The administrative capital of South Africa, Pretoria is a charming city inhabited by diplomats, business people, and civil servants. Visitors will find here a cultural hub with leafy suburbs that brighten up in October and November when the purple jacaranda trees bloom.
There is much to see and do in Pretoria, tourists can explore its many museums, historic buildings, and botanical gardens. Once mostly Afrikaner, Pretoria is now becoming increasingly more multicultural also thanks to the many foreign embassy workers.
In this guide, international travelers will find practical advice for visiting Pretoria, including:
- How to get there and the best time to visit
- Necessary documents and South African visa to travel to Pretoria
- Pretoria safety advice
- A list of places worth seeing in Pretoria
How to Get to Pretoria, South Africa
The closest international airport to Pretoria is OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Fortunately, it is easy to get from Johannesburg to Pretoria since the two cities are only a 40-minute drive apart.
Passengers can take a taxi from the airport or a suburban MetroRail train from Isando (less than 1.5 miles away from the airport). The train journey lasts 55 minutes and costs R7.5.
Several long-distance coach companies manage buses between most South African major cities.
Once in Pretoria, visitors can easily get around thanks to an efficient public transport service and a great number of affordable minibus taxis.
Do I need a visa to go to Pretoria?
Like all other foreigners entering South Africa, international visitors must apply for a visa before traveling to Pretoria from abroad.
Depending on their nationality and the intended length and purpose(s) of their trip to South Africa, foreign citizens can choose from a variety of South African visas to apply for. The tourist visa is ideal for travelers who intend to enter the country for tourism purposes and a limited period of time.
The online application is currently being tested for Indian and Kenyan citizens and will be extended to other nationalities in the future. Once fully implemented, the new electronic visa system will allow those who wish to explore Pretoria to obtain a permit from the comfort of their home or office in minutes, without having to attend a South African embassy or consulate.
Pretoria Weather Information and Best Time to Visit
Thanks to its privileged position in a protected valley, Pretoria enjoys a dry subtropical climate with mild temperatures all year round. The thermometer rarely reaches extreme lows or highs, with summer peaks staying below 86℉ (30℃) and the winter minimum temperature above 40℉ (5℃.)
Rainfall is at its heaviest in the summer months, especially between November and January. During this time, thunderstorms are not rare. That is why the best months to travel to Pretoria are the dry ones between May and September.
Is Pretoria Safe for Tourists?
When it comes to the safety of tourists in South Africa, Pretoria is one of the safest cities to visit in the country. Violent crimes are rare and it is extremely unlikely that foreigners are targeted.
That said, visitors should exercise common sense at all times and avoid putting themselves in danger unnecessarily. When possible, they should not:
- Leave their belongings unattended
- Walk alone in poor-lit areas at night
- Accept or give car rides to strangers
What Is Pretoria Famous for?
The many attractions, exquisite architecture, and welcoming local culture are just some of the elements that make Pretoria worth visiting.
There is much to learn about South Africa, its people, history, and nature in Pretoria and it is not by chance that the city is considered the educational center of the country, home to UNISA (South Africa university, one of the largest in the world) and the University of Pretoria.
Do you need to book in advance to visit the Voortrekker Monument?
One of the most popular historic landmarks in South Africa, the Voortrekker Monument is a 130-foot impressive structure built in 1949 to commemorate the Voortrekker, the Boers who explored the Northern territory during the Great Trek in the19th century.
Visitors can climb the steps leading to the famous Hall of Heroes where marble artwork depicts the feats of the Great Trek. A special visual effect created by sunlight entering the monument on the 16th of December each year illuminates a cenotaph and its inscription, reading “Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika” (“We are for you, South Africa”.)
The unique architecture and cultural importance of the site are not the only reasons to visit. Tourists can also enjoy live classical music concerts regularly performed in the monument and taste the fine food served at the restaurant.
Tickets cost between R15-40 and although reservations are not mandatory, they can be booked in advance online to avoid queues.
Who built the Union Buildings in Pretoria?
The Union Buildings are an unmissable stop in Pretoria for all tourists. The stunning complex of sandstone constructions and gardens was designed in 1913 by Sir Herbert Baker to mark the location of the city’s first settlement.
The Union Buildings rest on Pretoria’s highest spot and the views are breathtaking. Visitors can admire the city from above as they stroll through the gardens and observe the architecture, a mix between Italian and English Renaissance and Cape Dutch styles.
It is a place of great significance due to the many statues commemorating soldiers who fought during World War I, and because it was chosen by Nelson Mandela in 1994 for his inaugural speech.
What does Freedom Park symbolize?
Close to the Union Buildings, Freedom Park was opened in 2007 to celebrate the South African liberation and remember those who fought for it. It is a deeply symbolic landmark that takes the visitor on a journey through the history of South Africa from the stone age to the present day.
Tourists and locals can roam the park freely or take advantage of the many guided tours that will help them understand the importance of the place and its many symbolisms.
The National Zoological Gardens, South Africa’s biggest zoo
Extending for over 85 hectares, the National Zoological Gardens (also simply known as Pretoria Zoo) are the largest zoological center in the country. Children and adults alike can spend a fun day here learning about the animal world and observing rare wildlife up close.
The zoo is home to a great variety of species including:
- Lions, tigers, and leopards
- Tooth sharks
- African penguins
- Cape vultures
- Giant anteaters
Nocturnal animals can be observed by purchasing night visits and overnight camping.
What animals are at Rietvlei Nature Reserve?
Those who cannot go on a safari can still experience the majestic South African nature at the Rietvlei Nature Reserve, located only 20 minutes from Pretoria.
The reserve was originally a dam built during the Great Depression and still supplies the city with water. However, it is now also home to animals like:
- Red hartebeests
- Black wildebeests
- Secretary birds
- Blue cran birds
- Fish eagles
It is the perfect spot for a picnic and represents a convenient and peaceful escape from the city.