Queenstown itinerary – best things to do in Queenstown in 3, 5 & 7 days

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Queenstown is fun, bustling with life, offers insanely scenic views, incredible nature, and a vast playground spread over forests, mountains, lakes, and valleys. It is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand (for a good reason, or rather several good reasons!), but Queenstown can also be laid back and calm.

So whether you want a calm and relaxing getaway, a fun and adventurous escape, a mind-blowing culinary experience, or luxurious pampering, Queenstown won’t disappoint!

I was lucky enough to call Queenstown home and for this, it will always have a special place in my heart. But you don’t need to move here to fall in love with this beautiful town!

Below I’m sharing my insider knowledge and carefully crafted itineraries with recommendations on the best things to do in Queenstown in 3, 5, and 7 days.

Queenstown must-do’s

Short on time? These are the best, most unique things to do in Queenstown that you absolutely shouldn’t miss out on!

Canyon Swing
Milford Sound tour
Dart River Funyak and Jet Boat
Paradise Valley
TSS Ernslaw Lake Cruise

Queenstown itinerary overview – the best of Queenstown, New Zealand

For several years I’ve been lucky enough to call Queenstown home and putting together an itinerary for a place this close to my heart brought up all sorts of feelings.

Mostly, it felt impossible to squeeze all this beautiful town has to offer into just a few days. But below are my best attempts to create a balanced experience that will give you a pretty good taste for this little piece of heaven on earth.

I’ll be giving you plenty of information with links to other relevant articles for each place or activity whenever I mention it for the first time in the 7-day itinerary. But since these activities repeat for different itineraries I left those as a list and you can refer back up for more info when needed.

How many days in Queenstown?

As many as you can! I came to Queenstown for a couple of days but ended up staying for several years. And I’m not the only one who did so.

Three days is the minimum you’ll need to experience Queenstown and its immediate surroundings. Queenstown is also a great hub to explore the lower part of the South Island and five days or more will allow you to do some day trips and explore the wider area.

Where to stay in Queenstown

Accommodation in Queenstown is plentiful and there are options for any budget and preference. I recommend you stay Downtown or on Queenstown hill if you don’t have a car since you can easily walk here. This is also the best place to base yourself if it’s your first time in Queenstown.

Scenic Suites Queenstown 

GREAT VALUE & DELICIOUS BREAKFAST

Located at the edge of town this complex boosts breathtaking views and comfortable facilities at a great price. The food here is delicious too!

CHECK PRICES

Kamana Lakehouse

MODERN, BEAUTIFUL & FANTASTIC VIEWS

With breathtaking views, floor to ceiling windows and its contemporary decor, this modern lake house might just be our favourite place to stay in Queenstown, not to mention the delicious buffet breakfast!

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Shotover Penthouse & Spa

CENTRAL, OPULENT AND PERFECT

This Penthouse is something else. Located smack in the middle of town and boosting some incredible views and a massive terrace with a hot tub, this apartment can sleep 6 and is perfect for groups.

CHECK PRICES

Read next: Best accommodation in Queenstown

7 day itinerary

A week in Queenstown is perfect to really take in everything this town has to offer and explore some of the surroundings. With 7 days at your disposal, you’ll be able to take it easy in Queenstown or, if you prefer your holiday to be packed, you can squeeze in a few more hikes and activities.

Queenstown itinerary tss ernslaw lake cruise

Day 1 – QT town and lake cruise

Queenstown town

Start the day by exploring Queenstown town and take a stroll around. Most of downtown is pedestrian only and there are plenty of shops, cafes, and food options for you to explore. Hop into Vudu Cafe for brunch or grab breakfast on the go from Ferg Bakery, pop into Remarkable Sweet Shop, grab a hot chocolate from Cookie Time, or ice cream from Patagonia. Explore the waterfront and marvel at the incredible Lake Wakatipu. You can also check out the underwater observatory or get your share of adrenaline early on and try Jet skiing or Hydro Attack. For some bad weather fun check out the Ice Bar or Fear Factory.

Wakatipu Lake Cruise

Wakatipu Lake is best explored from the water so you should definitely book a boat cruise and take in the views from a different perspective. There are many lake cruises available, but I highly recommend you book the TSS Ernslaw. This century-old steamship is somewhat of an icon in Queenstown and you can visit the engine room and learn about its history. There is also an option to book a cruise with lunch, high country dinner or animal farm visit.

For the ultimate experience book the Walter Peak Fly/Dine/Cruise tour which includes a scenic flight over Arrowtown, Coronet Peak, Queenstown, Wakatipu lake, and all the way to Walter Peak. The flight is followed by a farm tour, dinner, and a TSS Earnslaw cruise back to town.

