In the fertile Apies River valley, at the foot of the Magaliesberg Mountains, Pretoria is known as the Jacaranda City thanks to the glow of purple flowers that brighten its many parks and gardens in spring. Pretoria is also the administrative capital of South Africa, sharing capital status with Cape Town and Bloemfontein. The city is about 55 kilometers from Johannesburg, but the two cities seem worlds apart. Pretoria is a city of civil servants, diplomats and well-kept residential areas with a large population of Afrikaners.
It is also an important industrial city and an educational and cultural hub. The University of Pretoria was founded in 1930; and UNISA, the University of South Africa, is one of the largest open universities in the world. The main tourist attractions are the many historic buildings,
Read also: top tourist attractions in Cape Town
1 National Garden of Pretoria
Pretoria National Garden
Pretoria’s National Botanical Garden, in the city’s eastern suburbs, is a peaceful oasis close to the city. The 76 hectare gardens highlight South African species with more than half of the country’s tree species, as well as many flowering plants, cycads, aloe and other impressive collections. A quartzite ridge cuts the park into two parts, with vegetation in the warmer north side half contrasting with that in the colder south-facing part. The plants are grouped according to their climatic region, such as the savannas of the Karoo, coastal forests and the grassland plains of Namibia. Paved nature trails lead through the natural vegetation of the rocky ridge above the garden. Also on site, the National Herbariumis home to the largest collection of plant species in South Africa with over a million species cataloged and stored here. After exploring the beautiful gardens, visitors can enjoy a meal at the lakeside restaurant.
Address: 2 Cussonia Avenue, Brummeria, Pretoria
Official site: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/pretoria
2 Voortrekker Monument
High atop a hill south of the city center, the Voortrekker Monument is a South African national heritage site and one of the country’s most visited historical monuments. It was built in 1949 in memory of the Voortrekkers, the Boers who pushed north into unknown territory in the mid-19th century. This 40 meter high square granite structure is a major landmark in the city with steps leading to the Hall of Heroeswhere 27 marble reliefs depict the Great Trek of 1838. Around the monument is a wall with ox carts representing the wagons. On December 16 each year, a ray of sunlight shines through an opening in the dome and illuminates a cenotaph below, which rings. “Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika” (“We are for you, South Africa”). Occasionally the venue hosts classical music performances, which highlight its excellent acoustics. Museum exhibits depict snapshots of life during this important period. After exploring the interior, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Pretoria from the roof or enjoy a meal in the restaurant.
Address: Centenary Road, Pretoria
Official site: https://www.vtm.org.za
3 National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
National Zoological Gardens of South Africa
South Africa’s National Zoological Gardens cover 85 hectares and offer a full day of animal fun for the whole family. This large zoo includes a continuous aviary, a reptile house with a collection of animals from around the world, as well as the country’s only domestic aquarium where visitors can see many species of fish, including ragged-toothed sharks. The large collections of mammals include highlights such as the display of lions and tigers, hippos and elephants. To explore the zoo, visitors can rent golf carts by the hour, ride the cable car for a bird’s-eye view, or stroll along the trails to see the animals up close; wear comfortable shoes as the grounds are spacious. Overnight visits and overnight camping adventures are also available.
Address: 232 Boom Street, Pretoria
Official site: https://www.nzg.ac.za
4 Editor’s Pick Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center
At the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center, about a 45-minute drive from Pretoria, animal lovers can get up close with some beautiful African creatures. This non-profit center was founded in 1971 as a cheetah breeding project and has since successfully bred African wild dogs, Cape vultures and brown hyenas, among others. The center was also the first breeder of the rare king cheetah. Visitors can choose from a variety of educational tours, including a three-hour tour and a touch experience where guests accompany handlers during feeding rounds and enjoy a petting experience with these graceful animals. This is a fantastic opportunity for photographers to capture close-up images and the costs help fund conservation projects.
Official site: https://www.dewildt.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=21&Itemid=62
5 Union Buildings
The Union Buildings are set in beautiful gardens and the city’s highest point on Meintjieskop Hill near the historic Church Square , site of the city’s first settlement. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1913, this impressive range of sandstone buildings combines Italian Renaissance, English Renaissance and Cape Dutch styles. It is the seat of government and also houses the offices of the president and the state archives. In the gardens, which slope down in terraces to Kerkstraat , are the Delville Wood Memorial, in memory of the South African soldiers who died in the First World War; statues of South African Prime Ministers Louis Botha, JBM Hertzog and JC Smuts; as well as a nine-metre tall statue of Nelson Mandela. Visitors come here to stroll through the gardens, ogle the architecture, and admire the impressive views of the city. The site also holds a special place in the hearts of many South Africans following the inauguration of former President Nelson Mandela which took place here in 1994.
