A Day Guide to Dunedin Arts and Architecture
Dunedin is a city rich in history and culture. It’s a place where creativity is abundant and old and new are celebrated - with both impressive and iconic architectural designs, and quirky modern gems dotted throughout the town.
This carefully curated trail of Dunedin must-sees will take you on a journey showcasing the more artistic spots in the city to uplift, inspire and bring out the creative within. It will also direct you to stop off at local favourites along the way to enjoy a locally-roasted coffee, tasty treat, or a perfectly poured pint. So what are you waiting for? Let’s explore…
46 Stuart Street, Dunedin Central
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. To prep for your big day out in Dunedin start by popping along to Morning Magpie, a funky inner-city café focusing on quality and beauty.
Caffeinate yourself with a Vanguard flat white (their own blend and served up with vintage teaspoons) and soak in the ambience while beginning your artistic immersion. Take a seat under the hanging lanterns and check out the local art on display – collected and curated by the café’s owner Troy. Get your nutrition with a plate of miso mushrooms or hit a sweet spot with one of their famous cinnamon pinwheels. Word on the street is that their Rueben sandwiches are the best in town, too. With quality food, thirst-quenching coffee and artistic features – Morning Magpie certainly is a vibe.
The Octagon – Dunedin Public Art Gallery + St Paul’s Cathedral
The Octagon, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
You’ll now be ready to take a stroll around the eight-sided heart of Dunedin, shaped in an Octagon.
This central city hub is home to many must-see spots including New Zealand’s first art gallery. Established in 1884, The Dunedin Public Art Gallery hosts a diverse array of historical and contemporary collections to bring out and satisfy your creative side.
After getting your art fix, head on up to St Paul’s Cathedral – the impressive piece of gothic architecture that sits majestically atop the Octagon. Dating back to 1915 when the first foundation stone was laid, St Paul’s exhibits beautiful stained glass windows and dramatic structures – certainly one to tick off on your list.
Dunedin Railway Station
Anzac Avenue, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
Another of Dunedin’s architectural gems, Dunedin Railway Station is home to the country’s longest platform which has been used for a multitude of events, and has even been transformed into a catwalk for designer fashion shows.
The Renaissance revival architecture (reminiscent of a grandiose gingerbread house) is one of the most photographed spots in the country, however, it’s the inside that we want you to explore.
The old booking hall is a wonder in itself, featuring a mosaic of almost 750,000 Minton tiles. A curving staircase ascends to a Royal Doulton porcelain balcony where you can get a bird’s eye view of the elaborate designs. A masterpiece in rich and elaborate embellishments, it is well worth a visit.
First Church of Otago
415 Moray Place, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
Another historic and impressive piece of Southern design – First Church of Otago is often referred to as New Zealand’s finest 19th-century building. The neo-gothic structure is built of brick and faced with Oamaru limestone, holding massive and intricate stained glass windows dedicated to those fallen in war. Park benches are dotted around the well-kept grounds with established trees, flower beds, and lush lawns. Take a look both inside and out and admire the unique turrets and soaring spire.
The Tart Tin
42 Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central
A hole-in-the-wall boutique bakehouse that will satisfy the sweetest of teeth and likely inspire you to get creative in your own kitchen. The Tart Tin originated in a caravan at the Otago Farmers Market, and due to its huge popularity owner Matt Cross set up a permanent shop. Open Wednesday through to Friday, friendly faces serve up great takeaway coffee (adorned with a sweet treat for your enjoyment) and a gorgeous display of goodies made with local ingredients and seasonal produce. Indulge in a beautifully engineered lemon meringue pie tartlet or a cinnamon apple sticky bun before heading off on the rest of your adventure.
Queens Gardens + Lan Yuan, Chinese Gardens
Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central, Dunedin + Lan Yuan Chinese Gardens, 39 Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the city is a place for calm and quiet reflection. Situated at the Northern end of the Warehouse precinct, the Queens Gardens are home to several structures including a Celtic Cross, Statues of Queen Victoria, and Donald M. Stuart (one of the founding fathers of Dunedin). In the centre of the Gardens stands the city’s main war memorial – a 28-metre-tall and 8-sided Dunedin Cenotaph column. Seats are dotted amongst the lawns and trees and provide a place for some downtime in the centre of Dunedin. Just across the road, you will find another oasis of calm – Lan Yuan, the Dunedin Chinese Gardens. Created in celebration of the city’s Chinese heritage and relationship with sister city Shanghai, the Gardens showcase the beauty of Chinese architecture and design while highlighting the essence of nature. Traditional wooden buildings with intricate latticework are surrounded by lily ponds, rock formed pathways, sculptures and soothing water features. If serenity is what you are after, this is the perfect spot.
Street Art Trail
Various Locations, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
On your travels, you might have already noticed some interesting artworks around the city. That’s because Dunedin is home to a world-class street art trail of imaginative and innovative works. Situated in surprising places, the works are organised by a group of volunteers who facilitate the creation of the visionary pieces. Head to Vogel Street to see “The Witching Hour” by Maggie Covell - depicting the contrast between light and dark and good and evil, and a larger-than-life work by Phlegm where Maori waka and a steam-punk submarine emerge from an enormous fish’s mouth on the side of Vogel St Kitchen. Head online and grab a guide to help you find the more inconspicuous works on your creative treasure hunt.
