Auckland's history, arts & culture

Auckland is more than skin deep. It's a city with a fascinating past built by people who came from all over the world to start a promising new life. By digging into the art and cultural history of the city, you'll get a better idea of what makes the city tick.

Be wowed at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Art has a wonderful habit of making you think. An hour or two spent wandering a gallery stirs up thoughts that ordinary life doesn't inspire, and that's why visiting Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is always a good idea. It's a popular destination in the city, housing over 15,000 important Māori and Pacific artworks. The gallery features notable collections such as portraits of Māori leaders, works by famous artist Colin McCahon, and a diverse contemporary art collection. Its award-winning architecture adds to the overall experience.

Exhibitions change frequently, so there's always something new to appreciate. The gallery's café often designs dishes to match a key exhibition, so that your art enjoyment extends into a taste experience.

An exhibition to take note of that you don't want to miss out on is: The Robertson Gift: Paths through Modernity.  It celebrates the monumental gift of significant artworks from the collection of New York philanthropists Julian (1932–2022) and Josie Robertson (1943–2010) to the Gallery.

The donation comprises 15 works by influential modern European artists, including Pierre Bonnard, Georges Braque, Paul Cezanne, Salvador Dalí, André Derain, Henri Fantin-Latour, Paul Gauguin, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso. The exhibition is currently running until 1 February 2026 and offers free entry.

Experience the Auckland War Memorial Museum

As one of New Zealand's inaugural museums, the Auckland War Memorial Museum stands majestically in the Parnell suburb. Nestled within the picturesque Auckland Domain, this iconic heritage edifice narrates the rich tale of New Zealand, its citizens, and its Pacific legacy. It's celebrated as a top-tier museum in the Southern Hemisphere. Auckland Museum runs Māori Cultural Performance. Details are shown on this link here.

Launch a trip to the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland

Situated in Auckland's vibrant Viaduct Basin on the Waitematā Harbour, The New Zealand Maritime Museum Hui Te Ananui A Tangaroa is the place where the stories of people and the sea are preserved, shared, and explored with visitors.

Within the esteemed walls of this museum, you'll find a heritage collection that's not just significant, but pivotal to Aotearoa's nation. The collection spans the vast spectrum of New Zealanders bond with the sea; from the epoch-making Great Pacific Migration a millennium ago, right up to the razor-sharp, state-of-the-art technology and design that powers the America's Cup and modern yachting.

A special part of visiting the Maritime Museum is an excursion on the water to discover the beauty of Auckland's Waitematā harbour with one of the museum's heritage sailings. Times and prices vary by vessel, always double check their website for updated information.

Visit the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT)

MOTAT is a magnificent place for a family day out; it's also engaging for people travelling without kids. The themes of transport and technology are relevant to everyone and MOTAT has found many entertaining ways to bring the past to life. On the third Sunday of every month, MOTAT has a live day that brings operational vehicles and machines to life.

There are two sites to explore at MOTAT and they're linked by a ride on a historic tram:

  • MOTAT 1 at Western Springs focuses on road and rail transport, plus there's some astounding engineering to see at the pump house. The star of the show is a collection of road vehicles, from horse-drawn carts through to fibreglass racing cars. MOTAT also has excellent educational science exhibits aimed at smaller children, including MOTOTS, where parents can relax and while their kids explore and learn through multi-sensory play. A walk around the historic village is another must at this site.
  • MOTAT 2 in Meola Road is where you'll find the Sir Keith Park Memorial Aviation display, a collection of more than 40 commercial and military aircraft.

Enjoy the All Blacks Experience

This full sensory, interactive experience allows visitors to connect with New Zealand and Māori art and culture, hear from legends and gain insight into Kiwi lifestyle, attitude, and humour with their 90-minute tour.

Experience Wētā Workshop Unleashed

Journey through the paint-stained halls of a fantastical film FX workshop, chock-full of creatures, castles, & cool stuff concocted by Wētā Workshop crew. A visit to Wētā Workshop Unleashed promises a wildly immersive experience through the wacky world of movie making. They have a mind-bending 90-minute hosted tour centred on three fully developed and original film concepts: a nail-biting horror, a fantasy epic, and a mind-bending sci-fi.

Auckland Art Gallery image courtesy of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited; New Zealand Maritime Museum image courtesy of New Zealand Maritime Museum; Ted Ashby image courtesy of New Zealand Maritime Museum; Image of Auckland Art Gallery courtesy of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited and Paul Cezanne, La route (Le mur d'enceinte). The Road (The Old Wall), 1875-1876, oil on canvas, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Julian and Josie Robertson through the Auckland Art Gallery Foundation, 2023.; All Blacks Experience image courtesy of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited; Wētā Workshop Unleashed image courtesy of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Imagine a Fantasy World landscape at Wētā Workshop Unleashed