Bloemfontein: a city best known as the judicial capital of South Africa and is home to the Supreme Court of Appeal. To be fair, it is not one of the most popular destinations in the country. That being said, it is often under-rated and there is much more to it than meets the eye.
Bloemfontein is more than just the seventh largest city in the country. Its name means ‘fountain of flowers’ in Dutch, although there is some debate regarding the origin of this city’s name. Today it is celebrated as the ‘city of roses’, with an annual festival that showcases the beautiful flowers that the city’s fertile soil and ideal climate produce.
For these reasons, Bloemfontein was selected as one of the locations for the 2010 FIFA world cup, attracting thousands of tourists from around the globe. Sports enthusiasts will recognize a number of well-known South African sportsmen and women who were born here, such as Allan Donald, Francois Steyn, Ryk Neethling and Zola Budd.
Bloemfontein is situated roughly halfway between Johannesburg and Cape Town along the N1. The roads to Bloemfontein are in exceptional condition, but if you are driving here from the major cities you will have to pay toll fees along the way. You may also encounter roadworks that could delay your journey by up to 20 minutes.
Place of the Cheetah
The Sesotho name for this city is ‘Mangaung’, or ‘place of the cheetah’. For this reason, Bloemfontein’s provincial rugby team is called ‘the Cheetahs’. There is a cheetah breeding and conservation centre that is open to the public. Here visitors can learn about and witness these beautiful creatures first-hand, while at the same time contributing financially to sustaining this important project.
Explore Bloemfontein’s history
Bloemfontein’s history as a city goes back to the 1800s. The city was established in 1846, originally a fort. During the Anglo-Boer war, British forces captured this city and established a concentration camp for the Afrikaner (“Boer”) women and children. The National Women’s Monument pays tribute to the 26000 women and children who died in these camps.
You can learn more about it when you are there by taking some time to visit the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the National Museum, as well as a number of battlefield sites that are scattered in and around the city. You can also visit Naval Hill and Hertzog square if you want to visit some significant sites relating to the Anglo-Boer War.
The city is also significant in political circles as it is the birthplace of the African National Congress and the National Party. These are two political parties that were hugely active during the apartheid regime. The African National Congress remains the ruling party in South Africa and was elected to power in the momentous elections of 1994 that allowed all races to vote for the first time in decades when Nelson Mandela became president.
Bloemfontein is also famous for being the birthplace of legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien. Although Hobbit fans might be disappointed to learn that the house he stayed no longer exists, you can still find a hotel called ‘the Hobbit Boutique Hotel’ that is dedicated to preserving memorabilia relating to the life and times of Tolkien and his epic novels.
More things to do in Bloemfontein
If you prefer to spend your time in Bloemfontein outdoors, you might like to spend a couple of hours at the Free State National Botanical Garden. Or you can visit the Soetdoring Nature Reserve where you can take a picnic, fish, or go for a game drive. The nature reserve is home to a number of different species including springbok, kudus, otters, spotted genet and wildcats. You can also follow one of the one-day hiking trails that meander along the Modder River, suitable for the whole family. There is also a lion sanctuary close by.
If you are looking for something fun to do for the whole family, choosing to spend a day at Gwenbali Water World is a no-brainer. Not only will the water park keep your kids entertained, but there are a number of other activities that will bring a smile to their faces such as paintball. You can take a picnic and make a day of it.
Adults in the family can also have fun at the Windmill Casino and Entertainment Centre, where the restaurants are a-plenty and so are the entertainment facilities for kids.
The climate and atmospheric conditions around Bloemfontein are ideal for star-gazing, so make sure your tourist activities are not limited to daytime sojourns if you want to see the starry sky of the southern hemisphere at its best.
The best time to visit Bloemfontein
In Bloemfontein, the summer is hot and the winter is icy. Summers in Bloemfontein are also characterized by refreshing afternoon thunderstorms. However, to avoid the extreme temperatures, the best time to visit is September to November (spring) and March to May (autumn).
Bloemfontein airport and getting around in Bloemfontein
The main airport in Bloemfontein is Bram Fischer Airport, named after a South African lawyer who defended anti-apartheid activists. It was opened in 1961 and was previously called Bloemfontein Airport. It hosts the following airlines, providing mainly passenger flights to George, Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban:
The airport is located about 20km outside of Bloemfontein. There are restaurants, shops, a business lounge and access to ATMs. There are many accommodation options outside of the airport that can suit the pocket of any traveller, whether you are a business traveller or looking for budget accommodation.
The easiest and most convenient way of travelling around Bloemfontein is by hiring your own car which you can get from the airport. However, this is also the most expensive option. Public transport options in this city are few and far between. Taking a public taxi is an option and is relatively cheap but there is no fixed schedule and can be unreliable and dangerous. You also have the option of booking a taxi, which can be quite expensive and you will have to pre-arrange the cost and departure point. Taxis are preferred by many because they have the added advantage of allowing people to take the road less travelled without being tied to a schedule.