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Pink flamingos at the Pretoria Zoo | © Suneé Jones
Pink flamingos at the Pretoria Zoo | © Suneé Jones

11 Top Things to See and Do in Pretoria

Picture of Sunee Jones
Updated: 27 September 2017

Pretoria is jam-packed with fun things to see and do. Whether you like exploring nature, learning more about South Africa’s history, or just relaxing with a cold beer in hand, the Jacaranda City has you covered. Here are 11 of the top things to see and do in Pretoria.

See the jacarandas in bloom

In October every year, the streets of Pretoria are lined with purple blossoms and the sweet scent of jacarandas fill the air. Although the jacaranda tree is an invasive alien species and no new trees may be planted, the older suburbs of the city are still a beautiful sight to behold in jacaranda season. Take a drive through Groenkloof, Brooklyn, Arcardia or Lynnwood and surrounds to see the blooms at their best.

Jacaranda trees line the street leading to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa | © Hein Waschefort/WikiCommons

Jacaranda trees line the street leading to the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa | © Hein Waschefort/WikiCommons

Picnic at the Union Buildings

Although the Union Buildings, seat of the South African government, are not open to the public, the gardens are and it’s a popular picnic spot on warm summer days. There are tall trees to wander underneath, manicured gardens to admire, a statue of Nelson Mandela to pay your respects to and grand architecture to stand in awe of. Not to mention the view over Pretoria from the top Meintjieskop hill!

Government Ave, Elandspoort, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 300 5200

View over Pretoria from the Union Building Gardens | © Derek Wolmarans / Wikimedia Commons

Learn about South African history

Pretoria has a plethora of museums covering a variety of interesting topics, especially relating to the history of South Africa. No visit to Pretoria would be complete without a few hours at the Voortrekker Monument, an impressive edifice erected in the memory of the Afrikaner pioneers who settled the interior of the country. You may also want to make a stop at Freedom Park to learn more about those who lost their lives during various South African wars, including the Apartheid era. And if you’re interested in old buildings with period furnishings and interesting artifacts, then the Kruger House, Sammy Marks House or the Pioneer Museum will be right up your alley.

Voortrekker Monument, Eeufees Rd, Groenkloof, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 326 6770

The Monument was inaugurated in 1949 and designed by architect Gerard Moerdijk | © The Voortrekker Monument

Shop at Africa’s largest mall

With more than 500 shops and over 177,000 m2 (211,690 yd2 ) of floor space, Menlyn Park shopping center is the largest mall in Africa. Everything from fashion to food to fun can be found here, including high street brand names, some of the best restaurantscafes and bars in Pretoria, and one of only four 4DX cinemas in the country. There is even a large outdoor space with an oversized chess set and fountains to keep the little ones entertained while mum and dad rest their weary feet.

Cnr Atterbury & Lois Avenue, Menlo Park, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 764 9600

Menlyn Park, the largest mall in Africa | © Travel Ground

Taste a variety of craft beers

The best bars in Pretoria serve not only our local SAB brands, but also a selection of craft beers for the more refined palate. If you know your lager from your ale and your tongue can tease out the tastes each micro brew has to offer, then you’ll be happy to know the capital city has you covered. One of the most popular places for craft beer tasting is the Capital Craft Beer Academy restaurant and bar in Menlo Park. Come for beer with your mates, stay for the good food and great atmosphere.

Greenlyn Village Centre, Cnr Thomas Edison & 12th Street East, Menlo Park, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 424 8601

Craft beers at Capital Craft | © Kate Els

Spot Big Five animals at a nature reserve

Would you believe you can see four of the Big Five roaming around within the borders of a nature reserve just on the outskirts of Pretoria? Admittedly, the predators are confined within their own encampment which you can visit on an escorted game drive and perhaps even take part in the feeding. However, the rest of the 3,800 hectare Rietvlei Nature Reserve is yours to explore by car and chances are good you’ll encounter rhino, buffalo, black wildebeest, Burchell’s zebra, springbok and a variety of other antelope and smaller animals on your drive. Guided hiking and horse trails are also available upon request.

14 Game Reserve Ave, Rietvallei, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 345 2274

Cape Buffalo at Rietvlei Nature Reserve | © Suneé Jones

Early bird gets the best fresh produce

Do yourself a favor and get up before the birds do one fine Saturday morning to visit the Pretoria Boeremark farmer’s market, which has been popular with lovers of fresh, local produce for more than 20 years now. You can find anything from farm produce to homemade milk tart, cheese and fruit preserves, to local handcrafts, spices and flowers for sale.

670 Krige St, Silverton, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 804 8031

Watch a rugby game at Loftus Versfeld

South Africans are obsessed with rugby and here in Pretoria it’s almost become a religion. If you want a true taste of local culture, then don’t miss out on a Blue Bulls game at Loftus Versfeld stadium. The crowd may be rowdy but they’re friendly and you’ll soon be arm in arm with your fellow supporters, and perhaps even meet up afterwards for a pint or two at the local sports bar. Come dressed in blue and you’ll be welcomed with open arms any day of the week.

Kirkness St, Arcadia, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 420 0700

See a show at the State Theater

Pretoria is also home to the South African State Theater, the largest theater complex in Africa. Come dressed in your Sunday best (or in jeans and sneakers, it’s really up to you) to get your culture on with the best performing arts shows from the community, the country and abroad. Performances range from ballet, opera and musicals to stand-up comedy, poetry readings and jazz evenings.

320 Pretorius Street, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 392 4000

Take a trip on a steam train

The luxury Blue Train departs from Pretoria Station and is a bucket list item for many, but few can actually afford it. But if a trip on a train appeals to you, then consider taking a day-trip on a steam train from Pretoria to the nearby little mining town of Cullinan with Friends of the Rail. Sit back and relax in one of the 60-year-old railway coaches while the train goes clickety-clack and the locomotive whistles and steam pours past the window. Point out the familiar sights of Pretoria as the train passes by the Union Buildings, Loftus Versfeld, Unisa and more, until you leave the city behind and head for Cullinan, where you can spend the afternoon exploring a diamond mine or taking in the sights of this quirky town.

Hermanstad Station, Miechaelson St, Hermanstad, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 73 789 5429

Steam train | © Friends of the Rail

Hang out at the zoo

Regardless of how you feel about the ethics of zoos, there is no denying that seeing wild animals up close is an experience that will leave you both amazed and aware of the need to protect them. The National Zoological Gardens, situated in the Pretoria CBD, is the largest zoo in the country and also features an aquarium and reptile park. It’s a fantastic place to spend the day, where you can see anything from African elephants to hippos to lions to lemurs to komodo dragons. The zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals and there is ample room to have a picnic under the tall trees next to the Apies River.

Cnr Boom Street and Paul Kruger Street, Pretoria, South Africa, +27 12 339 2700

Pink flamingos at the Pretoria Zoo | © Suneé Jones