Laid back Pretoria sits undisturbed in the northern regions of South Africa and the country’s smallest province, Gauteng. The administrative capital of the country is a picturesque city and one with an impressive history given its relatively young age. Just 50km from the busy city metropolis of Johannesburg, Pretoria’s inhabitants take pride in the slower pace of life in the confines of the striking Magaliesberg hills.
Occupied for many years by the Sotho people, today the city is known as the Jacaranda City due to the purple-blossomed trees that line the streets. The focal points of town are the historical centre and pleasant neighbouring suburbs of Arcadia, Clydesdale and Hatfield. Church Street, at 26km, is felt by many to be one of the world’s longest straight avenues and runs from Church Square, the historic centre, through Arcadia and to the north of Hatfield. Within these suburbs are the largest concentration of lively bars, restaurants, hostels and hotels. In turn, an afternoon spent wandering these elegant suburbs will be met with a fascinating collection of architecture, comprising embassies and presidential homes, alongside tranquil parks and plazas.
Being only a short drive from Johannesburg the city is served with sound transport links, connecting the rest of the country. Almost all interstate bus companies have services originating from Paul Kruger Street to Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Knysa and Port Elizabeth. Trains can be caught from the main station, a 20-minute walk south from the centre, to Cape Town, Durban, Kimberley, Johannesburg and the borders of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Although a fairly large city, its quiet nature makes it an enjoyable place to explore on foot. Nevertheless, walking after dark is not advisable, therefore better to take advantage of the wealth of taxis.
Benefiting from a mild all year climate and having seemingly shaken off the former apartheid associations, Pretoria makes for a welcome break from hectic city life. With a rich heritage and diverse culture, abundance of galleries and museums, nearby nature reserves and magnificent botanical gardens, the city is a joy to behold.
Things to do in
Church Square - The historic centre of the city is dominated by the statue of Boer leader Paul Kruger. The square is then encompassed by a number of buildings of historical and architectural importance, such as the Palace of Justice, Old Capitol Theatre and Tudor Chambers. Worth checking out is the clock, above the Post Office entrance, which is surrounded with nude figures.
Freedom Park - Set amongst 52 hectares of land on Salvokop Hill, and with a Garden of Remembrance, the park is a fitting memorial dedicated to all those who gave their lives in the fight for freedom. Has been opened in stages and as yet is still incomplete. Currently no entrance fee.
Pretoria Museums - A city of great history, the stories of its former days and cultural developments are superbly portrayed in the many museums. The Paul Kruger House Museum, on Church Street, charts the life of Paul Kruger, the Voortrekker Monument & Museum celebrates the accomplishments of the Voortrekkers and the South African Police Museum retells stories and events of the country’s controversial police force.
Union Buildings - A striking collection of red sandstone buildings that serve as the governments administrative headquarters. Access to the extensive gardens and public areas is free 7 days a week. A little way out from the city centre, so perhaps advisable to take a bus from Church Street.
National Zoological Gardens - A pleasant spot to spend a day meandering around the well-kept grounds, visit the aquarium and relax on the grassy lawns. The zoos emphasis focuses more on the conservation and protection of rare species rather than the traditional glorification of caged animals. A cable car, which runs to an isolated hilltop, provides awesome views across the city. Opening times are 8am - 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Pretoria Nightlife - Pretoria, enhanced by its large student community, boasts a thriving nightlife scene, with the main action concentrated around Hatfield Square and Burnett Street in the Hatfield suburb. Popular haunts include Cool Runnings reggae bar on Burnet Street, Tings ‘an Times, serving beer and pizza until late on Arcadia Street, plus McGinty’s and Maloney’s, both mock Irish pubs. The Oppikoppi Bar, close to the Voortrekket Monument, provides great sunset views and DIY braais.
Budget Hotels Pretoria
Kia-Ora Lodge - Good value hostel that makes up part of the Historic Museum Park. Tel (27) (12) 3224803.
Pretoria Backpackers - Comfortable boutique style backpackers with a great central location. Tel (27) (12) 3439754.
Midrange Hotels Pretoria
Hotel 224 - Businesslike hotel with good city views, restaurant and bar. Tel (27) (12) 4405281.
That’s It Guest Home - Pleasant guesthouse in the Clydesdale suburb with great garden and swimming pool. Tel (27) (12) 3443404.
Luxury Hotels Pretoria
La Maison - Elegant rooms housed in the French style, Hatfield Castle. Tel (27) (12) 4304341.
Manhattan Hotel - Stylish and well-run hotel in the heart of the city. Tel (27) (12) 3920000.
Sheraton Pretoria - Big and classy hotel in true Sheraton style. Tel (27) (12) 4299999.