10 Things to Do in Auckland in December

Christmas lights, food and events are the stars of Auckland every December, you can enjoy barbecues, discounts in the stores and welcome the New Year on a cruise.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

11 min read

10 Things to Do in Auckland in December

Vista nocturna de luces en Auckland |©Samuel Ferrara

December is one of the best months to visit Auckland, as the city dresses up, showing its best colors, food, decorations and activities, to celebrate Christmas and New Year. The smell of pudding and the joy in the streets will grab you, this month has a busy schedule with festivals, markets, recitals and a variety of discounts on dates such as Boxing Day which is a gift exchange and sharing after the Christmas festivities.

You won't be bored at any time and there are many free or low-cost activities. As it is high season, hotels and attractions tend to fill up or have long lines, so be sure to schedule tours in advance.

1. Enjoy Christmas in the Park with Coca Cola

Coca Cola Christmas Concert|©Aurélie Galtier
Coca Cola Christmas Concert|©Aurélie Galtier

Coca Cola Christmas in the Park is a favorite activity for locals and tourists alike during December and the best part is that admission is free. The event has been held at Auckland Domain since 1994 and features food stalls, live music, local bands, theater performances and holiday decorations.

The main stage is set up on sand and there are screens everywhere so you won't miss a second of the event. The Christmas tree lighting is held to begin with, the evening closes with fireworks, donations can be made and the money raised is donated to charitable foundations.

2. Do your shopping on Queen Street on Saturdays in December

Auckland, Queen Street|©Jane Nearing
Auckland, Queen Street|©Jane Nearing

December is also the favorite month for shopping lovers, in Auckland you can do your shopping with special discounts in the shopping centers of Queen Street. The best part is that there will be merriment and music everywhere, free sweets, Christmas performances and immersive experiences in luxury stores.

The city center is transformed in December and is an unbeatable place to eat, have a snack or watch the sunset, ideal for taking unrepeatable photographs. In addition, there are performances by puppets, elves and jugglers.

Best places to go shopping in December

If you want to do some shopping in Auckland, don't forget to bring extra space in your suitcase or check luggage and book a comfortable transfer to the airport. The city has a variety of stores, boutiques, shopping malls and stocked suburbs to welcome you. The best streets or places to shop in Auckland in December are:

  • High Street, just a few minutes from Queen Street you will find shops full of Christmas life, but with less chaos, it is an ideal option if you prefer to shop in peace and quiet.
  • Britomart, a transport station that also offers local stores, food stalls and places to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer.
  • Ponsonby, is an affluent neighborhood of Auckland that is worth a visit, to enjoy the Christmas decorations in its modern districts and shop in designer stores of international brands or local designers.
  • Newmarket, if you're looking for designer labels and want to get out of the city, then visit the New Auckland Market, where you'll escape the hustle and bustle of the city center.
  • Devonport, hop on the ferry and leave Auckland for a few hours to explore the stores in the picturesque streets of this seaside town, where you can buy art, antiques and handicrafts.

Book a guided tour of Auckland

3. Don't miss the Christmas sparkle

Christmas lights in the street|©Dale DeVries
Christmas lights in the street|©Dale DeVries

From late November to early December, Christmas lights are switched on at various locations around the city. In fact, Auckland shines brighter than a disco ball during December, as gingerbread houses are made, the heart of the city is decorated and original structures are put together for each year, even the harbors glow in the distance.

If you want to go all over the city in search of illuminated sites, I recommend walking, cycling, tuk tuk, or take a bus tour with free stops. The Auckland Metro also works well and is excellent for getting around quickly.

Admire the lights on Franklin Road

Every year during December the streets of Franklin Road turn on their Christmas lights, creating a colorful and lively passageway. Locals join in the celebration and decorate their homes with fake snow, bells, elves and other decorations. In addition, all the surrounding businesses adopt the festive decorations, so you can take pictures everywhere.

Add Glenbrook Vintage Railway trains to your itinerary

If there's one thing you can't miss in an Auckland December, it's the traditional Glenbrook Vintage Railway trains. The event, called Counties Energy Christmas Lights Trains at Night, lasts approximately 10 days and offers a variety of activities for the whole family, the trains leave the station (which is also decorated and illuminated) every thirty minutes and people can purchase their ticket for a ride.

