Out of all the places you can visit in New Zealand, Queenstown has to be the most iconic. This bustling mountain town sits on the shores of the stunning Lake Wakatipu, surrounded by towering mountain peaks and breathtaking scenery.
This 3 days in Queenstown itinerary is written by a local and will help you make the most of your Queenstown trip!
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3 days in Queenstown itinerary
This post is written by Bailey, a full-time travel blogger who fell in love with Queenstown. After traveling with her boyfriend Daniel for 4 years they decided to move to Queenstown permanently.
Her blog, My Queenstown Diary, was created to help other travelers visiting Queenstown and the surrounding area. If you plan on visiting Queenstown be sure to check out her blog for more informative guides and travel tips!
Queenstown itinerary 3 days
Queenstown has everything you need for an adventurous holiday filled with unforgettable experiences. Travelers often wonder how many days in Queenstown is enough. While there is no easy answer to that question, most people plan a Queenstown 3 day itinerary.
As a local to the area, I believe you could spend much more time here and still have plenty to do. However, most backpackers in Queenstown need to find a way to experience some of the (many) attractions in Queenstown in just a few days.
With that said, you may be surprised to learn that in 3 days you can accomplish a lot. With this Queenstown travel itinerary, you can hit some of the best things to do in Queenstown NZ that will give you a taste of everything this amazing town has to offer!
Day 1: Explore downtown Queenstown
Your first day in Queenstown should be spent in Queenstown. Although many come for the activities, road trips, and hikes around Queenstown, it’s important to get to know the town. I promise you’ll fall in love after enjoying today’s activities in Queenstown!
Take the Gondola to Skyline (morning)
One of the most famous things to do in Queenstown is to take the gondola to Skyline. Before though, it’s time for breakfast. Your first morning in Queenstown should begin with a big meal! My favorite breakfast place is Vudu Café. They serve tasty meals, mouthwatering baked goods, and their coffee is amazing.
Once refueled, it’s time to head to the end of Brecon Street where the gondola leaves from. Vudu is within walking distance of Brecon Street so don’t worry about driving.
The gondola to Bob’s Peak costs $44 NZD per person for a return trip, click here to buy a ticket. The ride up only takes around 5 minutes. Once at the top, enjoy the marvelous views of Queenstown, the Remarkables, and Coronet Peak. You’ll also find a restaurant and bar here, in case you want to have a drink.
My favorite thing to do at Skyline though is to ride the Luge. The Luge is Queenstown’s very own gravity-fed go-kart track and it’s so much fun! You can actually book the luge with your gondola ticket to save money. I recommend you go at least two times, the first is just a warm-up!
Once you’ve explored Skyline, your ticket up will get you a free ride back down to Queenstown, just in time for lunch.
Walk the waterfront and eat at Fergburger (midday)
Fergburger is Queenstown’s most famous burger joint and honestly, I think the burger is worth the hype, it’s just that good! The line to order at Ferg can be long, so be warned and patient.
There are only a few tables at Ferg so don’t bother sticking around, instead grab your burger and head to the waterfront to enjoy the views. There are lots of park benches around as well as grassed areas to sit. If it’s hot outside, you can also head to the beach. Sit back and relax with Queenstown’s best burger and best view!
Go jet boating or join another adventure activity (afternoon)
Queenstown is the best place in New Zealand to go jet boating. There are 5 operators to choose from in Queenstown but I recommend booking the tour with Shotover Jet.
Shotover Jet is Queenstown’s most thrilling jet boat experience and also the most famous. Their tour is located in Shotover Canyon and from Queenstown they offer a free shuttle.
On the tour, you’ll get within inches of the Shotover Canyon’s walls and likely lose your voice screaming with excitement and fear! Afterward though, you won’t be able to wipe that smile off your face!
Alternatively, you can choose from a heap of other activities to do in the afternoon. Some of the most popular include:
- Skydiving: if you’ve never done it before, there is no place more beautiful to try than Queenstown. Click here to book.
- Bungy jumping: there are 3 different Bungy jumps in Queenstown as well as a range of canyon swings. Aj Hacket runs the Kawarau River Bungy (the first in the world,) Nevis (largest in New Zealand), and the Ledge which is actually up at Skyline so you’ll want to do that while you’re up there!
- Canyoning: the canyoning tour in Queenstown is so much fun. Seriously, this is my favorite tour and I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t done it. Just remember that you need to be visiting in summer if you want to go canyoning. Half-day canyoning tours typically start at 1 pm so it would be perfect!
Eat at my favorite restaurant and enjoy the nightlife (night)
A day exploring Queenstown downtown wouldn’t be complete without an amazing dinner at a famous local restaurant called Blue Kanu. I take every friend and family member who visits Queenstown here and with good reason.
The restaurant serves a mix of Polynesian (a group of islands including Hawaii, New Zealand, and Tonga) and Asian cuisine and every dish is delicious.
