This is your ultimate Pretoria travel guide, with everything you need to now for your first visit. Among South African cities, pretoria is a significant travel destination. It is the capital city, centrally located in Gauteng, the main province of Gauteng. Pretoria is situated in the Apies River Valley. It was founded in 1859 by the Voortrekkers (the dutch-speaking settlers of South Africa). Today, Pretoria is a vibrant cosmopolitan city with a population of over 750,000.
History Of Pretoria’s Name
The city was named after the Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, who was one of the prominent Boer leaders during the creation of South African Republic, an early country that was internationally recognized and today, encompasses the area covered by the northern provinces, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.
South Africa’s Capital City
Many think that Johannesburg is the capital of South Africa, which is not the case. South Africa has three capitals. Cape Town and Bloemfontein are the legislative and judicial capitals. Pretoria is the executive capital where the office of the presidency is situated.
It is an industrial city with its major industries being in the iron and steel industry, and in the manufacturing of cars and railway vehicles. In fact, it is home to the BMW Rosslyn plant, the first BMW manufacturing plant outside of Europe.
Our Pretoria Travel Guide
Pretoria is located 30km south of the OR Tambo International Airport. Traveling there from the airport is easy, with traveler-friendly transit options like the Gautrain and Uber or Car Rental. From outside of Gauteng, it can be traveled to from longer treks through bus like Greyhound Bus or the luxury Blue Train
Getting around Pretoria is easy thanks to the fact that most of the places you will want to see are concentrated in a small area, between the city centre and the east and Pretoria. The Gautrain runs through three stations in Pretoria. Centurion, Hatfield and the city centre. All the entertainment areas you will be interested in are within a 10-mile radius of Hatfield.
Uber is a good way to get around and will usually not cost more than R150. For long treks beyond the borders of Gauteng, you can take the Blue train which travels between Pretoria and Cape Town. There are other modes of transport but these are not advised due being informal and complicated to use, as well as presenting safety risks.
You don’t need to be driving as a traveler in Pretoria but if you do, here is some things that you will find useful
- The condition of roads is generally good, specifically for highways and the central business district so you will fare just fine in a sedan. No need for a 4×4 or anything of the sort.
- Google Maps is good as your guide and is accurate within the cities and towns. For most of your travels in the tourist destinations, use as it as you know how to.
- You can rent a car from any of the popular car rental companies before your arrival.
Where To Stay
Pretoria has plenty of hotels to suit every type of need, from affordable popular name hotels to 5 star boutique hotels for the well-heeled and exclusive.
The jewel of Pretoria is Menlyn, a hub that was developed with a shopping centre at its nucleus and is now growing into the lifestyle and commercial heart of the capital city. The Menlyn hub, has it all, with numerous luxury hotels and apartments like the Protea Hotel Fire & Ice which accommodates guests as both a hotel and place to stay and an entertainment venue.
Hatfield is a suburb in Pretoria with a high population of students due to it being close to the university of Pretoria. While it used to be renowned for its student nightlife, in what was formerly Hatfield Square, the suburb still houses various restaurants and a buzzing vibe throughout most of the year. There is a shopping mall, Hatfield plaza and it has a Gautrain station there so the place is very conveniently located and easy to travel to.
Other chic areas that are perfect for the savvy traveler and Brooklyn, and Hazelwood. For the more classical charm, Waterkloof provides the cream of “Old Pretoria” with a good selection of boutique hotel and luxury guest houses.
Cultural Sites In Pretoria
Church Square is a historic site that used to serve as the centre of Pretoria and was the site of the first church in Pretoria, hence the name. It is surrounded by several building that show off the neoclassical architecture style of Pretoria’s hub. At its centre, is the statue of the late Boer leader and former president, Paul Kruger. The buildings of architectural significance include the Ou Raadsaal which was Paul Kruger’s Parliament building, The Palace of Justice which is the high court of Pretoria, and the General Post Office which is the first post office in South Africa.
The Union Buildings are the official seat of government in South Africa and where the president has their offices. They are situated at point in Pretoria. The buildings are home to large lavished gardens where visitors can kick back and take a break from their travels. The beautiful terraced gardens are planted with various indigenous trees. For those photo moments there are numerous monuments on the ground, such as the statue of General Louis Botha which dominates the lawn, and the most popular is the statue of Nelson Mandela, located atop the terraces.
