10 Reasons to Visit Port Elizabeth, One of the Coolest Cities in South Africa

[Updated July 2020]

Port Elizabeth is fast becoming one of the coolest cities in South Africa. Even the sassy folk from Cape Town and Joburg can’t seem to resist its sunny boulevards and easy charm.

nelson mandela bay

Image courtesy of @nelsonmandelabay via Instagram

It is a big city with a big personality, a secret underground creative culture, some of the coolest bars and eateries this side of the equator, and great stories, one of which involves a sultan and a ewe.

But here is a list of 10 reasons why we think you should visit Port Elizabeth, one of the coolest cities in South Africa.

beer shack visit port elizabeth

Image courtesy of @neliajoubert via Instagram

1. The beautiful haunted Opera House

The city has a lot of beautiful old architecture, but the Victorian Opera House is one of the most interesting. The oldest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, this grand cabaret-style theatre was opened in 1892 and is said to have been built on the site of an old gallows. Its history of hauntings is long and colourful, much like its history of hosting spectacular ballets, operas, and musicals.

visit port elizabeth opera house

Image courtesy of @pietwiet_boshoff via Instagram

The Opera House hosts regular productions and performances.

Tip. Another amazing piece of architecture from way back when is the Gothic public library in Market Square. It is currently closed for renovations.

Did you know: The Grand Hotel is said to have once hosted famous guests such as Mark Twain and Winston Churchill.

pe opera house

Image courtesy of @charmainelindhorstjoubert via Instagram

2. Cradle for creativity

Port Elizabeth is famous for Route 67, an art journey that celebrates the years Nelson Mandela devoted himself to the freedom struggle, but that is just a tip of the artsy iceberg. Colourful murals and artwork hidden under bridges hint at a creative culture that is giving rise to a new generation of homegrown artists.

visit port elizabeth artwork

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, The Athenæum, and artEC Community Centre are just three institutions that are helping the creative movement find its voice. Live performances, poetry evenings, exhibitions, book launches, doodle nights, and walkabouts with artists are regular events.

athenaeum port elizabeth

The Underculture Contemporary Art Gallery hosts several pop-up exhibitions throughout the year that challenge the norm by presenting powerful, relevant, and captivating exhibitions by young conceptual artists. Galerie NOKO is another popular gallery that is known for its abstract and socio-political themes.

But it extends beyond that too. Even the restaurants and tattoo studios have become hubs for talent and creativity to bloom.

art visit port elizabeth

3. South Africa’s hot new food scene

A few years ago, the food scene in Port Elizabeth was still finding its groove, but today it is blossoming into something quite spectacular. Some of the coolest bars and restaurants in Port Elizabeth are in Richmond Hill, which is the heart of the culinary magic.

asada restaurant

ASADA is a seafood grill and smokehouse and the place to be if you want to try Creole and Argentinian fire pit cuisine. If you prefer to spend your evenings with a taco in one hand and a margarita in the other, Tilting Heads Taco Cafe and Margarita Bar is a top-notch Mexican cantina.

And if sushi is more your thing, FUSHIN has won numerous awards for its exotic dishes and is known to make the best sushi in Port Elizabeth.

visit port elizabeth bread basket

The Valley Market & Goodnight Market and Baakens Food Truck Funday are also a must-visit if you want an afternoon of artisanal food, live entertainment, and general shenanigans.

We recommend: Explore the café culture of Stanley Street during the day and come back in the evening to experience the dinner ambience and nightlife bustle.

asada port elizabeth

4. Beertopia

Creativity has even spread to the microbreweries in Port Elizabeth. Local breweries such as Bridge Street Brewery, Dockside Brewery, and Richmond Hill Brewing Co. are experimenting with bold artisanal brews that beer lovers will find wildly interesting and worth the trip.

richmond hill brewing co

Image courtesy of @kellieharris30 via Instagram

For the non-beer drinkers: the hard lemonade called Jane Doe from Richmond Hill Brewing Co. or get your hands on locally made Rhino Rum from Brickmakers Distilling Co.

We recommend: The Hop on Beer Route will take you to Bridge Street Brewery, Dockside Brewery, and Beer Yard, where you can taste the local brews and experience the vibe of the city.

port elizabeth brewery

Image courtesy of @bymybootstraps via Instagram

5. Oldest coffee roastery in South Africa

Even the coffee devotees will find warmth and happiness on a visit to Port Elizabeth.

Mastertons, legendary purveyors of hand-roasted coffee, opened their first tea and coffee house in Port Elizabeth in 1924, making them the oldest roastery in South Africa. The city even has its own Mastertons blend known as Blend of the Bay.

Address: 92 Main Road, Walmer, Port Elizabeth

coffee roasting


6. Bottlenose dolphin capital of the world

Home to thousands of playful bottlenose dolphins and a hotspot for visiting orcas and humpback dolphins, Algoa Bay was named the ‘Bottlenose Capital of the World’ in 2016. The city even hosts an annual Dolphin Festival to celebrate its flippered friends.

We recommend: Join a boat cruise to get up close and personal with the dolphins of Port Elizabeth.

visit port elizabeth bottlenose dolphins

Image courtesy of @peopleofpe via Instagram

7. Nightlife made for good times

By night, the city comes alive with fairy lights and music as the taprooms, cocktail lounges, and bars fill up with people. Whether you are looking for a nightcap after dinner, live music and a few drinks, a rowdy good time, or dancing until 4am, the nightlife options are varied and promise a fun night out.

beeryard cocktails

Image courtesy of @samantolik via Instagram

The Music Kitchen, Beer Yard and Beer Shack all host live music nights and are great places to hang out when the sun goes down. Pool City, a pool lounge in Walmer, regularly hosts live bands and tribute nights to rock ‘n’ roll legends.

