Pretoria: South Africa’s Capital – the Top 10 Places of Interest
Johannesburg is probably at the top of your South Africa bucket list. Many people even mistakenly believe that it’s the country’s capital. However, Pretoria (sometimes referred to as Tshwane), just 50 kilometers north of the city, is the real capital. There have been repeated efforts to officially rename the city because the name Pretoria alludes to the oppression of the black population by the white minority – but more on that later.
In contrast to the bustling metropolises like Cape Town or Johannesburg, Pretoria is a bit more relaxed. But don’t equate that with boring! We’ll show you that’s not the case by providing you with everything you need to know before your trip to the South African capital, as well as a list of our top 10 sights. Does that sound like a plan?
Pretoria in a Nutshell
South Africa is located, as the name obviously suggests, in the south of Africa. Yet the country occupies an incredible 1,220,000 km²! Do you have any idea how big that is? Then, let’s put it this way – South Africa is slightly under twice the size of Texas. Would you have guessed that?
In addition, the country is located in the Southern Hemisphere. This means that the seasons are the polar opposite to those in the north. Temperatures are highest from October to March – in Pretoria, that means an average of 26 °C. However, that’s also when there’s the most rainfall. Due to the country’s size and various altitudes, there are, of course, different climate zones. Therefore, think about your preferred travel time beforehand!
About one million people live in the South African capital. The country’s history is brutal – and very recent as well. Until the 90s, there was a strict and legal separation of the black and white populations. This political system was known as Apartheid. Legally, that system of segregation was dissolved – but in some people’s minds, the vicious racist cycle continues to this day.
Now, let’s talk about a more pleasant topic. We know about a wonderful festival that you definitely won’t want to miss. You might even want to plan your trip’s schedule around it. The Jacaranda Festival is celebrated in October, when the jacaranda trees are in full bloom. With their bright purple blossoms, they transform every street into a dreamlike backdrop! This is a sight you’ll never forget. Pretoria and its surroundings are famous for these trees. It’s no coincidence that the capital is called Jakarandastad in Afrikaans.
Unfortunately, you can marvel at this colorful splendor only at specific times of the year. However, you can always enjoy the delicious South African cuisine! Due to numerous influences from different cultures, it’s quite versatile. Depending on the region, the typical dishes vary greatly. But most of the time, meat is on the menu. This is also the case with bobotie, for example. The South African national dish is a minced meat casserole with a wide variety of ingredients and spices. The curry and chutney, in particular, give the food an exotic and unique sweetness. So, it’s the perfect illustration of the country’s diversity and its people as a whole.
The city’s public transportation network is pretty poor. Therefore, we recommend renting a car instead. Of course, you must follow the regulations and traffic rules. Above all, however, stay constantly alert due to the high crime rate. Carjackings happen all the time – even if you’re only stopping at a red light during the day. So, keep your windows closed and your doors locked. And just like everywhere else, don’t leave any valuables in your car. But wait! We would like to introduce you to one more means of public transportation: the Blue Train. The magnificent train, which runs between Pretoria and Cape Town, is one of the most famous and most luxurious in the world.
By now, you’ve probably realized how diverse this country and its people are. But did you know that there are 11 official languages? Pretty amazing! But you’re certainly curious about what you can see and do here. We won’t keep you waiting any longer. Here are our top 10 attractions in the breathtaking city of Pretoria.
The Top 10 Places of Interest in Pretoria
Throughout the city, monuments remind us of South Africa’s past – both the cruel deeds during apartheid and the progress made towards its abolition. The natural beauty in Pretoria’s surroundings is particularly impressive. Here, there’s no shortage of culture, fun, or adventure. Let’s go!
The government building had already been constructed in the early 1910s. However, the most significant event here took place in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president of South Africa. He was the republic’s first black president! The Union Buildings still house the South African government – but only from July to December. The rest of the year, parliament is in session in Cape Town.
The bright sandstone building is really beautiful. However, because a tour of the interior isn’t possible, you’ll probably only see the exterior. But we assure you that the view from the outside is more than enough. The fantastic Union Buildings Gardens are also right next door. The terraced park rises so that you can see the city skyline from here.
Statue of Nelson Mandela
The next sight is a bronze, nine-meter-tall statue of Nelson Mandela, which stands right in front of the Union Buildings. It serves as a memorial to the late national hero.
