Wellington’s bustling Cuba Street is the very definition of cool

Cuba Street is a marketplace for the city’s creative minds. Pic: Wellingtonnz.com

WELLINGTON is New Zealand’s unboastful capital, the country’s cultural hub that’s been titled the world’s “coolest little capital”. Its harborside setting and outdoor lifestyle has contributed to a unique city vibe that’s both laidback and sophisticated.

At the center of Wellington’s creative marketplace is Cuba Street, a stretch where locals eat, shop, busk, draw, imagine, and create. Not only is it a street that has charm in spades, you could also easily spend an entire day trawling through the its hidden gems and treasures.

The street was named after an early settler ship called Cuba, and in the 1800s, became a busy stretch for local markets and country folk. These days, signs of yesteryears are apparent in over 40 heritage buildings.

If you’ve only got a weekend in Wellington, Cuba Street could very well be your crash course in the young, inspired minds that make up much of the city’s demographic.

Here are a few ways to tumble into the chic, bohemian rabbit hole that is Cuba Street.

Brunch at a quaint café

Loretta is a popular brunch spot on Cuba Street. Pic: loftmotif

It’s a widely reported claim that Wellington has more cafés per capita than any other city in the world, and a fair number of them are peppered along Cuba Street.

Loretta is one of the city’s most exciting brunch cafés, a space that features plenty of timber, long communal tables, and an ever-changing menu that showcases New Zealand’s premium produce. Think wood-fired sandwiches, free-range chicken and thyme pies, and waffles with coconut yoghurt and elderflower syrup.

Meanwhile, Matterhorn is a café, restaurant, cocktail bar and supper club in one, and on weekends, its brunch prowess shows. Sit at the outdoor deck and devour things like whipped goat’s cheese and honey on brioche, hash of confit duck leg, and fennel and white onion tart. Ask for a Hemingway-inspired cocktail at it.

Fidel’s Café is something of an institution on upper Cuba Street and is decked out with posters and illustrations of the café’s namesake as well as Che Guevara’s iconic, stoic pose. The Carribean-inspired brunch menu means you get to eat things like baked Spanish eggs and grilled haloumi in the middle of the day.

Kick back with a cold craft beer

Crack a cold one at The Rogue & Vagabond's outdoor terrace. Pic: Wellingtonnz.com

Wellington’s craft beer scene is certainly on the rise, and a contributor to the cause is Grill Meets Beer, a restaurant that shares a passion for meat and beer. Many of New Zealand’s best are sold in bottles, and labels are rotated depending on availability.

The Rogue & Vagabond has a more chilled out vibe owing to its outdoor terrace, a space where the hours and bottles seem to fly rather effortlessly. Sprawl yourself on bean bags in the summer, or listen to live jazz at night, all while you sip on craft IPAs and lagers.

There’s also the simplistically named Havana Bar that houses a wide range of local Wellington beer, both on tap and bottled. Sip on curiously titled labels such as like Parrotdog Dead Canary Pale Ale and Garage Project Hapi Daze while musicians and DJs liven up the mood.

Trawl through vintage gems

Emporium stocks vintage and classic American street wear. Pic: emporiumvintagenz/Instagram

Cuba Street brims with vintage stores, some of which are hidden, only adding to the mystery. One of our favorites is Ziggurat Fashion Exchange, a Wellington institution that stocks a wide range of vintage and pre-loved designer clothing including European labels.

Emporium specializes in hand-picked vintage wear flown in from California. Instead of heavy frocks, the style here is inspired by original high fashion and street wear pioneers, so while you might chance upon a vintage Chanel, you could also walk away with a classic Nike.

Hunters & Collectors is known in Wellington for its mid-century retro collectibles including vintage clothing, shoes, jewelry, accessories, pottery, prints, retro glass, and furniture. If you’re so inclined, there’s also a selection of street and punk clothing.

Soak in eclectic art collections

Peter McLeavey Gallery is a New York-inspired art space. Pic: Peter Mcleavey Gallery

For a visual feast, head to Eyeball Kicks, where a rotating pool of artists are featured on the walls. Set up like a curiosity shop, it’s a treasure trove of cool works at reasonable prices, perfect for gifting or packing back for that white space above your bed.

{Suite} is located in a heritage building with an entire upstairs area dedicated to Ans Westra’s works. The artist’s lifetime works and images are proudly paraded, alongside articles about her dating back to 1960, and over 200 books dedicated to her.

Set up in the ’60s, Peter McLeavey Gallery is a touch of New York City in the heart of Wellington. According to the website, the gallery is a committed to a “what we do here” ethos of art that tells New Zealand stories.

Meanwhile, in the outdoors and off Cuba Street are alleyways splashed in colorful street art, a visual representation of the city’s alternative art scene.