedin, NZ

We stayed at the Chapel Apartments in downtown Dunedin. They were definitely a cool place to stay, and conveniently located. They had a kitchen and laundry and plenty of room to spread out.

The downside about staying there (besides the hill you have to climb) is that there was literally no one there. All of our communication was via email, and the key was left out for us to grab when we arrived. Knowing nothing about Dunedin, we would have liked to have someone to give us some advice and guidance (although there was a nice guidebook in our living room that proved rather helpful).


The front doors never close. They were wide open the entire time we were there.

I mean, I guess New Zealanders are totally chill, but me, I’m an uptight American and I like my doors locked!

It was still a really unique place to stay, and a great location. I would try to stay somewhat close to the city centre, because it was really easy for us to walk to most of the Dunedin attractions.

Although it would also be very cool to stay at Larnach Castle, out on the Otago Peninsula! You would have to drive or get a ride/tour anywhere, but the grounds and facilities would be beautiful!

Little blue fairy penguins, returning home after a long day’s work.

Any more questions?

If you have any questions about things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand, feel free to email me or comment below.

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