Things to See & Do in Dunedin

Otepoti Dunedin is an important part of any South Island experience offering an intriguing mixture of style, heritage, history and unique wildlife. Many South Island tours include a visit to this University town and take in some of the many things to see and do in the major centre of Aotearoa’s South.

Dunedin's Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle overlooks Dunedin’s harbour

A Little History & Local Museums to Visit

Dunedin was founded in 1848 by Scottish settlers. But the history of human occupation of Otepoti dates back to early Maori settlement of the Otago Peninsula and the beautiful natural harbour in the thirteenth century.

It was the entry port when prospectors flooded into the country in search of Central Otago gold in the 1860s and played an important part in the later 19th century economic development of New Zealand. Visit the Otago Museum & Otago Settlers Museum for windows into local human and natural history.

At its late Victorian and Edwardian height, Dunedin was an important hub of commerce and trade. During those prosperous times, the central city was populated with grand period buildings. The inspiration was the style, street names and layout of Edinburgh, Scotland. And people that know Scotland’s capital will recognise many street names.

Walking Tours of the City

Unlike some other major centres of Aotearoa, Dunedin has retained most of it’s heritage buildings. Buildings that include some impressive civic buildings, the iconic railway station, the oldest parts of the University campus and other buildings easily accessed in the central city. Indeed, Dunedin is said to have the finest collection of Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the Southern Hemisphere.

Southern Cross Hotel

The historic Southern Cross Hotel

The best way to experience the beauty of Dunedin’s cityscape is on foot. And there are two inner city heritage walks. Take one to learn the built history of what was once New Zealand’s largest and wealthiest city.

Look out for bronze plaques, set into the footpath, marked with “Heritage Walk 1” and “Heritage Walk 2”. Each walk is just over two kilometres long and takes you past stunning buildings. You’ll see churches, grand old hotels, a Victorian gaol, the Dunedin Railway Station and many fine examples of period architecture that offer a strong sense of New Zealand history.

Oval plaques attached to many of the featured buildings provide historical information. Both walks are loop tracks and they cross paths on the north side of Dunedin’s central Octagon. A map, showing building locations, is available from the Dunedin iSITE.

Albatross Colony Visit & Peninsula Wildlife

The unique wildlife of the nearby Otago Peninsula should be on anyone’s Dunedin itinerary. Experience the famous Royal Albatross Colony from the exclusive “Royal Box” observatory. You will not regret taking the chance to see these majestic giants of the seas with a three-metre wingspan up close.

The tour takes place throughout the day. It offers a 60 minute guided wildlife tour telling the story of the Northern Royal Albatross. A short movie by Natural History NZ follows. Then you’ll visit the viewing observatory to view the nesting albatross.

Nowhere else in the world can you enjoy the privilege of a close encounter withg these rare seabirds, who can spend years away at sea in their natural environment. And other opportunities to encounter Peninsula wildlife include many Dunedin tour options that include peninsula wildlife encounters.

Larnach Castle

The peninsula is not only home to unique wildlife but also an iconic visitor attraction that evokes Dunedin’s grand past, Larnach Castle. Starting in 1871, it took more than 200 workmen three years to build the Castle’s now famous structure for local entrepeneur and national politician William Larnach. Master European craftsmen then spent 12 years creating its now-restored opulent interior using the finest materials from around the world.

Visit the once near-derelict Larnach Castle to experience its rich and sometimes tragic history. Its interiors feature a collection of period furniture, put together by the owners whose family have restored the castle over many years. They offer a fascinating insight into Victorian decor of the highest standard. And you’ll enjoy exploring the exquisite gardens, which have attained a Garden of International Significance award from the New Zealand Gardens Trust.


Another remnant of Dunedin’s glorious past, historic Olveston was built for Dunedin businessman, collector and philanthropist David Theomin.  Designed by acclaimed English architect Sir Ernest George, Olveston was built as a family home. Like Larnach Castle, it was furnished with fine art, furniture and artefacts.

The house was built for future generations of Theomin’s to enjoy. But both the Theomin children died without heirs. David Theoman’s daughter, Miss Dorothy Theomin lived at Olveston until she died in 1966, gifting the house and its contents to the city.

A historic house museum since 1967, Olveston is a time capsule and an authentic and original historic home. It is a wonderful window into the life of a wealthy merchant family in the early twentieth century.

Speights Brewery Tour

The Speight’s Brewery tour takes you through the historic brewery which dates back to 1876. See, touch and smell the ingredients that go into the award-winning beers.

Sample the iconic history of the oldest working brewery in New Zealand on this hard-to-forget tour. Learn about all of the ingredients that go into Speights award winning brews and the state of the art brewing process used today. And enjoy a chance to sample some of Speights most popular beers at the end of the tour.

Dunedin Haggis Ceremony

A feature of many tours, Dunedin Haggis Ceremony offers a lively, ritualistic and colourful welcome to the City. Undeniably Scottish, Dunedin celebrates its heritage. And this southern Scottish experience at historic Larnach Castle is a must.

The Haggis ceremony comes with a souvenir gift and Dunedin’s best performers will provide a memorable evening. It offers a unique blend of culture and entertainment. The Larnach castle setting, the stirring bagpipes, the fascinating, locally made, haggis, ‘Spirit of Dunedin’ whisky, audience participation. and the wonderfully engaging addressor,  addressing the haggis in the words of 18th century Scottish poet Robbie Burns, makes for a wonderful evening.

More things to see & do in Dunedin

We’ve concentrated on on attractions and experiences that South Island tours we offer include, but we’ve barely scratched the surface of things to see and do in Dunedin. Useful guides to local attraction are offered by Dunedin’s own website (a great window into the city it promotes), Tourism New Zealand, Air New Zealand and Trip Advisor.

Contact us for personal advice on Dunedin attractions to include in your New Zealand tour experience. We’d love to help you make this special place part of a memorable Aotearoa visit.