Pretoria, located in the northern part of Gauteng Province, South Africa, is one of the country’s three capital cities, serving as the administrative capital. It is home to the Union Buildings, the official seat of the South African government, and also houses the foreign embassies, making it a key center for international diplomacy.
Known as the “Jacaranda City” due to the thousands of jacaranda trees planted in its streets, parks, and gardens, Pretoria is a city that combines historic architecture with modern urban landscapes. Visitors can explore a variety of attractions, from the Voortrekker Monument and Freedom Park to the Pretoria National Botanic Garden and the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa.
Pretoria is also a city of culture, with numerous theaters, museums, and galleries to explore. The State Theatre is a popular venue for concerts, ballets, and plays, while the Pretoria Art Museum houses an impressive collection of South African art.
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Attractions & Things to do in Pretoria
1. Union Buildings
The Union Buildings serve as the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the president. Designed by the renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker in 1913, the buildings are an iconic symbol of Pretoria and South Africa as a whole. With their magnificent terraced gardens, the Union Buildings offer a panoramic view of the city.
Travel Tip: Although the buildings themselves are not open to the public, the gardens are. They make for an excellent picnic spot and a great place for photography.
2. Voortrekker Monument
This massive granite structure stands as a testament to the Voortrekkers, the early Dutch settlers who journeyed into the South African interior. Inside, a historical exhibition and the Cenotaph Room provide deep insight into the cultural and historical context of the monument. Outside, the grounds feature lovely walking paths and an amphitheater.
Travel Tip: The monument is busiest around December 16th, known as the Day of Reconciliation, so plan your visit accordingly to avoid crowds.
3. National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
One of the world’s oldest zoos, the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria spans 85 hectares and houses around 9,000 animals. The zoo offers a chance to see a wide range of species, including rare and endangered animals, in well-maintained enclosures.
Travel Tip: Consider taking the cable car ride for an aerial view of the entire zoo. Wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of ground to cover.
4. Pretoria Botanical Garden
This 76-hectare garden serves as an urban oasis, providing a lush and tranquil environment. The garden is divided into two sections: one that’s cultivated and another that’s allowed to grow wild, offering a variety of flora native to the region.
Travel Tip: Pack a picnic basket to fully enjoy the scenic spots available for visitors. Birdwatchers should bring binoculars, as the gardens are home to numerous bird species.
5. Freedom Park
Freedom Park stands as a memorial honoring those who sacrificed their lives for freedom. It provides an introspective journey through South Africa’s history, focusing on themes of humanity, freedom, and reconciliation.
Travel Tip: A guided tour is highly recommended to fully grasp the historical and cultural significance of the various installations and exhibits.
6. Wonderboom Nature Reserve
Named after its famous Wonderboom fig tree, this nature reserve is a paradise for nature lovers. It is home to various species of birds and small mammals. The reserve also features hiking trails and picnic spots.
Travel Tip: Remember to bring insect repellent and sunscreen, especially in the warmer months. The reserve is ideal for an early morning or late afternoon visit to avoid the heat.
7. Pretoria National Museum of Natural History
This museum provides a fascinating look into the natural history of South Africa. Its exhibits range from prehistoric times to present-day biodiversity. It’s an ideal spot for families and anyone interested in natural sciences.
Travel Tip: Check the museum’s schedule for special exhibits and educational programs that are often available for visitors.
8. Church Square
Church Square is the historical center of Pretoria, featuring numerous architectural gems like the Palace of Justice. It’s a bustling area where one can feel the pulse of the city.
Travel Tip: This is a busy area with both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Be cautious with your belongings and consider visiting during daylight hours.
9. Loftus Versfeld Stadium
This stadium is one of the oldest in South Africa and is mostly used for rugby and soccer matches. It provides a firsthand experience of South Africa’s sports culture, with a seating capacity of over 51,000.
Travel Tip: Try to catch a game while you’re in town for a genuine local experience. Book your tickets in advance, especially for popular matches.
10. Menlyn Park Shopping Centre
For those interested in shopping or needing a break from sightseeing, Menlyn Park offers over 500 stores, a wide variety of restaurants, and even a large indoor arena for go-karting. It’s a one-stop destination for entertainment, dining, and retail.
Travel Tip: The shopping center can get crowded over weekends and during holidays. If you prefer a quieter experience, consider visiting on weekday mornings.
Unique Activities in Pretoria
1. Dinokeng Guided Safari Tour
Discover the beauty of the Dinokeng Game Reserve on this guided safari tour. Witness the rich biodiversity of the region, from lions and elephants to zebras and giraffes. This tour offers a chance to experience the wild side of South Africa, just a short drive from the city.
Day Trips from Pretoria
1. Sun City
Just a two-hour drive from Pretoria, Sun City is a world-class resort featuring casinos, golf courses, and the Valley of Waves water park.
Travel Tip: Plan to spend at least a full day to make the most out of all the amenities Sun City has to offer.
