10 Places to visit in Bloemfontein

Posted on 13 November 2023 By Nelson Kalula

Bloemfontein, the judicial heart of South Africa and its seventh-largest city, is a place where nature’s splendor and cultural richness intertwine, earning it the affectionate title of the “City of Roses.” This city is not just a hub of legal significance, being home to the Supreme Court of Appeal, but also a canvas of natural beauty, historical sites, and artistic wonder. From the serenity of the Franklin Game Reserve to the cultural beacon that is the Sand du Plessis Theatre, Bloemfontein is a trove of experiences.

For those shaping their African adventure, overlooking Bloemfontein’s museums and attractions would be to miss a vital piece of the continent’s soul. Here are ten must-visit destinations in Bloemfontein that promise to enrich your journey:

1. Naval Hill Nature Reserve

Naval Hill, a beacon in Bloemfontein’s landscape, gets its name from the British naval guns positioned here during the Anglo-Boer War. Notable for its unique white horse landmark, this hill is a haven for runners and nature enthusiasts, offering well-paved paths and a chance to encounter a diverse array of animals. The view from the summit is breathtaking, presenting a sweeping panorama of the city below. This spot has become a cherished tradition for many travelers, with yearly visits to seek out the resident giraffes and capture the beauty of Bloemfontein. The reserve boasts the tallest statue of Nelson Mandela, adding historical depth to its natural beauty.

With free entry, Naval Hill is a photographer’s dream and an ideal spot for morning runs, cycling, or enjoying a meal at The Edge restaurant while watching the sunset. It’s a place where history, nature, and urban life converge, offering a unique glimpse into the heart of Bloemfontein.

2. Oliewenhuis Art Museum

Oliewenhuis Art Museum - Exciting things to do in the Free State

Source: Facebook / @Oliewenhuis Art Museum

Cradled within the embrace of one of Bloemfontein’s most splendid gardens, the Oliewenhuis Art Museum stands as a beacon of African artistry. This unique museum, nestled in a lush natural setting that borders its grounds, is not just an art gallery but a historical monument in its own right. As the sole art museum in the Free State and one of the youngest in South Africa, Oliewenhuis is a treasure trove of cultural heritage.

The museum, housed in the majestic Oliewenhuis Mansion, is a masterpiece of Neo-Dutch architecture, conceived by William Mollison and his assistant John Stockwing Cleland in 1935. Completed in 1941, this grand mansion on Grant’s Hill has been a witness to history, serving as the residence for the Governor General of the Union of South Africa post-1942. Its walls resonate with the echoes of royal visits, notably by King George VI and his family in 1947, and later, as the official residence for State Presidents of South Africa after the establishment of the Republic in 1961.

Oliewenhuis’s mission transcends the display of art; it is a custodian of South Africa’s artistic heritage, dedicated to the collection, conservation, and exhibition of works that reflect the nation’s rich and diverse art history. With its free admission, the museum not only offers a curated journey through both historical and contemporary art but also invites visitors to explore its magnificent gardens, winding hiking trails, and serene picnic spots. Open weekdays from 8 am to 5 pm and weekends from 9 am to 4 pm, Oliewenhuis is more than an art museum—it’s a sanctuary where history, nature, and art converge, offering a tranquil retreat for contemplation and inspiration.

3. Nelson Mandela Statue

Places to visit in Bloemfontein - NM statue

Source: Facebook / Department of Tourism

Dominating the landscape of Naval Hill, the imposing Nelson Mandela Statue stands as a beacon of inspiration in Bloemfontein. Towering at 8 meters, this larger-than-life representation of Mandela, with a raised fist, is not just an artwork but a symbol of freedom and resilience. Despite some confusing signage, the journey to the statue is a pilgrimage worth undertaking. Visitors are treated to breathtaking views of Bloemfontein and a chance to witness the local wildlife.

The absence of a restaurant lends a serene atmosphere, perfect for introspection. This site is not just about admiring a monumental figure but about absorbing the spirit of a city and its hero.

4. Langenhoven Mark/Market (Boeremark)

Langenhoven Park Farmers Market - Exciting things to do in the Free State

Source: Facebook / @ Langenhoven Mark/Market

The market is a sensory feast, where every aisle presents a new discovery – from the freshest meat, fruits, and vegetables to an astonishing variety of clothing and shoes. It’s a place where the aroma of freshly brewed coffee from quaint coffee shops mingles with the laughter of children enjoying pony rides and jumping castles. As you meander through the market, you’ll encounter a multitude of stalls, each offering unique wares, be it the latest in fashion, the charm of old and new trinkets, or essentials for the perfect afternoon braai.

Die Boeremark is more than a shopping destination; it’s a social event, a gathering spot where locals and visitors alike can spend hours indulging in the simple pleasures of good food, great finds, and friendly conversation. It’s a place where you can connect with the pulse of Bloemfontein, meet the people behind the products, and appreciate the craftsmanship and care poured into every item. Whether you’re hunting for something specific, or simply seeking a leisurely stroll and a bite to eat, Die Boeremark Langenhovenpark promises a delightful experience. With its vast array of offerings and warm, welcoming atmosphere, it’s no wonder that this farmers market is a beloved weekly ritual for many, a place where community, culture, and commerce joyously intertwine.