For something a bit more offbeat, the Unplugged Backyard Hangout is a lively garden get together between musicians, artists, poets, and music lovers. Cook House Poetry Sessions happen infrequently but are also definitely worth watching out for.

soho bar

8. The sultan and the pregnant ewe

The year was 1838 when the Sultan of Turkey sent 12 neutered rams and what he thought was one neutered ewe halfway across the world to the shores of Port Elizabeth.

However, his plan to protect his powerful mohair empire was thwarted by his own mistake. What he didn’t realise was that the ewe was pregnant and would give birth to a ram kid en route to Africa, and by a touch of good fortune, give life to the Angora mohair industry in South Africa.

visit port elizabeth angora sheep

Image courtesy of @rakshasaga via Instagram

9. It even has its own travel app

The Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism app offers updates on upcoming events, things to see and do, accommodation, transport, business and emergency contacts, free WiFi spots, and special deals.

nelson mandela bay tourism

10. But really, the coolest thing about Port Elizabeth is its people

There is a reason why Port Elizabeth is nicknamed “the Friendly City” – Port Elizabethans are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. Whether you’re riding in an Uber, checking into your hotel, or just wandering along the promenade, the friendly folk of PE are everywhere and ready to show you why it is one of the coolest cities in South Africa.

Recommended experience: Calabash Tours offers intimate encounters with the locals on their Untold Stories Tour, Real City Tour, and Shebeen Tour.

something good roadhouse

Image courtesy of @nelsonmandelabay via Instagram

You might also like: The coolest things to do in Port Elizabeth on a budget

Port Elizabeth has only recently found its swagger, but there is no denying this up-and-coming city is something special.

But it is the kind of magic you are going to have to experience for yourself.

king edward hotel

Good to know:

The Nelson Mandela Bay Pass offers many free activities and discounts so you can experience the best of the bay for less.

There are two types of passes:

5 in 1 pass

It is valid for three months and includes any five of the attractions and activities advertised and various shopping and transport discounts.

Unlimited itinerary passes

These are valid for 1 day, 2 days, 3 days, and 7 days depending on the period you want to purchase it for.

Type of Pass Adults Kids
1 Day Pass R 450.00 R 400.00
2 Day Pass R 550.00 R 450.00
3 Day Pass R 650.00 R 575.00
7 Day Pass R 800.00 R 500.00
5 in 1 Pass R 650.00 R 500.00

surfing port elizabeth

Did we miss any great reasons to visit Port Elizabeth? Share the love in the comments below!

Need a little more inspiration?

Stunning pics of Port Elizabeth that prove it is SA’s most underrated city

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All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.

Our Readers Comments

  1. I need to understand what this passes are exactly. can someone please give me a call on 0733768440? I am interested in visiting PE

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      In our blog we provide a link highlighted in blue. The “Nelson Mandela Bay Pass” This can be found under “Good to Know”

      Click on this link and it will provide you with detailed information on the pass.

  2. Crime is not that bad. It is worse in the other bigger cities in SA.
    Year round Climate is also amazing in this Wonderful city on the beach?

  3. The Friendly City is also the sportiest! We host all the major Ironman events, SA Lifesaving Champs, Nippers Nationals etc. There are various mountain bike trials in and around the city. And hiking trials to challenge the beginner and leave the fit breathless.

  4. Jeffreys bay only 45mins drive away .Beautiful coastal town .B&b stay at a1 kynaston

  5. Animals in Wonderland – Wildlife Educational Sanctuary in Port Elizabeth is amazing if you would like to get up close and personal with some awesome animals. Animal Talk and Tour, Animal interaction and target shooting. Really great place to visit.

  6. What about our beautiful beaches, great weather, surfing, cycling, hikes, Sardinia bay, horse riding, shopping centers, mountain bike trails etc.

    • Hi Kim,

      Yes and those too. The list goes on 🙂

      These were just our 10 but there are so many more 😀

  7. Yes Port Elizabeth is great but many of the attractions are not safe to go to. Pity the crime in PE spoils many of the great things about the city.

  8. My beautiful home town…

  9. A must stop is The Heritage Cafe ?????

    • Hi Teresa,

      Thanks for the tip ❤️

      Will be sure to check visit Heritage cafe next time in Port Elizabeth.

  10. Its laid back.. the best and safest city to retire in or to invest

  11. Nelson Mandela Bay is the friendliest place on earth! Come visit us.

    • Hi Brenda,

      Thanks for the invite. Will be sure to pay a visit.

      Nothing better when the locals are friendly ❤️

  12. Shhhh, don’t tell everyone about our wonderful city. We don’t want to keep it our secret!

    • Hi Ivor,

      Noooo, share the love and beauty ❤️

  13. Great things about PE – number 11 for best things – I was born there ?

    • Port Elizabeth is an exciting city to visit. The history is very rich and guided by one of the knowledgeable qualified guides will expose this to you. But it is much, much more than this. The Nelson Metro extends to include the third larges National Park in South Africa. This is the “Big 7” Addo Elephant National Park. Hikes across the longest widest coastal sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, river activities in the fastest in flowing, out flowing river in the Eastern Cape. Here fishing, canoeing, swimming, and much more is a possibility.

    • Port Elizabeth is very nice, except for the crime that unfortunately happens all over the city.

      Some of those tourist attractions are not safe to visit.

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