2. Cradle of Humankind
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is around 90 minutes from Pretoria and is renowned for its rich fossil record, including some of the world’s oldest hominid fossils.
Travel Tip: Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves are the main visitor centers; buying a combination ticket for both is cost-effective.
3. Pilanesberg National Park
Situated around two and a half hours from Pretoria, this game reserve offers the chance to see the Big Five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo) in a malaria-free environment.
Travel Tip: Early morning or late afternoon game drives offer the best chances to see animals when they are most active.
Where to stay in Pretoria
Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, boasts a plethora of hotels catering to various preferences and budgets. From luxurious retreats to budget-friendly accommodations, the city offers a diverse range of options for travelers. Whether you’re seeking opulence, a family-friendly environment, or a cozy spot for solo travel, Pretoria has something to offer.
1. Best Reviewed Hotel
The Regency Apartment Hotel Menlyn (★ ★ ★ ★)
- Description: Located in Pretoria, The Regency Apartment Hotel Menlyn features a sun terrace with a swimming pool. The hotel is known for its room service, cleanliness, and picturesque views.
- Price: €71 per night
- Rating: 7.2 (Good)
2. Most Luxurious Hotel
Kievits Kroon Gauteng Wine Estate (★ ★ ★ ★)
- Description: Set amidst landscaped-rose gardens and trees, Kievits Kroon is an upmarket country estate located 20 km from Pretoria Central. It offers excellent facilities and delectable food.
- Price: €92 per night
- Rating: 8.0 (Very good)
3. Budget Hotel
Inani Hotel Morning Star (★ ★ ★)
- Description: This modern hotel in central Pretoria offers air-conditioned rooms and a sun terrace. It’s just a 10-minute walk from Church Square and is known for its friendly staff and clean rooms.
- Price: €31 per night
- Rating: 7.0 (Good)
4. Hotel for Family
Hotel@Hatfield (★ ★ ★)
- Description: Located in the suburb of Hatfield, this hotel offers free Wi-Fi and modern rooms with air conditioning. It features an outdoor pool, bar, and restaurant, making it suitable for families.
- Price: €52 per night
- Rating: 8.0 (Very good)
5. Hotel for Couples
Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! by Marriott Pretoria Menlyn (★ ★ ★ ★)
- Description: Located next to the Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, this hotel is known for its attentive and helpful staff. It offers a unique experience for couples looking for a romantic getaway.
- Price: €67 per night
- Rating: 8.4 (Very good)
6. Hotel for Solo Travellers
RH Hotel Pretoria (★ ★ ★)
- Description: Situated above the Sunnypark Shopping Centre in the heart of Pretoria, this hotel offers modern accommodations with breakfast included. It’s known for its super friendly and helpful staff.
- Price: €43 per night
- Rating: 8.3 (Very good)
Did you know? Facts about Pretoria
- Administrative Capital: Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa, serving as the seat of the executive branch of government and hosting all foreign embassies to South Africa.
- Jacaranda City: It is sometimes called the “Jacaranda City” because of the thousands of jacaranda trees planted along its streets, parks, and gardens.
- Academic City: Pretoria has a reputation as an academic city and center of research, being home to the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Pretoria, and the University of South Africa.
- 2010 FIFA World Cup: Pretoria was one of the host cities of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
- Name Controversy: There has been public controversy over proposals to change the official name from Pretoria to Tshwane.
- Voortrekker Leader: The city is named after the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius.
- Boer Wars: During the First Boer War, the city was besieged by Republican forces, and the peace treaty which ended the war was signed in Pretoria.
- Union of South Africa: In 1910, the Boer Republics were united with the Cape Colony and Natal Colony to become the Union of South Africa, with Pretoria as the administrative capital.
- Climate: Pretoria has a subtropical monsoon climate with long hot rainy summers and short, dry, and mild winters.
- National Zoological Gardens: The city is home to the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and the Pretoria National Botanical Garden.
FAQ about Pretoria
What is the best time to visit Pretoria?
The best time to visit Pretoria is during its dry winter months from May to September when the weather is mild and pleasant.
Is it safe to travel to Pretoria?
Pretoria is generally considered safe for travelers, but like any other city, it is always advisable to take precautions and be aware of your surroundings.
What are the must-visit places in Pretoria?
Some must-visit places in Pretoria include the Union Buildings, Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria National Botanical Garden, and the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa.
What is the official language of Pretoria?
The official language of Pretoria is Afrikaans, but English is widely spoken and understood.
What is the currency used in Pretoria?
The currency used in Pretoria is the South African Rand (ZAR).
Are there any special events or festivals in Pretoria?
One notable event is the Jacaranda Carnival, which is held in October when the jacaranda trees are in full bloom.
What is the food like in Pretoria?
Pretoria offers a wide variety of food options, from traditional South African dishes to international cuisine.
What is the most convenient mode of transportation in Pretoria?
The most convenient mode of transportation in Pretoria is by car, but there are also public transportation options available like buses and the Gautrain high-speed railway.