The iconic Cuba Street bucket fountain. © Pivot Photography

Urban explorer: Cuba Street


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In 1840, when the early settlers sailed into Wellington harbour on a ship named The Cuba, it’s unlikely they would have imagined the street their vessel gave its name to. 

Because Wellington’s Cuba Street is, quite simply, cool. Running from Webb to Wakefield Streets, this slice of bohemia positively thrums with culinary and creative soul. It’s the city’s street of choice to dine, drink, meet and even busk. It’s also the best place in the Capital to experience almost the entire spectrum of sub-cultures from hipsters and beautiful people, to students, tourists and office workers letting down their hair.

Cuba Street at sunset....

A post shared by chelebanks (@chelebanks) on Nov 30, 2015 at 8:37pm PST

Bring an empty belly to Cuba Street, because it’s one of Wellington’s best places to eat.

Brunch is popular here, especially at Fidel’s Cafe which has been a fixture for as long as anyone can remember. There’s ample space inside the quirky cafe, but when the famous Wellington wind is off bothering someone else, park yourself in the courtyard with a coffee and one of Fidel’s famous pizzas.

A few doors down is Olive Cafe, another Cuba street institution (as are its cheese scones), while across the road is Loretta, younger sister of Floriditas Cafe & Restaurant (owned by the same folk). Get to Loretta early, especially if you’re brunching, because their home-made crumpets drenched in kaffir lime curd are popular. No matter where you choose to refuel on Cuba Street, make sure you get a window seat so you can watch the lively parade of humanity go by. 

🖼☕ #floriditas#nz#coffee

A post shared by Lill (@____lill____) on Apr 8, 2018 at 5:05am PDT

If you’re in the market for some cool pre-loved clothes and prefer to support local, independent businesses then Cuba Street’s got your back. Hunters & Collectors, about half-way down Cuba Street, is Wellington’s pre-eminent, and oldest vintage clothing emporium. Take your time browsing the two-storey space because it’s jam-packed with all kinds of clothing and shoes. Just along the street is Ziggurat which sells on consignment and tends to specialise in New Zealand-made garments, from floral mid-century frocks and 60s cocktail dresses to more contemporary fashion. For a taste of new and emerging designers, head to Frutti, which has been trafficking in original, quirky clothing since 1995. This colourful and fun shop stocks mainly sustainable New Zealand clothing. 

If you can, time your visit for a Friday evening when the Wellington Night Market kicks off in the Left Bank. More than 22 stalls offer arts and crafts, independent fashions, jewellery, electronics and cheap eats as well as local and international delicacies.

Relax with the locals, listen to live music, watch cultural performances or take a load off with a foot massage. 

But Cuba Street is more than just food and shopping: it’s also home to one of New Zealand’s most iconic landmarks – the Bucket Fountain. Built in 1969, this colourful kinetic sculpture made from plastic buckets is one of the city’s most photographed locations. Feel free to do the same – just make sure you stand well back when that famous Wellington wind is blowing because you’re likely to get splashed.

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