Have you been wondering about the best things to do in Queenstown for free? I’ve got you covered!
Queenstown is one of those holiday destinations that have the potential to be reaaally expensive. If you’ve already spent a lot on flights and accommodation then you’re probably on the hunt for a few free activities – don’t worry, there’s plenty!
I’ve been here multiple times, and each time I’ve managed to have a great time on a budget. As a New Zealander, I’m very lucky that it’s easy for me to get to Queenstown – it’s just a short flight from Auckland.
But if you’re coming from farther away and don’t know much about what to do in Queenstown for free, don’t worry! I’m here to tell you all about the best activities and attractions that don’t cost a penny.
10 Best things to do in Queenstown for free
1. Visit Queenstown Gardens
Visiting Queenstown Gardens is a great way for travellers to get to know New Zealand’s natural beauty. It’s an easy 1.5-hour return trip, starting from Queenstown Bay Beach. It can be visited all year round too!
Queenstown Gardens is great for budget-conscious travellers because it is a free attraction that offers a variety of activities. Visitors can explore the lush gardens, visit the historic aviary, take a leisurely stroll along the waterfront, or relax in the open grassy areas.
There are plenty of scenic spots to take pictures and enjoy the breathtaking views of the lake and mountains.
This makes it an ideal spot for budget-conscious travellers who want to experience the beauty of Queenstown without breaking the bank. Why not take a picnic with you and make an afternoon of it?
2. Walk the Lake Wakatipu Waterfront
Walking around the Lake Wakatipu waterfront is a great way to take in the sights of Queenstown. There’s no better way to experience the beauty of the area than to take a stroll around the waterfront and watch the sunset over the lake.
If you’re out and about during the day it’s likely you’ll see the iconic TSS Earnslaw Ship cruising around the lake.
There are plenty of cafes and bars around the lake, creating a fun atmosphere to relax in. Whether it’s a romantic sunset walk for two or an evening of drinks with friends, the Lake Wakatipu waterfront offers an unbeatable casual atmosphere.
3. Hike Queenstown Hill
Hiking Queenstown Town Hill is a must-do for any traveller to Queenstown. This four-kilometre walk will take around three hours, but it’s worth it for the spectacular scenery it offers.
Located in the heart of town, this intermediate-grade hike is easily accessible and open all year round. In the winter, expect a snowy path that looks like a winter wonderland!
To stay steady, make sure to wear shoes with great grip. That way, you can confidently walk on the snowy terrain and soak in the stunning scenery.
4. Take a scenic drive on The Remarkables Mountain Range
Take a scenic drive on The Remarkables Mountain Range and treat yourself to breathtaking views of the mountains.
This iconic New Zealand mountain range is an absolute must-see, offering a gorgeous drive that takes around 45 minutes to an hour (or longer if you make a few pit stops to take in the views along the way!).
I did this when I travelled to Queenstown on a budget and it was lots of fun – from the beautiful views to the winding roads, it’s a great experience and fun to do with friends or as a couple.
5. Enjoy the nearby beaches
Queenstown is home to some beautiful beaches with stunning views of the mountains and surrounding areas. Wilson Bay, Bobs Cove, Queenstown Bay Beach and Wye Creek are all great spots for travellers to relax and take in the stunning scenery.
Wilson Bay is a great spot for a picnic or a morning swim (if you’re visiting in the summer otherwise expect some pretty chilly temperatures!), while Bobs Cove is the perfect place for a quiet stroll along the shore.
Queenstown Bay Beach is a great place to watch the sunrise and take in some breathtaking views. It offers a sandy area where you can relax and is located along the shores of Lake Wakatipu so it’s a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
If you’re looking for a bit more of a hidden gem, head down to Wye Creek for a spot of kayaking or a hike up the nearby hills. It’s a serene spot surrounded by nature, making it ideal for a quiet day by the water.
6. Visit art galleries
If you’re looking for an artistic escape in Queenstown, there’s a selection of free art galleries to explore. The Artbay Gallery is a great place to start, with an amazing selection of works by local and international artists.
Not far away is the Queenstown Arts Centre, a hub for artistic expression that often hosts free art exhibitions and immersive cultural displays. This awesome community space is where local artists come together to share their narratives, showcasing the unique stories that shape Queenstown’s identity.
Both galleries are open to the public, so you can take your time admiring the works and learning about the artists behind them. Whether you’re a local or just passing through, a visit to these free galleries is a must for any traveller.
7. Stroll through Arrow River
Take a break from the hustle and bustle and go for a leisurely stroll along the enchanting Arrow River in the charming town of Arrowtown.
