While New Zealand's adventure capital has a reputation as an expensive holiday destination, there are many great free things to do in Queenstown. While many of the most well-known Queenstown tourist attractions often cater to those seeking an adrenaline rush, there are plenty of options available to those more interested in admiring the town's natural beauty. An abundance of free Queenstown activities are available either close to the town centre or just a short drive away.
Learn about Queenstown's Storied History
Queenstown has a remarkable history, from its Māori settlement to its current status as the adventure tourism capital of New Zealand. The town contains many historical landmarks, likely to be of interest to anybody intrigued by local history. Skippers Canyon, home to the Shotover River, is often associated with gold mining. Best accessed by a car capable of off-road driving, the Canyon still contains several buildings from the era, including cottages, the restored Skippers School (complete with historical information), and a cemetery.
The One Mile Powerhouse was opened in 1924 and provided electricity for the area. Restored in 2005, a visit to the powerhouse today provides a fascinating glimpse into the past. The Queenstown Fallen Soldier's Memorial on the waterfront opened in 1922, is dedicated to the New Zealand soldiers killed in World War One. The memorial lists both the names of fallen soldiers on one side, and those who returned home on the other.
Visit the Lakefront
Attractions in Queenstown are numerous, but sometimes, after a long day of exploring, an hour of people watching is the best way to unwind. Queenstown's town centre is small and easy to traverse, and the waterfront is always brimming with tourists and locals alike; there's always something going on. Stroll to the famous Fergburger and observe crowds of people patiently waiting for their meals, or watch adventurers jet ski and paraglide across Lake Wakatipu.
Walk the Queenstown Hill
Queenstown attractions don't need to cost a fortune – and taking a gondola up Ben Lomond Hill isn't the only way to see Queenstown from up high! Queenstown Hill offers breathtaking views from its summit, so if you can handle the uphill trek, this is an excellent alternative to the ever-busy Ben Lomond Hill. The Queenstown Hill Time Walk, a three-hour round trip, aims to inform visitors of the city's history by way of informative plates. From the hill's peak, visitors will experience an incredible 360° view of Queenstown, most notably The Remarkables and Lake Wakatipu.
Visit the Queenstown Gardens
The Queenstown Gardens offers a reprieve from the bustling town centre and features a diverse range of plants, trees, and flowers, as well as spectacular views of Lake Wakatipu from the opposite side of the town. One of the Gardens' most distinctive attractions is an 18-hole frisbee golf course. Here, locals, tourists and frisbee novices can try their hands at the game – and it's almost as entertaining to observe as it is to play.
Enjoy a Scenic Drive
If you've flown into the town, consider collecting a Queenstown airport rental car, as the surrounding region is home to some of the most scenic drives in New Zealand. Particularly worthwhile is the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, an intricate winding route between Queenstown and the smaller town of Glenorchy, complete with plenty of stops for photo opportunities. As remarkable on an overcast day as it is in full sunshine, the drive, which takes approximately forty-five minutes, is arguably one of the most picturesque in the country. The easy twenty-minute drive to historic Arrowtown is likely to be another enjoyable journey, and Arrowtown itself offers free walks, sites of historical significance, and galleries for its visitors to enjoy.