Known as the Jacaranda City for all the purple blossom-bedecked trees, which line its thoroughfares, Pretoria is a lovely, quiet city. It has a long, involved and fascinating history. Here you will find significant old buildings and fascinating museums. The Transvaal Museum has natural history displays and is the home of Mrs Ples, the australopithecine fossil found at Sterkfontein in the Cradle of Humankind. Also worth visiting are the Cultural History Museum and Smuts Museum in Irene, just outside Pretoria.
Sedate, leafy Pretoria tends to endure a Cinderella complex when compared with the neighbouring city of Johannesburg. Pretoria has been left to shrug off its former association with the apartheid government in a relative state of slumber, lying as it does in a warm, sheltered valley surrounded by the hills of the Magaliesberg range that ensure that temperatures here are invariably a few degrees warmer than Johannesburg.
But don’t let the sleepy nature of the pretty city lull you into a false perception. Pretoria has a beauty all of its own, and the slow pace of life is regarded as a bonus by its residents. Many Jo’burgers seek a quieter existence in Pretoria, prepared to commute daily rather than live in the comparative rat race. Wall flower the city is not. When in full bloom in October, Pretoria literally comes alive with blossoms and leaves no one in doubt as to the origin of its nickname - Jacaranda city.
Pretoria functions as one of three capitals of South Africa with a population that exceeds a million people, the bulk of whom are government officials. The city centre is laid out in typical city fashion on a grid with wide roads, making getting around fairly simple.
Pretoria’s potential name change to Tshwane (the city lies in the greater Metropolitan municipality of Tshwane) was approved by the names’ council in 2005 but still lacks endorsement by the Minister of Arts And Culture, remaining ‘under consideration’, which may or may not have something to do with the hue and cry that ensued at the onset of the name change.
Pretoria is not short of things to do. The city centre has a wealth of museums, historic buildings and monuments. There is also the zoo, a favourite amongst visitors, particularly because of the cable car, which provides a bird’s eye view of the lion enclosure and is great fun for kids. The bird park in the Nieu Muckleneuk Trim Park is a wonderful ‘green’ outing that has a playground for little ones, a wonderful lookout point to study the array of birds here and a restaurant. If you’re a bird lover, or just need a tranquil break from it all, this is one of the ‘hidden’ gems of Pretoria.