Queenstown in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Queenstown is an ideal destination for lovers of adventure, epic scenery, fine wine and extreme sports. With this friendly 3-day itinerary you will get to know the best in and out of the city - join me!

Carla Yaquer

Carla Yaquer

9 min read

Queenstown in 3 Days: a guidebook for getting the most out of your visit

Queenstown | ©Tom Hall

Embark on a magical 3-day journey in Queenstown, New Zealand, where natural beauty and culture merge in a unique experience. Following this itinerary you will discover the city in all its splendor, from the cultural highlights in the center, to the ascent and adventure along the iconic Skyline, passing through Glenorchy and Milford Sound where fjords and mountains harbor movie sets.

This 72-hour itinerary will allow you to see the best things to do in Queenstown and its surroundings, making the most of your visit.

Day 1 Explore downtown Queenstown and the Skyline

Queenstown Streets| ©Floyd Wilde
Queenstown Streets| ©Floyd Wilde

Get ready for an unforgettable day in Queenstown, the jewel of New Zealand's South Island! During your first day in the city you will explore the historic architecture of St Joseph's Catholic Church, delight in contemporary art at the city's best gallery and end the day at the highest peak of the Southern Alps - a perfect combination of culture and enjoyment for the senses!

Start the morning at St. Joseph's Church

After breakfast, begin your city tour at St Joseph's Catholic Church on Melbourne Street. This is the site of Queenstown's first Catholic church, whose history dates back to 1863 and after two decades of transformations, this church was finally erected in 1898. This landmark of the city is easily identifiable by its characteristic statue of St. Joseph.

In addition to its beautiful architecture, this church itself serves as a letter of introduction to Queenstown, where the bet is to exalt the natural beauty.

Visit the Mildford Gallery

Then, 600 meters from the church you will find your next stop: Milford Galleries. This is one of the most important art centers in the center of the city. This gallery exhibits samples of the richness and variety ofMaori traditions.

On the other hand, this gallery presents permanent exhibitions, talks, sculpture and painting rooms of classic and contemporary art, so you can contrast the New Zealand history through art.

Visit Fear Factory

Then, walk about 350 meters to enter the Fear Factory haunted house for a dose of New Zealand slang adrenaline in the haunted corridors of the place.

This is an experience you can enjoy alone or as a family, as everyone over the age of 15 is welcome.

Buy tickets for the Fear Factory haunted house

Get up close to the Queenstown Skyline

After this cultural introduction, walk half a mile to Skyline Queenstown. Hop aboard one of the Skyline cable car gondolas for breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables Mountains at 450 meters above sea level.

For a thrilling ride down the mountain, you can skip the gondola and try paragliding or the Skyline luge. The luge is a go-kart that goes down a winding track at high speed. There are beginner and advanced tracks, so you can choose the level of challenge. I highly recommend you to include this activity among your things to do in Queenstown with kids, it is one of their favorites and kids and adults from 2 years old are welcome.

Lunch stop

Once off the slopes, you can return to the gondolas and have lunch at the on-site Stratosfare Restaurant & Bar. Here the food is delicious, as is the view, but the prices are also high. Another option is to return to the center of Queenstown to recharge your batteries.

Just 200 meters from Skyline you will find El Camino Cantina Queenstown and Bespoke Kitchen. In both restaurants the food is good and the prices are more friendly.

Walk around Lake Wakatipu

After lunch, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll around Lake Wakatipu and enter theQueenstown Botanical Garden. And if you feel like continuing the adrenaline rush above, take a speedboat ride on the Wakatipu and the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers. Along the way you'll see the Remarkables mountain range as the speedboat drifts and makes 360° turns.

Book your speedboat ride

Evening of Polynesian cuisine

End the day at Blue Kanu restaurant where the best exponents of Hawaiian, New Zealand and Tongan cuisine merge to highlight the culinary art of the Polynesians. Blue Kanu is located just a couple of blocks from Lake Wakatipu on Camp St. Clair Road.

