Queenstown Travel Guide

Planning a trip to Queenstown?

I live in Wanaka (an hour from Queenstown), so I spend a lot of time in Queenstown.

I have a love-hate relationship with Queenstown. It can be very touristy and overrated, but it’s also one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand – if you know the right places to go and avoid the tourist traps.

Keep reading for my ultimate guide to Queenstown: the best places you should go, where you should miss, and all my top tips for travelling in Queenstown.

RELATED: Ultimate Wanaka Travel Guide, Ultimate Central Otago Travel Guide, West Coast Travel Guide, Fiordland Travel Guide, Mt Cook + Lake Tekapo Travel Guide

TOP 11 PLACES YOU SHOULDN’T MISS

When friends are visiting Queenstown, these are the top places I tell them they shouldn’t miss:

  1. Skyline Queenstown: Gondola ride to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. You can also do luge ridges. It is extremely busy and touristy, but worth it for the beautiful views.
  2. Glenorchy: Glenorchy is a 45 minute drive from Queenstown. It’s a tiny town and there isn’t really anything to do there – just the famous red boat shed you’re probably seen in photos. The main reason for visiting is the beautiful drive there. It’s one of the best drives in New Zealand which you shouldn’t miss.
  3. Earnslaw Burn: A beautiful glacier near Glenorchy surrounded by waterfalls. You can either walk there or do a helicopter trip.
  4. Wineries: There’s lots of beautiful wineries near Queenstown. The best areas are Gibbston Valley and Bannockburn in Central Otago (read my Guide to the 5 Best Vineyards in Bannockburn here). If you don’t have a sober drive, make sure to do a winery tour.
  5. Walks: There’s lots of beautiful walks in Queenstown. Read my Ultimate Guides to the best walks in Queenstown: Ben Lomond, Moke Lake, Lake Alta Track, and Bobs Cove.
  6. Kawarau Gorge Bungy: Even if you don’t like bungy jumping (I would never do it), it’s still worth visiting the Kawarau Gorge Bungy just for the beautiful views. It’s on a beautiful bright blue river on a historic bridge. There’s also lots of lovely wineries just across the road.
  7. Jetboating: There are a few jet boating companies in Queenstown. The KJet is cheaper, but I prefer the Shotover Jet. The Shotover Jet goes on the Shotover River – a narrow river surrounded by canyons. The Kjet goes on a wide river without canyons so isn’t as good or exciting.
  8. Skiing: Queenstown is one of the best places in New Zealand to ski. You can either ski at Coronet Peak or The Remarkables. I recommend splitting your time and spending a few days skiing in Queenstown, and then a few days skiing in Wanaka. Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
  9. Onsen Hot Pools: Famous hot pools with beautiful views of the Queenstown mountains and Shotover River. Don’t miss it.
  10. TSS Earnslaw cruise: Cruise on a historic steam boat on Lake Wakatipu. Make sure you do the “gourmet BBQ option”. The food is incredible.
  11. Milford Sound: Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand which you definitely should not miss. You can either do a day trip from Queenstown, Milford Sound scenic flight from Queenstown, or base yourself in Fiordland for a few days to explore the area. Read my Fiordland Travel Guide here to find out everything you need to know about Milford Sound and Fiordland.

OVERRATED PLACES YOU SHOULD MISS

Queenstown can be very touristy and overrated. These are the places you should skip….

  1. Queenstown lakefront and city centre: Don’t get me wrong, the Queenstown Lakefront is beautiful, and you should go there. But it is very touristy and there’s much nicer places. Don’t make the mistake lots of tourists do and only go there. Also check out the beautiful places nearby I suggest above.
  2. Arrowtown: Arrowtown is a cute goldmining town near Queenstown. I actually think it’s a lovely town and it’s worth visiting, but it is extremely touristy and full of souvenir shops. I prefer the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. It’s also a lovely historic gold mining village, but it’s not so touristy and has lots of lovely independent shops and cafes.
New-Zealand-Travel-Guide

BEST OF QUEENSTOWN

Not sure where to start? Read my curated collection of the best things to do in Queenstown.

Best of Queenstown

Bobs Cove Queenstown: 6 Best Things to Do (+ Ultimate Guide)

Bobs Cove Queenstown: 6 Best Things to Do (+ Ultimate Guide)

Moke Lake Loop Track: The Ultimate Guide (From A Local)

Moke Lake Loop Track: The Ultimate Guide (From A Local)

5 BEST Bannockburn Wineries You Should Visit (With Map)

5 BEST Bannockburn Wineries You Should Visit (With Map)

WANT MORE SUGGESTIONS?

Wondering where else to go? Make sure you do a day trip (or longer) to Wanaka, only an hour away from Queenstown. Download my Wanaka Bucket List for free – find out my very favourite things to do and places to eat and drink in Wanaka.

TOP TIPS FOR TRAVELLING IN QUEENSTOWN

HOW TO GET AROUND QUEENSTOWN?

Queenstown is surprisingly big and spread out – for a small town.

The easiest way to get around the city centre is walking – there is very limited parking.

A lot of Queenstown attractions are out of town and there are lots of amazing day trips out of the city centre which you shouldn’t miss – some companies will provide shuttles to their activity, otherwise you’ll need your own car or to join a tour.

