Before inter-provincial travel re-opened, lockdown had been restricting us to outings in our own province. It was challenging finding things to do in Gauteng that we hadn't done before, and we found ourselves spending more time in Pretoria, exploring its attractions, and thereby prompting this post.
Also known by its official name, Tshwane - Pretoria is South Africa’s administrative capital. It is a city of historic monuments and memorials, as well as nature, approximately 45 minutes from Johannesburg.
Pretoria was founded in 1855 by Marthinus Pretorius, the first president of the South African Republic, who named it in honour of his father Andries Pretorius, also a Voortrekker leader.
The city’s name was officially changed to Tshwane in 2005.
An unofficial moniker, Jacaranda City, stems from the thousands of jacaranda trees which bloom in October and November each year, covering the city in shades of purple. The first two trees were imported from Rio De Janeiro in 1888.
Here are 12 things to do in Pretoria. Some of these attractions may be closed currently, so confirm with them before you go.
The Union Buildings are one of South Africa's Architectural masterpieces. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, they were completed in 1913. This is where Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1994. A nine-metre high bronze statue of him, the tallest one in existence, stands at the foot of the Union Buildings. The landscaped gardens offer a great view of the city and are ideal for a picnic.
The Voortrekker Monument is a massive granite monument which was built to commemorate the Voortrekker history in Southern Africa. Located on a hilltop in a nature reserve, the design was inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture. Inside the monument, you will find a high domed hall known as the Hall of Heroes, decorated with an ornate marble frieze depicting the Great Trek. There is also a museum with a collection of original Great Trek antiques.
Freedom Park is a National Heritage Destination, consisting of a museum and a memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives while contributing to South Africa's freedom. You can read more about it on fellow blogger, Heather’s blog 2Summers. Heather has probably visited more places in Gauteng than I have.
Note: Freedom Park has not been re-opened yet since lockdown began.
This is one of the most popular hiking spots in Gauteng. It consists of an expansive nature reserve with several hiking, mountain biking and off-roading trails, as well as a historical background. The Hennops river flows through a valley flanked by mountain ranges and the hiking trails start by crossing a meandering river. You can read more about our experience at Hennops Hiking Trails here.
This 76 hectare urban oasis is one of South Africa's ten National Botanical Gardens. It is divided into two sections by a 50 m high quartzite outcrop, one facing south and the other north – and quite different from each other. The mostly indigenous gardens include a cycad garden, medicinal garden, useful plants garden, and a small waterfall. It is also popular with birding enthusiasts and over 220 bird species have been seen here.
Although I am not a fan of animals in captivity, not everyone can afford to go on a safari. And zoos have some educational value, especially for children, as long as the animals are taken care of well. The Pretoria National Zoological Gardens is the largest zoo in Africa and one of the highest rated zoos in the world. The 85 hectare zoo contains more than 700 species of creatures and has a cableway.
Dinokeng Game Reserve is unique in that it is a Big 5 game reserve located within the boundaries of a metro city and half an hour away from the city centre. Meaning “a place of rivers”, it is the first and only game reserve in Gauteng with free-roaming Big Five. Although, we did not get to see any of them, other visitors have. Read about our experience at Dinokeng Game Reserve.
This is a historic, working dairy farm with two restaurants, in a picturesque setting. It makes a great family outing, especially with younger kids who will enjoy seeing the farm animals, exploring the antique tractors, and having fun on the playground.
This is one of four impact craters in South Africa and one of the best preserved in the world. Formed around 220000 years ago when a meteorite hit the earth’s crust, the 100 metre deep crater is also the most accessible. A hiking trail will take you along the outskirts of the massive crater, then down to the lake at the bottom. Tswaing means place of salt and the site contains the remains of a factory which produced salt and soda ash.
Cullinan is a quaint, historic town ...with a diamond mine which is still operational. Some of the largest diamonds in the world today were found in Cullinan, including the 3106-carat Cullinan Diamond, which is now part of the British crown jewels.You can go on a tour of the Cullinan Diamond Mine, then walk around the quirky little town.
These museums are national monuments and part of South Africa’s history.
This is the last house in which former President Paul Kruger lived before he left South Africa to go into exile in Europe. The simple house, which was his home between 1883 and 1901, reflects what it was like when he lived there with his second wife, Gezina and contains original furniture, gifts that were presented to him and other memorabilia.
This museum was the home of General Jan Smuts, former prime minister of South Africa between 1910 and 1950. It gives insight into his life and times. Exhibits include artefacts and gifts given to Jan Smuts during his world travels and his extensive library collection. The museum is currently closed.
Irene Country Lodge
Close to Irene Dairy Farm, this family-friendly hotel has vast grounds, spacious rooms and a popular spa and restaurant. Here is my review of Irene Country Lodge.
Another favourite of ours, this Cape Dutch style luxury country estate is situated in the Dinokeng area. Until recently, children were not allowed here, making it more of a romantic hotel. However, this has now changed. This luxury hotel also has a wonderful spa and restaurant. Here is my review of Kievits Kroon.
The Orient Hotel
Exclusive and exotic, this boutique hotel is also home to the acclaimed Restaurant Mosaic. Here is my review of The Orient Hotel.
What are your favourite things to do in Pretoria ?
Things you must do in South Africa