The village of Strelitz was first mentioned in 1278. It grew to a small town in the following centuries. In the 17th century Strelitz was a part of the duchy of Mecklenburg-Güstrow, which ceased to exist after the death of the last duke in 1695. Afterwards the new duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was established (1701). This small duchy contained the present-day district and an exclave around Ratzeburg, which is today situated in Schleswig-Holstein.
In 1712 the castle and the town of Strelitz burnt down. After this disaster the duke and his family lived on their hunting lodge at the lake called Zierker See (Zierk lake) to the northwest of Strelitz. Around this place the new town of Neustrelitz (New Strelitz) was constructed. It became the official capital of Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1736.
Neustrelitz remained the ducal seat until 1918 and was the capital of the Free State of Mecklenburg-Strelitz from 1918 to 1933. In 1934 it was merged with Mecklenburg-Schwerin to the Gau of Mecklenburg.
The ancient town of Strelitz continued to exist after the fire of 1712; it was a small village, which was suburbanised by Neustrelitz in 1931.
The city centre is characterised by Baroque architecture. Its heart is the Marktplatz (Market Square), with the Stadtkirche (city church), built in 1768–1778 and the opposite Rathaus (Town Hall), built in 1841 by Friedrich W. Buttel, a disciple of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.
The Baroque Schloß (palace) was destroyed in 1945, but the palace gardens (Schloßgarten) still exist. Worth seeing are the 18th-century Orangerie (from orange), initially used as a summerhouse, the Schloßkirche (Palace Church) built in 1855–1859 in English Neo-Gothic style, the Neoclassic Hebe temple (with a replica of a statue of the goddess Hebe) , and the Louise Temple, built in 1891 in the shape of a Greek temple to house the tomb of Queen Louise of Prussia, born Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.