As the gateway to New Zealand, there is a huge amount to see and do in Auckland, but the country's largest city isn’t that budget-friendly.

Accommodation and eating out here are particularly expensive. But with a little local know-how, it’s possible to see the city without crying on the phone to your credit card company. From off-season steals to affordable – even free – attractions, here is how to visit Auckland on a budget.

Visit in late February or March for lower prices

Auckland is a summer city and the peak season for tourism runs from mid-December to the end of January. This coincides with the summer school holidays in New Zealand, making it a particularly expensive time to travel around the country. Time your visit for when school is back in session for cheaper accommodation. Late February and March are lovely months to visit the city – the weather is warm and not as humid as the peak summer months. There are also many free events to enjoy at this time of year, including live music and outdoor movie screenings at Auckland’s beautiful parks and beaches.

An elderly couple sitting inside their brightly-lit campervan are seen through the window with the Auckland darkness outside
Stay in accommodation where you can cook your own food © Alan Powdrill / Getty Images

Stay in accommodation that has a kitchen

Eating out for every meal in Auckland is a surefire way to burn through your budget, so try to eat in for at least some meals during your stay. The best way to do this is to stay in accommodation with a kitchen – either a hostel with a shared kitchen, an Airbnb rental or a serviced apartment.

Groceries and cooking ingredients are more affordable than restaurant prices, so pop into the local supermarket and prepare some of your meals at your accommodation. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, try to find one with breakfast included in the rate. Often the prices are not much more than room-only rates, and the cost of buying breakfast every morning in Auckland can quickly add up. Just coffee and a muffin will set you back around NZ$10.

Get an AT HOP card for a discount on public transport

If you’re spending a couple of days in Auckland, you can save by using public transport to get around the city. Just buy an AT HOP card when you arrive in the city – they're available from many shops or Auckland Transport customer services centers dotted around the city. AT HOP cards cost NZ$5 and you can then add credit as needed, gaining a 20% (or greater) discount on the standard bus, train, and ferry fares in Auckland, excluding the SkyBus from the airport and the ferry to Waiheke Island.

AT HOP cards are prepaid and you can transfer between Auckland Transport buses, trains and ferries and pay just one fare across the zones you’re traveling through. Fares for AT HOP cards are capped at just NZ$20 per day.

Explore Auckland on foot

There are some stunning walks in Auckland, so don't feel obliged to go everywhere by public transport. The city has several rewarding walkways reserved for pedestrians, offering a pleasantly traffic-free way to get around the city. How far you walk is up to you; if you’re up for a challenge, try the Coast to Coast Walkway which takes you from Auckland city, through Auckland Domain and Cornwall Park, to Manukau Harbour.

For a pretty and accessible option starting in the center, walk along the harbor. You can go west past Silo Park along Westhaven to the foot of the Harbour Bridge (and onto Ponsonby for lunch if the fancy takes you). Alternatively, go east and walk along Tamaki Drive to popular Mission Bay – a good place to have fish and chips (another cheap eat). If you don't want to repeat the walk in reverse, bus or Uber back to the city.

Take the red bus around the city center

If you'll be spending most of your time in the city center during the day, then taking the red CityLink bus is a great way to go. The bus service follows a circuit through the inner city between 8am and midnight and the fare is just NZ$1, but you can travel for free if you transfer from another bus or train using an AT HOP card. It's a good way to break from walking, but the routes aren’t always the most direct and you’ll still need to pay to travel further from the city center.

A candid photograph of a Gen Z Muslim woman laughing with friends while out shopping and having a bite to eat in the city.
Auckland has loads of great street food spots © kaz_c/ Getty Images

Find cheap eats on Dominion Rd or Sandringham

Some of Auckland’s best food is also some of the most affordable. Running southwest of the center towards Mt Eden, Dominion Rd is Auckland’s version of Chinatown. It’s the best place to sample delicious and authentic Chinese food at very reasonable prices. Regardless of where you’re staying in Auckland, you can usually find good Asian food somewhere close by, and it’s usually cheap. For excellent Indian cuisine, head to Sandringham, a couple of blocks west of Dominion Rd. 

The popular food markets that circulate through various suburbs in the city are also good places to get food at a more affordable price. The roving Auckland Night Market, held in different locations on different days of the week, is a good place to start.

Get lunch near the university

If you’re exploring the city, eat lunch where the students do. There are several cafes and other small eateries on High St, Chancery Sq and Lorne St in the city center that serve good lunch deals at bargain prices. Think dumplings, noodles, or tacos: all easy to take away and eat in nearby Albert Park. Several Asian restaurants in these areas serve excellent, authentic food at budget-friendly prices.

Go on the Maritime Museum harbor cruise

The New Zealand Maritime Museum in downtown Auckland offers one of the cheapest harbor cruises in the city. For NZ$53, you get to sail around Auckland Harbour in a historical boat, alongside entry to the museum. You'll pay the same or more to a boat operator to simply cruise the harbor. Sailing is a wonderful way to see Auckland from a different perspective, and the bobbing boats all around you will give you an inkling as to why Auckland is nicknamed the "City of Sails."

Silhouette of surfer holding surfboard and walking into water at sunset to surf, Piha Beach, Auckland, New Zealand.
Visiting Piha Beach in Auckland is absolutely free © Jonathan Clark / Getty Images

Get the bus to Mt Eden

Many of Auckland’s best and most popular attractions are free. The city has a beautiful coastal location and you can find amazing views simply by walking up any hill or dormant volcano). Grab a picnic from a local grocery or deli and enjoy the best of what the city has to offer – the outdoors on a sunny day. For some of Auckland's best views, head to the impressive crater at Mt Eden for just the price of a bus ride from the center. If the weather's warm, take a picnic to Cornwall Park atop One Tree Hill, or spend an afternoon relaxing at the beach – all are easily accessible from the city center.

Visit Auckland Museum on ANZAC Day

If you find yourself in Auckland in April, head to Auckland Museum on ANZAC Day (April 25). On this important memorial day for the Kiwi and Australian troops who died in service in WWI, entry to the museum is free. There's a beautiful dawn ceremony outside the museum in Auckland Domain Park at sunrise, with smaller ceremonies taking place elsewhere in the city.

Daily costs

  • Hostel room: NZ$40 for a bed in a dorm; NZ$70 for a private room;
  • Basic room for two: NZ$150–250;
  • Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): NZ$150–200;
  • Public transport ticket: NZ$5 for an AT HOP card, with unlimited travel for NZ$20 per day;
  • Coffee: NZ$4.50;
  • Sandwich: NZ$12;
  • Dinner for two: NZ$80;
  • Beer/pint at the bar: NZ$11.

This article was first published Jan 10, 2022 and updated Oct 18, 2023.

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