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Hamilton is the largest metropolitan city in Waikato, New Zealand and a beautiful and harmonious city to bring the kids. Surrounded by gardens, parks and mountain silhouettes in the far distance, there is no short of fun things to do in Hamilton that’s a guarantee.

In the hub of Hamilton, you can find the shopping mall, playgrounds, cafés and restaurants. Take a stroll along the Waikato River, have a picnic and relax in one of the many parks or gardens. Last but not least, explore and learn at the interactive Waikato Museum for both the young and young at heart.

Flowers bloom and summer is approaching. Everyone is waking up from hibernation. Hamilton is the first city to celebrate spring and hosts many events throughout the year. You can check out the festivals and events on The Mighty Waikato of NZ.

In this post, we’ll cover some of the most popular attractions, festivals, restaurants and the top things to do in Hamilton with kids to help you plan your holiday to the Mighty Waikato.

Top Things To Do Hamilton Waikato New Zealand Gardens Events Family Travel Guide Blog Featured

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New Zealand Travel Guides by Region: North Island

Northland: Paihia | Tutukaka Coast | Whangarei
Auckland: Clevedon Coast | Matakana Coast | Waiheke Island | Waitakere Ranges
Waikato: Coromandel | Hamilton | Raglan
Bay of Plenty: Rotorua
Taranaki: Egmont National Park
Manawatu-Manganui: Tongariro

1. Hamilton Gardens

Hamilton Gardens are the first and probably the most iconic attraction you’ll hear about in Hamilton. You can easily spend half a day here immersed in the culturally diverse gardens. Alternatively, book a Hamilton Gardens Guided Tour to gain a deeper understanding of each garden.

There’s a huge collection of curated themed gardens in Hamilton Gardens. From Italian Renaissance Garden to Japanese Garden, Indian Char Bugh Garden to Herb Garden, Maori Te Parapara Garden to Chinese Garden. Each garden transports you to a different corner of the world.

© Photos by Kida

Near the entrance of Hamilton Gardens, you can find a map and brochures about the gardens. Hamilton Gardens is easily accessible with strollers, and there’s a free activity sheet and a garden-themed playground for kids.

© Photos by Kida

Festival De La Primavera

Every year around the beginning of Spring, from late September to October, Hamilton Gardens host a free family event – Festival De La Primavera to celebrate the arrival of Spring here in New Zealand. This Hispanic Spring festival attracts visitors from all over the world with music, food, parade and shows nestled among Hamilton’s biggest gardens and lake.

© Photos by Kida

We were travelling with a family guest during our last trip to Hamilton and coincidentally spotted Hamilton Gardens’ car park being overly full. So we decided to find out what was attracting so many people and to our luck, we found out about Festival De La Primavera.

We ended up delaying our itinerary for the day and had a spontaneous fun day at Hamilton Gardens instead. The festival was so vibrant and had a great atmosphere despite the overcast. No wonder we lost track of time!

Hamilton Gardens remains one of the top things to do in Hamilton, and if you’re travelling around September and October, be sure to check out Hamilton’s Events & Festivals page to line up your itinerary with one or many of these events!

2. Waikato Cherry Tree Festival

You may have seen beautiful cherry blossom photos on Instagram from the Waikato Cherry Tree Festival. Bookmark this festival in your calendar for mid to late September because it’s a must-see event in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Photo © Booking.com

The most famous guest house that hosts The Cherry Tree Festival is the English Cherry Tree Manor Guest House. Book early to avoid disappointments and find out the exact dates of the festival here on the Waikato Events website.

3. Balloons Over Waikato

Around late March, Hamilton hosts one of the biggest annual festivals in New Zealand – Balloons Over Waikato. This festival is a unique event you won’t find anywhere else in the country. So take this opportunity and plan a road trip to Hamilton over the weekend.

© Photos by Kida

Our family has been to the Balloons Over Waikato festival both in 2018 (with 1 baby) and 2021 (now 2 kids). We highly recommend going to this event on the last couple of nights of the event, where the Zuru Show and fireworks are on. You can check the programs on the Balloons Over Waikato website.