For a budget-friendly alternative, check out the Million Dollar cruise.

Book your lake cruise:

TSS Ernslaw Steamship Cruise

TSS Earnslaw & BBQ Buffet Lunch

TSS Earnslaw & Dinner at Walter Peak Farm

TSS Earnslaw & Walter Peak Farm

Walter Peak Fly/Dine/Cruise 

Million Dollar Cruise

Queenstown Gardens

On the outskirts of town, along the lakefront, you’ll find the Queenstown Gardens. There is a nice walking path along the lake and into the rose gardens that offers stunning views over the lake, the Remarkables and the waterfront. If you’re up for some fun you can hire a frisbee at a hostel or sports shop in town and join the locals for a round of frisbee golf. For a different experience you can also join this Segway tour that explores the gardens and the waterfront.

Book your tour:

Segway lakefront tour

Queenstown Hill

Depending on how much time and energy you have left, you can head up to Queenstown hill for some incredible views and a magical sunset. Alternatively, grab dinner or drinks in town for the perfect end to your first day in Queenstown.

Day 2 – Glenorchy, Paradise and party

Queenstown to Glenorchy Scenic Drive

We can all agree that Queenstown is stunning. But the scenery gets even better when you venture outside of town. The road from Queenstown to Glenorchy runs alongside the shimmering blue Wakatipu Lake and the mist-covered mountains provide the perfect backdrop while the drive takes you through the forest and along cliff edges, with a new spectacular view around every bend.

Read next: Queenstown to Glenorchy Scenic Drive

Glenorchy town

Glenorchy is a small charming town at the very edge where the Dart river flows into Wakatipu Lake and is a popular escape from Queenstown. Here you can enjoy pristine nature, fabulous scenery, eat some wonderful food, go on hikes and even get your adrenaline fix with some thrilling activities.

Read next: Best things to do in Glenorchy

Dart River Jet Boat or Funyaking

Funyaking is one of the most fun (as the name suggests) activities in New Zealand. It starts with a thrilling jet boat ride up the Dart River, complete with commentary courtesy of the wonderful guides, then the boat drops you off upstream. Here you’ll step into your funyak and slowly drift downstream, get a chance to jump into some pools, have a picnic and get a chance to see some of the LOTR filming locations.

Book your adventure:

Dart River Funyak and Jet Boat

Dart River Jet Boat and Wilderness Experience

Drive to Paradise

If you continue driving up from Glenorchy past Diamond Lake and over a few streams you get to a place that is literally called Paradise, and for lovers of the outdoors this place is true to its name.

The scenery is simply epic with massive mountain ranges in every direction and the Dart River meandering through the landscape like a massive snake. With scenery like this, it’s no wonder this area was chosen as a filming location for LOTR!

Book your adventure:

Paradise Valley

Read next: Lord of the Rings filming locations

Party the night away

Queenstown is not just scenic and surrounded by nature, but it offers great nightlife too!
The fun begins with happy hour already in the afternoon and can go on till the early morning hours. For happy hour head to 1876 (4-6 PM daily) or World Bar (4-5 PM and 9-11 PM). Join a pub crawl for a night of ultimate fun or continue the evening at some of the town’s favorite bars and clubs like The Bunker, Surreal, Cowboys, Bungalow, or Vinyl Underground.

Day 3 – Adventure and wine

Get your adrenaline fix

Queenstown is known as the adventure capital of New Zealand. The crazy Bungy jumps, canyon swings, zip lines, jet boats, and God knows what are part of the reason why more than three million visitors rush to Queenstown each year!

No visit is complete without an adrenaline rush and screaming your lungs out. There is no shortage of blood-pumping activities for you to choose from so pick whatever makes your heart stop and have fun.

I absolutely loved the Shootover Canyon Swing where you first jump down into a 60-meter free-fall to then swing for more than 200 meters through the Shotover Canyon. They offer a whole array of crazy and funny jump styles to spice things up and they’ll mess with you for added fun.

The Shotover Jet is another favorite of many. On the Shotover Jet boat, you’ll zip through the canyon, getting dangerously close to the edge and spinning in circles. But I have to be honest, I was expecting a bit more thrill from it.

If you’re into mountain biking then the Queenstown Bike Park is a no-brainer. Queenstown offers some of the world’s best MTB trails and you can take advantage of the gondola or MTB taxi on the way up.

Other awesome things you can do include Skydiving, Rafting, Canyoning, 4WD and so much more. Just take your pick below!