Adres: Arcadia Park, Church Street, Pretoria
6 Freedom Park
Freedom park sits on Salvokop Hill with panoramic views and chronicles the story of South Africa’s liberation and honors those who played an important role. Opened to the public in 2007, the site includes a series of moving memorials and an impressive museum with exhibits covering the nation’s history from the dawn of humanity to the present day. The site overlooks the nearby Voortrekker Monument and other major city landmarks below. A highlight is the Wall of Names, inscribed with the names of all those who died in South Africa’s major conflicts; an eternal flame; and the Gallery of Leaders, an inspiring look at role models on the road to freedom. Tours last approximately two hours and provide fascinating insight into the stories depicted here, as well as the symbolic features of the architecture.
Official site: https://www.freedompark.co.za/
7 Moreleta Gorge Nature Reserve
A paradise for hikers and nature lovers, Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve spans 100 hectares in the foothills of Moreleta Kloof near the city center. In the 19th century the reserve was a dairy farm and one of the original buildings has been converted into a restaurant where visitors can dine on a beautiful terrace, often with a parade of animals in view. Springbok, impala, bushbuck, zebra and ostrich are among the animals found in the park, as well as an abundance of birdlife. A tributary flows through the reserve providing water for the animals, and hiking trails range in length from 1.5 kilometers to more than three kilometers. Other beautiful green spaces close to the city center include Faerie Glen Nature Reserve, part of the Moreleta Spruit Nature Trail, which follows a winding path along the banks of a stream through ever-changing landscapes, as well as Groenkloof Nature Reserve with walking, horse riding and 4WD routes. Birders will enjoy the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary named after the South African ornithologist who wrote a popular textbook on the birds of South Africa. Bird hides line the banks of the reservoir and more than 100 native species make their home here.
Official site: https://moreletakloof.co.za/about/
8 Melrose House
A National Monument, Melrose House offers visitors the experience of stepping back in time to the late 19th century. Built in 1866 by wealthy businessman George J. Heys, this handsome Victorian home was where the Treaty of Vereeniging, the peace treaty that ended the Anglo Boer War, was signed in 1902. Filled with antiques, the house is an excellent example of preserved Victorian architecture. Highlights include the stained glass windows, porcelain ornaments, paintings by British artists and ornate architectural highlights. Guided tours are available. The house is also used for art exhibitions, concerts and antique fairs and the café serves snacks in the tea garden.
Address: 275 Jacob Maré Street, Pretoria
9 Songs Museum of South Africa
Ditsong Museums of South Africa is a group of eight national museums with important cultural collections. The Ditsong National Museum of Natural History , formerly known as the Transvaal Museum, has an extraordinary collection of mammals, amphibians, fossils, geological specimens and archaeological material. At Austin Roberts’ Bird Hall, visitors can see more than 800 species of birds native to South Africa. Another Ditsong Museum is the National Museum of Cultural History with Bushman carvings, an ethnological section, Cape Dutch furniture, silver and archaeological material. The Kruger Museum, a modest Victorian house in Church Street, is the oldest and best known house in the city. From 1883 to 1900 it was home to Paul Kruger, president of the former Transvaal Boer Republic, and is now a museum with mementos and exhibits relating to his life and the politics of the time. Sammy Marks House is another historic house worth a visit. This grand Victorian mansion was home to the successful industrialist and his family from 1885 to 1909 and still contains most of the original furnishings and ornaments. After a tour here, visitors can enjoy tea and scones in the garden.
Official site: https://www.ditsong.org.za/aboutus.htm
10 Rietvlei Nature Reserve
Located on the outskirts of Pretoria, Rietvlei Nature Reserve offers a peaceful escape to nature and great safari experience less than a 20-minute drive from the city center. The dam was built during the Great Depression and now provides 15% of Pretoria’s water supply and also supports a range of highveld games that have been reintroduced to the area. Eland, red hartebeest, buffalo, blesbok, waterbuck, zebra, black wildebeest, hippopotamus and even cheetah are among the animals found here, and lucky visitors may even find the white rhino. Birders should keep an eye out for the comic secretary birds, as well as the blue crane, South Africa’s national bird, and a breeding horse eagle. The reserve covers 3,800 hectares of rolling hills, extensive grasslands, well-marked roads and of course the dam itself, where fishermen can cast their lines from the northern and western coasts. Other highlights include the lion tours, walking and riding trails, bird skins, a popular tea garden and a playground to keep the kids busy.
Official site: https://rietvlei-reserve.co.za/
Where to Stay in Pretoria for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly rated hotels in Pretoria with easy access to the top sites in the city:
- Menlyn Boutique Hotel: luxury boutique hotel, excellent service, stylish decor, gourmet restaurant, spa and wellness center.
- Southern Sun Pretoria: mid-range hotel, comfortable rooms, shaded pool, fitness center.
- Morning Star Express Hotel: 3-star hotel, friendly staff, modern decor, shuttle service.
- Holiday Inn Express Pretoria-Sunnypark: budget hotel, connected to a shopping center, modern rooms, nice outdoor swimming pool.