It may live in the shadow of its glamorous sister on the coast, but there’s more to Maritzburg than being the top or tail of the Comrades Marathon once a year.
Not only does the capital of KwaZulu-Natal hold the distinction of being the gateway to rich Zulu, Boer and British history, it’s also a short drive from Durban, and its location in the Midlands makes it an easy hub from which to explore the charming craft and home industry, and natural beauty of the area.
Dare to ditch the beach life and head inland instead the next time you’re headed to KwaZulu-Natal with these top 10 things to do in and around Pietermaritzburg
Top 10 Things to do in Pietermaritzburg
1. Tatham Art Gallery
Art-lovers will be delighted with a visit to the city’s art gallery that offers free entrance to visitors. Set up in 1903 by Ada Tatham, an early influential ‘Maritzburger, Tatham Art Gallery houses an array of British and French artworks dating back to the 18th century, in addition to several local pieces. Explore the collection of portraits, sculptures and colourful displays of ceramics and lithographs. The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 9am-5pm.
2. Butterflies for Africa
If you like butterflies (and monkeys too), Butterflies for Africa is a must. It is one of the most magical experiences in Pietermaritzburg and there’s no need for a filter as you capture these majestic fluttering creatures in all their beauty. Learn more about them as you explore the Butterfly Home. Stop for a coffee at the café, then pay a visit to the monkey enclosure to meet a rare Cotton-top Tamarin monkey. Opening times are Tuesday to Saturday from 9am-3.30pm and Sundays from 10.30am-3.30pm.
3. African Bird of Prey Sanctuary
Open every day from 10.30am-3pm (except Mondays), the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary conserves and rehabilitates indigenous raptors. You can witness vulture feeding sessions and flying displays, as well as get to learn more about these incredible creatures. Even if you aren’t a bird enthusiast, there is no denying that the resident hawks, falcons, eagles and owls will leave a lasting impression.
4. Msunduzi Museum
Also referred to as the Voortrekker Museum, this historic attraction was established in 1912 as a tribute to the early Voortrekkers, who migrated inland by ox wagon in 1835. Items of interest include the second-oldest ox wagon in South Africa (1824), original Voortrekker clothing, rifles and even a prayer book belonging to Voortrekker leader Piet Retief. The museum also reveals insights into other cultures, with a traditional Zulu hut on site and a replica of a traditional Shivu Indian temple.
5. The Old Prison
An official national heritage site, the Old Prison is one of the oldest buildings in Pietermaritzburg. This museum and national monument stands as a testament to a turbulent time in South Africa’s history. As the name suggests, it was once an old prison and is associated with several prominent prisoners and political activists such as Mahatma Gandhi. There are various rooms that are still intact, such as the cell rooms, the gallows, torture rooms and dark room, which is pitch black. Tours of The Old Prison should be arranged in advance.
6. Nelson Mandela Capture Site
Ranked No.1 on TripAdvisor when it comes to things to do in Pietermaritzburg, the Nelson Mandela Capture Site is a must-see attraction. It is the place where Mandela was captured by the South African Police on 5 August 1962 when he was posing as a chauffeur along the R103 that runs into the heart of Pietermaritzburg. The unique sculpture at this site comprises 50 steel columns forming an image of his face.
7. Old Main Brewery
Stop for a cold one at the Old Main Brewery. Located just outside of the city in Pietermaritzburg’s nearby Hilton suburb, the Old Main Brewery offers a traditional English pub experience with crackling fires. Think chilly winter days, micro-brewery beers and a relaxed atmosphere. The beers brewed here include Foxx Lager, Honey Badger Imperial Stout and 1806 Real Ale. If you are looking for things to do in Pietermaritzburg during the summer, it’s also the perfect place to bask in the sun while tucking into delicious pub grub.
8. Tala Game Reserve
Wildlife-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy an overnight visit to Tala Game Reserve. Owned and operated by Dream Hotels & Resorts, Tala is a short drive from Pietermaritzburg and offers morning and evening 4×4 game drives, daily guided bush walks and a range of accommodation from rustic rondavels to private lodges. Escape the city and get into KwaZulu-Natal’s wilderness to learn about the animal, plant and birdlife of this stunning natural area.
9. Pietermaritzburg sightseeing
Take a drive through Pietermaritzburg and you will immediately notice its Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Stop to admire the bronze statue of Mahatma Ghandi, observe the trademark red bricks of the city hall and make stops at the Church of the Vow and the Botanical Gardens. There are quaint coffee shops scattered throughout the city where you can sit and soak up the atmosphere.
10. Golden Horse Casino
If lady luck is on your side, consider a visit to Golden Horse Casino, located opposite the Scottsville Racecourse. With high-tech gaming facilities, a range of dining options, kids’ entertainment and a driving range, you’ll be spoilt for choice if you’re looking for a night of fun and fantasy.
City Guide – Pietermaritzburg
When to go
The area is somewhat temperate. The hottest months are February, January, and then March. The busiest month for tourism in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa is August, followed by June and March. Prices for hotels and flights will be most expensive during these months, though you can save if you purchase well in advance. Tourists are unlikely to visit Pietermaritzburg in February. Those willing to visit at these times will likely find it the least expensive month.
English is widely spoken
Currency & Costs
The currency is the Rand. ATMs are widely available.
There are several banks located across town and in major shopping malls.
Read these helpful safety tips for Pietermartizburg
To order a taxi, phone Metro Taxis
Where to stay
As with many quaint towns in KZN, you’ll find no shortage of B&Bs, but there are also a couple of nice hotel options available. Most B&Bs cater to the business crowds who stay in town tending to council and other matters of commerce. Pietermaritzburg Tourism can help with bookings, or try the Pietermaritzburg B&B Network, a group of B&Bs that help promote each other.