Choose your adventure:

Shotover Canyon Swing

Zipline Adventure

Shotover River Rafting

Shotover River Jet Boat 

Kawarau River Rafting and Jet Boat

Queenstown ATV Tour

Mt Aspiring Canyoning

Skippers Canyon 4WD Tour

Tandem Paragliding

Southern Glacier Helicopter Flight

Enjoy some wine

Otago is known as one of the best wine regions in New Zealand and the Pinot Noir here is to die for! There are plenty of wine-tasting tours to choose from but on a sunny day it doesn’t get any better than hopping on a bike and doing the Queenstown wine trail. Some of the more popular ones include Gibbson Valley Winery, Peregrine Wines and Waitiri Creek Winery. Just make sure you have a sober driver or hire one so you can enjoy this day safely.

Book your wine tour:

Guided Ebike Wine Tour

Bike The Wineries Half Day Tour

Central Otago Wine Tour with Lunch

Hop on Hop off Wine Tour

Arrowtown

End the evening with a visit to the quaint Arrowtown, a historic little village full of charm. Head out to Fork & Tap for drinks and dinner, here you’ll be able to join the fun at the Irish night every Wednesday.

Or end the evening with a visit to Dorothy Browns Cinema. This is the cutest and quirkiest boutique cinema with miss-matched armchairs and pink chiffon curtains screening both contemporary and arthouse films and serving amazing cheese boards and wine at your seat.

Day 4 – Milford Sound Cruise

Milford Sound is often named the 8th wonder of the world and it should absolutely be on your New Zealand bucket list! Imagine hundreds of waterfalls, lush rainforests, steep fjords, minimal light or sound pollution, the prettiest sunsets and sunrises, and that’s only the start!

While Queenstown and Milford Sound are only 70 km away from each other in a straight line, a massive mountain range separates the two. If you want to drive to Milford Sound, the only option is still to go all the way around the Humboldt and Eyre mountains or hop on a scenic flight.

The best way to tour Milford Sound is a coach, cruise & flight tour from Queenstown as it lets you see Milford from all vantage points – air, water, and land. It also includes a scenic drive with plenty of stops along the gorgeous Milford Road.

Since flying ain’t cheap most people opt for a coach & cruise tour which is much more affordable but you won’t get a chance to see the fjords from above, and it takes quite a bit longer. Alternatively, you can drive to Milford Sound on your own accord and hop on a boat cruise once there.

Book your Milford Sound trip:

Coach, cruise & flight tour from Queenstown

Small group tour from Queenstown

Small boat cruise from MS

Cruise and kayak tour from MS

Day 5 – Wanaka and Haast Pass road trip

Crown range drive and Cardrona Valley

The drive from Queenstown to Wanaka is a treat in itself with beautiful views around every corner. Just take it easy as the road is steep, narrow and windy. There are plenty of stopping bays along the way for you to take in the views but don’t take too long, the best is yet to come!

Wanaka

Have you even been to Wanaka if you didn’t take a photo of that Wanaka tree? This willow tree stands alone in the water, about 15 meters from the shore. It has been photographed hundreds of thousands of times and it is Wanaka’s most popular tourist attraction. To be fair, it is a really picturesque shot with the Southern Alps in the backdrop.

Wanaka is Queenstown’s smaller sister and it’s just as scenic. Take a stroll through town and along the lakefront. If you like hiking you won’t want to miss Roys Peak and Diamond Lake Track.

Haast pass and Blue Pools

Drive past beautiful Lake Hawea and head into the stunning Haast Pass. This mountain pass is a UNESCO World Heritage area and it is easy to see why. Deep gorges, thundering rivers and waterfalls, and rainforest-covered mountains are everywhere you look.

The Blue Pools are an absolute must-stop. Two suspension bridges hang above the incredibly blue water, and if you’re keen on a dip in the ice-cold water you can jump from the second bridge into the pools.

Next up is Wilsons Creek. Not far from the road, Wilsons Creek flows through an unmarked and unnamed but gorgeous little gorge (pun intended), with small waterfalls dropping down everywhere.

2 minute drive from Wilsons Creek lie the popular Fantail Falls. Personally, we weren’t really impressed with the Fantail Falls, but since they’re basically next to the road checking them out doesn’t really cost you any time. There is however another, more appealing reason to visit this spot.

West Coast

When you’ve made it through Haast Pass you actually arrive on the West Coast of New Zealand. From here beautiful coastal views stretch out as far as you can see and impressive mountain ranges tower on the back. Depending on how much time you have left (you still need to drive back to Queenstown today) you might be able to check out some of the beaches or even Lake Matheson.