It was unveiled on December 16, 2013 – just a few days after Mandela’s death This day is also the Day of Reconciliation in South Africa, which is dedicated to promoting peace among different peoples and skin colors. In addition, that year marked the 100th anniversary of the Union Buildings. The day of the unveiling is therefore very symbolic in many respects.
Pretoria National Botanical Garden
In this paradise-like oasis, you’ll find a piece of relaxation in the middle of the city. Countless native plants grow here, and a hill naturally divides the garden into two parts. The northern part has warmer temperatures. In the southern part, on the other hand, it’s a bit colder – perfect for the plant’s needs. The Botanical Garden covers a total area of 76 hectares. Many small animals, such as mongooses or scrub hares, as well as birds and butterflies, live here as well.
You’ll definitely feel comfortable here, just like the other animals and plants do. After all, the gardens have calming ponds and wide green spaces, making them a great for a picnic or a meal at one of the restaurants on site.
Church Square and Church Street
Let’s move from Pretoria’s wide wildness to the heart of the capital. Church Square is the heart of the city and is surrounded by historical and artistic buildings, like the Palace of Justice and the Old Capitol Theatre.
The lively square is the perfect starting point for a sightseeing tour. After all, it is Pretoria’s hub, and all the streets seem to lead here. So does the eponymous Church Street. It’s the country’s longest city street and one of the straightest in the world. Come check it out!
Palace of Justice
Spend some time around Church Square and really take in your surroundings. From here, you have a clear view of the Palace of Justice. Construction began in 1897, but the Second Boer War delayed its completion. The building looks rather imposing and intimidating.
By the way, Nelson Mandela’s trial took place here as well. He advocated for the black community’s rights and thus against apartheid. As a result, he was sentenced as a political prisoner in 1963, and he was incarcerated for 27 years.
Hazel Food Market
What does every city trip absolutely need? A local and lively market, of course. And that’s exactly what we’re going to show you right now! The Hazel Food Market opens its doors every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. With over 40 stalls, you’re sure to find a snack for every taste. Take your time while sampling the various specialties. In addition to the usual fresh produce, there’s also locally brewed beer and various wines. Don’t worry, you don’t have to stand to eat or drink. You can take a seat at one of the numerous long tables on one of the many benches. Bon appétit!
National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa house 700 different animal species on an area that covers more than 300 hectares. Impressive, right? This city is home to one of the world’s largest zoological gardens!
Ditsong National Museum of Natural History Let’s continue talking about South Africa’s wildlife – but in a slightly different form than at the zoological gardens. During your visit to the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, you’ll learn all about South African fauna. The museum exhibits various fossils, too. Even from the outside, you get a good idea of what’s inside the museum because you’ll be greeted by a whale and dinosaur skeleton in front of the massive building. By the way, the museum was formerly known as the Transvaal Museum.
The Voortrekker Monument sits enthroned on a hilltop just a few kilometers outside of Pretoria. The square building’s sides are 25 meters long and made of granite stones. The entire structure stands at a height of 41 meters. It’s a truly impressive sight, and from here, you have a great view of the entire city.
Now some historical background – the monument commemorates the settlement of the northern part of South Africa by the Boers. This white population fled from the British colonialists and built a new life here. They were therefore called “Voortrekkers” – translated as “those who go ahead.” However, the black natives were also affected, and unfortunately, this aspect was not addressed. It’s no surprise, since at the time of construction, the government introduced the racist regime of apartheid.
This impressive mansion, like many sights in Pretoria, is of great historical importance. During the Second Boer War, the British captured Melrose House. After several years of fighting, the British and Boers signed a peace treaty here, marking the end of the war. Today, it serves as a museum, in which you can see English furniture from the 19th century and even the negotiating table.
It’s a shame that Pretoria is overshadowed by Cape Town and Johannesburg. There sights here are just as great! Above all, they bear witness to the country’s history. You should definitely get to know them.
The Voortrekker Monument and Melrose House, for example, are reminders of the Boer Wars. This is linked to the white population’s systematic oppression of the black majority. On the other hand, the city honors South Africa’s national hero and former president, Nelson Mandela, who fought for the rights of black people. The National Botanical Gardens or the Hazel Food Market on Sundays are both great places to relax and unwind.
We can promise you one thing – your trip to Pretoria will be quite an experience. What are you waiting for?