I wasn’t sure how I was going to like Queenstown. I’m admittedly not much of a fan of heights, and haven’t quite talked myself into the things that Queenstown is really famous for – like bungy jumping or skydiving. But after spending 3 days in Queenstown, I realized that there’s a lot to do both for adrenaline junkies and people like me. From a great food scene (still dream of both Fergburger and Taco Medic), to a surprisingly good wine region just outside of town, to some of the best hiking in New Zealand, Queenstown is well worth your time.
This 3 day Queenstown itinerary will help you find the best way to spend your time, whether you’re looking to skydive every day, or just relax on the lakefront with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in your hand.
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Logistics for Your 3 Day Queenstown Itinerary
First, some quick logistics for your time in Queenstown.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
There are tons of options in Queenstown in terms of where to stay. In general, the closer in to downtown, the more expensive it’s going to be. We stayed along the lake east of Queenstown and it was perfect: quiet, private, parking, and there’s a handy bus that runs along highway 6, which means you’re not more than 15 minutes away from being in the middle of all the action.
I almost always prefer Airbnb over hotels. The exceptions are when you’re in a place for only a day, when the Airbnb cleaning fee is going to make it more expensive, and when you need to check in early or something like that, where hotels are going to be the way to go.
The Best Airbnb Options in Queenstown
Ultimately, we fell in love with this Airbnb with a waterfront patio and a full kitchen and decided to spend a little bit more than we usually would. It was great to enjoy my morning coffee or my afternoon cider on the patio, and it’s an easy 10 minute ride into town on the bus, or 15-20 minute walk.
Now that I’m revisiting Queenstown’s Airbnb options, here are a few more that caught my eye. They’re all on my list for the next time we find ourselves in New Zealand, which I hope is soon.
For couples: This Kiwi Chalet is so cute! It’s a few minutes outside of Queenstown to the north, but it’s secluded, private, and super modern on the inside. Incredible. We loooove a good chalet, and this is a great one.
For Families / Groups: There are some great 2 bedroom options in and around Queenstown. This super stylish 2 bedroom gem has a full kitchen AND a jacuzzi overlooking the lake! I’m torn between this modern condo that overlooks the lake (w/ full kitchen) and this more rustic retreat in the hills northeast of Queenstown, which is smack dab in the middle of wine country.
Mid-Range Hotels in Queenstown
I think this is where Queenstown really shines. There are so many mid-range hotels to choose from that I truly had trouble picking one (which is why we stayed in an Airbnb – more on that in a second). Check out the top-rated options in Queenstown here (but don’t miss the Glebe Apartments and Lomond Lodge).
We walked by the Rees multiple times on the way into town, and if you’re looking for a bit of a splurge (although it’s really not THAT expensive considering the word luxury is in the name) then take a look at the Rees. Check prices, read reviews, and more on Booking.com.
On a Budget in Queenstown?
If you’ve been in New Zealand for a bit and you’re on a budget, you’ve probably stayed in either a YHA hostel or a Top 10 Holiday Park at some point during your South Island Itinerary. I know we stayed at multiple top 10 Holiday Parks. If not, now’s a great time to start. Check out the highly rated YHA Queenstown Lakefront or the Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park (which is a bit outside of town) for affordable comfort. The Jucy Snooze is worth a look too for the location alone – it’s about a two minute walk to both the Queenstown Gondola and Fergburger, so you’ll have all the essentials covered (burgers and hikes).
Should you rent a car?
In order to make the most of your 3 days in Queenstown, I’d recommend renting a car. Without a car, you’ll be hard-pressed to make it to Glenorchy Wharf or the wineries East of the city. Having a car will give you the ultimate flexibility.
That being said, Queenstown has a pretty robust bus system that we used often to get from our Airbnb to downtown. If you don’t have a car, you’ll survive. But I’d recommend having one (especially since you’ll need it for the rest of your trip). Just make sure to find a place that allows for parking.
Need to book a rental car in New Zealand? I recommend using RentalCars.com for great prices and selection.
How to Spend Your 3 Days in Queenstown
With this itinerary, you’ll get a taste of the three best things Queenstown has to offer. Outdoors. Adventure sports. Views.