In addition, there are tours or Santa's grottoes, a Christmas market with food stalls, picnic areas and live entertainment. The whole family can have their pictures taken with Santa Claus and there is free parking for visitors.

Head to Santa's Enchanted Forest at Smith & Caughey's

If you want to see lighted and animated window displays, or take the kids on a different plan, then you should spend some time at the Holiday Show at Smith & Caughey's, each year a team of illustrators come together to design a completely different experience inspired by children's stories.

That's not all, the best part is going into Santa's Enchanted Forest, where you can explore, have your picture taken and meet the elves. It's like a treasure hunt with the reward of sitting next to Santa.

Enjoy the illuminated Sky Tower during December

The Sky Tower is a must-see attraction during your stay in Auckland, however, to see the lights that illuminate the tower, it's best to get closer to the heart of the city. If you want a VIP view, head to downtown Auckland where you will enjoy the magical light show that takes place every hour between 9:00 p.m. and midnight.

They also often put up giant Christmas trees in a golden hue, or dress the streets in shades of crimson with Pohutukawa trees, a species unique to New Zealand.

Book a bus tour of Auckland

4. Participate in Boxing Day

Spacious parking and picnic areas|©PINOY PHOTOGRAPHER
Spacious parking and picnic areas|©PINOY PHOTOGRAPHER

Black Friday? New Zealanders prefer Boxing Day, a day when gift exchanges, plays and charity events are organized. If you want to do some retail therapy in Auckland, this is the best day to go window shopping, as stores start their sale season in malls, warehouses and markets. Families also organize to make a buffet with leftovers from Christmas, or opt to have a barbecue for lunch.

It is also celebrated in Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa and Canada and it is common for rugby, field hockey and soccer games to be organized, which you can attend to spend a different afternoon. Years ago Boxing Day was not a celebration, it was a day off for those who worked with wealthy families.

5. Attend the Lights to Remember Magical Exhibition

Lights on the Tree|©Christie
Lights on the Tree|©Christie

In December there are so many activities that it's hard to choose which one to attend. You can't miss the Lights to Remember Magic Exhibit held on the grounds of Hospice of Mercy, where Thursdays through Saturdays during December, the garden is decorated with cascading lights.

Each light represents the ties to loved ones who have left this plane and whose absence is doubly noticeable during Christmas. From this site there are stunning views out over St. Mary's Bay and the money collected benefits the hospice.

6. Explore the Christmas markets

Harvest Market|©Greenville Daily Photo
Harvest Market|©Greenville Daily Photo

In December there are a variety of Christmas markets that fill the city with life. Many are held annually and have fixed stalls, offering local, street and international food, live music, artist performances, crafts, art galleries and wine tastings.

You can spend hours walking around these markets, so they are an excellent plan that should be on your list. Here are my favorites:

Crafts at Parnell's Craft Harvest.

If you love crafts and want to find a corner to shop, take a stroll through Parnell's Craft Harvest market held at Jubilee Hall, it's available all month long, and sometimes even extends into the first week of January. Here you can buy everything handmade, such as carved wooden objects, stamps, candles, stationery, decorations, homewares and handmade clothing.

For less walking, you can schedule a bus tour with free stops.

Clay pieces at The Clay Center

Another very similar site is The Clay Center that brings together potters who organize a market that revolves around clay, you can buy jewelry, tableware, Christmas gifts and more.

A Tour of Polish Culture: Auckland Polish Christmas Market

If you want to experience the spirit of the European Christmas, then you should take a stroll through the Polish Christmas Market, organized by the Polish Association, who offer typical Polish food and craft stalls so you can buy souvenirs of your trip.

7. Schedule a visit to a Christmas musical

Motown the Musical|©The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts
Motown the Musical|©The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts

In December there are many things to do, for example, enjoy a show at the height of this holiday. In Auckland there are a variety of musicals for children and adults, with music, animated effects, colorful costumes and themes that enliven the Christmas spirit. You can sing and dance to the rhythm of the elves, or enjoy Santa's journey as he delivers presents.

In addition, there are live short films, piano concerts, karaoke and live music, with traditional and modern songs. In Aotea Square there are a variety of places where this kind of events are organized, such as Broadway Musical Christmas, so it is advisable to be aware of the information on the official website.

