My Andre and I went exploring over the Freedom Day/Workers Day long weekend (just declare the entire month of April one loooong weekend already! #AstaForPresident) and spent a day in the pretty heritage city of Grahamstown.
Ten reasons why you should visit Grahamstown, city of saints, settlers and students:
- It’s a city disguised as a town
Although technically still categorized as a town (with a population of 70,000), Grahamstown is considered a city – albeit one that has maintained its small-town Victorian charm. It has some of the benefits of city life, such as a wide selection of restaurants, café’s and shops, and a bustling social scene thanks to the student population, but with it comes the added benefit of being completely surrounded by…
- Amazing 1800’s architecture…
…which does a pretty good job at making you feel like you’ve travelled back in time. Grahamstown has beautiful examples of Georgian-Settler, Neo-Gothic, Victorian and Edwardian architecture. Most of the buildings have been beautifully preserved, but the most impressive structure is the Cathedral of St Michael and St George, which took 128 years to complete, and has the tallest steeple in South Africa. Entering the cathedral for the first time is a religious experience in itself! Be sure to ask about the three wooden mice when you visit the cathedral 😉
- It’s home to the biggest arts festival in Africa
Once a year in the heart of winter, the Grahamstown National Arts Festival attracts over 50,000 arts and culture lovers from around the world during what is also known as, ’Eleven Days of Amazing’. Currently in its 43rd year, it’s the largest celebration of arts in Africa. This year will be our first year attending the festival – meet us in St. Grahamstown!
- It’s filled with quirky history
Grahamstown is home to more than 60 religious buildings, hence it’s nickname, ‘City of Saints’. There is however another interesting story attached to the nickname, according to Wikipedia: “It is said that in the 1840’s Royal Engineers stationed in Grahamstown were in need of building tools. They sent a message to Cape Town to request a vice to be forwarded to them from the ordnance stores. A reply came back, ‘Buy vice locally’, to which they responded, ‘No vice in Grahamstown,” and so the legend was born. I much prefer this version of the story! 😉
- It’s home to the oldest postbox in South Africa…
…and there are only twenty of them left in the entire world! I must confess, we drove around a fair bit before we located said postbox (thank you, Google Maps!) and when we finally stumbled upon it we were a bit disappointed to find that it wasn’t surrounded by rainbows, glitter and stardust, and that it in fact lives by its lonesome on a traffic island in the middle of nowhere. Still, IT’S THE OLDEST POSTBOX IN SOUTH AFRICA.
- Hug a giant pencil
The National English Literary Museum moved into a fancy new building in 2016, turning it into South Africa’s first ‘green’ museum (the roof of the building is made from natural materials, which enables constant temperature control, and reduces electricity use). The museum boasts an impressive collection of cross-genre literature, but most importantly, THERE ARE GIGANTIC YELLOW PENCILS IN THE GARDEN. Sadly, we didn’t get to hug a pencil this time around, but it’s on the list for our next visit!
- Drink ALL the coffee
Grahamstown, city of saints, settlers and THE BEST COFFEE IN THE EASTERN CAPE. No lies. We sampled the most delicious cups of caffeine goodness at Homeground Coffee Roasters and Hand Made Coffees, and I’ve since been told that The Provost Café makes a mean cup of single-origin coffee.
- Grahamstown Morning Market
We initially planned on visiting Grahamstown on a Saturday specifically to visit the weekly farmer’s market, but seeing as we went on a Friday this one’s back on the to-do list. I would love to get my hands on some local fresh produce to create a Grahamstown inspired smoothie…
- To gawk at Grahamstown’s very own Coelacanth
Thought to have been extinct, and rediscovered in the Eastern Cape in 1938, a new Coelacanth fossil species was discovered in 2015, a mere 100km from the 1930’s find. The rather queer-looking fish is currently on display at The SA Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity. Go get your fish on.
- To enjoy fantastic town views
Here you have a number of options. You can end off your day trip by taking in the spectacular views via the Grey Dam Toposcope (a 5km hike), via the only working camera obscura in the southern hemisphere, at the Observatory Museum (a short walk from the centre of town), or during sundowners at the Settlers Monument.
See you at Fest in July!