Grahamstown: an energetic scene with an eclectic fusion of culture and history. That’s what you’ll find in this bustling town in the Eastern Cape. While the National Artes Festival might be one of the biggest drawcards, there are so many more reasons to visit the alluring Makhanda. So, in no set order, take a look at the top 10 things to do in Grahamstown.
1. The National Arts Festival
If you happen to find yourself in Grahamstown during late June, you won’t fail to miss out on this incredible annual event. The town explodes in one of the largest celebrations of the arts in Africa. Watch as every hall becomes a theatre while sports fields turn into flea markets. This major highlight of the top things to do in Grahamstown treats you to a number of artistic features, including music, dance, opera, performance art, and a plethora of fascinating craft stalls.
2. The Cathedral of St Michael and St George
Make your way to Church Square to find this magnificent cathedral. It’s home to the tallest spire in South Africa, standing higher than 53 metres! The exterior and interior of the church make for awesome pictures for your Instastories, so make sure you’ve got a camera or at least a smartphone with a top-notch equivalent. The cathedral also shares in Grahamstown’s history – it was originally founded in 1824, while the current structure was completed in 1952.
|High Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 622 2445
3. 1820 Settlers National Monument
You may think that this is just one of the many historical attractions in Grahamstown, but it’s so much more than that! On a regular basis, the structure plays host to free and creative artistic performances as well as educational and cultural projects. Head inside to discover an art theatre and the Fountain Court statue (designed to appear as scaffolding with rectangles and diagonals representing the crosses of the British flag). With free tours available on request, the 1820 Settlers National Monument should definitely go on your list of things to do in Grahamstown.
|Fort Selwyn Drive, Grahamstown
|+27 46 603 1100
|Monday to Friday, 08:00 – 16:30 (closed on public holidays)
4. Albany History Museum
Take a deep dive into the history of the Eastern Cape with a visit to the second-oldest museum in South Africa, dating back to 1855. Explore the unusual variation of exhibits featuring natural science, history and archaeology. Peruse the permanent collections of terrestrial insects, freshwater fish, freshwater invertebrates, ethnographic material, and so much more. There is also an interesting collection of historic artefacts relating to the British settlers from 1820. For anyone intrigued by the history of the town and the rest of the province, add the Albany History Museum to your bucket list of top things to do in Grahamstown.
|40 Somerset Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 622 2312
|Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
5. Rat & Parrot
This highly popular and vibrant establishment in New Street is just where you need to be to mingle with the locals. Rat & Parrot goes beyond its category as a bar and grill to offer visitors an unforgettable time. You can look forward to ordering delicious meals like focaccia and tasty fillet steaks. While relaxing with a drink, enjoy a number of exciting events on offer, like karaoke nights, movie screenings, and live screenings of exciting Super Rugby and UEFA matches! Don’t miss out on one of the most popular things to do in Grahamstown here at the Rat & Parrot.
|59A New Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 622 5002
|Monday, Friday, and Saturday, 11:00 – 02:00
Tuesday, 11:00 – 13:00; 18:00 – 00:00
Wednesday to Thursday, 11:00 – 00:00
Sunday, 11:00 – 22:00
6. Amazwi South African Museum of Literature
Discover one of South Africa’s literary treasures. The museum houses the world’s most comprehensive selection of resources concerning South African literature in English. Literary connoisseurs can explore permanent exhibitions that tell the story of the country with audio and video components and two touch screens. Make sure you make some time to check out this contemporary, custom-designed structure. It’s the only museum to have attained a five-star rating from the Green Building Council of South Africa, for its high standard of eco-friendliness.
|25a Worcester Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 622 7042
|Monday to Friday, 09:00 – 16:30
7. Kwantu Private Game Reserve
Get in touch with nature and meet the incredible residents of the Kwantu Private Game Reserve. There’s no more thrilling feeling quite like the one you’ll get from walking with the elephants. Besides the amazing encounters you can look forward to, the staff at the sanctuary are renowned for providing top-class hospitality and first-class game viewing. Exploring the Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary is certainly one of the most unforgettable things to do in Grahamstown.
|1 Daniel Street, Sidbury
|+27 42 203 1400
|24 hours every day
8. Haricot’s Deli & Bistro
Indulge in a satisfying meal at one of the most popular resident eateries of Grahamstown. Sit down, relax, and take in the casual ambience with good music, fine food and friendly service. Some highlights from the menu include sweet treats like the chocolate chiffon and decadent cakes, as well as freshly baked pastries and scrumptious sandwiches (do try the glazed gammon, shaved cheese and mustard mayo sarmie!). Meals options start from R90.
|32 New Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 622 2150
|Monday to Saturday, 09:00 – 21:30
9. The International Library of African Music
If you’re fascinated by authentic African music, then this amazing library in Prince Alfred Street is the place to be. The library mainly functions as an independent research centre, home to more than 200 traditional African musical instruments, many of which are still used today. The International Library of African Music is all about promoting the research, publishing and teaching of African music. As a deep look into African culture, this is one of the best things to do in Grahamstown.
|Rhodes University Campus Jamaat Khana, Prince Alfred Street, Grahamstown
|+27 46 603 8557
|Monday to Friday, 08:30 – 17:00
10. Kwande Private Game Reserve
Make your way just outside of Grahamstown to discover the home of thousands of animals, including the famous Big Five. The 22,000-hectare reserve offers you a fantastic malaria-free wildlife adventure along the Great Fish River. Treat yourself to highly rewarding game drives boasting several opportunities to spot wildlife. Other activities you can enjoy at Kwande Private Game Reserve include bush walks, historical tours and fishing.
|R67 Fort Brown, Grahamstown
|+27 46 603 3400
Now you have a much better idea of the intriguing things to do in Grahamstown. If you’re not one of the locals or student population, get yourself accommodation in Grahamstown. If you’re visiting for the National Arts Festival, make sure you book well in advance.
If you’re not nearby, book cheap flights to Port Elizabeth, and enjoy a 1-hour, 30-minute drive to Grahamstown!
What’s on your list of the top things to do in Grahamstown? Let us know in the comments below!
Also read: Beautiful Small Towns in South Africa
Featured image courtesy of @mo_finds_mzansi via Instagram
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