Balloons Over Waikato 2021

© Photos by Kida

4. Waikato Museum

Located next to Hamilton i-Site visitor centre is the family-friendly Waikato Museum. There is both a free and paid section in which you can take the kids and wander around.

Waikato Museum – Hamilton

© Photos by Kida

Waikato Museum hosts special limited-time exhibitions like the Dinosaur revolution and more permanent exhibitions like the 200-year-old carved Maori canoe. Admire contemporary art and galleries while your little ones are kept intrigued in Exscite – the educational and interactive science zone.

© Photos by Kida

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5. The Waikato River

How about a stroll along the Waikato River on a beautiful sunny day! There are many rest areas to bring your lunch or picnic, and the best of all, it’s at a central location within walking distance to the CBD, in case if you’re staying in one of the hotels there as we did.

© Photos by Kida

We stayed at Novotel Hamilton Tainui, which was located right on the riverbank. We absolutely loved our stay there and are planning our next trip back. You can read our full review here and our favourite Italian restaurant across Novotel Hamilton Tainui.

Alternatively, you can book a scenic cruise on the Waikato river with Waikato River Explorer. Waikato River Explorer also runs a shuttle service to major attractions like Hamilton Gardens to Waikato Museum.

If you’re not travelling with young kids, these boat rides on the Waikato River might be more exciting for you.

6. Hamilton Zoo

If you have time, take the family to Hamilton Zoo. Our family is a little zooed-out recently, so we’ll leave Hamilton Zoo for next time.

Photo © Hamilton Zoo

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7. Whatawhata Pick Your Own Strawberries Farm

Just a short drive from Hamilton, you may be interested to pick your own berries at Whatawhata PYO farm. The entry fee is around $3.70 with a minimum of 1kg berry purchase. Strawberries are around $12.50/kg. When in season, you can also pick your own blueberry, raspberry and boysenberry.

Here is a handy little harvest chart.

© Photos by Kida

There are kids play areas and rest areas for adults to watch over them. Last but not least, you can expect no shortage of packed berries, frozen berries and berry ice-creams to purchase from their little shop.

© Photos by Kida

8. Garden Place

One of our favourite places in Hamilton is Garden Place in the heart of Hamilton CBD. It’s located across Skycity Hamilton and is a beautiful square to take a walk in the afternoon.

Garden Place – Hamilton

© Photos by Kida

During the Christmas season, Hamilton displays a gigantic Christmas tree at Garden Place. In our opinion, the Hamilton Christmas Treetops the Christmas tree at Auckland Skycity!

Giant Christmas Tree – Hamilton Garden Place

© Photos by Kida

9. Centre Place Shopping Centre

Hamilton CBD shuttle is a free bus service that runs in a one-way loop every 10 minutes within the Hamilton city centre. Look out for the free shuttle sign at the bus stops. This is a very convenient way to get around the CBD without worrying about parking.

Spend a few hours window shopping at Centre Place and grab a bite at the food court or one of the many casual restaurants along the main road. There is a playground just outside the food court if you need to entertain the kids.

Centre Place Shopping Mall – Hamilton CBD

© Photos by Kida

Daikoku Japanese Restaurant

Since it’s the season of cherry blossoms, trying some authentic Japanese food is a must. Daikoku Japanese Restaurant is on the ground level of Centre Place, where parking is free during the weekends at the mall.

Our family is a long loyal fan of Daikoku across many of their branches in New Zealand. What we love the most about Daikoku is the dining experience. The moment you walk in Daikoku, it feels like you’ve walked into Japan. The staff at Daikoku are dressed in kimono, and the teppanyaki chefs are always professional and put on a talent show with blazing fires in front of our eyes.

One thing that stood out for us at Daikoku Hamilton was the attention to detail and the quality of service we had received. There was traditional Japanese music playing in the background throughout the evening. The staff set up a Steelcraft high chair for our 7 months old that was sparkly clean. The toiletries were top quality products, and of course, the food was fresh, well presented and delicious.

