1. Centre of New Zealand
In reality the centre-ish of New Zealand – the real geographical center is somewhere in Cook Strait – this is nevertheless the surveying centre of New Zealand, the point 'zero, zero' from where the first surveys were started in the 1870s. It is a pretty, steep bush walk with stunning views once you thankfully reach the top. You can add on this walk to several longer ones in the city centre. Walters Bluff offers more panoramic views and takes you down to Miyazu Japanese Gardens, which are clouded with cherry blossom in spring and are also right next door to a refreshing beer at Founders Brewery.
2. Saturday Market
Bustling now for more than 20 years, the Nelson Market is a mix of local artisans, produce, cheese, good coffee, European breads and pastries, music, seedlings, natural skincare, pickles, pottery, clothing, toys, candles, jewellery, Asian and Mexican food trucks, and more.
In summer, it’s heaving, so getting there early (8am) isn’t a bad idea.
Famous stalls include the Pic’s Peanut Butter stall, where the cult brand began (you can also take a tour at the nearby factory); Steamboat Billy toy boats, powered by a candle; Don Rodrigo Sourdough for a pesto stick; and the oliebollen cart, where you can buy a cup of coffee and a delicious Dutch doughnut.
3. Founders Heritage Park
A leafy, landscaped park where a bunch of heritage buildings have been collected together to create an attractive historical town, this is a fascinating detour and a great place to take kids. Founders Brewery and Café is here with a sunny playground and a giant decommissioned plane to play on, as well as a model railroad. In October the Nelson Arts Festival takes over and during the rest of the year the park hosts regular events and festivals, including an enormous book fair, craft beer festival Marchfest, alternative lifestyle and food events, and frequent live music.
4. The Free House
A craft-beer heaven, stop at The Free House, a renovated church, for great beers from around the region and the rest of the country, as well as a good menu and wine selection as well. There’s mulled wine and cider in the winter, and add a packet of locally-made Proper Crisps to your order. Bring takeaways from The Indian Café across the road – the pub will provide the plates and silverware – or lay a blanket on the grass outside in the garden among the feijoa trees, passionfruit, and hop vines, and watch it fill every afternoon at knock-off time, particularly on a sunny Friday, when it seems the entire town packs in. The pub frequently hosts live music, poetry readings, speeches, and dancing.
5. The Suter Café
The recently refurbished Suter Art Gallery is a gorgeous, warm mix of wood and glass, making the most of the beautiful Queen’s Gardens just outside the door. The gallery is the oldest regional art gallery in New Zealand and is a beloved Nelson treasure featuring works of national significance, including New Zealand’s largest collection of watercolours by the nineteenth-century landscape artist, John Gully, and more than 100 works by Toss Woollaston. There’s also a shop featuring local artists, and at the adjoining café, the food is fresh and delicious – don’t go past the salads.
It’s a pleasant place to while away the morning and enjoy the sun streaming in with a good selection of magazines and newspapers.
Plays, films, and other events are held regularly in the onsite theatre.