Travelers looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg should make the 30-mile trip north to Pretoria. As the executive and de facto national capital of South Africa, Pretoria has a rich history and features some of the country's most beautiful and diverse architecture. Visitors should be sure to take in a few of the city's many museums and monuments, sample some of the best dining in South Africa, and enjoy Pretoria's temperate climate and easygoing atmosphere. For history buffs, Pretoria is a great place to learn more about the era of apartheid that South Africa experience in the 20th century: Freedom Park, the National Museum of Cultural History, and many more sites pay homage to those who struggled during that time.
1. Pretoria Forts: The Pretoria Forts are a group of military buildings built by the South African government at the end of the 19th century, around the time of the Second Anglo-Boer War. After the war, the forts were largely neglected until two of them, Fort Klapperkop and Fort Schanskop, were converted into military museums in the 1960s and ’70s. Today, visitors to the Pretoria Forts can learn more about the history of the Boer Wars and see the strong German and Dutch influence on the architecture.
2. Freedom Park: A memorial to South Africans killed in the Boer Wars, the World Wars, and the apartheid era, Freedom Park is located on a 128-acre stretch of Salvokop Hill in south Pretoria. Although portions of the site are still under construction, the majority of the park—including the wall of names and the eternal flame—are open and ready for visitors.
3. Hatfield: The home of the University of Pretoria, Hatfield is a suburb known for its concentration of nightlife and dining. Although many venues are designed to cater to the university’s student population, the wide variety of bars, clubs, and cafés in Hatfield ensures that all travelers will be able to enjoy themselves.
4. Church Square: Located in the heart of Pretoria, Church Square is the city’s historic center and surrounded by a number of the city’s most important and impressive buildings. The Palace of Justice is especially famous as the site of the 1963-64 Rivonia Trial, which sent Nelson Mandela to prison.
5. Voortrekker Monument: The Voortrekker Monument is an imposing granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers of the 19th century. The Voortrekkers were European immigrants that left the coastal colonies in South Africa to settle in the country’s interior. The monument puts a special focus on the Battle of Blood River, an 1838 conflict between the Voortrekkers and the Zulu.
6. African Window and the National Museum of Cultural History: The African Window is the striking building that houses the Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History. The museum’s collection highlights African artifacts from the Stone and Iron Ages, and adult admission is R20.00.
7. Loftus Versfeld Stadium: Catch a rugby match at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium, home of the Vodacom Bulls. Rugby is incredibly popular in South Africa, and the stadium is located just east of Pretoria’s center. Loftus Versfeld also occasionally hosts soccer games, and the stadium was recently used in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
8. Kruger House: Paul Kruger was president of the South African Republic during the time of the Second Boer War, and he is considered a national hero by much of South Africa. His house has been turned into a museum, and the interior has been carefully prepared to recreate Kruger’s living conditions in the 1800s. The house is found a few minutes west of Church Square.
9. Union Buildings: A South African national monument, the Union Buildings are the official seat of the South African government. Built between 1910 and 1913, the buildings are made from light sandstone and are designed in the English monumental style. The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, has his offices in the Union Buildings.
10. Van Wouw Museum: Anton van Wouw was a Dutch sculptor who lived in South Africa for many years. The museum is located in his last home, the Van Wouw House, and the building’s unique architecture is as interesting as the displays inside it. The Museum is owned by the University of Pretoria.
Like its neighbor Johannesburg, Pretoria’s climate is temperate and mild all year round. In the summer months, temperatures average in the low 80s Fahrenheit, but even the winter months are only about 20 degrees colder. Be warned, however, that from November to January rains are heavier than usual, with 12-15 days of precipitation per month.
Pretoria has public events and festivals throughout the year, but July and August are especially busy months. Music festivals like the Oppikoppi August Festival and the Stellenbosch International Music Festival draw visitors from all over the world.
Pretoria is served by Johannesburg’s airports, OR Tambo International and Lanseria. Buses run frequently between Pretoria and Johannesburg, and taxi service is available as well. In addition, the new high-speed Gautrain train service will be fully operational by summer 2011.
The Pretoria city center is small enough to get around on foot, but there is also an extensive system of local buses available. These buses generally cost less than one American dollar to ride. Taxis are also widely available.
Travelers are generally able to visit Pretoria without incident, especially if they use basic common sense. Walking alone after dark should be avoided, and be careful bringing valuable items out in public. In the Hatfield area, where much of Pretoria’s nightlife is concentrated, crime is rare and usually limited to petty theft. Always pay attention to your surroundings.
1. In recent years there has been a controversial push to change Pretoria’s name to Tshwane, the name of the metropolitan municipality that Pretoria resides in. For some, the name Pretoria is too heavily rooted in South Africa’s apartheid past, but others insist that the name honors the city’s original Voortrekker founders. Past attempts to change the name have ended up stalled in the government.
2. The Pretoria News, written in English, and The Rekord, written partly in Afrikaans, are Pretoria’s two main newspapers.
3. Pretoria was founded in 1855 by the Voortrekker Mathinus Pretorius. He named the city after his father, Andries Pretorius. The original name was Pretoria Philadelphia, which means “Pretoria of brotherly love.”