If you’re looking for a fancy restaurant to have a nice dinner with the family, we would highly recommend Daikoku Japanese Restaurant in Hamilton CBD.

© Photos by Kida

10. Restaurants on Victoria Street

Victoria Street is the main restaurant street in Hamilton. You will be spoiled for choice when it’s lunch or dinner time. From casual Chinese takeaways to fancy Steakhouse, there is a huge variety of restaurants and bars featuring cuisines and delicacies from all over the world.

We couldn’t possibly cover them all here, so we’ll just list a couple for your reference.

Caffé Centrale Italian

As we mentioned previously, Caffé Centrale Italian Restaurant is on the top of the list for Italian food. It’s situated by the riverbank and across Novotel Hamilton Tainui. We wrote a full review on Caffé Centrale that you can read about here.

© Photos by Kida

The Bank

We came across The Bank Bar and Brasserie on the way out from the Waikato Museum. The lunch special menu displayed outside the bar caught our attention.

The Bank Bar & Brasserie

© Photos by Kida

We didn’t have our baby with us at the time, so it was rather nice to be able to step away from family-friendly restaurants for once. You can view a full list of their menus on the website here.

© Photos by Kida

Iguana Street Bar & Restaurant

Iguana is another bar & restaurant that stood out to us. The ambience was really nice here with outdoor seating and a tempting menu. From the number of good reviews on Google, we will be sure to try out this restaurant next time, maybe without our tag-along.

Iguana Bar & Restaurant

© Photos by Kida

11. Hamilton Lake

If you like relaxing holidays and morning walks, Hamilton Lake is one of the best places to go for a stroll.

Our morning stroll at Hamilton Lake

© Photos by Kida

12. Parana Park

Are we done with parks and gardens yet? Here’s one more to the list – Parana Park. This is the best family park to spend a fun day with the kids. The playground can be seen from all the way across the Waikato River, kids will have a blast at Parana Park.

Note: There have been reports of water quality issues of the water features in Parana Park back in 2020, but hopefully, that’s been resolved by now.

Photo © Our Hamilton

13. Taitua Arboretum

Taitua Arboretum has the best walking tracks among woodlands and nature. If you have time for a little wander outside of the Hamilton centre, Taitua Arboretum is a nice place to bring a picnic and relax with the kids.

14. Waterworld

Visiting Hamilton during summer? Then Waterworld is a cool place to take the kids. There are pools, slides, bouncy castles, a playground, and even a gym to keep the whole family entertained.

15. Zealong Tea Estate

Last but not least, Zealong Tea Estate is the only commercial tea estate in New Zealand that produces its own organic tea. This is a little further out from Hamilton, but makes a great stopover if you’re on a road trip from Auckland.

Please note that they’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so they can open on the weekends. And if you’re more of a coffee person, that’s okay, it’s still a great place to check out. Just don’t be like my partner, who walked in Zealong Tea Estate and told the girl who was trying to help that he was not a tea-person. I was so embarrassed we walked out shortly after.

© Photos by Kida

Have you watched our family travel vlog yet?

Exploring Hamilton New Zealand for the Balloons Over Waikato festival 2018

Wrapping Up

As you can see, Hamilton is such a vibrant city surrounded by gardens, lakes and has some of the best family-friendly events and things to do in New Zealand.

Whether you’re on a road trip from Auckland, passing by after a Hobbiton tour or in Hamilton for the big annual events, Hamilton is an unmissable destination on the North Island of New Zealand.

Did you know, Raglan is a hidden gem not too far from Hamilton? If you have time to keep exploring the Mighty Waikato, be sure to stay a night or two in Raglan as well! You can read all about the things to do in Raglan in our post here.

Alternatively, you may want to make your way to Rotorua – the must-visit destination in New Zealand to see surreal geothermal pools and world wonders. Read our travel guide on Rotorua here.

Find all our posts on Waikato, New Zealand here.

Road Trips from Auckland: South

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