Weekend Breaks in South Africa, Bloemfontein
Why Visit: Capital of the Free State, Bloemfontein or ‘Bloem’ as it is aptly shortened, is a welcoming and charming city that entices you with the intimate feel of being in a country village. Meaning ‘Fountain of Flowers’ in Dutch, Bloemfontein is brimming with idyllic green spaces and a wealth of museums and historic landmarks, making it an ideal destination for culture and nature enthusiasts alike. Known as the ‘City of Roses’ due to the clusters of roses dotted across the city, the best time to visit is in October when the annual Rose Festival is held and these gorgeous flowers are in full bloom.
Where to Stay: Situated just 5km (3.1) miles away from Bloemfontein city centre in the swanky superb of Bayswater, Dersley Manor is an opulent residence that features 15 rooms, all individually designed in a distinct old world style that radiates elegance and style. The lavish interior combines an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furnishings whereas the garden area is a relaxing haven with a swimming pool, manicured lawns and luscious trees thriving with exotic bird life. Tucking into their hearty English breakfast served each morning is the best way to set up a day of discovery.
Getting There: Airlink and South African Express operate regular flights to and from Bram Fischer International Airport to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth. The city also has a well-connected rail network and visitors can catch the Shosholoza Meyl train service from the above mentioned cities to Bloemfontein.
Morning: The cheetah is one of Africa’s most magnificent creatures, but unfortunately it is an endangered species. By paying a visit to the Cheetah Experience, a non-profit breeding centre for endangered species, not only will you have the once in a lifetime opportunity to witness these splendid animals up close but you’ll be helping a good cause and learning how you can help protect them. Despite the centre’s name, it is not only cheetahs that you’ll be in close proximity to, with other threatened species such as leopards, lions and African wild dogs also in conservation. Watching these animals frolic about and hearing their ferocious roars or feline purr is an unforgettable experience that will melt your heart and is a wonderful way to kick start your weekend in Bloemfontein.
Afternoon: Make your way back into the city and spend your time checking out Bloemfontein’s abundant museums and art galleries that beautifully retell key moments in South Africa history and showcase some of the country’s finest artists. Carefully curated exhibitions and extensive photographic, object and document collections at the Anglo-Boer War Museum transport visitors back in time to those infamous wars. It is the only museum in the world that is wholly dedicated to the 1899-1902 Anglo-Boer Wars and is also the site of the National Women’s Memorial, a striking monument erected in memory of the many Boer women and children who died during that period. Continue your history fix at the National Museum, dating back to 1877, and discover everything from fascinating artefacts belonging to some of South Africa’s vibrant tribe culture to exhibitions that depict hundreds of years of Bloemfontein’s rich history.
Evening: As the sun is setting, it’s time to let your hair down and explore Bloemfontein’s funky mix of bars and stylish yet non-pretentious restaurants. Seven on Kellner is set in a beautiful Victorian mansion and its quirky and colourful interior make it a vibrant place to grab a mouthwatering bite to eat and sip on a refreshing cocktail. Hang out at Mystic Boer, Bloem’s longest-standing pub and hip live music venue where you’ll be able to catch some of South Africa’s hottest new and upcoming talent. The laidback and casual vibe sees revellers indulge in pizzas and burgers as they challenge their new-found friends to a game of pool while enjoying the music.
Morning: Wake up bright and early and start your day with a leisurely stroll through the marvellous Kings Park, the city’s largest green space, where immaculate verdant lawns and over 4,000 rose bushes and other colourful flowers make it a pleasant place to spend the morning. The park really comes to life in October during the annual Rose Festival. Perfectly positioned within the Park is Bloemfontein Zoo, one of South Africa’s oldest zoos. Small in size but thronging with life, the zoo is famous for its primate collection and is home to a staggering 65 species of mammal, including the Big Five, as well as an exciting array of bird life.
Afternoon: Following on from a morning spent in green spaces and the open air admiring fascinating flora and fauna, make your way over to the Oliewenhuis Museum and uncover an impressive collection of art and sculptures by South African artists, including work by Jan Ernst Volschenk and Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, who are famed for their stunning landscape paintings of mesmerising South African scenery. Aside from the exquisite art collections within, the Oliewenhuis Museum wows from the outside as the building itself is a spectacular example of a 1930s Neo-Dutch style mansion with striking white walls, which up until 1985 served as a government house. After exploring the museum’s artistic and cultural delights, step into the gardens and amble around the Sculpture Park and Cement and Mosaic Project for even more captivating collections.
Evening: Finish off the weekend by ascending the historic Naval Hill, the site of the British naval brigade during the Anglo-Boer Wars, and catch breathtaking vistas over the Bloemfontein cityscape. Look out for Naval Hill’s two famous landmarks, a Nelson Mandela statue which is one of the largest sculptures of the rainbow nation’s hero, and the illustrious White Horse carved in to the side of the hill. The location of the horse was named as a Provincial Heritage Site and is surrounded by folklore; some say it is modelled on King Moshoeshoe of Lesotho’s best stallion while the romantics among us believe that every time someone is kissed on Naval Hill that the horse takes one gentle step forward. As Naval Hill is situated within the Franklin Nature Reserve, keep your eyes peeled for wildlife such as giraffes, blue wildebeest, ostriches and zebras roaming the area.
LTG’s Top Tip: Markets are one of the most authentic ways to gain a true sense of a local way of life as you navigate a series of stalls, sourcing out local produce and handicraft at great prices. Held every Saturday between 7am and 1pm in Langenhoven Park, Boeremark is a bustling famer’s market where you can tuck into fresh South African fare, and pick up unique craft and handmade jewellery from artisans while absorbing the infectious buzz of the market. Remember to bring cash with you!
- Anglo-Boer War Museum
- National Museum
- Naval Hill
- Oliewenhuis Museum
- The Orchid House
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