South Africa is known for its wildlife. But a city like Pretoria has so much to offer that fascinates and entertains me every time I visit. As a lover of all things South Africa, who can share his thoughts on the best things to do in Pretoria? Celebrating this wonderful country has become my full-time job.
South Africa’s ‘Jacaranda City’ is just a 40-minute Gautrain ride from Johannesburg, but it’s a completely different place. This view is certainly more conservative than Joji’s, but perhaps more appealing to explore. Not only are there many impressive buildings, but there are also some 50,000 jacaranda trees with purple flowers. Even when the flowers aren’t blooming (October and November), there’s still plenty to do. From parks to museums.
Here are the top 15 things to do in Pretoria.
1. Kruger House
Surrounded by modern skyscrapers, the Kruger House was the municipal residence of the most famous Transvaal President, Paul Kruger. One of his first powered buildings in Pretoria, the house was designed with a mix of original and antique furnishings to show how the president lived.
In particular, long, partially covered porches (or porches) were known to be Kruger’s favorite places to sit. The exhibition hall showcases his struggle for liberation from the British in the Cape Colony, and the president’s railcar is on display on the grounds.
2. Groenkloof Nature Reserve
Grunkloof is open every day of the day and protects the region’s endangered Bankenfeld flora. Just 15 minutes south of central Pretoria, between Fountains Valley Resort and Waterkloof Golf Club.
Groenkloof is home to many typical South African animals, including kudus, blesbok, giraffes, and jackals. The reserve is popular with both cyclists and hikers due to the lack of big cats. There are 20 kilometers of off-road cycling routes and 3 hiking trails ranging in length from 3.5 to 10.5 kilometers. However, short driving routes are best for wildlife viewing.
3. African Window
The “Africa Window” is the name of the building that houses the Ditson National Museum of Cultural History (DNMCH). Pretoria’s museum’s most comprehensive mission-studded exhibit encompasses everything from a Stone Age ax head to his early Apple Mac.
The exhibition includes permanent and special exhibitions and houses an estimated 3 million artifacts belonging to South Africa’s diverse cultural groups. If you’re short on time, head straight to San’s Gallery of Rock Paintings, which dates back thousands of years.
4. Burgers Park
“Would you like some onions with it?” is unlikely to be heard. at Burgers Park. Established in the 1870s, this historic park is named after the 4th president of the Transvaal Republic, Thomas-François Burgers.
Pretoria’s oldest public park. Wide lawns and wide paths meander between various attractions, including cast-iron field stands, fishing ponds, and the Thomas the Burgers statue. Directly opposite is Melrose House, an interior museum detailing the evolution of Victorian and Edwardian tastes. It also served as the headquarters of the British forces when Pretoria was occupied for 18 months from June 1900.
5. Van Tilburg Collection
Housed in the University of Pretoria’s Old Fine Arts Building, the Van Tilburg Collection is a treasure trove of decorative arts. In addition to paintings, the collection also includes his 17th- to 18th-century furniture and South Africa’s largest collection of oriental ceramics.
The latter includes vases from the personal collection of Emperor Kangxi, who ruled from 1661 until 1722, and 550 pieces of Ming porcelain. Unfortunately, a small self-portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn recently turned out to be a fake.
6. Fort Klapperkop
Fort Clapperkop is one of four fortifications built to protect Pretoria from British forces during the Boer War in the late 19th century. Built-in 1898, this fortress is one of Pretoria’s best-preserved historic forts.
In addition to long buildings and defensive fortifications, Fort Clapperkop features a dry moat and one of the great French cannons known as the Long Tom. Despite being aware of its importance, the fort had hitherto been manned by only 30 men and had never fired outside of practice.
If you love music as I do, Fort Schanskop might be the place for you, with an outdoor music festival at the end of most months.
7. Hartbeespoort Dam Elephant Sanctuary
Hartbeesport Dam Elephant Sanctuary is about an hour’s drive from central Pretoria. It is home to elephants that cannot survive in the wild in any of South Africa’s famous national parks.
Instead, the reserve’s elephants are cared for by a team of caretakers. The guide also takes visitors through the sanctuary on foot three times a day. This activity is only possible in a few national parks in Africa and allows visitors to get really close to these fascinating creatures.
