How to spend time in Pretoria
Visiting Pretoria may not be first in a person’s mind when it comes to travelling around South Africa, but the beautiful Jacaranda City does deserve your attention. I used to live in Pretoria before I moved to Cape Town and have many wonderful memories of the capital city.
1. Jacaranda trees
The Jacarandas are my favourite trees. Each spring, the lilac blossoms of jacaranda trees breathe life into the streets of Pretoria. It’s incredibly beautiful and similar to the cherry blossoms of Japan. Nowhere else in South Africa can you see this; it’s Pretoria’s trademark. There is even a radio station named after this tree, Jacaranda FM.
2. The Voortrekker Monument
The Voortrekker Monument, a national heritage site, is a staggering historical structure commemorating the Boers’ Great Trek from the Cape Colony to the old Transvaal. Inside, grandiose friezes of the daily life of the Voortrekkers are on display, many of which depict bloody war scenes between the Zulus and the Voortrekkers. One of the most notable wars, aside from the Anglo Boer War, was the Battle of Blood River. If South African Boer history fascinates you, a museum dedicated to the lives of the Voortrekkers is located on the property. The museum houses old wagons, clothing and rifles. There is also a curio shop and a cafeteria to buy refreshments.
3. Rovos Station
For a step back in time to South Africa’s colonial period, visit Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park. Those who take the Pride of Africa often look forward to the wait, but it’s also open for the public to enjoy too. The station was once derelict but after renovation, it’s now an attraction of Capital Park because of the beautiful Edwardian-style station building. In addition to its stunning colonial-period architecture, a railway museum, a shed with glistening old locomotives, and a footbridge are all on display begging to be closely examined. In time, the owners intend to create a working railway museum. The Rovos Rail Station is a definite must-see even if you don’t intend taking the train. A resident peacock and small buck call the station home too.
4. Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve
Hiking at Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve is a relaxing way to spend a weekend. The reserve is close to Pretoria’s inner city and spans 100 hectares. Unfortunately, you won’t see the Big Five or other predators, but you will come across plenty of zebra, ostrich, springbuck, impala, and birds. Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve used to be a dairy farm and one of the original buildings can still be found on the property, except now it’s a restaurant. I’ve enjoyed plenty of lovely lunches on the restaurant’s deck after a slow hike around the reserve.
5. Transvaal Museum
The Transvaal Museum is South Africa’s best natural history museum, and is my favourite place to visit in Pretoria. It’s open every day, even on a Sunday. Inside you’ll see skeletons of dinosaurs and whales, a taxidermy collection of animals that are now extinct, as well as a number of interesting fossils. There are four exhibition halls that include:
- Genesis of Life: journey through the development of the animal kingdom – from single-celled organisms to human beings.
- The Austin Roberts Hall: a collection of birds from South Africa.
- The Geoscience Museum: a collection of gemstones, crystals and minerals mined in South Africa. (South Africa has one of the largest gold and diamond mining industries in the world).
- The Discovery Centre: an interactive learning experience about nature and science.
6. Pretoria National Garden
The Pretoria National Botanical Garden has a lovely restful atmosphere and is perfect for a picnic. The garden is a rich tapestry of South African indigenous trees and flowers, and provides the perfect backdrop for photos.
7. The Union Buildings
You cannot enter the Union Buildings, as public entry is denied. However, you can stand outside to admire and to photograph the beautiful government building with its spectacular terraced gardens. The building is representative of the union of South African people who were formally divided under the National Party rule during Apartheid.
8. The National Zoological Gardens
I love zoos, and Pretoria’s zoo is of the best in South Africa – it’s also rated as one of the best zoos in the world. The Pretoria Zoo, which is also known as the National Zoological Gardens, not only serves a recreational purpose but takes the conservation and protection of its animals very seriously. The zoo is, in fact, part of the National Research Foundation. The Pretoria Zoo was the first zoo where the first rhino was born; it is also home to the biggest inland aquarium. Africa’s only insectarium and white tiger can be found there too. Other animals include pandas, lions, polar bears, cheetahs, leopards, owls, elephants and primates. There is also a reptile park for those who are fascinated by snakes and lizards.
Was this guide helpful to you? Have you been to Pretoria or are you planning to visit soon? Let us know what you think about this city!