The Union Buildings were designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1913. Local sandstone and tiles were used to create this 285m long building. Today, the Union Buildings houses the office of the President of South Africa and administrative offices. From here, you are rewarded with a magnificent view of Pretoria. The buildings occupy the highest point in Pretoria, and there is a law in the city limits the height of any building between the Voortrekker Monument and Union Buildings so that the view between them can remain unobstructed.
The Voortrekker Monument is one of the most popular monuments in South Africa. It is 80m high and was designed by Gerhard Moordyk. The monument is surrounded by 64 ox-wagons. At noon on the 16th of December, a shaft of light strikes a cenotaph, commemorating the battle of blood river which took place between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus in 1983.
Officially known as the National Zoological Gardens of Pretoria, Pretoria Zoo is the largest zoo in the country and the only one that carries a national status. At 85 hectares, it is one of the 8 largest zoos in the world and has placed in the top 10 zoos in the world. The zoo forms an integral part in the conservation of threatened species and breeding programs. You can have a picnic on the green lawns inside the zoo or take a cable car ride for a bird’s eye view over the centre.
National Botanical Gardens
The National Botanical Gardens has 50 hectares devoted to a developed garden that hosts 50% of the South Africa’s tree species. A paved nature trail gives access to the fascinating natural vegetation on the ridge, which boasts a diversity of indigenous fauna and flora. It is both a facility for scientific research and entertainment. Many events are hosted there regularly and you can visit there at your leisure for a picnic or a braai (local term for barbecue).
Pretoria City Hall
This is one of the architectural landmarks of the city. It was built following a competition to design the future city hall of Pretoria. The front of the city hall is adorned by lush gardens and fountains of Pretoria Square. In the garden, there are three statues of Chief Tshwane, whom Pretoria’s district municipality was named after, and of Andries Pretorius and his son Marthinus.
Groenkloof Nature Reserve
The Groenkloof Nature Reserve, near Fountains Valley at the southern end of Pretoria, is the oldest proclaimed nature reserve in Africa, proclaimed in 1895. It offers hiking, cycling, and 4×4 trails for off-road driving. You may even be lucky and see zebra, wildebeest, giraffes and many bird species.
Other Attractions And Fun Facts
- The fountain circle is t the entrance of Pretoria from the south, forming a beautiful backdrop of Pretoria. Each of the 9 official provinces are represented here with indigenous stone warding.
- Stanza Bopape Street formerly known as Church Street, is the longest open street in South Africa. It is 26km long and is one of the longest streets in the world.
- Situated on the Salvokop hill, Freedom Park houses memorials and monuments which tell the geological and historical story of South Africa.
- Pretoria has the largest number of embassies in the world after Washington DC in the US.
Parking in the city centre can be limited in the mornings and around midday, especially on weekends. So the chances are having to park and do a fair deal of walking to where you want to go. A good parking facility that you can use that is central to a lot of the venues that you will probably want to visit is the parking under State Theatre. From this parking you can walk to and from all places of interest and the walks will be safe. It is right under State Theatre and within 1 km of all our favourite places in the city centre, like Sammy Marks, Market @Sheds and 012 Central.
If you are looking for retail therapy, you will find the treatment, there is no shortage of shopping malls in Pretoria. From the exclusive upmarket centres like Brooklyn Mall and Woodlands, to the mega shopping complex that is Menlyn Park, there are shops that will meet every shopper’s needs.
Menlyn Park Shopping Centre is the biggest shopping mall in Pretoria and is at the centre of a developing economic hub. The store has many international stores from fashion to food. Buy yourself some new threads at Zara or Armani Exchange, or enjoy Krispy Kreme doughnuts with a Starbucks latte.
Menlyn Maine is a A literal stone’s throw from the mall. It’s a lifestyle hub with boutique stores and luxury apartments. Variety is the name of the game here. Italian clothing stores, restaurants, Starbucks and water bubbler fountains for the kids make Menlyn Maine an ideal spot for the whole family or a solo outing.
