With its parks, botanical gardens, leafy suburbs and surrounding countryside, Pietermaritzburg is known as the “City of Flowers”. Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings provide a glimpse into the colonial past of this modern, cosmopolitan city that blends Zulu, Indian, Boer and British cultures.
Soak up some of the city's pastoral treasures at the KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden. Stroll among impressive specimens of camphor trees, tulip trees, giant figs and magnolias. Enjoy the roses, azaleas and bougainvillea in Alexandra Park. View hundreds of indigenous and exotic butterflies at Butterflies for Africa. The center’s walk-through Butterfly House also has a fabulous monkey enclosure.
Get in touch with Pietermaritzburg’s past on one of the Town Trails tours, a collection of self-guided walks that take in 50 of the city’s historic sites. Go to Pietermaritzburg train station where the father of Indian Independence and peaceful protest, Mahatma Gandhi, was arrested for traveling in a whites-only compartment. Stand by the hitching rails outside the Imperial Hotel where Napoleon is believed to have tied up his horse.
Marvel at the City Hall, an imposing colonial-era redbrick building which is reputed to be the largest brick building in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the city’s most elegant structures is the Old Supreme Court, built in 1875. Today, it’s home to the Tatham Art Gallery which holds collections of South African, British and French art dating back to the 18th century.
Familiarize yourself with Zulu culture at the Natal Museum which celebrates the natural and cultural history of the KwaZulu-Natal region, otherwise known as the "Zulu Kingdom." Shoppers will love the pedestrianized parts of the Central Business District. After browsing the independent specialty stores, galleries and craft shops, the city’s rich cafe, tavern and restaurant scene awaits.
Pietermaritzburg is approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the northwest of Durban and 300 miles (490 kilometers) south of Johannesburg. It is situated on the main highway between the two cities and is also served by regular bus and rail services from both places.