10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bloemfontein

Bloemfontein, the "city of roses" and Boer stronghold, is the capital of the Free State and its economic and cultural heart. As the seat of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court, the city serves as South Africa's judicial capital. Thanks to its central location in the semi-arid highveld, this predominantly modern city is a hub of road and rail traffic and a popular stopover on the journey between the Cape and adjacent provinces. It's also a convenient base to explore other tourist attractions in the Free State. To the northeast, Naval Hill looms over the city with its Observatory Theater and wildlife-rich nature reserve, while in the city itself, sightseers will find an excellent art gallery, as well as museums with fascinating exhibits on the region's cultural and natural history. With a name meaning "Flower Fountain," it's no surprise Bloemfontein is also home to a beautiful botanical garden. In the surrounding areas, animal lovers can commune with big cats at a couple of popular wildlife parks.

1 Editor's Pick Cheetah Experience

Cheetah close-up
Cheetah close-up

As the name suggests, big-cat lovers can commune with cheetahs and other cats at this popular non-profit wildlife sanctuary less than 12 kilometers from Bloemfontein. The "See, Sense, Touch" tour includes cuddling with impossibly cute cheetah cubs as well as caracals and servals, depending on the residents at the time. The park is also home to leopards, lions, and wolves, which avid photographers can snap pictures of at close range. The sanctuary's mission is to direct their love for wildlife into saving "endangered species through captive breeding and awareness," and many of the staff are passionate volunteers. Outdoor tours last between 60 to 80 minutes and include a presentation on safety and behavior guidelines before visitors venture off for fantastic wildlife photo opportunities and hands-on interactions. Bookings are essential.

Address: 1 Maluti Avenue, Bainsvlei, Bloemfontein

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Bloemfontein

2 Bagamoya Wildlife Estate

Lion cub
Lion cub

Animal lovers will be in heaven at Bagamoya Wildlife Estate. About 30 kilometers from Bloemfontein, this wildlife park allows visitors to interact with big cats under the careful supervision of expert staff who love to share their passion for these powerful creatures. Depending on the animals in residence at the time, visitors can bottle-feed lion and tiger cubs, pat cheetah, and even help feed the adult lions. As well as big cat interactions, the park has a small zoo where some of the favorite residents are bat-eared foxes, wallabies, and jackals. Visitors can also join a guided game drive to see other animals such as giraffe, zebra, antelope, ostriches, warthogs, and more. Self-catering chalets are available for overnight stays. Before visiting, call to check the feeding schedules and opening hours.

3 Oliewenhuis Art Gallery

In a Cape Dutch mansion, the Oliewenhuis Art Gallery is named after the wild olive trees on the surrounding hills. The gallery is a satellite of the National Museum in Bloemfontein and its permanent collection focuses exclusively on South African art ranging from the old masters to contemporary paintings and sculpture. Artists include Thomas Baines, Pieter Wenning, and Willem Coetzer. Evocative temporary exhibitions are displayed in an underground reservoir. After admiring all the art inside the gallery, wander into the beautiful gardens to see sculptures of South African historical figures and explore the 12-acre grounds on several walking trails. This is also a great place for a picnic. Don't miss the colorful carousel, which showcases both European and African mythological themes representing the country's mix of cultures.

Address: 36 Aliwal Street, Bloemfontein

4 Free State National Botanical Garden

Free State National Botanical Garden
Free State National Botanical Garden

Snuggled in a gentle valley between dolerite rock outcrops, the Free State National Botanical Garden immerses visitors in natural landscapes of indigenous forest, grasslands, karee trees, and sculptural wild olive. The 70-hectare garden nurtures more than 400 different species of plants (and yes, they include roses), primarily from the Free State, Lesotho, and Northern Cape. Part of the grounds is a carefully tended park with a lawn and lake, but much of it is comprised of indigenous woodlands. Other highlights of the garden include a replica of an ancient settler's cottage, a traditional Sotho hut with a herb garden, red-hot pokers native to this region, and a bird hide overlooking the lake where visitors might spot some of the 144 species recorded in the park. While wandering along the self-guided wilderness trails, keep an eye out for some of the park's small reptiles and mammals such as mongeese. After exploring the park, visitors can enjoy a picnic on the beautiful lawns or refuel at the restaurant.

