Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa and forms part of the greater Tshwane municipality. With numerous foreign embassies in town, this laid-back city has become cosmopolitan and a healthy student population ensures there is plenty nightlife.
A good place for this is Hatfield (a popular student suburb), where you can eat, drink and make merry. Funky boutiques with local arts, crafts and cloth dot the main hub of cafés, bars and restaurants that create the buzz here. Pedestrian walkways mean you can park once and then explore on foot.
Pretoria also boasts an impressive choice of monuments, museums, art galleries, including house museums that belonged to historical figures, such as Melrose house, the Sammy Marks museum, Kruger House and Jan Smuts’s house.
Excellent art galleries include contemporary collections in the Unisa Art Gallery, the University of Pretoria Art Collection, the Pretoria Art Museum, and the National Cultural History Museum (the African Window), which features art and craft items from popular and traditional culture.
Pretoria is home to the impressive Loftus Versfeld stadium and its famous sons – the Blue Bulls rugby team – whose local matches create a carnival atmosphere. The city is also well known for its parks, as well as its more than 70 000 jacaranda trees. The best time to visit Pretoria is in spring (October and November) when the jacarandas are in bloom.
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Pretoria’s National Zoological Gardens on Boom Street houses South Africa’s largest zoo, recognised for its aquarium and reptile park as well as conservation work. Apart from large African specimens (white rhino, elephant) it also showcases exotic animals such as a white tiger and koalas. Visit options include a night tour, overnight stays or a day trip, with a cable-car ride thrown in to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the zoo and the city beyond.
Within Pretoria, the Union Buildings (designed by architect Herbert Baker) with its well-tended gardens, and Church Square are must-sees. Originally a market place, Church Square has an imposing statue of statue of Paul Kruger, the last president of the old Transvaal Republic, and is surrounded by historical buildings.
On the outskirts of town, the Voortrekker Monument pays homage to Afrikaner settlers who left the Cape and journeyed into the hinterland. The nearby Freedom Park on Salvokop, which was built after 1994’s democratic elections, honours those who contributed to a new and democratic South Africa.
The State Theatre Complex on Church Street in the CBD is the cultural heart of the city and stages opera (both classic and contemporary), ballet and theatre performances, as well as fringe music, dramatic productions and art exhibitions.
The Pioneer Open Air Museum on Pretoria Road in nearby Silverton offers a glimpse of Settler life thanks to barnyard animals, period cooking demonstrations and an elegantly restored farmstead.
The city’s huge Menlyn Shopping Centre to the east houses most of the local big-name brands, banks and retail outlets. For produce and glorious local specialities, visit the early (Saturday) morning Boeremark (farmers’ market) in Silverton.
Animal- and nature-lovers can pick and choose from Pretoria’s wealth of nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries, many of which are within the city limits and easy to visit. Popular sites include the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary and the Faerie Glen Nature Reserve.
East of Pretoria, Cullinan is an erstwhile mining village full of Victorian charm with quaint shops and eateries to visit after you’ve toured the working Premier Diamond mine, diamond museum and gem-cutting laboratory.
To the west of Pretoria, Hartbeespoort Dam, which includes the Magaliesberg Mountains, is popular with outdoor enthusiasts who go there for watersports, horse-riding, rock-climbing, hiking, and mountain-biking. Artists’ studios, craft galleries, and outdoor flea markets in the area also attract numerous weekend visitors.
Northwest of Pretoria is the Tswaing meteor crater site. At 100 metres deep and 1,3 kilometres wide, it’s one of the best-preserved impact sites in the world and an impressive reminder of the powerful cosmic and geological forces that have shaped the planet.