Day 1: The Best Hike in Queenstown
In the morning, grab a solid breakfast at home, a strong cup of coffee, and get on the road early to beat the crowds to the best hike in Queenstown.
Today, you’re going to tackle Ben Lomond Peak.
It’s a truly stunning hike that starts from the Queenstown Gondola. You can either hike up the Tiki Trail, which will add to the distance and elevation gain, or take the Gondola up and start from there, which is what we did.
Get out early because it’s an exposed hike. Not a tree in sight besides the first few hundred feet.
It will take you 6-7 hours from the base of the Gondola to the top of the peak and back down, a 8.1 mile round trip hike with over 4,000 feet of elevation gained. But let me tell you – it’s 100% worth it.
The last climb to the top is fairly grueling. Take it slow, bring plenty of snacks and water, and you’ll be fine. If you’re not comfortable doing it, I definitely recommend the hike up to the saddle before it gets really tough. The views are phenomenal, with sweeping views across the lake and Queenstown itself. See for yourself.
If you get on the trail by 8am, you’ll be back by about 3 or 4, which gives you some time to shower, relax, and then get out and explore Queenstown.
For your first dinner, head to either Taco Medic or Erik’s Fish and Chips to recover from the day’s trekking.
Day 2: When in Queenstown, do as the Queenstowners do!
On your second day, it’s time to get your heart pumping and take advantage of what some call the world capital of adventure sports. If you’re going to go Bungy Jumping (or is it Bungee? I never can figure it out), what better place to do it than the place it was invented (allegedly)?
However, Bungy Jumping isn’t the only adventure activity you’ll find in Queenstown. You could literally spend your entire three days in Queenstown JUST doing adventure activities. Here are a few others that you might like:
- Jet Boating on the Shotover River
- Rafting the Shotover River
- Kayaking in Mt. Aspiring National Park
- A Ziplining Adventure Tour
One activity that I wish we’d done is Canyoning. We were on a boat up in Abel Tasman with a group who was raving about their canyoning trip, and I had never actually heard about Canyoning before, and had NO CLUE what they were talking about.
The moral of the story is that you should consider Canyoning in Queenstown, and at the very least learn what it is.
Afternoon: Wine-ing Down in the Central Otago Wine Region
After a morning of elevated heart rates, you’ll probably be ready to relax by the time the afternoon rolls around. What better place to do that than at a winery that ALSO has a cheese tasting room? Head to Wet Jacket Wines where you’ll also find the Whitestone Cheese tasting room.
We came across Whitestone Cheese earlier in our trip, and fell in love with their cheese with our first bite. I think it was the brie, but I think we ended up getting four or five different cheeses over our three weeks in New Zealand.
Every time we walked into a grocery store, we made a beeline to the cheese to see if they had Whitestone. You can try a pretty wide range of their cheeses at the tasting room just outside of Queenstown, and Wet Jacket wines has an outdoor seating are that’s the perfect place to unwind after a morning of adventures.
Make sure to try the Wet Jacket Gewurztraminer. It’s the only wine I’ve ever tasted that felt like getting smacked in the face by a handful of apricot. It was delicious. Unfortunately, Queenstown was the last stop on our trip and I didn’t have room to bring it home with me, otherwise I would have grabbed a few bottles of it.
There are tons of other wineries in the area, but that one happened to be my favorite.
Want to explore more wineries, but don’t want to have to worry about driving?
Try a guided wine tour out of Queenstown! You’ll get to learn about New Zealand wine, explore the Central Otago wine region, and hit 4-5 wineries. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.
Day 3: A Scenic Drive to Glenorchy & Exploring Downtown Queenstown
On your last of 3 days in Queenstown, get slightly out of town and explore the road to Glenorchy.
First of all, pack a picnic. You’ll need it for lunch. Second of all, absolutely do not skip the drive from Queenstown to Glenorchy. It’s a beautiful stretch of road. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s THE MOST beautiful, because there are so many to choose from. But it’s nice, I promise.
The drive should take you a little less than an hour, depending on traffic. Which could be gnarly with all the tour buses heading out that way.
I found it really hard to be mad about slow drivers in New Zealand, which happened all the time, because the views are so damn good. Hard to be mad when you’re looking across the lake at stunning views of the Remarkables. Take your time, be patient, and it’s all going to be fine.