Day 2: Milford Sound adventure and dinner in downtown Queenstown

Milford Sound| ©ben wiseley
Milford Sound| ©ben wiseley

On your second day you can't miss the opportunity to visit the crown jewel of Queenstown: Milford Sound. The drive is a spectacle and you have at least a couple of options to see it.

You can go on your own by taking a coach or renting a car and then drive via State Hwy 6 and State Hwy 94 for 4 hours. If you prefer convenience, you can also book your place on a Milford Sound tour. This kind of guided tour usually includes a cruise, hiking, aerial tours and lunch for one of the best day trips from Queenstown. Once you have decided on the means, let's go there!

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is a stunning destination located in Fiordland National Park on New Zealand's South Island. In fact, its beauty is so striking that Traveler calls it the Eighth Wonder of the World, which is why they recommend it within the " road trip of a lifetime"

From its majestic rainforests, towering mountains, waterfalls and varied wildlife including penguins, dolphins and fur seals this destination is a must-see for any traveler in New Zealand and exploration is usually done by air, land and sea.

Book the Milford Sound Excursion

What can you see with a guided tour?

The adventure usually begins with a light aircraft flight from where you will have the opportunity to admire the majestic Southern Alps of New Zealand. This mountain range is known for its vibrantly colored natural beauty. If you schedule your trip between December and February, you will see green. If your trip takes place between June and August, you will see snow-capped mountains with their classic white color. You decide whether to include it among the things to do in summer in Queenstown or in winter.

The park is huge. Take into account that the Piopiotahi or Milford Sound is part of the Te Wahipounamu. The next activity you can do to get to know it is to go aboard a cruise from where you can appreciate the Lady Bowen Falls that fall from the adjacent mountains of Fiordland National Park. You can also admire the Seal Rock and hopefully see the surrounding wildlife.

It is also possible to contemplate Mitre Peak, a mountain that, like something out of the Little Prince's imagination, is famous for its hat-like shape. In Maori culture Mitre Peak is a sacred place but it does not prevent adventure sports from coming to life. You can go kayaking, rafting, bungee jumping, hiking, jet boating and much more in these UNESCO World Heritage-listed fjords and mountains.

Book the Milford Sound tour

Evening dinner at an iconic landmark in the city

In the evening, as you return to downtown Queenstown, dine at The Cow, a restaurant housed in an old stone barn that used to house cows that used to wander down the street to be milked daily.

This is the oldest operating restaurant in town. Here they take care to keep the reputation of their classics high, from the most humble ones like their homemade bread accompanied by spicy garlic sauce, to their wood-fired pizzas where you find a variety of flavors and bases, including gluten free. Find them one block from Skycity Casino.

Fancy dining on the lake? Another alternative is to dine at Perky's, a floating bar on the shores of Lake Wakatipu. This is an ideal place for those who prefer to dine with tapas accompanied by the best drinks and cocktails, including the popular mulled wine.

Day 3: Explore Glenorchy and Paradise, the land of the Lord of the Rings

Glenorchy| ©Stephen H
Glenorchy| ©Stephen H

You can't leave Queenstown without seeing its most famous movie locations, as well as the highest point in the Southern Alps. For this reason, the third day is dedicated to walk the road from the city center to Mount Earnslaw, passing through Isengard on the Glenorchy-Routeburn road.

That's 6 essential stops. Although it sounds long, by car it takes about 2 hours to cover the entire route, however, the time at each stop will depend on what you want to do. You can book the Lord of the Rings tour or go on your own. And, so you don't lose track of any iconic places, here's a map. Let's get started!

The camp of Ithilien

The first thing to do is to have breakfast in the center of Queenstown before embarking on the walk. During the walk there are very few restaurants. I recommend you to buy some snacks to have in your backpack. Once you have recharged your energy, go 12 kilometers to 12 Mile Delta, where the Ithilien camp is located.

