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The refined, historic town of Grahamstown is located in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The town is a major centre for learning with the esteemed Rhodes University at its core.
Grahamstown is regarded as many things; a frontier town where British and Xhosa battled to the bitter end, the city of Saints, owing to the large amount of churches scattered throughout the town, Settler City with its connotation to British settlers who arrived here en masse in 1820, and South Africa’s art and science capital where two popular festivals take place annually.
Being a student town, Grahamstown has a youthful cheerfulness about it that contrasts with the harsh and unforgiving past with which this town was once associated.
Top 8 reasons to visit Grahamstown
1. You can wander the streets to view the magnificent Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the historic cathedral and 40 churches – some with clock towers, and climb Makana’s Kop where the Xhosa made their last stand against the British. The 1820 Settler Monument is also worth visiting, as is the Provost prison (opened by appointment).
2. The Grahamstown National Arts Festival, Africa’s largest, is an 11-day uncensored celebration of art showcasing all manner of art forms, from street theatre to dance. An alternate fringe programme allows any artist to participate, however, the artist must pay their own costs.
3. The National Science Festival – Scifest – brings together the finest scientific minds to discuss and explore a particular theme. The event draws over 50000 visitors annually and renowned local and international speakers are invited to present their views on the chosen subject.
4. A visit to the Makana Botanical Gardens is a relaxing affair amongst the greenery, colourful indigenous plants and ancient trees. The Garden occasionally has free music concerts, and the Grahamstown Flower Festival is held here in early spring.
5. The Observatory Museum has a fascinating Victorian camera obscura, one of only two remaining worldwide. This optical device is setup to project a panoramic view of the town directly onto a flat surface.
6. You are 65kms away from the Eastern Cape’s premier private nature park, the 25000ha Shamwari Game Reserve. Enjoy a 4-hour game drive to see the Big 5 (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo) and visit the wildlife rehabilitation centre to see the sterling conservation work being done here.
7. Join the Spirits of the Past Tour for a visit into the Valley of the Ancient Voices where rock art and various artefacts have been discovered. The tour includes a lunch over an oration of wonderful stories relating to Grahamstown.
8. Spend the day on the beautiful swimming beaches of Port Alfred, 55kms from Grahamstown. The consistent breaks at the pier is the local surfer’s secret and anglers catch huge sharks at the river mouth.
The nearest international airport to Grahamstown is Port Elizabeth International, 130kms away. East London airport is 170kms for domestic flights only. Car rental companies operate out of Grahamstown and the main airports, however, a vehicle can be ordered online. All major intercity bus lines run via Grahamstown to either Cape Town or Port Elizabeth.
Did you know?
Grocott’s Mail is the oldest independent community newspaper in South Africa, still being published under the same name and from the same building in Grahamstown. The only change is that the newspaper can now be read online! Rhodes University journalism students contribute many of the articles.
The South African Library for the Blind is based in Grahamstown. The library lends out recorded audio and Braille books, along with playback equipment, to the visually and physically impaired. A free postal service ensures that books and equipment are delivered to members located throughout the country.
For those who are a little adventurous and enjoy the company of other travellers, you can decide to stay at a Backpackers. Often having to share a room with others as well as costs, it is incredibly inexpensive. Often the best choice for those who may be just passing through or will be occupied for the majority of their day. It comes with the most basic amenities and is often formed as part of a bar or similar establishment. Not recommended for those who want privacy, this is best suited for those who wouldn’t mind meeting various other interesting travellers.