The best ways to experience Auckland’s art and culture scene

Auckland is packed with places to immerse yourself in the local culture, from public art trails to music festivals and museums.

  • Author

    Discover Auckland
  • Last updated

    Apr 2024
  • Time to read

    5 mins
Cosmopolitan and creative, with a rich Māori culture and largest Pasifika population of any city in the world, Auckland is a place where art and expression of all kinds are celebrated. From dynamic theatre and live music to free festivals and accessible public artworks, there’s a cultural experience to suit everyone in this city. Where to begin? Here are a few of our faves.

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Home to more than 15,000 pieces, including some of New Zealand’s most important Māori and Pacific artworks, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki is a must-visit in the central city.

Highlights include the gallery’s transfixing collection of portraits of Māori chiefs and leaders; the Colin McCahon collection, showcasing the famous artist’s deep connection to the New Zealand landscape; and the contemporary art collection, a snapshot of the country’s vibrant and diverse modern art scene. A former World Building of the Year winner with a gorgeous kauri-wood roof canopy, the gallery is as much of an artwork as what’s inside.

Public art

Want to experience some of Auckland’s best visual art? Just go for a walk. You’ll find a number of large-scale public artworks around the revitalised downtown area, including two permanent pieces by acclaimed Māori artists Lisa Reihana and Michael Parekowhai.

Reihana’s giant video installation Ihi, located in the lobby of the Aotea Centre, tells the story of the world’s origins from a Māori perspective, while Parekowhai’s The Lighthouse on Queens Wharf is an ordinary-looking two-storey house with a very surprising interior. 

Silo Park

Situated further along the waterfront from The Lighthouse is Silo Park, one of the top outdoor spaces where Aucklanders like to unwind. Among the popular restaurants, markets and bars of Wynyard Quarter is an array of large-scale artworks for all ages.

Highlights include a giant mural of native birds painted on a disused concrete pump station, a laneway with a roof that pays tribute to Māori astronomy, and a play structure modelled on the form of a hīnaki, a traditional Māori eel trap. Top tip: download the Silo Park Art Trail map before you go.

Festivals and events

With an events calendar jam-packed with festivals of all kinds, Auckland is a city that’s never short of things to do. Unsurprisingly, summer is when many of the biggest outdoor events take place, including the citywide Lunar New Year celebrations, and Pasifika Festival, a two-day celebration of Pacific cultures held in March each year. March is also when the Auckland Arts Festival kicks off, an annual extravaganza of international and local performing arts that helps make this buzzing city even more vibrant than usual. 

Not here in summer? No problem. Auckland has plenty of events to brighten the colder and darker months. The New Zealand International Film Festival in July is a good opportunity to experience The Civic, one of Australasia’s grandest theatres, while the one-day Matariki Festival (June/July) is a city-wide celebration of New Zealand’s newest national holiday. 

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Overlooking Pukekawa / Auckland Domain, and with commanding views across the city to Waitematā Harbour beyond, Auckland War Memorial Museum is the place to get educated about New Zealand history, from the time before the arrival of people right up to today’s modern, multicultural nation.

Te Marae Ātea Māori Court includes a number of full-sized traditional Māori buildings, including a marae (meeting house), while Tāmaki Herenga Waka – “the gathering place of many waka (boats)” – is a gallery telling the story of Auckland’s past and present through the diverse experiences of the peoples who call this city home.

Live music

Image Credit: Scarlet Page

As inhabitants of New Zealand’s largest city, Aucklanders get the cream of the crop when it comes to international music acts. Most of them play at the legendary Powerstation in Mt Eden, Spark Arena near the waterfront, Auckland Town Hall on Queen Street, or Go Media Stadium in Mt Smart – though dance music fans can also often catch touring DJs at the Studio The Venue on Karangahape Road (K’Rd).

Want to catch some local bands? K’Rd is where you'll also find many of the city’s best live music venues, including the widely beloved Whammy Bar, a subterranean gem beneath the historic St Kevin’s Arcade. A few doors along, Neck of the Woods is another great spot to see up-and-coming artists, while down the hill in the CBD, Cassette Nine attracts the student crowd with their mix of live music and DJ nights. 

Māori cultural experiences

Māori language, art and culture are woven into the fabric of Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland, from public art and architecture to the stop announcements on local buses. If you want to learn more about Māoritanga, there are lots of opportunities to do so.

One of the most popular is the twice-daily Māori cultural performance at Auckland War Memorial Museum, featuring traditional songs, poi dance and a spine-tingling haka. Explore the rich seafaring history of the Polynesian peoples, including Māori, in the Hawaiki Gallery at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, and discover the unique relationship between Māori and the wildlife taonga (treasures) of New Zealand, including kiwi, at Auckland Zoo.

Theatre and live performance

Situated in the vibrant Wynyard Quarter on the edge of the harbour, Auckland Theatre Company creates world-class theatre featuring some of New Zealand’s greatest actors. The programme runs the gamut from familiar classics to cutting edge productions, including a number of local works. Silo Theatre is another of the city’s top theatre companies, with most productions staged at Q Theatre on Queen Street.

Nearby, on the corner of Queen Street and Wellesley Street, The Civic is a much-loved landmark in Auckland's performing arts scene, hosting international musicals and comedy shows. Happy to venture further afield? The creative prowess of Auckland’s diverse Pacific population is on full display at the Māngere Arts Centre - Ngā Tohu o Uenuku in South Auckland.
Written by Discover Auckland

Last updated 10 Apr 2024

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