Blue Oyster Art Project Space
16 Dowling Street, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
Dunedin is well known for its creativity and the many artists that reside and work in the city. Established in 1999, Blue Oyster is a not-for-profit art space that allows artists, writers, curators, and arts practitioners to work in an innovative and experimental environment to nurture and develop their craft. Not only do they support artists, but exhibitions and events are also free to attend - making art accessible for all. The space holds a new exhibition every month featuring non-commercial work by local and national artists, presenting inventive creations reflective of current trends in the contemporary art scene. Head on in and get your creative fix.
The Daily Coffee Co
366 a Princes Street, Dunedin Central
With all this exploring you’ll be well due a caffeine top-up by now. The Daily Coffee Co is a testament to Dunedin’s great coffee culture. With locally roasted original blends, charming personal service and a quirky space filled with mirrors and hanging lights, Daily Coffee Co delivers your daily dose in style. As well as the humble espresso, they serve up alternative brews including filter coffee and frozen flat whites made with oat milk designed especially for the warmer Dunedin months. Customers are encouraged to embrace the coffee community by sitting down and enjoying a chat over a cuppa and a cake or slice on the side - a delight often missed in a busy world. So take a seat, take a breath, and enjoy.
Wander the Warehouse Precinct
Warehouse Precinct, Dunedin
Now that you’re well and truly juiced up it’s time to explore the Warehouse Precinct - a funky urban area that was once the centre of wholesale trade in Dunedin. The Precinct is home to a mish-mash of interesting buildings – some dating back to the Victorian and Edwardian periods, with a number showcasing Classical revival and Chicago school architecture. Many of these buildings have been restored and revitalised to house new and exciting businesses such as the NMA Building (49 Water Street) - an Italian style building built in 1883 as the headquarters of the Union Steam Ship Company, now home to a wine store and psychology clinic among others, and the Donald Reid Store (77 Vogel Street) - once a wool and grain store and now an expansive and polished hub for a range of businesses. If you want an expert's opinion - head online to book a guided tour with Athol – a passionate local who will help you discover some of the city’s architectural treasures. While you explore you might even spot some of the monumental and experimental murals dotted around the area as part of the Dunedin Street Art Trail.
Steamer Basin Brewery
No Name Alley, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
Tucked down an unmarked laneway sits a hidden gem - Steamer Basin Brewery - an urban brewery adding to the movement of converted historic buildings in the city. This neighbourly brewery and taproom offers a range of beers celebrating New Zealand hops and fresh ingredients from the Otago region – think honey pilsner and lemongrass saison. Long tables encourage conversations with fellow punters and align with the business ethos – creating well-balanced beer that’s enjoyable to share. Dog-friendly, family-friendly, and with beer on tap and in take-home bottles, it’s a lovely little local full of character and welcoming vibes.
The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery
61 Royal Terrace, Dunedin Central
A place where weird and wonderful are celebrated, The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is a privately-owned treasure trove of curiosities. With collections carefully curated by Bruce Mahalski, who has been collecting since the age of eight, the central city villa is the perfect place to expand your mind. Walls are eclectically adorned with everything from informative artefacts and historical artworks to fantastical and intriguing items - with skulls and bones (from the tiniest bat skeleton to a huge hippo skull), biological curiosities, ethnological artworks, and items with a connection to the natural world. Constantly expanding and changing, there is always something new to see – so step inside and be surprised.
42 Queens Gardens, Dunedin Central
Moiety is a foodie’s delight. Tucked into a sleek space with exposed brick and mood lighting in the restored Terminus Building, it sets the perfect scene for a personalised and intimate dining experience. Owners Sam Gasson and Kim Underwood and their team create a thoughtful degustation menu celebrating local produce and seasonal accents. Dishes are beautifully presented and include experimental flavour combinations that surprise – who would have thought salted caramel parsnip could be so, so good? Grab a spot at the bar while you peruse their diverse drinks menu (the Black Chook sparkling shiraz is a total tastebud treat) and watch the artisans at work. Sophisticated and satisfying, it’s a must-visit on Dunedin’s culinary scene.
Mini Bar Crawl: Woof! + Indigo Room
Woof!, 368 Moray Place, Dunedin Central, Dunedin + Indigo Room, Basement/26 Moray Place, Dunedin Central, Dunedin
What better way to finish your big day out taking in Dunedin architecture than with a mini bar crawl? Dunedin is home to many quirky bars that are well-worth stopping off at for a nightcap. Woof! is a vibrant community bar all about inclusivity. An eclectic interior creates a wonderful ambience with many different spots to park up at – you can sit in their booths, vintage seats, or even make yourself at home in a glasshouse filled with pot plants. Serving a range of refreshments including winter mulled wine and cocktails for all seasons, and tapas for a late-night munch, Woof! is all about good vibes. When you’re ready for your next quest, take a walk around Moray Place to an alluring neon light directing you to Indigo Room. Tucked down an inviting alley, it’s a cute and cosy bar focusing on organic and minimal intervention wines while serving up tasty bites from their neo-bistro menu. Attention is paid to the space with a fittingly indigo coloured wall of mirrors and a host of other fancy features. It’s the perfect place to settle in and enjoy a tipple or two. You’ve had a big day – you deserve it.
Words by: Sophie Morris
Photography by: Nancy Zhou