When it comes to South African cities, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban seem to steal the show. Cape Town for its natural beauty, and artistic flair, Johannesburg for its riches, fast pace and fashion and Durban for its laid-back vibe, rich cultural tapestry and beaches galore.
However, there are more South African cities than only these two! We take a look at five of the most underrated and tell you why they’re totally worth exploring.
For many South Africans Bloemfontein is just a convenient pit stop next to the N1 during the annual cross country trek from the north to the ocean in December, or from the ocean to the north for a winter bush break.
However, there’s a lot more to discover in our country’s judicial capital than you may think.
Culture: For history lovers, Bloemfontein is pretty much the best place to learn more about the Anglo-Boer war with an exploration of the War Museum and Women’s Memorial. Looking for something slightly more representative? Check out the National Museum’s wide array of exhibitions, including everything from a display of African cultures to paleontology and astronomy. Keep on the cultural track by paying the Oliewenhuis Art Museum to experience the richness of South Africa’s artistic heritage.
Shopping: If shopping is your thing, then you’ll be pleased to know that Bloemfontein boasts its very own Loch Logan Waterfront! The mall covers an area of 80 000 mÂ², making it the quintessential shopping Mecca in central South Africa.
Nightlife: The Mystic Boer is a great spot for a relaxed late afternoon beer and pizza, and if you stay long enough it turns into quite a jol with dancing and live music.
Nature recreation: Finally, Bloem also has a wealth of natural beauty to explore and is widely known as the â€˜city of roses,’ due to its explosion of fragrant, colourful flowers in spring. Get a little taste of the blossoming glory by paying a visit to the Free State National Botanical Gardens on the outskirts of town. Just beyond the city perimeters you will find a number of nature reserves.
While Maritzburg does get a measure of attention every May when the Comrades Marathon either starts or finishes here, it’s worth extending your visit to explore some of the intriguing attractions.
Culture: More than any other province in the country, KwaZulu-Natal is a supreme melting pot of all sorts of cultures: English, Indian, Boer and Zulu, to mention just the main ones. Start your cultural tour by visiting the Msunduzi/Voortrekker museum, where you will find a wide array of interesting artifacts dating back to tumultuous time when dissatisfied farmers trekked from the Cape Colony all the way beyond the Drakensberg. After this, check out the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Church Square, which commemorates the vital role he played in the fight against the oppression of Indians in South Africa.
Shopping: Liberty Midlands Mall is your one-stop go-to place for everything from groceries to clothes, movies to restaurants.
Nightlife: Pietermaritzburg has a few funky chillout spots. Head to Franki Bananaz for cocktails, or the Monday beer burger special (R45). If you’d like to sample a number of different draughts and ales, head to the Firkin and Ferret for a top quality pub experience.
Nature recreation: The magnificent KwaZulu-Natal Botanical Garden is located in Pietermaritzburg and well worth a visit! The avenue of London Plane trees is one of its main features and the perfect spot for a romantic stroll. Head to Butterflies for Africa to experience the colourful dainty creatures flitting all around in the Butterfly house and shop for all things papillon at the gorgeous craft centre.
Known as the Friendly City, Port Elizabeth gets a lot of flack for being a so-called â€˜boring’ city. However, this couldn’t be any further from the truth!
Culture: A great way to start your weekend/holiday in PE is to take a stroll along the Donkin Heritage Trail. The 5 kilometre trail follows in the footsteps of the 1820 Settlers, linking 47 historical sites in central Port Elizabeth, including Donking House, the Donkin Reserve and the fascinating Frederick Fort that dates back to 1799. Experience another part of Port Elizabeth’s diverse heritage by visiting theRed Location Museum in New Brighton. After this, consider going on a township tour to sample some of the local dishes and brews.
Shopping: There is no shortage of good places to shop in PE. Make your pick of Walmer Shopping Centre, Green Acres and a number of pokey stores along Cape Road. The Boardwalk Casino is also a great place to go for a meal, watch a movie or, yes, if you really have to, spend some money at the black jack table or slot machines.