This hidden gem is a peaceful retreat just a short 20 minute drive from Queenstown. The clear waters of the Arrow River wind through the picturesque landscape, creating a serene atmosphere that’s perfect for unwinding.
The walk is an easy 1 hour return journey and starts at Butlers Green then turn left before crossing the footbridge over Bush Creek. After about 15 minutes you’ll pass a waterfall.
Visiting Arrowtown is a bit like stepping back in time! With its well-preserved heritage buildings and remnants of its gold mining past, Arrowtown adds a touch of history to the experience.
Don’t forget to check out the Chinese Settlement from the 1880s, a reminder of the town’s multicultural history.
7. Bike or walk along the Queenstown Trail
Exploring the Queenstown Trail by bike is a budget-friendly way to experience all the beauty and adventure that Queenstown and its surrounding areas have to offer.
With over 130kms of trails beside Lake Wakatipu and nearby rivers, it’s the perfect way to travel around and discover all of the hidden gems in the region. It’s possible to walk some of the trails so if you don’t have a bike or don’t want to spend money on renting one then that’s an option too.
There’s no fixed start and end point so you have total control over your journey.
When planning your bike adventure, keep in mind that there are various sections of the trail catering to different preferences and fitness levels. Whether you’re into lakeside views, lush forests, or historic landmarks, the Queenstown Trail has a route that suits your vibe.
Bike rentals can be easily arranged in town, and some places even offer half-day or full-day rental options, making it affordable and flexible for your schedule.
Climbing to Arrowtown is a great way to appreciate the incredible scenery of the region and the winding trails through vineyards offer a more relaxed pace of adventure. There are also plenty of historic sites to explore, as well as suspension bridges that offer much more than just stunning views.
From easy riding to the more challenging, the Queenstown Trail has something for everyone, so come and discover the hidden gems of Queenstown by bike!
9. Do the Glenorchy Walkway
The Glenorchy Walkway is a must-see for anyone visiting Queenstown. Located just a short 45 minute drive from the city, enjoy the picturesque journey and feel free to make some pitstops along the way (don’t miss the famous red Glenorchy shed).
The walk itself is peaceful and relaxing, suitable for all fitness levels. The path takes you along the edge of the lake, providing incredible views of the glacial peaks in the distance. It’s a great way to unwind from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The Glenorchy Walkway is an experience that’s sure to make your Queenstown trip even more special. Allow enough time to soak in the views; it’s more about the experience than speed.
10. Lake Hayes Walkway
If you’re looking for an easy and beautiful track to explore while visiting Queenstown, then the Lake Hayes Walkway should definitely be on your list.
Located just a short 15-minute drive from the heart of Queenstown, it’s pretty easy to get to.
This amazing trail takes you on a scenic journey around the stunning Lake Hayes. Get ready to be captivated by the glistening lake and the breathtaking mountains that surround it. Whether you’re looking for peace and serenity or simply want to soak in the natural beauty of the South Island, this walkway is the perfect escape.
The best part? It’s an easy loop trail, so everyone can enjoy it regardless of fitness level. This 8km loop takes around 2-3 hours to complete.
Visitors should also come prepared with comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, and water, especially during the warmer months.
Other Queenstown must-do activities
Queenstown is a must-visit destination for any traveller looking for an adventure-filled escape, there is just so much to do here! One of the best-known activities in Queenstown is bungy jumping – the world’s first commercial bungy jump is located at the Kawarau Bridge.
Jet boating is another popular activity in Queenstown, with trips flying past the breathtaking scenery of surrounding mountains and rivers. For those looking for a more relaxing experience, Onsen Hot Pools offers the chance to soak in thermal pools while taking in the stunning views.
No trip to Queenstown is complete without experiencing the local wineries. There are several wine tours available, offering an unforgettable day out exploring the vineyards and tasting the local wines.
For those wanting to go further afield, a day trip to Milford Sound is a must and if you’re going to splurge on one thing during your trip it should be this. The majestic landscape and stunning waterfalls are a sight to behold and an experience not to be missed.
Where to stay in Queenstown
Choosing where to stay in Queenstown largely depends on your preferences and the type of experience you’re seeking. The town offers a diverse range of accommodation options, from luxury resorts and boutique hotels to cozy bed and breakfasts and budget-friendly hostels.
If you crave stunning lakeside views and easy access to the town centre, consider accommodations along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. For those looking to be in the heart of the action, the central business district offers proximity to restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
Alternatively, if you prefer a more serene environment, explore accommodations in nearby areas like Arrowtown or Kelvin Heights, offering a quieter retreat while still being within a short drive of Queenstown.
Regardless of your choice, Queenstown’s accommodation options cater to various budgets and tastes, ensuring a comfortable and memorable stay in this picturesque corner of New Zealand.