8. Eat a typical Christmas lunch barbecue

Inside the restaurant|©A. Wee
Inside the restaurant|©A. Wee

If you want to spend December 24 and 25 in Auckland, but you don't know anyone, you have to make your own plans! There are a variety of events in the city, for example, outdoor barbecues are organized for Christmas lunch. You can also sign up for a guided food tour or find your favorite restaurant and try typical holiday foods including roast turkey with vegetables and sauces, fruity pudding with brandy, sweet stuffed cakes, glazed ham with cherries and pineapple, meringue pie and strawberries.

Some places for Christmas dinner or lunch are:

  • The Sugar Club, if you want to dine from the heights, having the best views of Auckland, this is the perfect place for you. It is located on the 53rd floor of the Sky Tower and is a luxury experience that you must live in Christmas where they will offer you meals, desserts and quality cocktails.
  • Devon on the Wharf, if you like Mediterranean food and want to eat by the sea, this place in the harbor is the best option.
  • Harbourside Ocean Bar Grill, if you are looking for a barbecue for Christmas lunch or Boxing Day festivities, you can enjoy their meals overlooking the sea. During the holidays they charge an extra percentage that you should keep in mind.
  • Feriza's, for lovers of Turkish food there is a special corner in Auckland, where you can eat a variety of dishes such as honey donuts with chocolate, without paying extra percentage during the holidays.
  • Boy and Bird, in Ponsonby you will find local food, wines made in the region and a unique sauce offered by the restaurant.

9. Go to the annual concert of the philharmonic orchestra.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra|©Bullet PR NZ
The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra|©Bullet PR NZ

Every year the Auckland Philharmonia Orch estra holds concerts in late December at Holy Trinity Cathedral on Parnell Street, where local choirs gather. Ticket prices range from €28 to €53, depending on the seat chosen. Another similar option is to attend opera concerts held in theaters around the city.

10. Spend New Year's Eve in Auckland

New Year Auckland|©Phil Duckett
New Year Auckland|©Phil Duckett

New Zealand is one of the first countries to welcome the New Year and there are many activities scheduled to enjoy the countdown. At the Sky Tower a screen is installed to announce how many minutes are left, there is an animated laser light show and to close the night there are five minutes of fireworks. You can also attend the light show at Auckland Harbour that can be seen from Silo Park, Halsey, Queens Wharves and Hinemoa Park.

On Queen Street, Harbour Bridge and other important points of the city, there are also celebrations where lots of people gather to welcome the new year. You can go to Britomart Street where one of the biggest parties in the center of Auckland takes place, the entrance costs approximately 68 euros and it goes from 4:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m.

The city's terraces and rooftops host New Year's Eve parties with DJs, live music and quality cocktails. You can purchase tickets for cruise ships that sail from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. offering celebrations at sea, or if you prefer you can spend the night at a vineyard on the outskirts of the city or stay and camp out.

Please note that transportation during the night of New Year's Eve is quite limited. Ferries, trains and buses stop for a couple of hours and some streets, such as Queen Street, are closed due to the number of tourists and locals consuming alcohol.

Book a dinner cruise in Auckland

Other activities in Auckland

Mission Bay|©take-m
Mission Bay|©take-m

The activities in Auckland during December are practically endless, and some even extend into the first week of January.

Celebrate the December Solstice on the beach

The December Solstice makes the arrival of summer official in New Zealand, it is celebrated before Christmas and you can take advantage of it to escape to the beach. Some suggestions are Piha, Mission Bay, Omaha, Takapuna and Orewa which are all nearby waiting for you.

Christmas caroling at local parks

Local parks host events open to the public that feature caroling, Jingle Bells, food booths, children's performances, entertainment and surprise visits straight from Santa's workshop.

What to pack when visiting Auckland in December

airport travel suitcase|© Dimitri Karastelev
airport travel suitcase|© Dimitri Karastelev

Cool clothing is ideal for the month of December as summer begins to brighten, however, if you plan to do activities outside the city, in hilly or colder areas, you should include warm and waterproof clothing to protect you. It is also important to bring thin sweaters during hikes to avoid over-burning.

If the beach is in your plans, include swimsuits and for parties or festivals add more elegant or colorful clothes. Leave some room in your suitcase for shopping at markets, Boxing Day or Christmas shopping Saturdays. You'll need comfortable walking shoes, mosquito repellents, sunscreen, sunglasses and a three-pronged electronics adapter. If you carry medication, be sure to have your prescription translated into English.