5. Free State National Botanical Garden

Free State National Botanical Garden - Places to visit in Bloemfontein

Source: Facebook / @ Free State National Botanical Garden

The Free State National Botanical Garden, often an undiscovered gem for many locals, stands as a haven of tranquility on the outskirts of Bloemfontein. Encompassing 70 hectares of meticulously maintained land, this garden is a living library of about 400 plant species native to the Free State, Northern Cape, and Lesotho. Its vastness offers an idyllic escape from the daily grind, with quiet trails perfect for both relaxing walks and invigorating hikes. The garden’s diverse topography includes manageable hill walks, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the serene beauty of nature.

The garden’s appeal is enhanced by its attentive and friendly staff, pristine ablution facilities, and the delightful trails that wind through the verdant landscape. A favorite among visitors is the on-site restaurant, known for its delectable food and warm service. However, for those who prefer a more personalized experience, packing a picnic basket and finding a spot under the shade of the many trees provides a charming alternative. The sprawling lawns offer ample space, making it a popular spot for weekend picnics, complete with benches for a comfortable and relaxing outdoor meal.

With an entrance fee that clearly contributes to its upkeep, the Free State National Botanical Garden is not only a pleasure to visit but also a fantastic location for photography enthusiasts, offering a picturesque backdrop for photo shoots. Educational and inspiring, it’s an excellent choice for school tours, providing an interactive learning experience about the region’s flora. Whether you’re on a family outing, a romantic date, or seeking solitude, the garden caters to all needs. Its trails offer an adventurous twist for the more active visitors, while the restaurant’s desserts are a treat for those looking for culinary delights. The Free State National Botanical Garden is a highly recommended destination for both locals and tourists, a testament to the beauty and diversity of South Africa’s natural heritage.

6. Naval Hill Planetarium

Naval Hill Planetarium - Exciting things to do in the Free State

Source: Facebook / @ Boyden Observatory and the Naval Hill Planetarium

Perched atop the historical Naval Hill, the Naval Hill Planetarium is a cornerstone of Bloemfontein’s cultural and scientific landscape. This iconic facility, while offering limited shows, becomes a portal to the stars every Saturday night at 7:00 pm. These weekly spectacles are not merely shows but cosmic odysseys, taking viewers on an awe-inspiring journey through the far reaches of the universe. Its status as the first digital planetarium in sub-Saharan Africa underscores its unique ability to offer insights into both the vastness of space and the intricacies of atomic particles.

Naval Hill itself is a destination of natural beauty and tranquility. The surrounding reserve, open to the public without an entry fee, is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts, cyclists, and runners. It’s a place where one can encounter a variety of local fauna in their natural habitat, adding a touch of wilderness to the urban sprawl. A drive or a walk to the western side of the hill rewards visitors with the imposing statue of Nelson Mandela, a tribute to the nation’s enduring spirit. This vantage point offers panoramic views of Bloemfontein, presenting the city in a new and breathtaking light.

7. Modenso Park

Modenso Park emerges as a verdant paradise, a perfect getaway for families in Bloemfontein. With its sprawling grasslands and well-equipped playground, it’s a realm where kids can revel in uninhibited joy. The park’s miniature train ride, a favorite among the little ones, operates every Sunday afternoon, offering an enchanting journey at the modest cost of R5 per ride.

It’s not just a park but a community hub, ideal for birthday celebrations with picnic tables ready for a feast. The small on-site shop tantalizes with pancakes and treats, while the quaint museum showcases steam engines, adding a touch of history to your visit.

8. South African Armour Museum

Step into the realm of military marvels at the South African Armour Museum. It’s a haven for military enthusiasts, showcasing a vast array of tanks and armored vehicles, echoing stories of the past. The museum, run by passionate but underfunded custodians, struggles with restoration challenges, yet stands proud, offering guided tours that bring history to life. Visitors are advised to check the website and arrange a visit to fully immerse themselves in this tribute to military prowess.

The decommissioned vehicles on display are a testament to a rich military heritage, waiting to unfold their tales.

9. Freshford House Museum

The Freshford House Museum in Bloemfontein is a window into the refined Edwardian era. Designed by architect John Edwin Harrison in 1897, this house is an architectural gem, showcasing red brick walls, bay windows, and intricate wood and iron finishes. The museum, opened in 1986, is a time capsule, preserving the lifestyle of the upper-middle class of the time. Guided tours offer a journey through rooms adorned with period furniture and decorations, while the Late Victorian garden complements the house’s charm.

The museum is a testament to meticulous preservation, offering visitors a chance to step back into the elegance of the Edwardian period in Bloemfontein.

10. Die Nasionale Vrouemonument

In the heart of Bloemfontein stands the National Women’s Monument, a solemn tribute to the approximately 27,000 Boer women and children who perished in British concentration camps during the Second Boer War. Recognized as a Provincial Heritage Site in the Free State, this monument is enveloped in well-kept, serene grounds, making it an ideal place for quiet reflection under the shade of ancient Wild Olive trees.

The monument, recently restored, serves as a poignant reminder of the hardships and atrocities endured by women throughout South Africa’s turbulent history. Visitors are moved by the stories of courage and resilience depicted here. To truly appreciate the depth of this site, spending at least half a day is recommended, preferably with a local guide who can vividly narrate the monument’s historical context.

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