A relatively small city, Pretoria lies about 50km north of Johannesburg and is approximately three degrees warmer than its southern cousin. Although largely a government-based city, it is also a place of culture, with theaters, museums and monuments.
Greater Pretoria is a city of science and technology, knowledge and industry in the true sense of the word.
As the academic, scientific and technological capital of South Africa, the city has the most highly developed technology and research sector in Africa.
Four universities and a number of scientific institutes call Pretoria home, including the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute, both internationally respected.
Jacarandas throw a blanket of mauve over this somewhat sedate city. Even so, Pretoria boasts superb shopping centers, museums, art galleries and restaurants. There is also an abundance of open spaces – Pretoria has more than 100 parks, including bird sanctuaries and nature reserves.
The center of the city, rich in history and architectural gems, houses the
To the south of the city center up Paul Kruger street – about a 20 minute walk – is the
Close to that is the suburb of Burgers Park, including
A few blocks north of the city center is Marabastad, where you'll experience the colors and hustle and bustel of Africa. There are fascinating shops like the ‘muti' shops of the ‘Sangomas' (traditional healers), cinemas and a mosque recalling the vibrant, cultural and religious life of Marabastad. Famous for its beauty and ingenuity in building construction, the
About five city blocks to the east of Marabastad are the
Sunnyside, Arcadia and Hatfield
Backtrack south to Church Street (the longest urban street in South Africa), then go east and on the left, are the
This is where you'll find the suburbs of Sunnyside, Arcadia and Hatfield – the most popular areas for embassies, shopping centers, pretty lanes, beautiful old homes and the University of Pretoria. In fact, these are the most affluent and interesting suburbs of the city.
Hatfield boasts bars, cafes, boutiques, sidewalk coffee shops and restaurants from which you can soak up the South African sun and watch the passing parade of students, artists, street artists and sidewalk traders selling stuff from all over Africa.
About ten minutes from there, in the suburb of Arcadia, is the
To the south, are the hilly, gracious and large suburbs of Waterkloof Ridge and Waterkloof Glen. It's here that the very wealthy reside, viewing Pretoria from their lofty homes.
To the south of the city, and heading towards Johannesburg is Centurion, of note primarily for the
Pretoria was first called Petoriusdorp – a little later, someone with a knowledge of Latin suggested the name Pretorium. To the relief of many the name Pretoria was finally adopted.
Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa. The Volksraad agreed to the establishment of a town as well as to the name Pretoria. The actual date of this decision was the 16th December 1855 and this date is regarded as Pretoria's birthday. Prior to this decision there was some difficulty about the choice of a name. Pretoriusdorp, Pretorium, Pretoriusstad and Pretoria-Philadelphia were among the suggestions. But Pretoria was selected. It was the choice of the son, Marthinus Wessel Pretorius, who wished to honor the memory of his father, Commandant-General Andries Pretorius, the hero of Blood River and negotiator with Britain of the Sand River Convention, which acknowledged the independence of the Transvaal." Pretoria became the seat of government on 1 May 1860.
The bid by Potchefstroom (a conservative medium-sized town about 300 kilometres to the west of Johannesburg) to secure the role as the capital of what used to be called the province of Transvaal failed, and the Volksraad (parliament) was established in Pretoria.
Relations between the gold mining industry and the leaders of the Transvaal Republic (ZAR) were often strained, but it is a credit to the Boer leaders who, not only maintained a semblance of control over the miens but also prospered from the growing revenues.
The Jameson Raid, an ill-conceived plan to take over the Transvaal failed, creating an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion that was to lead to eventual war with Britain in 1899.
While Johannesburg was the scene of many dramatic incidents, the focus now moves to Pretoria, where apartheid was actually administered (Pretoria is the administrative capital of the country).
Pretoria Central is where a number of people convicted of atrocities during the apartheid years are now imprisoned. This was also the location of Death Row in South Africa, and the place where one of the youngest black activists to be hung for political activity, Solomon Mahlangu, a resident of Mamelodi township outside Pretoria, died in 1976.
There is now a square in the township named after Mahlangu, with a dramatic statue commemorating his life. A number of white activists received very long sentences in Pretoria Central. The longest serving of these was activist Denis Goldberg, who served some 20 years.