Remember packing the picnic supplies? This is the part where you use them. On the way back, drive out to Moke Lake for a picnic on the underrated lake that is somehow shielded from the hoards of tourists in and around Queenstown. Walk a ways along the trail, find a quiet spot, and plop down for some cheese, crackers, wine, and whatever else you brought along.
Spend the rest of the last of your 3 days in Queenstown in and around town, taking in the relaxing vibes with a glass of lakefront wine or beer, or a game of frisbee golf on the lake.
For dinner, close out your 3 day Queenstown itinerary with world-famous Fergburger. I’m partial to the Sweet Bambi – a deer burger with cranberry chutney and brie cheese – but you basically can’t go wrong with any of their choices. Celiac Note: If you tell them you have Celiac Disease, they will make your burger in a separate area with a gluten free bun. Dedicated fryer for fries, so they’re gluten free.
Other Things to Do During Your 3 Days in Queenstown
If you find yourself with more than three days in Queenstown or some downtime, here are some other things to do in Queenstown.
The Best Places to Eat and Drink
When I think about my travels around the world, my favorite memories generally have something to do with food. I was not expecting New Zealand to be about the food, and in a lot of ways, it wasn’t. However, Queenstown (and nearby Wanaka) were a pleasant surprise. Here are some of my favorites (all have gluten free options, if you need them):
Fergburger: Any list of Queenstown food you read has Fergburger on it. If it doesn’t, find a new list. Fergburger serves up amazing, and huge, burgers in the heart of Queenstown. They have gluten free options, and if you tell them you have Celiac Disease, they will cook your food on a separate grill “out back.” Get the Sweet Bambi, which is my favorite burger name of all time.
Erik’s Fish and Chips: 100% gluten free fish and chips shop near the waterfront. Get everything from fish and chips to fried calamari, to fried desserts. Amazing.
Taco Medic: I’m a sucker for a good taco. In that way, I guess I’m not super unique. But who doesn’t love a good taco? Taco Medic has good tacos. And it’s 100% gluten free and super affordable. Well worth a stop on your 3 days in Queenstown AT LEAST once.
The Spice Room: Really good Indian food. They also have a location in Wanaka.
Public Kitchen and Bar: Nice waterfront restaurant that has decent food, great ambiance, and a menu that differentiates between “gluten free” and “suitable for Celiacs.”
The Big Fig: Great spot for breakfast or lunch, where you pick your plate size, pick your entrees and sides from things like slow braised lamb, or glazed carrots, and dig in. There’s also a location in Wanaka, and I think we went four times total between the two locations.
The Best Coffee in Queenstown
There is no shortage of good coffee in New Zealand. There were two places in Queenstown that stood out to me – Mackenzie Coffee and Vudu Cafe. Both were fantastic, and are a great place to hang out and get your caffeine fix. Mackenzie Coffee is more of a to-go spot, while Vudu is on the water, and would be a good spot to sit down and savor your drink.
Taste some Wine
Unbeknownst to me until we arrived for 3 days in Queenstown, there’s a wine region that starts about three minutes drive from town. You can either hit one or two and self-drive, or book a guided tour where a local guide will take you around to more wineries, and you don’t have to worry about driving drunk (DON’T DO IT). Here’s a top rated wine tour.
Take a Scenic Flight to Milford Sound
It’s one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting, and it’s well worth a trip down there to spend a few days in awe of it’s sheer natural beauty. A scenic flight and nature cruise is even better, where you’ll see the scenery from a completely different perspective than 99% of travelers.
Final Thoughts: 3 Days in Queenstown
Queenstown is one of the best cities in New Zealand, and is an ideal place to fly in and out of for a Two Week New Zealand Itinerary. Whether you’re in it for the adventure sports or the laid back vibes, you’re going to love spending some time in Queenstown.
If you need to eat gluten free, I have some great news – I’ve compiled a couple of posts that you might like. First, is my Gluten Free guide to Queenstown and my Guide to Gluten Free Wanaka, both of which you can find in the Gluten Free Guide to New Zealand.
What were your favorite parts about Queenstown? Leave me a comment – I’d love to hear about your trip!