Nightlife: Port Elizabeth has a little bit of everything on offer as far as nightlife goes. Barney’s is a super chilled spot right next to the beach, perfect for an after work beer and grub, while Danskraaldraws a large crowd of sokkie-jollers. If dancing all night is what you’re after, head to Aqua Nightclub.
Nature recreation: The city’s bounty of outdoor activities and natural beauty is quite possibly its biggest drawcard. Port Elizabeth’s coastline is made up out of long, white beaches with warm water and pleasant waves. With its Blue Flag status, Humewood beach is considered to be the jewel in the city’s crown. If you feel like taking a bit of a drive, head to the wild and wonderful Sardinia Bay with its huge sand dunes and choppy waters – it’s excellent for long walks, horse rides, kite surfing and skinny dipping.
Even though Bayworld‘s famous dolphins no longer draw massive crowds (since they relocated to the US), paying the Oceanarium, snake park and museum a visit is a must-do, especially if you have kids. There are also a whole host of hiking trails, water-based activities and nature reserves on the immediate outskirts of town.
It may have started out as nothing more than a dismal township on the outskirts of Johannesburg, but these days Soweto is a city in its own right.
Culture: Wow! Where do we start? Just like Bloemfontein is the go-to place for anything Anglo-Boer war related, Soweto is surely the best place to brush up on your Apartheid facts. There’s the Hector Pietersen memorial, Regina Mundi church, the Mandela Family museum and just up Vilakazi Street, the house Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to live.
For a more joyous cultural experience, check out the Jazz Maniacs restaurant that pays tribute to the township jazz culture of the 1950s.
Shopping: The glitz and glam Maponya Mall is a popular hangout for Soweto locals and offers a wide array of activities for adults, kids, teens and pensioners.
Nightlife: The Rock in Rockville is a great spot to soak up the lively soccer culture on the night of a big game. Norman’s Corner in Diepkloof is an excellent venue to experience kasi tradition – with their wide variety of music, you can either just sit and relax while enjoying a drink, or you can hit the dance floor. Finally there’s Ozone, or Oz as it’s affectionately known, which is THE venue for an all-out-Soweto night club experience. There are two different floors – one for the all out party animals and another with a more laid-back lounge feel.
Nature Recreation: If you’re an adrenaline junky you simply HAVE TO do a power swing between Soweto’s two famously colourful Orlando Towers. More of a picnic in the park type of person? That’s okay too! Head to Dorothy Nyembe Park in Mofolo North to appreciate the unusual sculpted figurines. The park also has a nursery that is part of a project using a process called ‘hydro-seeding.’
Officially renamed Mbombela, Nelspruit is widely considered to be not much more than a convenient gateway to the Kruger National Park. However, if you take the time to explore the city itself (and the immediate surrounds) you may be surprised by the rich culture, history and fun activities.
Culture: This part of the lowveld (Nelspruit, White River and Barberton in particular) holds a strong attraction for artists of all disciplines, lending the area a vibrant and colourful energy.
An absolute artistic must-do is checking out the ceramic creations of the Bosch family in White River – visit the studios of Esra Bosch and Anton Bosch, and be prepared to want to spend! Apart from art, Nelspruit also boasts its very own independently-owned movie theatre, called Boulevard Cinema where you can enjoy screenings of the latest art house hits.
If you don’t mind heading about half-an-hour out of the city, be sure to check out the Shangana Cultural village close to Hazyview. The village preserves the rich heritage of the Shangaan people and is an example of South Africa’s great cultural diversity.
Shopping: You’re really spoiled for choice when it comes to shopping in Nelspruit. There is a variety of malls, as well as a whole array of quaint little shops dotted around town.
Nightlife: If a simple pub or bar is what you’re looking for, Nelspruit has a whole lot of interesting spots to check out. However, if dancing the night away is more your thing, there’s one place you simply have to go: the cowboy-themed Stables.
Nature Recreation: As with PE, Nelspruit’s outdoor lifestyle is definitely its greatest attraction. Head to the Lowveld National Botanical Gardens for a picnic or set out on one of the magical Kaapschehoop hiking trails that will take you through lush forests, along steep cliffs and into the heart of waterfall-rich mountains. The Sudwala Caves and adjacent Dinosaur Park are also absolute must-visit destinations, especially if you have kids.