Read next: West Coast Road Trip

Day 6 – Hikes and views

Queenstown Skyline

It’s time to see Queenstown from above! Either take the Tiki Trail or ride the Gondola up from on Brecon Street to Bob’s Peak. Here you can go for a fun Luge ride, walk the Skyline Loop, grab a snack at Market Kitchen Café, go Zip lining down the world’s steepest zip line, or soar over Queenstown in a paraglide.

Book your adventure:

Zipline Adventure

Above The Skyline Quads

Tandem Paragliding

Ben Lomond hike

If you like hiking then you’ll love Ben Lomond, arguably one of the most rewarding day hikes in New Zealand. The views from the summit are truly epic, no matter which direction you look. Beautiful Queenstown down below, Lake Wakatipu winding in front of you, the Remarkables and Bayonet Peaks across the lake in the distance, Moke Lake far below on the other side and the Southern Alps stretching behind it.

This hike is quite challenging and it takes 4-6h from the top of the gondola, or add an extra 2h if you’re walking up from town. But trust me, it’s worth the effort!

Read next: Ben Lomond hike guide

Hot pools

There’s no better way to relax those sore muscles after a big hike than soaking up in a hot tub.

You’ve probably seen photos of the Onsen pools all over Instagram. These private hot tubs offer gorgeous views over the Shotover Valley and are definitely a bucket list item in Queenstown so make sure to book them well in advance.

While absolutely fabulous and definitely a must-try, the Onsen pools are quite pricey and often booked out, but worry not, Millbrook Resort might not be as popular on Instagram, but the pools, set in a beautiful garden outside, are just as hot and wonderful. You don’t have to stay at the resort to visit the hot pools and can purchase a day ticket to the pools, sauna, and fitness facilities.

hooker-valley-mt-cook-new-zealand-6

Day 7 – Mt. Cook NP day trip

The drive to Mt. Cook NP is already mind-blowing and you’ll be driving over stunning Lindis Pass and along the incredible Lake Pukaki. Trust me, you’ve never seen anything as blue! This big, bright blue glacial lake is wrapped in big mountains (seriously big) and shows the magnificent Mount Cook towering above them all on the other side of the lake.

Make sure to do the Hooker Valley hike. This 10-kilometer long return track offers countless breathtaking views and looks different around every bend. It takes you through a wide river valley with snow-capped mountains on both sides, goes over big suspension bridges, over boardwalks through the high tussock grass and ends at a glacial lake speckled with icebergs right under Mount Cook.

Mount Cook and its surroundings are an incredible sight no matter from where you look at it, but the impressive perspective is without a doubt from the air. There are several small airports in the area offering experiences like a helicopter flight around the mountain including a landing on the Tasman Glacier, or a scenic flight around the mountain in a ski plane. And if you’re into more adrenaline-filled activities, how about you go skydiving over Mount Cook National Park!

Book your Mt. Cook trip:

Mt Cook Small Group Tour

Mt Cook & Hooker Valley Tour

Mt Cook Tour and Sky Dive Combo

Skydive Mt. Cook

Mount Cook Ski Plane and Helicopter Combo

5 day itinerary

By picking up the tempo and having a tighter schedule you can do almost everything I’ve outlined in the week-long itinerary, but you will have to compromise on day trips and hikes. On the last day you can pick between a trip to Wanaka and Haast Pass, alternatively, you could to the LOTR tour or visit Mt Cook NP as outlined above.

Day 1 – QT town and lake cruise

Queenstown town

Wakatipu Lake Cruise | TSS Ernslaw

Queenstown Gardens | Segway lakefront tour

Queenstown Hill or Queenstown Skyline and Bob’s Peak | Tandem Paragliding

Day 2 – Glenorchy, Paradise and party

Queenstown to Glenorchy Scenic Drive | Glenorchy and Paradise Half-Day Explorer

Glenorchy town | Glenorchy Kiwi Special Tour

Funyaking | Dart River Funyak and Jet Boat

Drive to Paradise | Paradise Valley

Party the night away | Pub crawl

Day 3 – Adventure and wine

Get your adrenaline fix | QT adventures

Enjoy some wine | Ebike Wine Tour | Hop on Hop off Wine Tour

Arrowtown | Half-day tour

Day 4 – Milford Sound Cruise

Milford sound | Milford Sound tours from QT

Hot Pools | Onsen hot pools

Day 5 – Wanaka and Haast Pass road trip

Crown range drive and Cardrona Valley | Cardrona High Country Horse Treck

Wanaka | Arrowtown & Wanaka tour from QT | Wanaka 4×4 Explorer

Haast pass and Blue Pools

West Coast

3 day itinerary

If you only have 3 days in Queenstown then your itinerary will get pretty packed, but you’ll still be able to do most of the highlights.