Two favorites of mine include the duck nachos and the golden shrimp, but they also do a whole fish and ribs that are to die for. On top of that, they serve amazing cocktails!
The restaurant has a relaxed but fancy vibe and the concept is to order a few different dishes for the table and share. It’s honestly the best place to eat in Queenstown!
Afterward, go and explore downtown Queenstown at night. If you want to enjoy live music at a fancy wine bar, head to Attiqa. Looking for more of a party vibe? Check out 1876. And if you’re out real late, you’ll likely end up at Cowboys to ride the mechanical bull and drink 1-liter beers. Oh, the hangovers!
Day 2: Explore Queenstown’s backyard
Exploring the small towns near Queenstown is just as much fun as exploring Queenstown itself. So, for day two, it’s time to head out and explore one of the most remote towns in New Zealand and Queenstown’s crown jewel: Lake Wakatipu!
Drive the scenic road from Queenstown to Glenorchy (morning)
First up is visiting Glenorchy, but first, you’ll need to get there! The scenic drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy is one of the best in NZ and along the way, there are plenty of amazing places to stop.
Without any stops, it only takes 45 minutes to drive to Glenorchy from Queenstown. However, you’re likely going to need two hours when stopping at the recommended places below.
Bob’s Cave Track
Bob’s Cove Track is a short 30-minute hike that leads to a breathtaking viewpoint. It’s considered one of the best hikes in Queenstown but remains well off the beaten path. You’ll need a good 45 minutes for this activity!
Bennets Bluff lookout
Next up is simply a lookout on the side of the highway. At Bennets Bluff lookout (see Google maps) you’ll find a large pullover bay as well as some signs that tell you the names of the mountains in the distance. A stop here only takes 10 minutes.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan then this is a must. Ithilien Camp is located at the Twelve Mile Delta Campground and you can find its location on Google Maps. It’s a short walk to the camp but only takes 15 minutes to visit!
Explore Glenorchy (morning/midday)
The best part about driving to Glenorchy is that the adventure is just beginning once you arrive. There are a ton of awesome things to do in Glenorchy but with limited time, you’re going to have to choose what you do.
The number one thing to do is to visit the Glenorchy Jetty. At the jetty, you get amazing views of the Humbolt Mountains and Lake Wakatipu, one of the most beautiful lakes in New Zealand. On top of that, it’s also where the Glenorchy Walkway starts.
This 5-kilometer loop track takes you through the Glenorchy lagoon. On a calm day, the reflections of the mountains are out of this world. It’s a nice walk that takes around 1.5 hours and it’s completely flat.
After, you should head to Paradise. Yep, that’s right there’s a place near Glenorchy that’s literally called Paradise. To explore the area, jump on the Glenorchy-Paradise Road and take a scenic drive.
The road is only 13 kilometers and although it’s a gravel road, it’s fine for all vehicles. Along the way, stop as you please and be sure to get a photo of the Paradise sign! The drive back to Glenorchy should take under an hour as you likely won’t need to stop.
If you don’t have your own transportation, you can also join this half-day tour to Glenorchy and Paradise.
Go on a Lake Wakatipu Cruise (afternoon/night)
After a day exploring Glenorchy you should arrive back in Queenstown in the early afternoon. Perfect timing for a cruise on Lake Wakatipu!
There are two cruise options:
- The TSS Earnslaw: departure at 3:30 pm and 5:30 pm. Click here to book a ticket for this cruise.
- The Spirit of Queenstown: departure at 3:15 pm (standard cruise) and 6:30 pm (dinner cruise). Click here to book a ticket for this cruise.
Choosing which cruise to do is all personal preference and budget. All of the cruises do the same route on the lake, the Spirit of Queenstown cruise is the cheaper option. However, the TSS Earnslaw is a historic steamship so it’s pretty unique.
The dinner cruise is the most expensive, but it does include a delicious 3-course dinner prepared by a top chef in Queenstown. They also only use local produce and cruise Lake Wakatipu at sunset which is truly magical!
Go out for dinner
After a day like that, you’ll have to decide if you have the energy to go out. If you didn’t decide on the dinner cruise then there are lots of great places to eat in Queenstown. A few favorites of mine include:
- Jervois Steak House: this place has the best steak in Queenstown but it does come at a pretty hefty price!
- Farelli’s Trattoria: the best pasta in town! It’s all hand made fresh on-site and the prices are really affordable!
- The Cow: this is the oldest restaurant in Queenstown. Their specialty is pizza and although not cheap, they really are delicious. They also serve an amazing garlic bread that is essentially an entire loaf of bread with hot garlic sauce poured over it!
Day 3: Get lost in the mountains
You can’t come to Queenstown without exploring at least some of the nearby mountains. From hiking to the top of them to sipping wine below, today is all about the mountains!
Hike Queenstown Hill (morning)
Queenstown Hill is the most famous hike in Queenstown. It’s relatively short and not technical at all, so it’s perfect for even the least experienced hikers.
From the top, the views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu, and The Remarkables Mountain Range are out of this world. I love heading up Queenstown Hill, especially for sunrise.
