Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa and is a quieter, less bustling place than its loud near neighbour, Johannesburg. But there are some cultural and architectural gems worth discovering, as well as a whole lot of history.
At the heart of the city is Church Square, a lovely plaza surrounded by imposing public buildings including the Palace of Justice, where Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison. Thankfully it also has the Union Buildings, where he was inaugurated as the country’s first black president many years later.
Go in the spring, around October, when the city turns a bright and beautiful purple with its Jacaranda trees. You can get to the city easily from OR Tambo Airport on the Gautrain, but you’ll need to hire a car or use taxis to get around.
TimeSouth Africa is a constant GMT +2 hours, with no Daylight Saving Time.
CurrencyThe currency is the rand and you’re going to get great value for money. ATMs are ubiquitous and credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change, hotels and banks.
WeatherThe weather is pretty much perfect, most of the time. Winter brings chilly mornings and evenings and a few cold snaps. Summer gets hot but never too hot. Rains strike mostly in October and November, often bringing spectacular hailstones, but it’s usually all over an hour or so later.
ElectricitySouth African plugs are a rare breed with three fat round pins, so buy an adaptor at the airport. Many hotels have installed European and UK-style sockets too and keep adaptors at reception.
CommunicationsMobile networks have the city covered. Roaming calls and data are expensive, so buy a local sim card if you want to make local calls. Take some form of ID with you to do that. There are plenty of free wifi hotspots in cafes and in the hotels, but you’ll find the speeds sluggish if you’re from a first world country.
Public transportPretoria is a big place and you’ll need a car, or you’ll end up taking taxis everywhere. You can’t hail a taxicab in the street, but there are ranks outside train stations and hotels, or you can phone one. There are numerous car hire companies. The bus service is best left to the locals, although it may be useful if you’re staying in the suburbs and want to reach the centre. There are fast and furious communal minibus taxis too, if you can work out the routes.
Airport to City Center
The Gautrain underground train is an excellent way to reach Pretoria and Hatfield, a business and residential area, just remember to change lines at Malboro or Sandton stations. You buy a Gold Card at the machines or ticket booth, load it with money and swipe it at the ticket barriers. Taxis wait outside those stations and there are feeder buses to other points, if you know exactly where you’re heading.
OR Tambo airport has a taxi rank outside arrivals, as well as car rental offices.