Church Square (which includes the Palace of Justice and a statue of the legendary boer leader Paul Kruger) is a site full of associations with a number of struggles for freedom.
The turreted Palace of Justice was the scene of one of the most famous of South Africa's major political trials, the Rivonia Trial, during which Nelson Mandela and a number of major heroes of the struggle for racial freedom was charged with treason and subsequently incarcerated.
The Union Buildings, were built in the early years of the 20th century – during the period of political Union between the former British colonies of the Cape and Natal and the two Boer Republics. The Union Buildings embody much of the philosophy held by the British at the time over the way colonies should be run and governed.
The Union period of South Africa's history (1902–10) was about building bridges between the Boers and Britain after the bitterness of the Boer War – but no one gave thought or attention to the rights of black South Africans. It was soon after the Act of Union was passed in 1920 that the first broad-based African movement was formed specifically to lobby and work for black rights in South Africa.
This organization, formed in 1912, was the forerunner of the African National Congress. The most famous occasions now held at the Union Buildings are the inauguration ceremonies of the country's presidents.
Since Pretoria is home to artists, academics and ambassadorial personnel from across the globe, it stands to reason that, albeit relatively few in number, some of the countries best restaurants are to be found in this splendid garden city.
It is said that the Sputnik (ersatz or otherwise - mashed potato wrapped around a Vienna sausage of indistinguishable age) is the meal of choice for the majority of locals. However, considering that the majority of the dining-out population consist of poor students with voracious appetites, statistics in this case serve merely to baffle the unsuspecting visitor.
Speaking of Boere chic, the Gerhard Moerdyk, in Arcadia (named after the architect of the Voortrekker Monument), is luxurious, elegant, and offers fine South African cuisine.
If, in fact, fine dining is what you're after, there's the multiple award-winning, Lynnwood's Hillside Tavern.
There's also Thai fine dining – and the best is Wangthai. It is top-drawer, elegant and authentic, whereas Phuket Island offers easy Thai eating.
Want Portuguese? Outside of Portugal, South Africa boasts the largest Portuguese community in the world. In Villo Do Mar, in the upmarket Waterkloof Heights, Pretoria has one of the best Portuguese brandies and Ports.
Unequivocally the best and the busiest Portuguese restaurant, that boasts top-of-the-range quality seafood, reflected in the prices, is Vilamoura (there's also one in Johannesburg and one in Cape Town). This is a huge, gastronomic success story with seafood platters and Portuguese national dishes of note. Italians love Pretoria, and Pretoria loves Italian food. There's top-of-the-range Ritrovo Ristorante in the smart suburb of Waterkloof Heights, which boasts authentic Neapolitan cuisine and panoramic vistas. There's also Villa di'Amici in a charming ‘villa', reminiscent of the aristocracy of old Italy. They specialize in traditional Italian cuisine with the emphasis on seafood dishes.
The Pretoria palate is in fact very sophisticated. This city, for instance, boasts more French restaurants than any other city in South Africa. There's the excellent and charming Brasserie de Paris, with its art nouveau touches, in nearby Hatfield.
Want Chinese? The Capital Chinese Restaurant in is one of the most charming. In fact, this artist and student suburb is positively cooking with good international restaurants and interesting ‘Boere chic' eateries.
City Center, Hazelwood, Groenkloof
When in a multi-University city such as this one, Bohemian elements will always show their eccentric qualities. Café Riche, on Church Square, is one such place. The oldest café in Pretoria, this art nouveau, national monument is, in fact, the favorite of lawyers, diplomats, business people, students, theater-goers and tourists alike. Sit outside on a fine Sunday and listen to gentle jazz while watching people feed birds on the square.
One of Pretoria's most successful and popular restaurants, La Pentola, has a creative and charming chef/patron Shane Sauvage still at the helm. Like its owner, this Pan-African place has character. Not only does the menu offer an excellent variety of dishes to choose from, but the blackboard ‘specials' are truly special. The newly revamped wine list boasts some of South Africa's finest.
This is also where you'll find The Greek Easy, a busy ouzerie in an old cottage, with a long list of meze, renowned specialties and a lively plate-breaking atmosphere on a good night.
