For completely free activities in Pretoria, nothing beats window shopping at one of the bigger malls in any compass direction. Although perhaps yuck for certain categories of humans, strolling through Pretoria, past sidewalk cafes and through the mall catacombs is not only invigorating, it also gives you a distinct feel for the town.
For those after more specific excursions that are free – or almost – here follow some great ideas for a uniquely Pretoria experience.
The University of Pretoria maintains this dated yet charming optical delight from a bygone era. You can change the direction of the camera lens and take in the whole of Pretoria, bit by bit, as it projects the images into a darkened room. Best sampled during the morning hours, when the sun from the east is illuminating the whole city, you can see as far as the Magaliesberg on a clear day.
Camera Obscura tours are organised around two times in the day, 11am and 2pm. The hosts are Sci-Enza, the most hale interactive Science Centre on the African continent. Sci-Enza caters for groups of four or more, bookings are essential. It’s completely free, but visitors are encouraged to make a donation at their discretion.
isiZulu – gooi hom!
If unlike most white politicians in this country, you’ve realised the benefits of the entire universe that awaits you with a bit of competent black vernac in your corner, totally mahala zulu lessons are doled out every Saturday at Grounded, at Echo Café.
Completely free, and part public service in a country so in need of a better national dialogue and discourse, free introductory lessons happen from 9am to 10am each Saturday, before the die-hards wade through some more detailed semantics. If you go, hamba kahle.
Indeed a rather miraculous protrusion on the earth’s surface, the Wonderboom fig grove is actually a number of trees that have amassed around the original parent tree. They now form a giant shaded area, one that can shield up to 1000 people from the sun. Well equipped with pathways that provide ideal access, the tree grove is in fact a mini nature reserve, established to protect the rather remarkable original tree.
There’s a very old Boer fort that kept the khakis at bay, as well as some fascinating Iron Age relics that have been discovered on the site. Entrance isn’t totally free, but at R37 for adults, you might want to skip a cappuccino, las a ten rand or so, and make the morning far more memorable. Kids, 12 and under, pay R21 and pikkies, six and under, pay a mere R13.
Note the reserve closes at 4pm in winter and you’ll need to be at the gate at 3pm, latest, if you want to enter on that day.
Another clever Pretoria hangout, Park Acoustics happens on the last Sunday of each month, at the Voortrekker Monument. Featuring some hugely talented local musos, the lineup never disappoints. You’ll find a new ethos to shroud the monument in, as well as hugely geselige mense who’ve come to shake off Sunday blues with some lekker outdoor music and vibes. Also going for a song, ticket prices do vary based on the event due that month. Kids, six and younger, pay niks and car parking is only R15 per vehicle.
Union Buildings Picnic
Not just the home of parliamentarians, the Union Buildings have charm for a diverse array of people, for various reasons. An architectural statement and forever-feather in the cap of the late Herbert Baker, the buildings invoke a mild awe and sense of history from up close. Those lush lawns aren’t the privileged domain of politicians only and you’re welcome to pack a picnic basket and go soak up the outdoors on the grounds.
De rigueur for those shopping for bespoke antique pieces or simply craving an alternative to mall window-shopping, Duncan Yard has firmly established itself as a meander venue of note. Take your wallet, as you’re bound to find something to do (salons and the like), something to buy (curated stores by the zillion) or something to eat (the restaurants are plentiful, often unique and proud of their offerings). The precinct is also family-friendly, so you can make it a wholesale outing or just stick to a private tour of the quietly buzzing venues, large and small.
One for those who don’t find early rising perverse, this farmers market will enchant from before sun-up until mid-morning. Ok, it’s not essential to arrive before dawn, but it’s a load of fun to tie into the stallholders’ routine each Saturday. So much more than simply a chattering early morning market, everyone will find something that beguiles them at the Boeremark on each visit, guaranteed. Free it might be, but as the venue with the reputation of the best pancakes and vetkoek on earth, take a bit of moola to really enjoy things.
The Climbing Barn
Ok, this one is definitely not free, but still harks back to the era of Chappies, two for a cent. At R100 for an adult day pass, that’s only around R8.50 an hour – still mighty reasonable. For those with the zest to do more or do it actively, the Climbing Barn is perfect for all ages and loads of fun. Better book for beginners classes, and hiring some gear will also cost around R80.
No matter your skill level, even complete novices can buy instruction, rent gear, you name it. With around 450m² of climbing walls, everyone gets catered for here, where serious solo artists happily rub shoulders with newbies.