Irene village mall, on the footsteps of the affluent Conrnwall Hill, with easy access to the R21 highway that leads to the airport just 25 minutes away. It is the first mall in Pretoria when you are coming from the airport so stop by for some light shopping and lunch at one of the many restaurants like Mythos, where the lunch specials offer some of the best bang for buck of any restaurant.
Woodlands Lifestyle Centre is a high end shopping centre in the sprawling Mooikloof suburb. Tucked away in the far east of Pretoria, it is provides a cool escape from the high traffic of the more central malls. Its central counterpart is Brooklyn Mall and Brooklyn Square, a vibrant hub of activity for the discerning shopper.
Things to note:
When eating at restaurants, it is customary to tip 10%. It is not compulsory but more often than not, the waiter’s earnings are solely from the tips. If you are very happy with the service you can tip 20%.
Shopping centres and points of interests will have paid parking. In the event where there is no paid parking you are almost guaranteed to have parking attendants. If you are feeling generous you can pay them for directing you to parking spots or watching as you reverse but that is not a must.
Things To Do In Pretoria
Loftus Versfeld is the biggest stadium in Pretoria and home to the Vodacom Bulls. The stadium was built in 1906 and has a capacity of 51,762. There is a rugby game taking place every other weekend so if you are up for a game of “ruggers”, it is a good option whether with friends or as a family affair.
SuperSport Park is the home to the Titans Cricket team and hosts a mix of club and international cricket games regularly. It is a great way to spend a Sunday in a relaxed way with some cold ones and snacks.
Time Square in Menlyn is Pretoria’s mixed use facility for big events. It has a 8500-seater arena that hosts performances and conventions. There is also a casino ther, a multi-storey hotel and a collection of classy restaurants that you can curb your appetite at. Have some sundowners at Altitude Rooftop Bar which gives you a birds eye view of the Menlyn hub.
The nightlife venues in Pretoria are starkly distinct and will depend on your persuasion. For the urban sounds and an African crowd, there is Ayepyep Lifestyle in Menlyn, and Pretoria’s “premium” night club Vanity, which is part of the Taboo brand. Here you will find a mix of Hip Hop and local favourites like House and Kwaito.
For your rock and electric music, with more of a European crowd, longstanding venues like Ty’s and Tiger Tiger will satisfy your needs. There are also a host of smaller bars and pubs, particularly near Hatfield.
Looking for a go-between with a more cosmopolitan vibe? Summit Bar and Grill near Menlyn is a trendy establishment that is good for both chilled vibes during the day and letting loose after the sun has set.
If eclectic and exclusive with a mature atmosphere is what you are looking for, Hazelwood is an upper-class Bohemian enclave with a selection of some of the best restaurants in Pretoria. Fine dining abounds in this hidden jewel and if you consider yourself a connoisseur of lifestyle, this is a place you want to visit.
Cellphone and WiFi Connectivity
In order to keep in touch with people or make calls for bookings, you will have to buy a sim card under one of the local operators. Note that you can’t simply buy a sim card off the shelf in a shop. You need go through the RICA process, which is entails providing information like your Identification details.
The calling rates are relatively high by global standards and mobile data is also quite expensive. When choosing a network operator, there is a trade-off between coverage and price. Vodacom has the best coverage of all the networks but also has the highest data prices. Telkom Mobile has the best data prices hands-down but outside of metropolitan areas, their coverage is not reliable. So if you are remaining in the city or the nearby outskirts, Telkom will fulfill your needs. If you are traveling to remote places, Vodacom or MTN are your best bets for network reception.
There is are WiFi hotspot but not to the extent that some travelers might be used to. You will find hotspots at major malls and points of interest like hotels, restaurants, and major transit stations like airports.
Is Pretoria Safe?
Pretoria is a metropolitan city and you should definitely know your way around when traveling. The place where one needs to be wary of traffic are in certain parts of the city centre and in the townships, which are low-income areas. Of course some adventurous travelers want to get a more authentic experience of what South Africa is and see some of the differences. For that, you must just ideally have a guide.