Best luxury Queenstown accommodation
Best budget Queenstown accommodation
How to get around Queenstown
Queenstown offers a variety of transport options to get around the city such as by bus, taxi, rental car, bike or simply on foot. No matter what you choose, there are multiple ways to explore:
- Walking: Queenstown’s town centre is compact, and many attractions are within walking distance. Stroll along the lakeside promenade, explore the streets, and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.
- Biking: The town and its surroundings offer bike-friendly paths. You can rent bikes from various providers to explore at your own pace. The Queenstown Trail is a popular route for cyclists.
- Public Transport: While Queenstown’s public transportation system isn’t extensive, there are buses that connect the town with nearby areas. Check the local bus schedule for routes and timings.
- Taxis and Rideshare Services: Taxis are readily available in Queenstown, and rideshare services operate in the area as well. This is a convenient option for short trips or if you prefer door-to-door service.
- Rental Cars: If you plan on exploring the surrounding areas or taking day trips, renting a car gives you flexibility. Rental agencies are available in Queenstown, and driving in the region is relatively easy.
What is the best time to visit Queenstown?
Determining the best time to visit Queenstown largely depends on your preferences and the experiences you’re after.
Summer, spanning from December to February, offers warm temperatures often between 20°C to 25°C and sometimes getting as high as 30°C. It’s the perfect time of year for outdoor adventures like swimming, hiking, biking, and water sports.
Autumn, from March to May, features mild temperatures around 12°C to 20°C during the day, showcasing stunning fall foliage and fewer crowds. Winter, lasting from June to August, brings cold temperatures ranging from a low of -1°C to a high of around 8°C and transforms Queenstown into a winter wonderland, ideal for skiing and snowboarding.
In spring, from September to November, temperatures range from 13°C to 18°C during the day, marking a time of renewal with blooming flowers and emerging wildlife. Nights can still be a bit chilly getting down to an average low of 2°C to 6°C.
Each season offers a unique charm, so it’s important to consider your preferred activities when planning your visit. Whether it’s the thrill of winter sports, the vibrant colours of autumn, or the outdoor pursuits of summer, Queenstown caters to diverse interests year-round.
FAQs About Free Things to Do in Queenstown
Is Queenstown a walkable city?
Yes, Queenstown’s town centre is pretty compact so is a walkable city, although whether you can get around only on foot depends on what you want to do on your holiday.
If you’re happy exploring the sights within the town then you’ll be fine getting around on foot provided your accommodation is centrally located too. If you want to venture further then you’ll need to catch a bus or hire a rental car.
I’ve always hired a car when visiting Queenstown and I would highly recommend you do the same as it allows for more flexibility and convenience.
Why is Queenstown so famous?
Queenstown is globally famous for its jaw-dropping scenery, nestled amidst the Southern Alps and along the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
Known as the “Adventure Capital of the World,” this place attracts thrill-seekers with a ton of adrenaline-pumping activities like bungee jumping, skydiving, and skiing in nearby resorts like The Remarkables.
And hey, it’s even been featured in the “Lord of the Rings” movies, making it a must-visit for film buffs too!
How much does it cost to visit Queenstown?
The cost of visiting Queenstown depends on the type of travel you plan to do, your accommodation and other activities. Queenstown is one of those destinations that has the potential to become very expensive if you don’t watch out.
That’s not to say that you can’t travel Queenstown on a budget however. I’ve travelled to Queenstown both ways, on a budget and as a bit of a splurge. Both were great experiences so stick to a budget you’re comfortable with and you’ll have an awesome time.
Generally, budget travellers can expect to spend between $60-100 per day for accommodation, food, and activities excluding flights.
🤩 Handy tip: Buy an e-sim before you arrive in New Zealand so you don’t have to worry about roaming charges or sorting out a sim card at the airport
Final Thoughts: Free Things to Do in Queenstown
So, there we have it – a comprehensive list of the best free things to do in Queenstown when travelling on a budget. From taking in the stunning views of Queenstown Hill to exploring the many hiking trails, there’s something for everyone to enjoy without breaking the bank.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore this amazing area for yourself!
And if you’re looking for ideas on where to stay in Queenstown, be sure to check out my next blog post. I’ve included a range of great options that are perfect for all budgets.
• 15 Best things to do in Queenstown alone | A solo travellers guide
• 10 Best Things to do in Omarama
• The Ultimate Travel Guide For Fall In New Zealand
• 21 Day New Zealand Itinerary: What to See & Do from a Local
• Does it snow in Queenstown? Winter Travel Guide
• Queenstown in July: Your weather and travel guide
• Queenstown in October: Your weather and travel