5 Naval Hill and the Franklin Nature Reserve

Panoramic views of Bloemfontein are the prime draw of Naval Hill, but the area is also home to abundant wildlife and a few other surprises. This gentle hill rising northeast of the city, is also home to the free Franklin Nature Reserve with zebras, springbok, eland, and giraffes as well as many birds. Also on the hill is the former Lamont-Hussey Observatory, now converted into the Observatory Theater, which stages educational shows. While in the area, look for the large white sculpture of a horse on the east side of the hill, which was set up during the Boer War and served as a landmark for the British cavalry. At the foot of Naval Hill, the Orchid House in Hamilton Park has a collection of hundreds of exotic species of these stunning blooms.

6 The National Museum

Established in 1877, the National Museum is a great place for tourists to learn about the region's cultural, natural, and political history as well as its artistic traditions. The museum has a large collection of fossils and archaeological material, including a chronological display of Stone Age and Iron Age tools. In the ethnological section, visitors can learn about the life of the Bushmen, Himba, Zulu, and other cultural groups as well as see displays of African musical instruments. Especially educational for children are the astronomy section, the mammal section, and the historical street scene with recreations of daily life in the late-19th and early-20th century. A satellite museum in Bloemfontein's oldest building, the First Raadsaal, displays exhibits on the history of the Free State.

Address: 36 Aliwal Street, Box 266, Bloemfontein, Free State

Official site: http://www.nasmus.co.za/

7 Anglo Boer War Museum

National Women's Monument
National Women's Monument

The Anglo Boer War museum traces the history from the Boer's perspective of this bitter conflict, which took place from 1899-1902. History fans can gain insight into the context of the war as well as life in the brutal prison camps through dioramas, a collection of art, audio-visual presentations, artifacts, and other exhibits. The permanent collection focuses on some of the key figures of the time and includes a collection of firearms. Particularly poignant are exhibits highlighting the war's impact on black South Africans, as well as a bloodstained baby's bonnet showing the holes of stray bullets. Outside the museum are several memorials including the National Women's Monument, a 37-meter-high obelisk that commemorates the 26,000 women and children who died in British concentration camps during the Boer War. In the base of the monument is an urn containing the ashes of Emily Hobhouse, an Englishwoman who campaigned for better treatment of the internees.

Address: Monument Road, Bloemfontein

8 Loch Logan Waterfront and the Free State Stadium

Free State Stadium
Free State Stadium legio09 / photo modified

Overlooking a lake, the Loch Logan Waterfront's claim to fame is that it's the biggest shopping mall in central South Africa. The mall is usually a hive of activity with plenty of shops, restaurants, and boutiques. On rainy days, this is a great place to catch a movie at the cinema or indulge in some retail therapy. When the sun is shining, shoppers can relax at one of the waterfront restaurants or cafes. Parking is ample, and many sports fans nab a space here when catching a rugby match at the nearby Free State Stadium.

Address: 105 Henry Street, Willows, Bloemfontein

9 Fourth Raadsaal

Fourth Raadsaal
Fourth Raadsaal Colorado Senate GOP / photo modified

Opposite the Court of Appeal is the Fourth Raadsaal, one of the city's most beautiful buildings. The foundation stone was laid by President F. W. Reitz in 1890. and the building was completed in 1893. The Renaissance-style red-brick building flaunts a prominent dome and a portico of Ionic columns. The last session of the Parliament of the old Boer republic of the Orange Free State was held here before the occupation of Bloemfontein by British forces in March 1900. It is now the seat of the Provincial Council of the Free State. In front of the building is a monument (by Coert Steynberg) to Christiaan de Wet, a general during the Boer War. One block west from here, the Bloemfontein City Hall was designed by Sir Gordon Leithe in 1935 and is decorated with Italian marble and intarsia work in Burmese wood.

10 Langenhovenpark Boeremark (Farmers Market)

The popular Boeremark (farmers market and craft market) is a great place to soak up the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Bloemfontein. Tourists and locals alike come here to sample and buy local foods such as delicious pannekoek (Dutch pancakes) as well as home-made jams, dried fruit, and fresh-from-the-farm produce. Other stalls brim with second-hand books, clothes, plants, and furniture. This is also a great place to pick up some souvenirs at the arts and crafts stalls. The market is held every Saturday from 6am to 2pm in Langenhovenpark.

Address: Bankovs Boulevard, Langenhovenpark, Bloemfontein

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