The trail can be hiked from Queenstown town center or alternatively, you can drive up the trailhead and park. The parking lot is small so if you plan on doing this, be sure to leave early in the morning.
From town, it’s around a 3-kilometer hike with a 600-meter elevation gain. All up, it takes around 3 hours to hike up Queenstown Hill, enjoy the views, and hike back down. The trail is rated as moderate but just take your time and enjoy those views!
Explore the Gibbston Valley Wine Region (midday to afternoon)
No trip to Queenstown would be complete without sipping some of the best wine in Queenstown in one of the most beautiful valleys in the world. The Gibbston Valley is famous for producing some of the best Pinot Noir in the world, and after trying far too much of it, I couldn’t agree more.
You have a few options when it comes to exploring the Gibbston Valley. You can choose to join an organized wine tour so you can drink as much as you want, tour the wineries yourself, or even jump on the self-guided hop on hop off bus tour.
Each has its own advantages but my favorite is the guided tour. Although they can be pricey, most include food on the tour as well as all your tasting fees (which can add up fast!).
Of course, if you want to save money, the hop on hop off tour is also excellent. The best part is, you can explore at your own pace and stop at the wineries (or breweries) you want to. Regardless of which way you explore, you’ll love the Gibbston Valley!
Explore Queenstown (night)
After a few drinks in the Gibbston Valley, a quick stop back at your hotel to get ready is likely needed. Or, if you’re just getting the party started you could head straight out to enjoy Queenstown’s lively atmosphere.
The thing I love about Queenstown is there’s something going on every day, you really don’t have to plan your trip around the weekend. So tonight, just explore.
If you love craft beer, head to one of the breweries in town such as Searchlight or Altitude Brewing. Both are locally owned and operated breweries, however, they are a short taxi ride out of town. If you want to try craft beer in town, Smiths Craft Beer House and Atlas have a huge range of rotating taps that feature New Zealand craft beer.
For the cocktail lovers, you need to go to The World Bar at least once. It’s trendy, filled with a young hip crowd and the cocktails are delicious. This place gets pretty rowdy though, so be prepared to let your hair down.
If you don’t drink and just want to relax, walk the waterfront and watch the sunset. Or take a nightly stroll through the Botanical Gardens! Remember in the summer it doesn’t get dark till 10 pm in Queenstown!
Your last night in Queenstown will be bittersweet. On one hand, you’ll have had an amazing time, but you’ve also likely fallen in love with the town. However, if your New Zealand road trip is just beginning, you’ve got lots more to see!
Where to stay in Queenstown
When it comes to picking the perfect place to stay when visiting Queenstown for only three days, I’d recommend picking a place close to town that has parking (if you have a car). Or a hotel with easy access to public transport.
Parking in Queenstown is a nightmare, so if you stay too far out and have to drive, you’re going to waste lots of time not only finding parking but juggling the time restrictions and dodging parking inspectors.
Queenstown budget accommodation: Flaming Kiwi Backpackers
Flaming Kiwi Backpackers is a really good budget option for those who enjoy the social atmosphere of a hostel. I actually stayed here when I first came to Queenstown and enjoyed it.
Although not the fanciest hostel, the Flaming Kiwi hostel has two kitchens and cozy social areas. Also, they are within walking distance of town but still far enough out that there is lots of off-street parking and parking onsite.
Queenstown family accommodation: the Whistler Holiday Apartments
The Whistler Holiday Apartments are perfect for larger families. It’s located within walking distance of Queenstown town center but far enough out that the hotel includes free parking.
All their apartments have a full kitchen which can save you lots of money on easy meals like breakfast and lunch. An added bonus of Whistler Holiday Apartments is the views from the rooms!
Queenstown romantic accommodation for couples
Copthorne Hotel & Resort Lakefront Queenstown is a couple’s dream! The hotel has lots of room options but the ones with lake views are worth the extra money. Copthorne Hotel is located near the Queenstown Gardens, a short walk from town. They offer parking at a cost of only $20 NZD per stay.
Queenstown luxury accommodation: Kamana Lakehouse
If you have the budget, why not stay at Kamana Lakehouse. The hotel is stunning and with such a splendid location overlooking Lake Wakatipu and a beautiful private spa, you will never want to leave…
Kamana Lakehouse is located in Fernhill which is a 20-minute walk from Queenstown. Alternatively, take the bus which runs right past the hotel and only costs $2 NZD per ride. By bus, it takes just 2 minutes to get to Queenstown.
3 day Queenstown itinerary: in conclusion
As you can see, this is the perfect Queenstown travel guide to get a great taste of the area. From wandering downtown, eating amazing food, exploring nearby towns to getting lost in the mountains, this 3-day itinerary for Queenstown really has it all!
It’s my take on how travelers can experience the best of Queenstown in such a short amount of time. I warn you though, after 3 days you will have fallen in love with this town and I bet you’ll be back again to explore Queenstown some more…
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