Being born and bred in Johannesburg, I can only remember Pretoria as a city that comes alive on weekends, wandering around Hatfield, mingling with the locals and even sharing a beer or two. I remember driving around searching for the coolest bands playing and often found myself in local pubs listening to muso’s like Zinkplaat, Jan Blohm and Valiant Swart. Nights were normally gloomy and filled with smoke machines but eventually lit up as soon as the music started playing. Saturday mornings meant that I had to find clean clothes in my backpack, because weekends in Pretoria had no cupboard space. Many life lessons later and I still think Pretoria is one of the most fascinating places in South Africa. I’ve visited a few interesting spots in the city and put together a few stories describing each spot. In the words of the legendary rockstar Bernoldus Niemand,
“I walk, sleep, eat, drink, think and go a little crazy in Pretoria.”
During the years of apartheid, the city was baptised with a snor (moustache) as a protest theme against the government. Nowadays, the city wears a vibrant, trendy jacket. For a first-time visitor there are plenty of sightseeing opportunities to start with, as Pretoria boasts ample cultural and sporting phenomena. Not only are the streets filled with purple Jacaranda trees but the city showcases the diversity that our beloved country has to offer and invites any visitor to enjoy the culture that comes alive, whether it be in a large stadium packed with thousands of fans, or in a small coffee shop in the artistic corners of Lynnwood.
Members of parliament
At the top of Meintjieskop in the Arcadia area you’ll find the majestic Union Buildings ─ the official seat of the national government. The Union Buildings were designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1908 and completed in 1913. The two rectangular office blocks were originally designed to represent the two official languages of the time. Meintjieskop was the preferred choice for the buildings as it reminded Baker of the Acropolis of Athens. Although one cannot enter the buildings, the gardens are a popular spot for a romantic day out where couples can wander through the lovely gardens and families can get together for a picnic. Various concerts and festivals are also held here. The Union Buildings make for a perfect picture while watching the sunset with the city as a backdrop.
Voortrekkers, skinny jeans and scarfs
Just down the road, approximately 20 minute’s drive from the Union Buildings, the history of the Afrikaner is locked inside the 40-metre high Voortrekker Monument. Also on the top of a hill, it overlooks Pretoria and makes it a memorable experience for any traveller. I still remember my high school choir days, performing for the cream of the culturally-educated elite with their tight pants and long scarves. One of my fondest memories of the Voortrekker Monument, with my thoughts echoing against the pillars with mesmerising acoustics, was our choir’s performance of Bohemian Rhapsody. The monument hosts many musical events, one being Mumford and Sons who played in the amphitheatre back in 2016, and the one-of-a-kind Park Acoustics, which takes place every last Sunday of the month. It’s a family-friendly event where you can enjoy a laid-back picnic while listening to South Africa’s best local talent.
Djembe drums and beat’n weekends
Performing with a band at the Klitsgras Drumming Circle in front of free-spirit gypsies, the rock-‘n’-roll Snor turned me into a bohemian hippie for a weekend. One Sunday morning, a friend asked me if I was interested in driving from Potchefstroom to play a casual birthday event in the city. Leading up to the event, we didn’t know what to expect and needless to say, we weren’t properly prepared for the gig. We ended up sharing the stage with South Africa’s most hardcore blues-rock musicians and, being two students with tuned-out acoustic guitars, did not fit the bill at all. Nonetheless we had lots of fun, met interesting people and danced to the rhythm of the African drum. Klitsgras is a unique venue just outside Pretoria, offering a variety of entertainment for all ages. They host various events and shows, and the venue can also be rented out for private functions. Klitsgras is an ideal adventure for the eccentric bongo drum player who likes to feel the rhythm of the city when the sun sets.
A beer in the Capital
Nothing beats an ice-cold beer on a hot, or even cold day in the city. When I walked into Capital Craft for the first time, I experienced a variety of beers I’ve never experienced before. With a menu of over 200 craft beers to choose from, it will keep any party going for quite a while. The diversity of people gives Capital Craft an inviting atmosphere, from corporate guys having an informal business chat to students ditching afternoon lectures. It boasts two vibrant and very popular branches, one of them being in Menlo Park and the latest branch in Centurion. Every year Capital Craft puts together a massive beer festival with live entertainment and over 200 beers on tap. The festival, like many activities in Pretoria, is family friendly and offers suitable entertainment for all. For those who would like the Capital Craft brand at their party or function, they offer beer on wheels or a mobile bar service with a variety of drinks in the van.
Cafes, whisky and electric guitars
I remember the table I booked on the right-hand side of the stage for the Friday evening to see blues virtuoso Dan Patlansky. My friend and I enjoyed exploring new venues to see live bands play. We would go to local venues to soak up the music and got to know many local artists. Dan blew me away that evening in Cafe Barcelona and I fell in love with raw blues-rock trios. I used to go to Cafe Barcelona on Friday nights just to hang out with strangers who share the same love for music. There was something simple and honest about the place and the bands normally parked the band van in front of the venue and had a beer while carrying out their gear. It was the first time I felt so close to the musicians I idolised and only saw on stage in the spotlights. I would follow their gig guide and save up my pocket money to go see a show, and as a result it connected me with South Africa’s finest musicians. I learned to appreciate intimate shows where storytellers and singer-songwriters inspired me to also pick up the guitar and tell a few stories. Cafe Barcelona changed their venue and you can now find them near Hatfield in the Colbyn area, but they still offer the same raw rock-‘n’-roll atmosphere and with a variety on the menu, it ensures a great night out.
In loving memory of Piet Botha (1955 – 2019) and Johnny Clegg (1953 – 2019)
In every street and down an unknown alley we often find abstract ways of experiencing the city and our expectations are sometimes our worst enemy. If the city invites you to stay over for a night filled with plastic suitcases and colourful spray paint tattoos, choose to shift your ear towards the white noise of people finding their way to meaningful open spaces. The stories will be told by the moustache on the top lip of Pretoria ─ all you have to do is listen.
TravelGround’s top hotspots for a visitor in the Snor City
Feature image: Muckleneuk Guest House (TravelGround)