Where Johannesburg is sassy, sexy and fast, Pretoria tends to be more sedate and conventional. The administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria is an attractive small city with a sunny temperate climate, leafy suburbs, numerous green open spaces, historical buildings, museums, galleries, theatres, entertainment venues, and the strikingly beautiful Union Buildings designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
From the forming of the Union of South Africa in 1910, through two World Wars, the birth of apartheid, the swearing in of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first democratically elected president in 1995 until today, these buildings, well worth visiting, have been the seat of the country’s political power.
High on a hilltop in a nature reserve overlooking the town in its bowl of hills is the huge Voortrekker Monument, a physical and cultural symbol of the Afrikaner nation, commemorating the early pioneers who in the 1880s trekked far into the interior of the country from the Cape to escape British rule. It’s one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions.
In the centre of Pretoria is Church Square, dominated by a bronze statue of Paul Kruger, an important military and political leader in 19th-century South Africa. The square’s fine old buildings include the Palace of Justice, where Mandela was tried for treason. Nearby the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, the only natural history museum in Gauteng and one of the largest in South Africa, has displays of some of South Africa’s unique hominin fossils, among other fascinating exhibits.
Also well worth visiting are the award-winning Burgers Park; the lovely Pretoria National Botanical Garden; Freedom Park, built to commemorate the country’s struggle heroes; bird sanctuaries; nature reserves; and many other places of interest.
Pretoria’s beautiful upmarket suburb of Waterkloof is the site of many international embassies, but for a hip, informal vibe pop into the lively suburb of Hatfield. A stop on the Gautrain route, it’s the home of the University of Pretoria (affectionately known as “Tukkies”) with great restaurants, trendy bars, attractive accommodation and a laid-back student vibe.
Pretoria is also where you’ll find one of the world’s most famous rugby stadiums, Loftus Versfeld, home of the Blue Bulls provincial rugby team.