Less than 70 miles from Port Elizabeth on the Eastern Coast of South Africa, travelers have eleven days to view this ‘national treasure.’ Every year in June, the National Arts Festival attracts locals and tourists alike. South Africa’s rich cultural scene converges at this annual celebration of art, music, film and theater in Grahamstown.
Grahamstown has a 180-year reputation for going all-out for its celebrations. The town retains its old-world charm with an abundance of historic churches. Grahamstown also boasts the signature pastel-hued colonial revivalist architecture that is characteristic of South Africa. With its enchanting storybook inns, various festivals, and proximity to the Garden Route, Grahamstown is an inviting stop on any itinerary
The Grahamstown National Arts Festival: A National Treasure
June 28 – July 8, 2018
The National Arts Festival is the most popular attraction in Grahamstown, drawing 250,000 visitors to the town annually. Each year hundreds of artists in fine art, design, dance, music, film, and theater are selected to present their work to the public on a grand scale. The work and performances are on view throughout multiple venues across the town.
Each festival has a theme and in 2017 the theme was ‘disruption.’ This concept was expressed in hundreds of ways, from visual artists exploring the depths of femininity to stand-up comics cracking jokes about politicians. The National Arts Festival prides itself on presenting every artist’s idea, in every medium, completely uncensored. Staying true to this promise, the event has only grown in popularity over the course of its 44-year run.
What to See on South Africa’s Eastern Cape
Festival-goers in Grahamstown can tour one of the 40 historic churches of “The City of Saints,” take in a meal at Haricots Bistro & Deli, enjoy a beer at The Rat & Parrot, or browse the shops along High Street. The town is home to several museums, the most popular being the quirky Observatory Museum, which chronicles the beginning of the diamond industry in South Africa. A few of the oddities inside the museum include the only camera obscura built in South Africa and the Meridian Room, the personal observatory of Henry Carter Galpin, the local watchmaker who designed the home that houses the museum.
The Garden Route is a 186-mile stretch of South Africa’s south-western coastline that consists of beautiful beaches, charming seaside cities, and an abundance of adventure activities for travelers to enjoy. The route stretches through Port Elizabeth, just northwest of Grahamstown. Popular sights along the route include Mossel Bay for surfing and sailing, Tsitsikamma National Park for South Africa’s most highly-rated long distance hike, and Port Elizabeth or “The Friendly City” for the Route 67 walking trail. The Route 67 trail consists of 67 public artworks, symbolizing the 67 years that Nelson Mandela dedicated to the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Addo Elephant National Park
Between Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth is Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa’s third largest national park. Despite the name, Addo contains more than elephants. The park is home to the ‘Big 7’: rhinos, leopards, lions, buffalo, elephants, southern right whales, and great white sharks. Because Addo stretches to the sea, the park offers Marine Eco Tours to view the last two, southern right whales and great whites. Naturally, Addo offers game drives but also contains horse trails, hiking trails, and 4X4 trails — for those who want to do a little off-roading.
Whether you’re in Grahamstown for the National Arts Festival or on a road trip along the Garden Route, there is plenty to do and see along South Africa’s less-traveled Eastern Cape. For more tips, ideas, and advice for seeing all there is to see in South Africa, visit us at vacationtosouthafrica.com.