If you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, here you will have the first vivid memory of the saga. What makes this place particularly special is the small campfire where Frodo, Sam and Gollum sat down to feast on rabbit. Sitting in the very spot where the characters from the novel shared a meal and seeing the perfectly preserved surroundings is a thrilling experience that every fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterpiece should experience.

Book the Lord of the Rings tour

Bob's Cave

Take a break to recover from the previous shock with one of the walks recommended by locals about 3.5 kilometers from Ithilien. Here is located a scenic trail known as Bob's Cave or Bob's Cove Track that flanks Lake Wakatipu. During this section you pass through a red beech forest, which includes mature trees. The trail passes a couple of secluded coves, as well as several spas where you can splash around in the water.

The hike to Bob's Cove is quick, takes about 30 minutes, and the views are breathtaking. Despite being considered a paradise hiking activity, specifically, one of the best trails in Queenstown, it remains relatively uncrowded. Maybe because it hasn't been photographed on film yet, but hey, that's likely to change soon so don't forget to get your postcards here.

Book the Glenorchy and Paradise Tour


Did you know that Paradise is a real place located at the end of the Queenstown - Glenorchy road, didn't you? And what if I told you that it was also used as the location for the House of Beorn, by the way, a space that took center stage in The Desolation of Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy. Isn't that cool? In addition, scenes from Wolverine were also shot among these picturesque mountains.

On a calm day, the reflections of the surrounding mountains take your breath away. Located 38 kilometers from Bob's Cave, this is a great place to get out the camera but also to stretch your legs by taking a leisurely stroll on a completely flat terrain.

Book the Lord of the Rings tour


Your next stop is 10 kilometers from Paradise. Located just north of the charming township of Glenorchy. In the Dart Valley lies a place that served as the backdrop for the breathtaking Valley of the Wizards in the Lord of the Rings saga: Isengard.

Isengard, is one of the most photographed locations in Tolkien's work. Set against a rugged mountain range, it creates a unique weather pattern of sudden clouds and mists. This produces a mystical and sometimes imposing atmosphere that Peter Jackson felt was perfect for illustrating the power of Isengard on the big screen.

Book the Glenorchy and Paradise Tour

Nan Curunir/The Valley of the Wizards

At the end of the Third Age, the valley at the southern foot of the Misty Mountains, where Isengard stood, was called Nan Curunír. This iconic stop is located 2.5 kilometers from Isengard.

The name is derived from the Wizard Saruman's sindarin, Curunír, who lived there. Nan Curunir was located at the base of the mountain Methedras, in the southernmost valley of the Misty Mountains. The place became Isengard at the end of the Second Age, and the name Nan Curunir was given to it when Saruman chose it as his residence.

The setting you see here made it to the screen in not one, but three films in the Lord of the Rings saga.

Book the Glenorchy and Paradise Tour

Mount Earnslaw or Pikirakatahi

Earnslaw is located 14.5 kilometers from the Valley of the Wizards. This mountain is part of the Hobbit route through New Zealand. It is one of the most impressive places in the trilogy. The mountain ranges surrounding Pikirakatahi also served as part of the Misty Mountains trail in Lord of the Rings.

As you make your way from Queenstown to Glenorchy, you can see the exact spot where Bilbo and the Company of Dwarves continued their journey on foot after leaving Rivendell. Here the brotherhood trudged through the snow in The Fellowship of the Ring.

At Mount Earnslaw or Pikirakatahi you will be greeted by towering granite walls that rise 800 meters from the bottom of the basin. A large glacier creates numerous waterfalls with its meltwater, which spills from the top of the cliffs. Not bad to end one of the best tours of Queenstown and return to the center.

Back to the city, depending on the time you have spent at each stop, you can take the opportunity to eat a late lunch at one of the restaurants facing Lake Wakatipu, before heading to the airport.