Pietermaritzburg
Close to the ground.

GPS: S 29 36.159 E 030 22.812 | pop. 540,000 | elevation 653m/2,142 ft

The Natal Midlands cover the interior stretch of land starting around Pietermaritzburg and climb inland towards the Drakensburg Mountains. The area is dotted with small towns surrounded by rolling grassy hills, rivers and waterfalls. Northeast of the Midlands are the Battlefields where numerous historic and bloody battles were fought among the Zulu, Boers and British over the past centuries. Today there are museums, monuments, original forts and burial grounds dedicated to all who fought.

Pietermaritzburg is the capital and second largest city of KwaZulu-Natal. They city has a number of grand historical buildings that have fallen into various states of disrepair, which gives the downtown area a haunted, post-colonial feel. In 1893, Gandhi was famously thrown off a train here because he refused to leave the first class carriage when a white man objected to his presence because he was colored. A bronze statue of Gandhi now stands in the city center.

Tatham Art Gallery

Tatham Art Gallery originated back in 1903 when Ada Tatham, wife of the then Judge President of Natal, raised funds to purchase the first artworks. The gallery continued to grow with sizeable contributions from Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Whitwell. In 1990, the gallery moved into the historic old Supreme Court building where it is housed today. It has a range of permanent and traveling exhibitions that include British, French and South African collections. Inside the gallery is a craft shop and The Chefs Table Coffee Shop (033-342-8327, 10am-4pm) where you can enjoy light meals and refreshments.


KwaZulu Natal National Botanical Garden

KwaZulu Natal National Botanical Garden is a lovely place for a stroll or a picnic - you can bring your own or purchase lunch from the onsite restaurant Strelitzia Room (8:30am-4pm). The garden primarily features plants from the eastern part of the country with a special section dedicated to plants traditionally used by the Zulu for medicine, crafts and food.


Msunduzi Museum

Msunduzi Museum includes the Voortrekker Church of the Vow, built in 1849, and the former house of Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius, built in 1842. The complex was formerly the Voortrekker Museum, but has been renamed and expanded into a multicultural museum, and includes a replica of a Shiva Temple and a Zulu Hut. The new main building, the former Longmarket Girls School, focuses on the culture and history of the KwaZulu-Natal region including displays on architectural heritage, sports, military and transportation.


Natal Museum

Natal Museum is a cultural and natural history museum featuring numerous stuffed mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and a life-size model of a T-Rex. There is also a geological and paleontological exhibit. Upstairs is an Internet café and snack bar.


Old Prison/Project Gateway

Old Prison/Project Gateway is a church-based community organization housed on the grounds of the old Pietermaritzburg prison, which was built in 1862. Funds raised from tours of the facilities as well as the onsite Old Prison Café support a number of community projects including a homeless shelter, business training, and HIV/AIDS education. Tours last about an hour and cover the prison facilities, prison life and the stories of some of the more prominent political prisoners who spent years of their life confined here. The area surrounding the old prison gets mixed reviews on safety, so be careful if walking.


Wylde Ride

Wylde Ride is run out of Sleepy Hollow Backpackers and specializes in whitewater rafting and cycling trips ranging from afternoon to multiday excursions. Cycling destinations can include Drakensberg, Wild Coast, Battlefields and Lesotho.


Over the Top Adventures

Over the Top Adventures has all sorts of adventure and extreme sports on tap including abseiling 107 meters along Howick Falls (R300/person), South Africa's second highest waterfall. Other activities include hiking, rock climbing and whitewater rafting.


Rosehurst

Rosehurst is a packed "Victorian emporium" with a unique collection of antiques, fine china, pampering natural soaps, handmade Belgian chocolates, a colorful bead shop and more. Follow your nose into the backyard garden and café, which offers specialty coffee in the midst of a lush garden. Bordering the garden is also a small bookstore.


Church Street Market

Church Street Market is a large market that takes over the street and the plaza in front of the Tatham Gallery every Saturday. Vendors sell everything from crafts and jewelry to electronics and fruit.


Liberty Midlands Mall

Liberty Midlands Mall is a large modern mall just outside of the city with clothing, department and electronics stores, and a number of restaurants and a movie theater.


Pietermaritzburg Accommodation Network

Pietermaritzburg Accommodation Network offers a good selection of B&Bs and various accommodation options both in and around Pietermaritzburg.


Budget

Prince Alfred Street Backpackers

Prince Alfred Street Backpackers is one of the most luxurious boutique backpackers in the country with tastefully decorated private rooms and comfortable double beds. The funky-chic atmosphere is top notch and grounds include a comfortable living room, dining room and backyard, a well-equipped kitchen, good music selection and a personable host.


Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow is a friendly but dated backpackers that may remind you of your grandma's house, in a sweet way. It is located near the student section of town in the vicinity of a handful of restaurants and bars, but not within walking distance of downtown.


Umphiti Backpackers

Umphiti Backpackers is a large backpackers in an old Victorian brick house with a bird farm and spacious garden in back. The place has a slightly disorganized feel to it and could use a little TLC, but can be a fun place when a group gathers at the bar.