The Gala Deli and Restaurant was one of the first in the city. Sit inside or ‘outside' (it's in a shopping mall) and watch the shoppers parade by. Eat authentic, freshly made pasta, or Italian rolls with delicious toppings while quaffing a glass of reasonably-priced Italian wine.
It stands to reason that there would also be a number of excellent steakhouses, given the exceptional quality and reputation of South African beef. There's the previously mentioned Hillside Tavern and the writer's special favorite, Hazelwood's Pachas, which boasts a number of awards, as a result of offering the perfect formula—good food, an outstanding wine list, a choice of the best international cigar brands, and charming hosts.
The Pride of India in the suburb of Groenkloof, where Eastern mysticism is embodied in the very atmosphere of this restaurant stands out among the many choices of Pretoria Indian fare.
Pretoria is a city rich in history and cultural attractions. Anyone visiting Pretoria will find an abundance of things to do and see whenever they go out and about including maintained parks, historical museums, and a plethora of animal attractions.
Around the City
In the heart of Pretoria is Church Square, home to former South African President Paul Kruger, which rests on one of the world's longest streets. Church Street is also home to one of Pretoria's most fascinating attractions, Church Street Cemetery, and is surrounded by beautiful Jacaranda trees. The Klapperkop Fort & Military Museum (on Church Street as well) is also an informative and visually interesting display of military history.
Sitting atop Meintjieskop, overlooking Pretoria, are the grandiose Union Buildings designed by Sir Herbert Baker. Although guests are not allowed inside the buildings, they are encouraged to enjoy the bountiful and sprawling gardens that surround them.
Three times a week, prepare to be delighted by an educational and entertaining Puppet Theatre Show. Performed by professional puppeteers, their skits are a historical showcase of Voortrekker's ("Pioneers") Monument and Heritage Site and they routinely ask volunteers to help assist and join in the fun.
Take the time to visit the Miriamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Pretoria, dedicated to Miriammen, the goddess who controls smallpox and other infectious diseases. Gaze at the temple's rich and colorful exterior before venturing inside. Over the past few years, however, the Muslim religion has gained immense popularity. So much so, that the Vermeulen Mosque had to be built. The Mosque's intricate and stunning architectural decor will leave spectators breathless.
Day Trips, Zoos & Aquaria
There lies an abundance of natural wildlife and animal sanctuaries to visit in Pretoria. If you enjoy bird watching, go to the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary, where over a hundred species can be seen in their natural habitat. Alternatively, if you prefer quadrupeds, take the time to visit the Cheetah Research & Breeding Centre, where visitors can observe scientists' efforts to preserve this beautiful species. There are also numerous reptilian attractions including the Hartebeespoort Dam Snake & Animal Park, and the Thaba Kwena Crocodile Park.
After catching your breath from the intimacy of wildlife, visit Burgers Park, the oldest park in Pretoria. This park is surrounded by trees, flowers and fountains, and resembles something reminiscent of a secret garden.
Maintain the continuity of this theme and visit Fountains Valley, one of the most popular nature reserves in the city featuring two natural springs, a garden, barbecue facilities, a caravan park, two shops and a restaurant. You can also take time to enjoy Moretele Park, one of South Africa's hot spots, which has gained a reputation for its jazz concerts held throughout the year. This park is ideal for picnics, day trips, walks, and a brief escape from the tensions of city.
Firelight Tours and Safaris (+27 11 793 4882/ http://www.firelighttours.co.za) Frontline Africa Travel (+27 12 991 3822/http://www.frontlineafrica.co.za) LED Tours & Travel (+27 21 689 3665/ http://www.ledtours.com) Themba Day Tours (+27 11 463 3306/ http://www.sowetotour.co.za) Vhupo Tours (+27 11 936 0411/ http://www.vhupo-tours.com)
Self Guided Tours
South Africa Vacation (+27 21 786 4808) Tokologo Tours (+ 27 12 330 0464/ http://www.africa-adventure.org/t/tokologo/index.html)
Baz Bus (http://www.bazbus.com/ +27 21 439 2323) Blunden Coach Tours (firstname.lastname@example.org/http://www.blunden.co.za)
African Time Out (+27 11 477 4612/ http://www.africantimeout.com) Helicopter Flips (+27 83 297 1391)