Attractions and Places / Explore Our Cities

Exploring Pietermaritzburg


The Natal Midlands of South Africa are unrivalled in their beauty. They are characterised by deep valleys that are blanketed by gorgeous jade-coloured vegetation, dense forests of towering trees, and rolling hills adorned by flowers and greenery. In the heart of this idyll is the city of Pietermaritzburg, where these beautiful surrounds are complemented by an undeniable sense of history and heritage.

The history of Pietermaritzburg dates back to 1837, when the first Voortrekkers arrived in the area and defeated the Zulu king, Dingane, in the Battle of Blood River. It is believed that the city was named after two of the Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief and Gerrit Maritz. Pietermaritzburg also earned its place on the historical ‘map’ for being the spot at which Mahatma Ghandi was thrown off a train for sitting in the first-class carriage, despite his having a first-class ticket. This was as a result of opposition from a white passenger during the apartheid regime. It was at this train station that a freezing Ghandi decided to stay in South Africa and fight this racial oppression.

Today, Pietermaritzburg is the capital city of KwaZulu-Natal and a bustling hotspot for tourism. There is a distinct colonial look and feel to the town, which only adds to its charm. Still, it is equipped with ample modern facilities and amenities that include shopping malls, restaurants, industrial centres, office blocks, luxurious hotels, and more.

With its rich history, it is no wonder that Pietermaritzburg offers plenty of museums and old-world architecture for cultural enthusiasts to enjoy. However, there are also plenty of natural attractions for those that want to experience the fauna and flora of this spectacular country.

The Albert Falls Dam Nature Reserve offers prime game viewing and one of the most scenic dams in the world. Its wild residents include the red hartebeest, oribi, rhinoceros, zebra and springbok. There are also many bird species that call this home, making it a veritable wonderland for wildlife photographers or those that simply want to see the best of the Midlands. There are a number of nature trails to explore, as well as gorgeous little picnic spots.

The Midlands Meander is a route that begins just north of Pietermaritzburg and showcases the very best in terms of scenery, wildlife, culture and activities. More than 160 different restaurants, galleries, shops, markets, guest houses, and historical monuments are members of this route, making it a very special showcase of KwaZulu-Natal.

Other nearby attractions include:

  • Midmar Dam – this is a stunning spot for watersports of various kinds; ranging from sailing and windsurfing to kayaking and kiting.
  • The Pietermaritzburg Model Engineering Society – explore the mini locomotives and take a ride through the pretty surrounds on one of the steam- or diesel-powered trains.
  • The African Bird of Prey Sanctuary – this is about 20 minutes away from the heart of Pietermaritzburg and invites visitors to meet and learn about raptors and other wild birds.
  • Ghandi Statue – situated in Church Street, this bronze statue is an important commemoration of an incredible humanitarian.