Mid-range

Heritage House

Heritage House is a 100-year-old red brick home with private rooms and cottages surrounding a swimming pool and braai area. Owners Mike and Penny will welcome you with a smile and large English breakfast. Each room is outfitted with its own microwave and mini-fridge and the family suite has its own kitchen. It's conveniently located within short walking distance to downtown.


The Little Bigg Guest House

The Little Bigg Guest House has eight clean but basic rooms in a quiet and welcoming home. There is ample deck space for relaxing and a pool for hot summer days. The two-bedroom cottage is perfect for a family.


Valley Vista Lodge

Valley Vista Lodge is perched atop a hill in a leafy Maritzburg suburb with sweeping panoramic views of the city below. Its 10 spacious rooms are spread between two thatched roof houses decorated with African artifacts and sculptures. Rooms also have verandahs, prime spots for a sundowner. Full kitchens are available in some units for those who wish to self-cater.


Top-end

Briar Ghyll Lodge

Briar Ghyll Lodge is an idyllic 19th-century estate just on the outskirts of town. The ivy-covered Victorian homestead and spacious private cottages offer old-world charm in the midst of beautifully maintained gardens. It's an incredible value for the price and guests have full access to private tennis courts.


Botanic Hotel

Botanic Hotel is a sleek and polished hotel just opposite the Botanic Gardens. Its modern rooms are a welcomed change from the prevailing grandmotherly feel of most accommodation options in town, and its full restaurant and bar can cater to your every gastronomic whim. Ask for rooms with a balcony for lush views of the gardens. The hotel's strong commitment to corporate social responsibility and employment equity shows through their professional and attentive staff.


Pesto

Pesto has solidly good Italian food that will not disappoint. It serves pasta, pizza and a handful of fish options with many of their dishes emphasizing good veal and robust sauces. You can sit inside the cozy trattoria or outside in the gazebo.


The Butchery

The Butchery is in the same building and by the same owner as Pesto but has a bit more of a local casual feel. The restaurant specializes in cuts of meat and has specials every day of the week such as half-price burger Mondays, student specials on Tuesday, and ladies' night on Wednesdays.


Quincy's Cafe

Quincy's Cafe, with a large shaded outdoor seating section, does everything from breakfast and light meals to full meals, steaks and cocktails. If you are looking for a breakfast spot, the Eggs Benedict is the best - and sauciest - in town.


Tandoor

Tandoor is the best Indian fare in Maritzburg with home-style spicy curries and excellent fresh naan right out of a traditional clay oven. We highly recommend the exquisitely creamy Vegetable Korma. Take out is also available.


Rosehurst

Rosehurst feels like stepping into the secret garden. Slowly sip gourmet coffee and enjoy a delicious breakfast, light lunch or pastries as you admire the lush Victorian gardens that surround you. The Rosehurst also has the most unique collections of antiques and other fine trinkets in town. Don't forget to pick up some handmade Belgian chocolates before you leave.


Upper Crust Bakery

Upper Crust Bakery is a small downtown corner bakery and eatery serving pizza by the slice, sandwiches and a large assortment of pastries, cakes and pies.


Chef's Table

Chef's Table is a colorful and light little eatery in the Tatham Art Gallery. Grab a coffee or light lunch on the balcony and watch the town go by.


Franki Bananaz

Franki Bananaz is a popular cocktail bar with one of the best vibes in town. Tuesday night is ladies' night with R15 mixed drinks, and on Friday DJs spin for the overflowing clubbing crowd.


The Crowded House

The Crowded House is a favorite with thirsty university students. Dancing is riotous and patrons are known to smash bottles on the floor in celebration.


The Red Door

The Red Door is a local rock venue that hosts lighter folk bands every other Tuesday, but otherwise caters to a heavy metal rocker crowd with live bands Thursday through Saturday. Mosh pits occasionally form by the end of the night.


The Stagecoach

The Stagecoach, a popular spot for rugby games, is a pub and restaurant with live music every Monday and Wednesday night. It has a full menu with tasty burgers and happy hour drink specials from 4pm-6pm, Monday through Thursday.


Franki Bananaz

Franki Bananaz is a popular cocktail bar with one of the best vibes in town. Tuesday night is ladies' night with R15 mixed drinks, and on Friday DJs spin for the overflowing clubbing crowd.


The Crowded House

The Crowded House is a favorite with thirsty university students. Dancing is riotous and patrons are known to smash bottles on the floor in celebration.


The Red Door

The Red Door is a local rock venue that hosts lighter folk bands every other Tuesday, but otherwise caters to a heavy metal rocker crowd with live bands Thursday through Saturday. Mosh pits occasionally form by the end of the night.


The Stagecoach

The Stagecoach, a popular spot for rugby games, is a pub and restaurant with live music every Monday and Wednesday night. It has a full menu with tasty burgers and happy hour drink specials from 4pm-6pm, Monday through Thursday.