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The Statue of old-President Paul Kruger peers pensively at the hubbub that surrounds him every day at Church Square. Photos by Petro Kotzé. Click on photo to enlarge.
The Statue of old-President Paul Kruger peers pensively at the hubbub that surrounds him every day at Church Square.

Pretoria: Loosening up in South Africa’s Laid-Back Capital

Neither the oldest, nor the biggest and, arguably, not the prettiest either. Pretoria, South Africa’s chilled-out administrative capital is, for many tourists, not a must-see. Named after Voortrekker [pioneer] hero, Andries Pretorius, the city still boasts a strong Afrikaner identity.

However, Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, was inaugurated here and the city also sported the country’s first black mayor.

Located in a warm, sheltered valley, surrounded by the hills of the Magalies mountain range, Pretoria’s Jacaranda tree-lined streets are also decidedly warmer that neighboring Johannesburg – “lekker”, (nice) as locals would say. 

Yup, this old boeremeisie (Voortrekker girl) has a couple of tricks up her sleeve, and visitors with time to spare won’t regret exploring both her famous and more obscure attractions…

Historical buildings

Pretoria does not take a step back in this department. The Transvaal Museum, City Hall and Freedom Park are but a few. The Union Buildings, official seat of the South African government, has beautifully kept gardens, perfect for picnics.

President Paul Kruger’s imposing statue stare warily over the happenings at Church Square, which include stalls and performances. A coffee at the Café Riche is recommended.

Annually, on 16 December, a ray of light falls on a granite cenotaph with the inscription ons vir jou Suid Afrika (We for thee, South Africa) at The Voortrekker Monument, one of the most visited memorials.

Loftus Versfeld is where Pretoria’s sporting heart beats. The stadium is the home of the much revered Blue Bulls provincial rugby team. Click on photo to enlarge.
Loftus Versfeld is where Pretoria’s sporting heart beats. The stadium is the home of the much revered Blue Bulls provincial rugby team.

For further information, visit tshwane.gov.za/interest.cfm

Drinking

Pretorianers like a good party, usually with an array of local beers like Black Label and Castle with a shot (a single measurement of liquor taken in one gulp) thrown in.

The proximity of the University of Pretoria or Tuks in short, makes Hatfield Square a good bet on most nights. An array of bars and clubs are situated in and around the square in Hilda Street.

Sunnyside has a bad rep, but also a couple of good bars, mostly around Gerhard Moerdyk Street. Keep an eye on your personal belongings.    

Eating

Steak, T-bone and wors [sausage] to burgers, pap en sous [maize meal porridge] -- food on this side of the globe is substantial and dished out in hearty portions. Try Kotze Street in Sunnyside for lunch.

General JBM Hertzog, once Prime-Minister of South Africa, today keeps a watchful glance over the gardens at the Union Buildings.
General JBM Hertzog, once Prime-Minister of South Africa, today keeps a watchful glance over the gardens at the Union Buildings.

You won’t find other tourists, but good spots for Somalian and Nigerian food. Try the tbis at Salam restaurant (R20), or consider the goat head or ogbono soup at the Kospot, Nigerian eatery. For more refined options, aim in the direction of up-market Brooklyn.  

For more options visit dining-out.co.za/Tshwane-Restaurants.asp

Art

Does art imitate life or life imitate art? Decide for yourself with a stroll through the city’s numerous art galleries.

The grandaddy is the Pretoria Art Museum at the corner of Schoeman and Wessels Streets in Arcadia. Fans of painting, sculpture, photography and more will be pleased.  Exhibitions of both traditional and contemporary art forms, mostly by South African artists line the spacious hallways. Contemplations can take place on the grassy lawn outside.

The Pretoria Art Museum offers a glimpse into both traditional and contemporary art.
The Pretoria Art Museum offers a glimpse into both traditional and contemporary art.

For a listing of other, smaller galleries, visit southafrica.info/travel/cultural/973776.htm

Furry friends

Baboons, tigers, koala bears and elephants also occupy the city. They call the largest Zoo in the country, The National Zoological Gardens, home. Rated one of the top zoos in the world, you can look your feathery friends in the eyes in the large walk-through (and climb-up) aviary.

Attractions include an inland aquarium and reptile park. Take the little cable-car for an aerial view of the lions’ cage and the polar bears. Not the real thing, but it’s clear that effort has gone into imitating natural habitats.

The Zoo is a respected research facility and plays a vital part in the conservation of threatened species.

Colorful stalls line the Jacaranda City’s streets, offering anything from flags to beaded jewelry and curios. 
Colorful stalls line the Jacaranda City’s streets, offering anything from flags to beaded jewelry and curios. 

Be a sport

Like the rest of the country, Pretoria is big on sport. The pulse of this obsession beats at Loftus Versfeld Stadium on the corner of Lynwood and Kirkness Streets. Home of the Blue Bulls provincial rugby team, it has recently been upgraded for the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

If big, burly men in tiny shorts, who bash each other around for an egg-shaped ball is not for you, head to the Pretoria Country Club for a spot of civilized golf, bowls or even a bit of bridge.

Life is but a stage

Close to the heart of the city lies “the driving force behind the performing arts in all spheres of South Africa,” according to statetheatre.co.za.

The South African State Theatre, actually a complex of theatres, will have you clapping for more, from opera and ballet to cabarets and dramas. A hoard of smaller theatres are scattered across the city. 

The Breytenbach Theatre in Sunnyside (tel: +27 (0) 12 440 4834) mainly hosts productions by the Pretoria Technikon. The Pierneef Theatre is also a good bet.

The Pretoria Zoo is a respected research facility and famed for its breeding programs.
The Pretoria Zoo is a respected research facility and famed for its breeding programs.
Shopping

Spending rands is easy in Pretoria. The biggest mall in the area is Menlyn Park, and comes complete with a variety of designer shops, trendy restaurants and rooftop drive-in to boot.

Several flea markets pop up over weekends, like the ones on Sundays at Hatfield Square and Sunnypark, the Sunnyside mall. Permanent stalls line busy roads in front of the Zoo and at the pedestrian section of Church Square.  

The beat is on

The music scene in this capital is alive and rocking. Even though there are no arena size venues, smaller spots are scattered around the city. In Hatfield, bohemian Tings an Times (tings.co.za) or irie Cool Runnings are sure bets.

Some of the old houses in Gerhard Moerdyk Street, Sunnyside, have been restored and transformed into pubs and shops.
Some of the old houses in Gerhard Moerdyk Street, Sunnyside have been restored and transformed into pubs and shops.

Further afield the Café Barcelona (Elardus Park) has gigs on every weekend. Listen to campus radio station Tuks fm (107.2 fm) for extensive gig guides.

Get out

If the city gets too much – get out of it! The easiest way is a trip to the National Botanical Gardens. Get lost in savanna and forest biomes (entrance for adults: R20).

About 20 kilometers south of the city centre is the Groenkloof Nature Reserve, one of Africa’s oldest nature conservation areas. Take a hike or a bike, but be on the lookout for, among others, zebra, wildebeest and white rhino.

The Rietvlei Nature Reserve, in the direction of Irene, supports around 1,600 head of game, like buffalo, white rhino and the shy cheetah. Pack friends, family and picnic baskets (Tel: +27 (0)12 345 2274).  

 

Petro Kotzé

 

Petro Kotzé is a freelance journalist based, for most of the time, in South Africa.

 

 

 

 

Read more GoNOMAD stories by Petro Kotzé:

Top Ten Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in Cape Town

Top Ten Day Trips From Nelspruit

 

Read more GoNOMAD stories about South Africa

 

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