The city centre is generally safe to walk around during the day. A lot of foot traffic is a good indicator of a place that is safe to roam around. Just keep valuables concealed Do not travel at night on foot at all. Driving at night should also be avoided. While most of the city is safe to drive, there are small parts that you do not want to get lost in and be seen as a target.
When carrying cash or valuable, be practical. In most of the places you will be visiting there will be more than enough VISA and MasterCard ATMs where you can transact so no need to have an unnecessarily large amount of money on your person.
If you plan to visit any of then townships, only do so during the day and with a guide at all times. An easy hack for this is just to ask your Uber driver what places are good to go to and which aren’t.
Pretoria is free of environmental diseases so as long as you are planning to remain in Pretoria or the province of Gauteng, there is no need for any medical shot. Only if you are planning to travel to the adjacent province of Mpumalanga as part of your trip, do you need to get a malaria shot and medication.
Safe Tap Water
The tap water in Pretoria is perfectly safe to drink. Most of the water is supplied by Rand Water which regularly publishes quality reports benchmarked against global standards. Nevertheless, there is ample bottled water available if you choose and bottled water stores are also plentiful, where you can buy water by the litre with your own bottles.
The medical services in Pretoria are two-fold. Private healthcare is world-class and if you need medical attention, good medical services are available. Public healthcare on the other hand is a great way below the standards you will find at private hospitals. So when traveling, ensure that your travel insurance provided for you to be treated at a Private hospital or practice.
Emergency Contact Numbers
There are three emergency numbers that you should know
10111 – Police Emergency Line
112 – Cellphone Emergency Line
10177 – Ambulance Line
All of these numbers are toll free. 112 is toll free from any cellphone and the other two are only toll-free from a landline.
Places To Visit Near Pretoria
Pretoria is a metropolitan city with all of the creature comforts and sites you can see in many countries. You might want to get your feet in dirty and have some outdoorsy experiences that are unique to South Africa. If that is the case, there are some places in the vicinity of Pretoria that you can visit to have the distinctly African experience.
Hartebeespoort Dam, or Harties as it is affectionately known, is a dam situated 20km west of Pretoria. It is a popular getaway spot for locals, with many guest houses and hotels in its vicinity. The town, Hartebeespoort, has developed near the dam and it is a charming town with many sights and activities. Visit the Hartebeespoort Snake and Animal Park, or go jet-skiing on the dam for a cooling afternoon.
To the north of Pretoria you have the Dinokeng region which has popular tourist destinations for ou to get away from the noise of the city. Dinokeng means “Place of Rivers” which gives you a good inkling of what to expect from the area.
Dinokeng Game Reserve
Dinokeng Game Reserve is home to an array of wildlife and flora. Just 15 minutes outside of Pretoria, it is a malaria free area located on the banks of the Boekenhoutspruit River. You can get the bushveld experience and sleep amid the noises of wild animals. Accommodation is available in the form of self-catering units, lodge units, or camping sites if you want to be as close to nature as it gets.
Cullinan mine is an operating diamond mine that is also a historical site in South Africa. The biggest rough diamond of gem quality, the Cullinan Diamond, was discovered here. The mine operates surface and underground tours from Monday to Saturday. There tour is approximately 4 hours long and visitors must be 16 years or older to go underground. For more information, visit the Cullinan Tours website.
The Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve is a popular spots for outdoor activity and bird-watching. You can have a picnic along the edge of the dam or walk the 7km-long hiking trail. If you are lucky you can also spot the wildlife like Zebra, Kudu, and other species of buck, as well as warthogs and jackals among others.
Best Time To Visit Pretoria To Visit.
The best time to visit Pretoria and experience it to the fullest is undoubtedly in the summer. Pretoria is also known as Jacaranda City due to the thousands of Jacaranda trees that exist around the city. The bloom of the Jacaranda trees are the announcement that summer has arrived, seen by streets filled with the petals that turn the city purple. It is quite a sight to behold and eagerly anticipated by locals.
While not as popular as it’s neighboring city, Pretoria is a great destination with a lot of hidden gems located within and on its outskirts. It is a slightly less boisterous destination than its southern counterpart and worth the detour if you are driving through on a trek to the safaris and bush getaways further north.