What to do in Pretoria at Evidence 2018

By Promise Nduku


Image credit: Ria Viljoen

Welcome to South Africa, the rainbow nation. Welcome to Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa, home to the iconic Union Buildings. Welcome to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s International Convention Centre. Above all, welcome to Evidence 2018.

In just over a month, this is the kind of welcome you can expect at Evidence 2018 as delegates from all over the world converge to ‘Engage, Understand, Impact’ with evidence and each other on quality education, communicable diseases, climate resilience, and good governance in Africa. Amid the biggest evidence conference specifically dedicated to the African continent, it is not all work: there are numerous other fun activities and adventures that one can explore before or after the conference. Pretoria may be overlooked, particularly when compared to other destinations in South Africa such as Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg, but this beautiful metro modestly awaits visitors from all walks of life to showcase its myriad of activities and marvels. Here we share five options for learning more about South Africa from the perspective of Pretoria.

1. The Unions Buildings

Pretoria’s Union Buildings are arguably the most iconic and famous buildings in South Africa. These buildings are the official seat of the national government, housing the offices of the South African president. The 285m-long sandstone building was designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910 to mark the then Union of South Africa. They are one of the critical landmarks in South African history, having been the stage for many historically and politically significant moments. One such moment was the Women’s March of 9 August 1965 where an approximate 20,000 women from across the country arrived at the Union Buildings to deliver thousands of signed petitions to the then prime minister of South Africa, JG Strydom. Today, visitors can enjoy the panoramic views over the city in the terraced gardens that surround the impressive building. Within these gardens you’ll find various monuments to important historic South African figures, including an imposing 9m-tall bronze statue of Nelson Mandela that was unveiled just after the icon’s death in 2013. A trip to Pretoria would not be complete without a selfie taken with this beautiful landmark.

Admission to the gardens of the Union Buildings is free (visitors are unable to enter the buildings); for more information, visit the website.

2. Freedom Park

Situated on a 52-hectare site on Salvokop – a hill overlooking the country’s capital – Freedom Park offers an eccentric view of the metropolis and South African history. Freedom Park is hailed as the most ambitious heritage project of South Africa’s democratic government. A place of peace and growth, the captivating and distinctive architecture, landscaping, archives, sculptures and imagery of the Park tell a tale in the voice of the people of South Africa about the history, culture, heritage and spirituality of the region. The site contains a list of names of those who lost their lives in the South African wars, World War I and II as well during the Apartheid era: the Park stands as a memorial to what the nation has achieved over the years. Freedom Park has been dubbed the heart and soul of the nation, and visitors would be remiss to not visit the park that stands as a guiding light of hope and patriotism to a proudly united South African nation.

For more information, to book a tour, or to review admission prices visit their website (open seven days a week, 08:30 – 16:00).

3. Groenkloof Nature Reserve

For those visiting South Africa for the first time, be sure to take a moment to appreciate some of our local fauna and flora. Time spent in Groenkloof Nature Reserve is an opportunity to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and become one with nature. Groenkloof Nature Reserve offers routes – guided or not – that cater to varying degrees of endurance and is the perfect spot for mountain biking enthusiasts (no need to bring your own – you can hire a bike at the reserve). One can enjoy the kisses of the South African morning sun with a picnic bag at one of the many picnic spots in the park. Alternatively, enjoy the reserve on the back of a horse while watching out for the rich wildlife, including zebras, giraffes, kudu, and ostriches.

The reserve is open from 05:30 – 19:00 during the summer months and 07:00 – 18:00 in the winter months; more on admission, directions, and activities here.

4. Pretoria National Botanical Garden 

One of the nine spectacular gardens South Africa has to offer, the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens span over 76 hectares of land divided into two biodomes. The garden houses a diversity of flora and fauna and holds 50% of South African tree species. About 50 hectares of the garden is developed and is made up entirely of indigenous plant life. The gardens also act as a unique bridge between scientific research and recreational activities with many opportunities for birding enthusiasts to enjoy some quiet bird watching from one of the many hides. Visitors can also enjoy an adventurous hiking trail or a relaxing rest at the gift shop or the African Pride Cafe overlooking the wetlands.

Open from 08:00 – 18:00, the entrance fee to the gardens is only R30 per person. See more information on their website.

5. Horseback Africa

Covering all aspects of outdoor fun, from touring the terrain on horseback to walks with lions, Horseback Africa is a comprehensive African experience. They offer exquisite accommodation where visitors can stay a few days to enjoy the peace and quiet of the bush and hear the majestic roar of the lions at night. The lion tour allows visitors to get up-close with young lions and observe their nature and habits or experience the feeding of majestic adult lions. Visitors will appreciate why the king of the African bush is one of most protected species on the continent.

More information can be found on Horseback Africa’s website.

Short for time? You could catch a quick coordinated tour of the city; have a look here. Whether your interest lies more with South Africa’s political history or its natural beauty, Pretoria can offer a variety of options to satisfy you.