Day 1 – QT town, lake cruise and adventure

Queenstown town

Wakatipu Lake Cruise | TSS Ernslaw

Queenstown Gardens | Segway Lakefront tour

Get your adrenaline fix or enjoy some wine | QT thrills | wine tours

Day 2 – Glenorchy, Paradise, Skyline and party

Queenstown to Glenorchy Scenic Drive | Glenorchy and Paradise Half-Day Explorer

Glenorchy town | Glenorchy Kiwi Special Tour

Funyaking | Dart River Funyak and Jet Boat

Drive to Paradise | Paradise Valley

Queenstown Skyline and Bob’s Peak | Tandem Paragliding

Party the night away | Pub crawl

Day 3 – Day trip of choice

Milford Sound | Milford Sound tours from QT

or Wanaka | Arrowtown & Wanaka tour from QT

Hot pools | Onsen hot pools

Getting to Queenstown

There is an international airport in Queenstown and most people will fly in here. Landing in Queenstown is a treat of its own so make sure to secure a window seat as the views over Dart Valley, Wakatipu Lake and Aspiring National Park will make your jaw drop.

To get into town, book this airport shuttle to your accommodation. Or better yet, hire a rental car so you’ll have more flexibility and you’ll be able to do some of the day trips and scenic drives in the area.

Getting around in Queenstown

Queenstown city center is fairly small and mostly closed to traffic so walking is your best bet. Most tours and activities will pick you up in town or at your accommodation so you can get by without a car if you’re staying central.

If you want to explore Wanaka, Glenorchy, Arrowtown or the wider surroundings then renting a car is your best bet. You’ll also need wheels if you’re staying in Fernhill, Frankton or further out of town.

Where to eat in Queenstown

Often I struggle to suggest enough good restaurant options but with Queenstown I’m struggling to narrow it down to just a few. The culinary options in Queenstown are plentiful, diverse and so incredibly good! These are some of my favorites (but there are so many more great restaurants!)

Botswana Butchery – For all you meat lovers, Botswana Butchery is a must! Choose from a selection of fine cuts with the perfect marble score and enjoy the impeccable service.

Bazaar – a marketplace foodie experience with no menu. The journey through the food market starts with desert and ends with the best views over Wakatipu lake and the Remarkables. An experience not to be missed.

Tanoshi Cow Lane – One of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve ever been to. The sashimi here is something else.

Atlas Cafe – My go-to place for Friday after work beer and steak. I’ve lost count of the hours spent in this little hole in the wall. And if you can’t find the loo, try the fridge door.

The World Bar & Restaurant – Taking pub food to a whole new level and home to teapot cocktails. The World Bar is also a fun place for a few drinks at night.

Taco Medic – Best option for a quick bite on the go. But there is nothing quick about the way the meat was cooked! Braised for 6-12 hours, these tacos will melt in your mouth!

Vudu Cafe – My favorite brunch spot. Try the eggs benny or pancakes and drink all the coffee you can.

Queenstown with QT hill in the background

Best time to visit Queenstown

The best time to visit Queenstown is in late spring or summer when the days are longer, the weather is warm and the outdoors can become your playground.

Queenstown is also great in winter, especially if you’d like to ski or snowboard in New Zealand.

But in all honesty, any time is a good time to visit Queenstown! This town is lively and filled with amazing things to do no matter the season. Just keep in mind that the peak of summer and peak of winter can get quite busy and pricey.

Queenstown is a treat to visit and here is so much to do and see here! I’m sure you’ll love this little corner of New Zealand, just as you will love the rest of the country.

To help you plan your NZ trip I’ve prepared a series of New Zealand travel guides and you can find out more about the Coromandel Peninsula in the articles below.

Reliable travel insurance

Good travel insurance is an absolute must when traveling abroad, and I’ve learned that the hard way!

Now I always get insured before leaving and Travel Insurance Masters is my go-to platform to find the best insurance options for a specific trip.

The TIM platform works as a search engine and suggests the best insurance company and insurance plan for your criteria. This way you don’t end up paying more for things you don’t need! It also takes into account your age, nationality, destination etc. which can greatly impact the final price.

You can get your quote & provider recommendations here.

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Zi @Craving Adventure
Zi @Craving Adventure

Zi is the Founder and Editor in Chief behind Craving Adventure.

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