"The Jacaranda City (at least for the time being)" Top 5 Page for this destination Pretoria by CatherineReichardt
Pretoria Travel Guide: 409 reviews and 742 photos
Pretoria and Johannesburg may only be 60km from each other, but the two cities are worlds apart. Precisely because they are so very different, I would recommend that tourists visiting Jo'burg also consider spending a little time getting to appreciate what Pretoria has to offer, and vice versa.
The reason why two cities that are located cheek by jowl could be so very different can be traced back to their origins. Pretoria is an Afrikaans city, established by the Voortrekkers as the seat of Government, whereas Johannesburg was founded by a motley crew of opportunistic immigrants as the result of a gold rush. Johannesburg went on to become the commercial hub of South Africa, whereas Pretoria became the seat of government and the bastion of the civil service.
Physically the two cities are also different. On average, Pretoria is about 2 degrees centigrade warmer than Jo'burg, which is just enough to protect it from winter frost and make it feel that little bit more tropical. In summer, those couple of extra degrees are also enough to make it feel slightly uncomfortable for me - but then I'm biased as I believe that Jo'burg has one of the most ideal climates in the world!
Jo'burg is a fast-paced, frenetic, pretty materialistic place, whereas Pretoria is a much more laid back city. Despite the perennial roadworks (and resultant delays) on the Ben Schoeman highway between the two cities, many people who work in Jo'burg choose to live in Pretoria and commute - hopefully the extension of the Gautrain system to Pretoria (due for completion in June 2011) will ease the highway congestion. The highway upgrades are also due to be completed in the next year or so (and a toll system will be implemented) but since this highway has been in the grips of roadworks along some part of its length since I moved to Jo'burg in 1987, I'm not holding my breath!
Although English is generally understood, Afrikaans is the language of preference for all race groups and culturally Pretoria is still extremely Afrikaans.
Pretoria is not often considered as a major tourist destination, and yet there is a good deal of interesting stuff to see and do, particularly if you have an interest in understanding South Africa's fascinating but turbulent history. I would feature the Voortrekker Monument close to the top of any 'To Do' list for visitors, and can also highly recommend Jan Smuts' House in Irene (other than Nelson Mandela, Smuts was probably South Africa's most influential international statesman of the 20th century, and was one of the architectects of the League of Nations, the forerunner to the United Nations). The Union Buildings (the official seat of Government) are lovely and the Anton von Wouw statue of the ever-grumpy Paul Kruger in Church Square is a wonderful piece of sculpture. The Pretoria Zoo is also a good day out, particularly if you have children in tow, and the Transvaal Museum is also worth a look. There are also some lovely things to do in the nearby Magaliesberg range (for example, the brilliant Anne van Dyk Cheetah Breeding Centre) and the Cradle of Humankind is also a fairly short drive away, as well as the eerie Tswaing meteorite crater.
Of course Pretoria is most famous for its 55,000 jacaranda trees, which come into flower in October. Over that period, the city is enveloped in a hazy of misty purple, which looks gorgeous. However linked jacarandas have become to Pretoria's identity, they are not indigenous (they originally come from South America) and are notoriously water-hungry. This has resulted in them being declared a 'Category 3 alien invasive plant', which means that no more jacarandas can be planted: so when the current trees finally die off, Pretoria will have to search for another moniker!
- Pros:Pretoria offers many unique historic attractions which are both uncrowded and easy to access
- Cons:The CBD is very run down
- In a nutshell:A historic and hugely underrated tourist destination which provides a wonderful contrast to Johannesburg's brash modernism
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