Gauteng's two major cities are just 50km apart, but could hardly be more different. With its graceful government buildings, wide avenues of purple flowering jacarandas, and stolid Boer farming origins, PRETORIA – or TSHWANE as the metropolitan area has now been officially renamed – has always been a staid, sleepy city. Yet although South Africa's administrative capital was long regarded as a bastion of Afrikaner nationalism, home to the notorious supreme court and a massive prison, things are changing fast. Ever since democracy arrived, Pretoria has become increasingly cosmopolitan, with a substantial diplomatic community living in Arcadia and Hatfield, east of the city centre. Furthermore, most Pretorians are not Afrikaans, but Pedi and Tswana, and the change of government has brought many more middle-class blacks into the ranks of civil servants living in the capital. The city's Afrikaans community is hardly monolithic, either: alongside the old-school khaki-shorted types, there are thousands of students, a progressive art scene and a thriving Afrikaans gay and lesbian community.
Pretoria is close enough to Johannesburg's airport to provide a practical alternative base in Gauteng. It feels safer and less spread out than Johannesburg (though don't make the blithe assumption that Pretoria is crime-free), there are more conventional sights, and the nightlife is energetic and fun.
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 Pretoria National Botanical Gardens offer more than 5,000 indigenous plant species. Not far from there the Fountains Valley Resort, just outside the city, offers walks, trails and picnic areas.
The center of the city, rich in history and architectural gems, houses the African Window Museum and Church Square where you'll find the Palace of Justice , the Old Capitol Theatre, the Paul Kruger statue, the Tudor Chambers the 'Ou Raadsaal' and the General Post Office, designed by John Cleland. Above the Church Square entrance is a clock surrounded by nude figures by renowned sculptor Anton van Wouw. The city center also offers the Museum Mall designed along the lines of the American Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
To the south of the city center up Paul Kruger street – about a 20 minute walk – is the Station Building , designed by Sir Herbert Baker, who also has, to his credit, the Union Buildings.
Close to that is the suburb of Burgers Park, including Melrose House , a fascinating museum which warrants a full morning's visit. Burgers Park has many villas built from the wealth acquired from the boom on the Witwatersrand gold field during the 1880s and 1890s.
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 Mariamman Temple stands witness to a once devoted Hindu community.
About five city blocks to the east of Marabastad are the National Zoological Gardens .
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 Union Buildings with their beautiful gardens and sweeping lawns. The massive building, started in 1901 and completed in 1913, cost 1,180,000 pounds Stirling.
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 Pretoria Art Museum , the showplace for the finest South African (and often international) art.
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 Voortrekker Monument and its attractive parks.
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. Cafe Riche , on Church Square , is one such place. The oldest cafe 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.
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