DRIVING: It’s often difficult and expensive to find a park in Queenstown. It’s still worth having a car to do day trips to places outside the city centre though (e.g. Glenorchy, Arrowtown and Wanaka). You can either pick up a rental car at the airport or in the city. I recommend using rentalcars.com to find a rental car, which compares all the different car rental companies.

BUS: You can get a bus to Queenstown with Intercity. The local bus company in Queenstown is called Orbus.

SHUTTLES: You can get a shuttle from Queenstown Airport to the city centre (book here).

TAXI/UBER: There are a few taxi companies in Queenstown – Queenstown Taxis, Corporate Cabs, Green Cabs, Uber and Ola.

TRAINS: There are no trains that go to Queenstown.

TOURS: I’m not a fan of organised tour buses, but it’s a good way to do local day trips near Queenstown. I recommend these tours in Queenstown:

  1. Queenstown winery tour
  2. Day trip to Glenorchy
  3. TSS Earnslaw boat cruise
  4. Milford Sound – scenic flight or coach day trip

ACCOMMODATION IN QUEENSTOWN

There is a really broad range of accommodation in Queenstown. Personally I like luxury boutique hotels – and there are a lot in Queenstown. Queenstown has some of the best and most luxurious hotels in New Zealand.

The accommodation in Queenstown is very expensive. Generally, the closer you are to the town centre, the more expensive it will be.

There is limited (and expensive) parking in the centre of Queenstown, so if you plan on spending a lot of time in the main township, try and get somewhere walking distance to the town centre.

Personally, I don’t really like the town centre. I find it touristy and overrated, and wouldn’t spend a lot of time there. The most beautiful places in Queenstown are out of town, so I’d use my hotel as a base and do little day trips (e.g. to Glenorchy and the Gibbston Valley wineries and Bannockburn wineries). I would prioritise getting a nice hotel over being close to town.

I always use booking.com to book accommodation. They have an amazing loyalty programme and I usually get 10-20% off most hotels. I also love Mr & Mrs Smith – it is a curated collection of the best luxury boutique hotels in the world.

Looking for the best luxury boutique Queenstown? Add these to your bucket list:

  1. Hulbert House   
  2. Dairy Private Hotel
  3. Eichardt’s Private Hotel
  4. The Spire Hotel
  5. Stoneridge Estate
  6. Gibbston Valley Lodge and Spa

WHEN TO GO TO QUEENSTOWN?

The best time to visit Queenstown depends on what you want to do.

  • Skiing – the best time to go skiing is August to mid-September. This will avoid the school holidays (which are very busy) and is also when the snow conditions are the best. Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.
  • If you’re not here for skiing, the best time to see Queenstown is February to April. The weather is still warm but it avoids the Christmas school holidays which are extremely busy.

HOW LONG TO SPEND IN QUEENSTOWN?

How long to spend in Queenstown depends on what you want to do.

  • Allow one day if you only want to see the city centre/main lakefront and go up the Skyline gondola (I don’t recommend this – it’s very touristy and you’ll miss the most beautiful parts of Queenstown).
  • Allow at least 3-5 days to explore Queenstown. You’ll be able to see the city centre, do some local activities (like the Shotover Jet or TSS Earnslaw) and do a couple of day trips (like Glenorchy, Arrowtown, or a winery tour).
  • If you want to do any walks (like Ben Lomond, Lake Alta, Moke Lake, or Bobs Cove), allow an extra half day to day per walk depending on how long it is.
  • Allow 3-7 days if you’re on a ski holiday – I recommend going for a week and splitting your time between Queenstown and Wanaka. Some people prefer to just spend a whole week in Queenstown (or Wanaka). Read my Ultimate Guide to Skiing in Wanaka and 33 Best Things to Do in Wanaka in Winter.

This is just a rough estimate. It will depend on the particular things you want to do and where else you’re travelling in New Zealand. Do you want a romantic long weekend in Queenstown? Are you in Queenstown for a ski trip? Are you passing through Queenstown during a two week road trip around the South Island?

I’ve done lots of day trips to Queenstown (especially since I’ve moved to Wanaka) and also done trips where I’ve spent a whole week in Queenstown. It really depends on what you want to do.

VISAS + COVID

New Zealand had very strict covid rules – the border was closed for almost two years, even to New Zealanders. (I was a New Zealander stuck overseas during covid – it was very hard trying to get back). Make sure you check the New Zealand immigration website for the latest covid and border closure rules.

People from most countries can travel to New Zealand for up to 3 months without getting a visa. You just need to get a New Zealand Electronic Travel Authority. Check the New Zealand Immigration website to work out what visa you need.

Queenstown-travel-tips

VIEW ALL QUEENSTOWN POSTS

Bobs Cove Queenstown: 6 Best Things to Do (+ Ultimate Guide)

Bobs Cove Queenstown: 6 Best Things to Do (+ Ultimate Guide)

Moke Lake Loop Track: The Ultimate Guide (From A Local)

Moke Lake Loop Track: The Ultimate Guide (From A Local)

5 BEST Bannockburn Wineries You Should Visit (With Map)

5 BEST Bannockburn Wineries You Should Visit (With Map)

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