A ‘little big town’ is how a foreign visitor once described Grahamstown; referring to the amazing variety and nuance of all there is to see and do here. And whether you enjoy history and culture, wildlife, beachcombing or taking one step after the next in the great outdoors, Grahamstown offers a bevy of options and potential activities.
What makes this town so special is that there are countless attractions paying homage to human endeavour within its borders, while it’s surrounded by phenomenal spaces where nature still reigns supreme.
In a single stroll through Grahamstown you’ll encounter a plethora of stunning historical structures like:
– the mighty Cathedral of St Michael and St George with its exquisite bell tower that still operates,
– the Provost Prison built in 1835,
– the 150+ year Commemoration Church,
– the Albany Natural Science and Albany Museums with their beautiful permanent and changing exhibitions,
– the SA Institute of Biodiversity where the legendary prehistoric coelacanth fish is housed,
– the Eastern Star Gallery that pays homage to the history of print,
– the International Library of African Music with its huge collection of traditional African instruments and a century’s worth of African musical recordings,
– the historical Fingo township – the first urban space ever offered to black people – bequeathed by the British to those amaXhosa and Khoi San who helped them capture this area,
– Fort Selwyn built in the early 1800s where the great Battle for Grahamstown took place between the British and amaXhosa in 1818,
– historical locomotives housed outside the old train station,
– the serene Makana Botanical Gardens in the heart of the town,
– the mighty 1820 Settlers Monument dominating the surrounding landscape,
– the Winged Figure of Peace statue whose inscription was specially written by legendary author Rudyard Kipling,
– the Observatory Museum – a charming period house with the only genuine Victorian camera obscura in the Southern Hemisphere that offers panoramic views of Grahamstown,
– the Egazini Cultural Centre in the township which houses several traditional printmakers and artists,
– the gorgeous City Hall opened in 1882,
– and the exquisite rambling Rhodes University campus and so much more.
A little further out, Grahamstown’s surrounding areas are a nature lover’s paradise, with everything from the legendary Addo Elephant National Park, to the Thomas Baines Eastern Cape provincial game park, to several big-5 private game farms. There is also the magnificent Oldenbergia one- and two-day hiking trails, and a coastline of beaches that remain this country’s best kept ocean view secret – stretching out as far as the eye can see, often as wide as most other South African beaches are long, with three and four-storey high shifting dune formations, indigenous dune forests, vast estuaries and tidal pools that extend deep into the Indian Ocean at low tide.
Ultimately, both within and outside of the city’s borders, Grahamstown is indeed a ‘little big town’ whose natural and historical legacy truly make it cultural and wild ‘Frontier Country’ – as if it was tailor-made to be enjoyed. If you’re a first-time visitor, start off at the Makana Tourism offices on High Street opposite the cathedral, where you’ll find everything you need to know to go out there and take it all in. Makana Tourism can also be reached on 046 622 3241 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit Grahamstown’s website on www.grahamstown.co.za