My Tip: Arrive at Hartby’s Port in time for the 8 am tour. Not only are the elephants most active in the cool of the early morning hours, but you can also pet them with a keeper.
8. Ditsong National Museum of Natural History
This natural history museum has stuffed animal exhibits and insect boxes as you’ve probably already expected. What makes the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History stand out among similar attractions is its extensive fossil exhibits.
These include highly significant hominid fossils unearthed from several sites such as Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, and Swartkrans in the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Cradle of Humankind. The centerpiece of the entire museum is the most complete Australopithecus africanus skull ever found, a fossil called Mrs. Pruz. Mrs. Pulles is estimated to be around 3.4 million years old and is also on the list of great South Africans.
9. South African State Theater
Impressive in both size and scope, the South African State Theater is Africa’s largest theater complex of its kind. Built-in raw concrete brutalist architecture, it has six performance rooms and a capacity of 2,700 people.
The theater’s long list of monthly shows and events features the names of South African and international talent. The program is packed with everything from new works to entertainment. We recommend checking the current match schedule before arriving in Pretoria to see what’s going on.
10. Voortrekker Monument
The Transvaal Republic arose in the mid-19th century after Dutch-speaking settlers from South Africa left the British Cape Colony to live independently from the British. They call themselves Voortrekkers but are also known as the Boers. Their “Great Trek” is part of the founding history of South Africa’s colonization.
This huge monument, 40 meters high, was built in the 1930s. Inside the Hall of Heroes is the world’s largest marble frieze, made up of 27 panels. There is also a cenotaph adorned with the flag of the Boer Republic and relics of the Great Trek. All of this may seem a bit contradictory to the modern rainbow nation, but it’s still a fascinating glimpse into the minds of these early European settlers.
11. Pretoria National Botanical Garden
Just east of Church Square is one of South Africa’s nine National Botanic Gardens. Despite its relatively small area of 76 hectares, it can cover a wide variety of landscapes including succulents, wetlands, grasslands, and medicinal gardens. There is also an arboretum, an artificial waterfall, and a restaurant.
One of the best ways to explore the area is by following the short Dussey Walking Trail. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see these cute mammals, but if you go with them for a little while, you’ll be able to experience many of the wonders of nature.
12. Church Square
To reach the heart of historic Pretoria, head straight to Church Square (Kerk Square). On the central pedestal is a statue of another Transvaal president, Paul Kruger. Created by Anton von Wah.
The edge of the square is flanked by a number of important buildings, including the Supreme Court, the Ouer Ladzaal, the Tudor Rooms, and the former Dutch Bank Building. While the courts are rich in Victorian detail, the structure is perhaps best known for the events held inside. Because it was here that Nelson Mandela was tried in a treason trial in Livonia and sentenced to 27 years in prison.
13. Pretoria Art Museum
The Pretoria Art Museum’s elegant one-story building provides the perfect setting to explore one of South Africa’s most important art collections. Founded in 1930, the museum’s early holdings consisted primarily of his 17th-century and later European art, as was customary at the time.
However, the Pretoria Art Gallery now includes many of South Africa’s leading artists in its collection. Look out for landscape paintings by Henk Pianiev, sculptures by Anton van Wau, and paintings by former exiled painter Gérard Secoto.
14. Union Buildings
The Union Building is located on Main Jeskop, another hill overlooking the central district of Pretoria. When Nelson Mandela of South Africa made his historic inauguration as president in 1994, his office took place here.
Today, this great man is honored with a literally larger-than-life statue in a beautifully landscaped garden. The gardens are open to the public daily and are a popular destination in town for locals, tourists, and even presidential visitors. Be sure to visit the Union Building as it is important to its heritage and national history.
15. Freedom Park Heritage Site & Museum
Pretoria, named after the father of Martinus Pretorius, the first president of the former Transvaal Republic, was rife with historical racism and apartheid. Freedom Park was established to honor and commemorate not only the South Africans who lost their lives in the wars within the country but also those who fought for democracy.
The park’s centerpiece on Salvokop Hill is a simple ring of upright stone that depicts figures such as Steve Hebiko, who was murdered by apartheid security forces personnel in 1977. Freedom Park is a tranquil place to contemplate the beauty of Pretoria’s surrounding landscape. The “//” Hapo building is also included. Here you can discover a comprehensive history spanning over 3.6 billion years.