Pretoria, a mere 40-minute drive from Johannesburg, is often overlooked as a major destination for tourists in Gauteng. Why? Maybe it’s because it operates at a slower pace than the bustling City of Gold, or maybe because it has a small-town feel although it is a major city in its own right.
Here are 10 reasons why you should not miss Pretoria on your next visit to Gauteng:
1. It’s called the Jacaranda City for a reason
There are few sights as beautiful as Pretoria’s jacaranda trees in full bloom and showering the streets with their purple petals. There are thousands of this alien species planted in streets, parks and gardens around the city. Sadly, due to a fungal disease almost all are predicted to die in the next few years. Make sure you see them bloom at least once in your lifetime!
2. It’s a history buff’s paradise
Pretoria has a long, complicated and divisive past stretching back to the 1800s when it was established by the Voortrekkers (groups of Boers unhappy with British rule in the then Cape Colony who migrated to the interior of the country) as the capital of the South African Republic. Learn more about the city’s history and how it was shaped by events, including the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) and the rise and eventual fall of Apartheid.
Museums to visit include:
3. Markets galore
Shop (and snack) till you drop at a number of markets scattered across the city. Visit Market @ the Sheds in the inner city for a trendy day out enjoying local art and design, food and music; or a laid-back day at the Irene Village Market at the Big Red Barn in Olifantsfontein.
Don’t forget to visit the Pretoria Boeremark on Moreleta Street for the best koeksisters in Pretoria, the Hazel Food Market at Greenlyn Village Centre for a culinary feast, or the Banting Market at the Pretoria National Botanical Garden for a healthy treat.
4. Iconic architecture
With a history spanning two centuries, Pretoria’s architectural landscape was shaped by various influences and styles.
Notable buildings include the Palace of Justice, an imposing building dating back to the 19th century. The infamous 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, in which Nelson Mandela and other leading anti-apartheid activists were charged with treason and subsequently jailed for life, took place here.
Another landmark is the Union Buildings, the official government seat, which has become an iconic landmark in the city. Pack a picnic to enjoy on the lawns and take in the full magnitude of its 285m facade.
Don’t miss a visit to the historic Voortrekker Monument. The mammoth granite structure built on a hilltop has a panoramic view of the area. The main building is 40 metres high on a 40-by-40m base. The building’s architecture was inspired by influences ranging from Egyptian to German and French.
5. A wonderful fig tree
The Wonderboom (Afrikaans for “tree of wonder”) is a 1 000-year-old fig tree. A national monument, the tree stands 25m tall with a main trunk that is 5.5m wide. Over the years the tree has expanded to 13 trunks that span 55m in diameter. When visiting the Wonderboom, also explore the rest of the Wonderboom Nature Reserve, home to small animals and a breeding pair of black eagles.
6. Calling all sports fans
Rugby, soccer and cricket are the predominant sports played in Pretoria, and the city boasts world-class teams and stadiums. Keep an eye on matches at the famous Loftus Versfeld, home to the Blue Bulls provincial rugby team, and SuperSport Park in Centurion for rugby or cricket events. If you prefer soccer, follow SuperSport United football club or Mamelodi Sundowns for some home-grown excitement.
7. A visit to Mrs Ples
Mrs Ples – or Mr Ples, as some scientists argue – is the most complete skull of an Australopithecus africanus (an early ancestor of modern humans) ever discovered. About 2.1-million years old, it was discovered at Sterkfontein in the Cradle of Humankind in 1947. You can visit to Mrs Ples at the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History and also say hello to some of her (or his) relatives.
Fun fact: a study released earlier in 2018 found that Mrs Ples may actually be a Mr! Her name will stay Mrs Ples regardless.
8. Big game in the city
The Rietvlei Nature Reserve, also encompassing Rietvlei Dam, is said to be the largest game reserve within city borders in the world. Picnic by the river after exploring its 40 kilometers of tar and dirt roads on the lookout for rhino, buffalo, cheetah, antelope and more.
9. Relax in the garden
The 76ha Pretoria National Botanical Garden is a perfect escape from the city. Take a day to explore the area and don’t forget to look out for small animals such as mongoose, duiker, the spotted-necked otter and the more than 220 species of birds that have been listed here. If you visit on the first Saturday of the month, you can also visit the Banting Market hosted here as a bonus. It’s a great place to pick up some snacks for a picnic!