"A city that holds a small corner of my heart" Top 5 Page for this destination Windhoek by CatherineReichardt
Windhoek Travel Guide: 233 reviews and 839 photos
Windhoek is a town that I've spent a lot of time in over the past couple of decades as I have been lucky enough to travel often to Namibia on business. In fact, as I was driving home from work yesterday evening, I was taken aback to realise that other than the four towns where I've actually lived (Potters Bar, London, Johannesburg and Perth), Windhoek is the town where I've spent most time. As a result, Windhoek (which means 'windy corner') is a place that occupies a very special place in my heart.
However well I might know the place, now that I have finally got around to writing up my Windhoek page, I discover that I have curiously few photos of it! Perhaps this is because I spent a lot of time working in Namibia in the 90s and early noughties, before I really caught the photography bug, and maybe because even when I had a camera with me, I probably didn't bother to take photos because I knew that I'd always be back. Of course, that was before I fell under the VT influence and started to look at familiar places through the eyes of a tourist!
So, let's start with the basics. As the locals will tell you, Windhoek is a pleasant place to live and work, but frankly it doesn't have a massive amount to offer the tourist, particularly in comparison to the other gems that Namibia has to offer. However, it is the point of entry for the vast number of tourists to Namibia, and as most will spend at least a night there before heading out on the 'tourist trail', it's worth putting aside a few hours to appreciate its modest but interesting tourist attractions and Germanic charm.
I personally don't think that it's worth taking a guided tour of Windhoek, as most of the tourist attractions are clustered in the centre of town in an area bounded by Independence Avenue and Robert Mugabe Avenue, so I would instead suggest that you take the opportunity to stretch your legs after a long flight (and before a long car ride) and explore on foot. If this prospect of interest to you, have a look at my travel tips for a suggested itinerary that should take half a day or so.
A large proportion of visitors to Namibia sensibly decide to self drive/self cater because of the flexibility that it gives them in exploring this vast country, and obviously this means planning ahead in terms of provisions. It's worth bearing in mind that a large dot on a map of Namibia doesn't equate to a large town once you finally get there, and many of Namibia's towns offer relatively limited shopping opportunities other than the absolute basics. It is therefore a good idea to stock up in Windhoek before you go, particularly for more specialist purchases - the Wernhill shopping centre is probably a good choice, as it offers a good selection of shops and has ample parking.
People who have read some of my other travel pages will realise that I often try to gain a better understanding of a town by focusing on people are local to that place and typify its history, culture or values.
In all honesty, the list of famous Namibians is pretty short, as there aren't a lot of Namibians to start with (just over 2 million, despite the vastness of the country) and fewer still are famous in a global sense. However, Namibia is inordinately proud of its two international celebrities: Frankie Fredericks and Michelle McLean.
Never heard of them? Well, let me help you out.
Of the two, Frankie Fredericks is probably the better known, although we've already established that this is a qualified term. In his prime during the 1990s, he was a worldbeating sprinter who was born in Katutura (Windhoek's largest township) and won an athletics scholarship to Brigham Young University in the USA.
Fredericks was an explosive runner and was a particularly 200m specialist with a distinctive upright running style. Frankie had an uncanny knack for always come second in the major events, and although he was from time to time ranked No.1 in the world and even held the world indoor record for 100m, he only has a collection of silver medals (two from the 1992 and a matching pair from the 1996 Olympics) to show for his efforts.
It is difficult to overestimate how proud Namibia was of Frankie and his achievements - he remains Namibia's only Olympic medallist ever, and he did a huge amount to bolster Namibia's sense of national pride in the post-independence era. It also helped that he was - by all accounts - an exceedingly nice bloke who took a genuine interest in the charities and youth work with which he became involved and he became the role model for a generation, if not an entire nation.
After his retirement, Frankie became a member of the International Olympic Committee and is also active with sports-based charities.
In the same year as Frankie won his first brace of Olympic silver medals, a Namibian - Michelle McLean - improbably won the Miss Universe title. As Namibia's representatives on the world stage, the wirily-built black athlete and statuesque white beauty queen made a odd couple that was curiously appropriate for a newly independent nation making the transition from decades of apartheid-based South African governance.
Like Frankie, Michelle (who is now a TV presenter who splits her time between Namibia and South Africa) threw herself into charity work, and her Michelle McLean Children Trust continues to fund a diverse range of charity projects in Namibia.
One other very happy memory I have of my time in Namibia is from 1994, when one of my contracts coincided with their implementation of Daylight Saving for the first time. The sense of excitement at this prospect was palpable, and the advertising was endearingly nationalistic: I forget the exact wording, but something along the lines of, "First we achieved our independence, and now we have our very own time!"
To date, Namibia is the only nation in Southern Africa to have Daylight Saving, so be aware that between the first Sunday in every September and the first Sunday in April, Namibia is only one hour ahead of GMT. This means that over the winter months, Namibia is one hour behind its neighbours - which are in the same time zone for the rest of the year - which may be an issue if you are crossing borders.
- Pros:Safe, friendly, accessible and the ideal place to get yourself organised for the rest of your trip
- Cons:Probably not enough of interest to justify it being a tourist destination in its own right
- In a nutshell:The friendly gateway to sub Saharan Africa's best kept tourist secret!
(work in progress) If you're planning a trip to Namibia (or elsewhere in Africa) - especially one that will take you off... more travel advice
The bronze kudu statue at the intersection of Independence Avenue and John Meinhert Street is one of Windhoek's best... more travel advice
- See All Avoid Independence Avenue in rush hours
- Booking accommodation in national parks
- A good place to stock up for your trip
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