The city's agricultural prowess is broadcast with stunning vibrancy in its biggest attraction, Hamilton Gardens, while the nearby coastal town of Raglan and the film set of Hobbiton are also major attractions for Hamilton.
Read on to find out more about:
Things to do in Hamilton
Whether you are young or old, travelling alone or as a family, you'll find plenty to do in Hamilton.
Year-round, you'll find headline entertainment with international cricket, international rugby, concerts, festivals and markets all making regular appearances.
In the city centre, you'll find all the shopping you could want, with refreshments on hand in the city's many bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile, the region's rich history, culture and diversity, make Hamilton's museums fascinating showpieces of New Zealand's incredible growth.
For a complete list of top Hamilton attractions, we recommend consulting TripAdvisor's listings for Things to Do in Hamilton. However, to wet your appetite, we've created our own list of Hamilton must-do activities.
Experiencing the Northern Explorer train journey
Purpose-built to showcase the epic vistas of New Zealand's countryside, the Northern Explorer Scenic train provides a uniquely relaxing way to witness New Zealand's diverse landscapes.
The Northern Explorer train combines spacious, comfortable seating, large panoramic windows with skylights, an open-air viewing carriage and a licensed cafe. So sit back and watch the best of New Zealand roll by whilst sipping on a selection of award-winning New Zealand wines and beers or barista made coffee.
Travelling from Hamilton to Wellington by train on the Northern Explorer takes you through some of New Zealand's finest scenery and across its greatest railway engineering feats.
After leaving Hamiton and crossing the Waikato Plains, the Northern Explorer rolls through the pleasant pastures of King Country before ascending the historic Raurimu Spiral onto the Central Plateau. As the train skirts around Tongariro National Park, two huge volcanoes dominate the skyline while the magnificent Makote and Hapuawhenua viaducts are two of several bridges that come in quick succession as the Northern Explorer traverses the deep ravines carved by rivers forming on the mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe.
To the south of Mount Ruapehu, the train brushes the Rangipo Desert before descending into the Rangitikei River valley, with its vast white cliffs scarring the lush green landscape.
In the late afternoon, the open farmlands of Manawatu stretch to the horizon, and by early evening the dramatic final scene is playing out as the train soars above the rugged Kapiti Coast with the misty hills of the South Island often visible beneath the setting sun.
See the Northern Explorer page or booking system for an accurate timetable (we strongly advise booking in advance).
Hamilton Cafes and Bars
When it comes to pleasant spots for morning coffee or brunch, few places can compete with Hamilton Gardens Cafe. But there are also many excellent spots in the city centre and for an up-to-date list try checking the TripAdvisor listings for cafes in Hamilton.
As is customary in New Zealand, Hamilton's cafes are intent on delivering coffee in the most stylishly delicious manner they can concoct - which usually means highly caffeinated! To help balance this out, you'll find most cafes in Hamilton serve equally fantastic food and cakes. As a result, it's easy to find yourself popping for a coffee and leaving several hours later, filled with delicious food and set up for the day.
When it comes to bars and pubs in Hamilton, there are plenty of choices. You can quaff a cool craft ale in the Good George Brewery, grab a Guinness in Biddy Mulligans, imbibe a Boddingtons in the Londoner, or sip upon a classy cocktail in the Wonder Horse. Whatever tickles your fancy, you'll find it in Hamilton. To find out more, try consulting the 10 Best Bars in Hamilton list on the Culture Trip website.
Hamilton provides the full spectrum of accommodation, from cheap and cheerful to five-star.
There are of course many hotel booking websites, but we encourage you to support the regional tourism website by using the search facilities on hamiltonwaikato.com. The site includes dedicated sections for bed & breakfasts (B&B's), boutique lodges, farm stays, holiday parks (campgrounds), motels, hotels and backpackers.
Northern Explorer train
The Northern Explorer train departs from Hamilton Railway Station six days a week, stopping en-route from Auckland to Wellington on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, and returning en-route from Wellington to Auckland on Friday, Sunday and Wednesday.
Flex and Flexi Plus tickets allow passengers to stop free of charge along the route. We recommend booking online as seats are limited, and standing passengers are not allowed. Passengers can purchase tickets on board if seats are available and you can call our contact centre before the train's arrival to check availability.
Hamilton Transport Centre
Long distance buses
InterCity buses depart from Platforms A to D, with coaches connecting throughout the North Island (including Matamata for Hobbiton). See InterCity's online timetable for more information.
Busit runs an extensive local bus network that will get you around the city, travelling out to Cambridge in the east and Raglan in the west. Visit Busit's Hamilton Routes webpage to find out more.
Vehicle Hire in Hamilton
Hamilton is a great place to explore the North Island from. Hire a car or campervan and you can easily explore the Coromandel Penninsula, Rotorua, Taupo, Gisborne, Napier and New Plymouth.
A Brief History of Hamilton
Waikato first attracted settlers in the 16th century, with the fertile soils of the alluvial Waikato Plains making it an attractive place for permanent farming communities.
In 1864, during the New Zealand wars, the 4th Waikato Militia set-up camp either side of the river to bridge it with a punt. Commanding officer, William Moule, named the new settlement after Captain John Charles Fane Hamilton, a naval officer killed in the Battle of Gate Pa.
In 1868 the population was still a mere 250 people spread either side of the river, connected by a simple punt. However, the city's prominence improved significantly when the railway arrived on the western banks at Frankton Junction in 1877.
The need to bridge the river became imperative, and the east and west Hamilton town boards pooled together. In 1878, the unified electorate nominated I. R. Vialou as their Mayor and together they completed the aptly named Union Bridge in 1879.
As the railways grew in size and importance, so did Hamilton. Frankton Junction connected with Wellington and Auckland via the North Island Main Trunk railway, while branches connected to Cambridge, Thames and Rotorua.
Hamilton's strategic position on the railways made it the perfect location for the Railways Department to build prefabricated buildings. The Frankton Junction Railway House Factory was established in the early 1920s, building stations, housing, shops and pubs. The flat-pack houses were shipped around the country to provide temporary and mid-term housing for railway workers and navvies. The Frankton House Factory produced 1,591 before it closed in 1929 - many can still be found in railway settlements, such as Otira on the TranzAlpine railway. Although partitioned into smaller business units, the factory still stands in Railway Place, Dinsdale, Hamilton.
By 1945, Hamilton's population had grown to 22,000 and continued to boom throughout the '60s with an influx of skilled workers for Hamilton Hospital, Waikato University and the Waikato Institute of Technology.
Hamilton's population tipped the 100,000 mark during the '80s, staking its place as one of New Zealand's most important cities. International fame soon followed, with televised Test Cricket at Seddon Park and Test Rugby and Super Rugby at the FMG Stadium Waikato (formerly Rugby Park) broadcast worldwide.
The modern Hamilton Station replaced Frankton Junction during the 1970s. The old Frankton Hotel still stands opposite the now cleared site of the old Frankton Junction station on High Street, just a couple of hundred metres north of the new station. The renovated hotel has been brought back to life by former All Black Graham (Moose) Whiting and offers a unique place to stay on the edge of today's busy shopping district. Built in 1929, the hotel has overseen a lot of railway history and, although now stranded from the station, the hotel's aptly named "Aleway Bar" is still serving.