Bloemfontein
Close to the ground.

GPS: S 29 06.965 E 026 13.021 | pop. 370,000 | elevation 1,385 m/4,544 ft

Bloemfontein is the Free State’s largest city and capital as well as the judicial capital of the country. It is traditionally - and continues to be - a conservative city and stronghold of Afrikaner nationalism. Many people traveling through the country spend time in Bloemfontein only because of its central location on the N1 and substantial distance from other sizeable cities. Few consider Bloemfeontein a tourist destination in its own right.

Manguang Township & Thomas Maphikela House

Mangaung Township, located just outside of Bloemfontein, is the famed birthplace of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1912, prominent black leaders gathered here and forged the foundations of what would eventually become the ruling party of the country. Among the founding members was Thomas Maphikela, and today the house where he once resided and the site of many pivotal meetings has been declared a national monument.

Visits to the Manguang Township and the Thomas Maphikela House can be arranged through the locally run tour company Vuka Tours. Depending on your interest, tours may include meals at a local township restaurant or if you're up for some township nightlife, Vuka Tours can take you out drinking at the local shebeens.


Franklin Game Reserve

Franklin Game Reserve is conveniently located in the middle of the city atop Naval Hill. The game reserve has a main loop road and a number of hiking trails from parking sites, as well as some spectacular views of the city. There are a handful of giraffe and antelope roaming the park and visitors are allowed to walk around freely - just keep your distance from the occasionally aggressive wildebeest.


Oliewenhuis Art Museum

Oliewenhuis Art Museum has large permanent and temporary exhibits featuring South African works housed in a neo-Dutch style mansion and former state house. The exhibits on the main floor exclusively display works of South African artists, and an excavated underground reservoir built in the early 1900s has recently been restored to serve as a second gallery. Behind the museum and overlooking the gardens is The Terrace restaurant.


National Women's Memorial & Anglo-Boer War Museum

National Women's Memorial and Anglo-Boer War Museum is a well curated museum with war memorabilia, photographs and displays on the British concentration camps that held Boer women and children, as well as prisoners of war. Particularly riveting are the displays on the thousands of POWs that were shipped overseas to camps in St. Helena, Bermuda, Sri Lanka and India and then later repatriated back to South Africa.


National Museum

National Museum is a natural history, culture and art museum with an extensive variety of exhibits ranging from dinosaur fossils, and displays explaining the development of the solar system, to the evolution of homo sapiens and the unfolding of the Anglo-Boer War.


Bloemfontein Zoo

Bloemfontein Zoo has numerous animals on display in separate enclosures, including lions, tigers, elehants and wild dogs to name a few. When we visited they no longer had any ligers - the offspring of a male lion and female tiger.


Waterfront Mall

Waterfront Mall is the main downtown shopping center complete with a manmade pond and water fountain. There are a few restaurants with a view overlooking the water as well as a Woolworths, Pick 'n Pay, an Internet café and clothing and department stores.


Mimosa Mall

Mimosa Mall is Bloemfontein's other major shopping center with a Woolworths, Game, cinema, Standard Bank and ABSA bank, and a handful of department and clothing stores.


Bloemfontein has many accommodation options in the budget and mid-range category, but given the number of options that exist, finding a quality place to sleep isn't as easy as in many other cities.


Budget

Naval Hill Backpackers

Naval Hill Backpackers is located inside a converted water pump station originally built in 1896. The main space is divided to resemble township tin shacks, complete with cramped noisy living quarters and colorful graffiti coated walls. The place definitely has character, but hasn't won any awards for cleanliness.


Evergreen Accommodation

Evergreen Accommodation doesn't have a backpacker feel or much of an atmosphere, but it is far better than other surrounding budget options if you're just looking for a clean bed. There are simple en suite rooms with twin beds behind the main lodge and a basic kitchen that is available for use in the main building.


Mid-range

Ansu Guesthouse

Ansu Guesthouse has a private en suite room and a comfortable 4-person self-catering cottage in a building beside the main residence. Both are decorated with clean and cozy linens and furniture. Overlooking the swimming pool is a small gazebo and braai area, and a tennis court graces the back yard. The guesthouse is within walking distance of a small shopping center with a few decent restaurants.


The Milner House

The Milner House is a newer Bloemfontein guesthouse with nine sleek rooms and a large two-story foyer. Each room has TV & AC and large bathrooms, and all upstairs rooms have balconies. Downstairs is a small but comfortable lounge and cocktail bar.


Eko Guesthouse

Eko Guesthouse has just two soft and relatively private rooms, each en suite, with TV and AC. Both rooms have their own entrance and there is a pleasant ivy-laden patio and braai overlooking an expansive backyard garden.


Top-end

The Urban Hotel

The Urban Hotel, winner of the Free State Architectural Institute's "Top Architectural Design Hotel of 2009," is an ultra-modern hotel with 60 rooms, a lounge and a cocktail bar. The small stylish rooms are accented with bright graphic wall treatments and all have TV, AC and large bathrooms. The hotel is located near Mimosa Mall in a more recently developed part of the city.


Flo Ben Guest House

Flo Ben Guest House is a 4-star guesthouse located in the residential neighborhood on the northern end of the city with five rooms, each with comfy traditional furnishings, TV and AC. The rooms open up to a large swimming pool beside a braai and lapa area, perfect for sundowners. Homemade dinners are also available upon request.


Seven on Kellner

Seven on Kellner is one of the hippest restaurants in town. Set in a Victorian building with lush colors and dim lights, well-trained staff serve up fresh and flavorful food including oysters, perfectly cooked fillets and gourmet wood-fired pizza.


The Terrace

The Terrace is located behind the Oliewenhuis Art Museum. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating and overlooks the museum's garden, one of the most beautiful sights in Bloemfontein. It has a large menu of primarily Mediterranean style dishes, a solid breakfast menu, and fantastic quiche.


Bella Casa Trattoria

Bella Casa Trattoria is a surprisingly funky and comfortable Italian restaurant separated into several small, creatively decorated rooms. The kitchen serves up saucy handmade pasta and there's a wall-sized board full of daily specials. The terrace and attached bar are also lovely.


Avanti

Avanti is a large two-story Italian restaurant and cocktail lounge that is fairly upmarket for being in the middle of a mall and has the best view of the shopping center's pond. Besides the standard pizza and pasta pickings, there is a good selection of seafood. The atmosphere flips from restaurant to cocktail lounge on weekend evenings.


Cubana

Cubana is a Latin style lounge and restaurant with plush sofas, a wall of hookahs and a cocktail list almost as long as the food menu. It's a good place for brunch, which is served until 2pm, but even better for some Cuban appetizers and a caipirinha.


Die Mystic Boer

Die Mystic Boer is a nice foil to the Second Avenue scene with its alternative and punk clientele and indie rock music. The venue sprawls through a series of rooms and has two bars, a pool table, fireplace and an outdoor deck. The bar also serves a full food menu with some great wood-fired pizza.


Barba's Café

Barba's Café is the see-and-be-seen spot on Second Avenue for the twenty-something crowd. There is table seating on the covered outdoor terrace where drinks and light meals are served. Inside, the large bar gives partygoers enough liquid courage to fire up the dance floor as DJs spin. Wednesday nights boast half-price buckets of booze - in other words, cocktails as big as your head.


Stones

Stones is a popular student bar. On weekends the place is packed, both on the ground level and the upper deck, with a young crowd out to party hardy.


Second Avenue

Second Avenue is a little rough around the edges, but the drinks are cheap and there's no need to dress to impress or worry about anyone judging you as you guzzle a beer. They also serve inexpensive pub meals during the day.