Port Elizabeth: A Great Escape in South Africa

Updated On: November 10, 2023

Port Elizabeth

Have you ever thought of Port Elizabeth as a possible escape from your routine life? South Africa has always had its charm, and this seaport city in the Eastern Cape is a retreat from everyday life to a larger-than-life travel experience. 

If it is one of your options, we will give you some insight into what could make you actually board that flight bound for Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. Until then, let’s take you on a virtual tour of this magnificent place to learn more about its history, landscape and attractions. You may start planning your trip to Port Elizabeth as you read on!

The History of Port Elizabeth

Also known as PE, Port Elizabeth was founded in 1820 by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, a loyal husband and governor of the Cape Colony who named the city after his late wife. It was designed to house British settlers in southern South Africa at that time.

Yes, Port Elizabeth has a colonial history and is the second oldest colonial city in South Africa. Established as a British settlement, the city boasts some of the finest architectural attractions in the country. We will give you a detailed outlook in the section about PE’s attractions. 

It is not all colonial, though! Port Elizabeth was home to the Xhosa, its indigenous people. It has been renamed Ggeberha, which means the Baakens River in the Xhosa language, which is the mother tongue of the late political hero Nelson Mandela. 

This city is a symbol of our country’s diversity and our resilience. It is a city where people from all walks of life have come together to build a better future.

Speech by Nelson Mandela in Ggeberha in 2001

Nelson Mandela was born in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, and the renaming of the city seems to be a fitting tribute to this legendary figure. Port Elizabeth is now part of the so-called Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan Municipality.

Welcome to Port Elizabeth: The Friendly & Windy City!

Port Elizabeth

With a relaxed vibe and friendly locals, Port Elizabeth has always welcomed its visitors. The seaport city is located about 770 kilometres east of Cape Town and boasts some stunning beaches and award-winning wildlife destinations.  

To double your treat, this city with such a laid-back atmosphere is very affordable. So, you are getting good value for money and a soothing retreat with some of the friendliest people in South Africa. No wonder visitors call Port Elizabeth the “Friendly City”.

Locals, however, nicknamed it the “Windy City” because of the South-Easter, which blows along the coastline of Algoa Bay. But you need not worry since the weather is mild for most of the year.

Stretching over 16 kilometres of Algoa Bay, the city is served by the Port Elizabeth International Airport and is one of the major seaports in South Africa. 

Port Elizabeth is also home to multiple cultures, including the Xhosa, whose traditions and arts enjoy the lion’s share of the rich heritage package offered by the city. 

Top Attractions in Port Elizabeth

Travelling to Port Elizabeth, you know beforehand that you are in for an unforgettable experience that will cater to both your appetite for history and your passion for wildlife and nature. 

Port Elizabeth boasts several historical sites that reflect its cultural heritage, including Donkin Reserve and the Campanile—two living examples of the city’s colonial past. Museums are there to give you a glimpse of the traditional arts of Port Elizabeth. 

The seaport city is also dotted with parks, atop of which St George’s Park, which is renowned for its cricket facilities. To make your visit complete, you should not miss a dive into the sea in Port Elizabeth, which is famous for its unspoiled coastline. To cut it short, Port Elizabeth is one of the cities that truly have it all!

Visit Donkin Reserve 

Port Elizabeth

Donkin Reserve is a public park located in the heart of Port Elizabeth and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the city. The reserve is named after Sir Rufane Donkin, then acting governor of the Cape Colony in the early 1800s, who named the city after his wife, Elizabeth.

One of the most prominent landmarks in the Donkin Reserve is the Donkin Lighthouse, which was built in 1861 and is still in operation today. For a fantastic view of the city and the ocean, visitors are advised to climb to the top of the lighthouse.

Another landmark in the reserve is the Donkin Pyramid, which was built in memory of Sir Rufane Donkin’s wife, Elizabeth. The Donkin Reserve also has several trails for a good walk and picnic areas and benches for visitors to relax and unwind.

Overall, the Donkin Reserve is a fascinating place for history buffs, art enthusiasts, and nature lovers. It offers a glimpse into the rich history of Port Elizabeth and provides a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city. A visit to this incredible reserve is definitely a must-do on any itinerary for Port Elizabeth.

Visit The Campanile

The Campanile in Port Elizabeth is a prominent landmark and historical monument that graces the skyline of this coastal city in South Africa. This iconic tower stands as a testament to both the city’s rich maritime heritage and its commitment to preserving its historical roots. 

The Campanile, which means “bell tower” in Italian, was constructed to commemorate the arrival of the 1820 Settlers in Port Elizabeth. These British settlers played a pivotal role in shaping the city and its surrounding areas. Designed by architect George William Smith, the Campanile was erected in 1923 as part of the city’s centenary celebrations.

The Campanile is an impressive 52-metre-tall tower, making it one of the tallest structures in Port Elizabeth. Its design combines elements of both Art Deco and Italian Renaissance architectural styles, reflecting the artistic sensibilities of its time.

One of the most notable features of the Campanile is its carillon, a musical instrument composed of bells. The tower houses 23 bells, each with its unique musical note. These bells can be played manually or automatically, creating beautiful melodies that resonate throughout the city.

One of the main attractions of the Campanile is the panoramic view it offers from its observation deck. Visitors can ascend the tower via a series of steps or take the glass-walled elevator for a more accessible journey to the top. The observation deck will offer you breathtaking views of Port Elizabeth, Algoa Bay, and the surrounding landscapes.

Inside the Campanile, there is a fascinating museum that recounts the history of Port Elizabeth and its people. Exhibits and displays showcase the maritime heritage of the city, highlighting the importance of the harbour and shipping industry. Visitors can also learn about the diverse cultures that have shaped Port Elizabeth over the years.

Visit the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum

Located in the heart of Port Elizabeth, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum houses a significant collection of Xhosa beadwork and traditional art. It has a rich collection of South African art, including paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. 

One of the highlights of the museum is the ceramic collection, which includes an impressive array of ceramics from across the African continent. The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum is also home to an extensive collection of beadwork, including traditional African and contemporary beadwork by South African artists. The museum’s collection of beadwork is one of the largest in South Africa and is an excellent testament to the rich cultural heritage of the country.

Overall, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum is a fascinating destination for anyone interested in South African art and culture. With its impressive collection of artworks and regular exhibitions, the museum offers visitors a unique insight into the country’s artistic heritage. It is a must-visit destination for art lovers.

Visit St George’s Park

Port Elizabeth

St. George’s Park is a historic and picturesque public park in Port Elizabeth. This cherished green space has played a big role in the cultural and recreational life of the community for over a century.

The park boasts an impressive collection of indigenous and exotic trees, which provide ample shade and create a tranquil atmosphere. The well-maintained lawns and flowerbeds make it an ideal spot for picnics, leisurely strolls, and outdoor gatherings. The park’s picturesque Duck Pond is a favourite among visitors, especially families, who enjoy feeding the resident ducks.

Named after St. George, the patron saint of England, this park also features the oldest and most prestigious cricket grounds in South Africa—St. George’s Oval. This cricket ground has a charming Victorian pavilion and is considered the focal point for cricket enthusiasts. 

St. George’s Park is home to the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club and Settlers’ Park Nature Reserve. It is undoubtedly a must-visit.  

Enjoy a Beautiful Day at the Beach

Port Elizabeth

Over 40 kilometres of coastline, visitors can definitely enjoy a day by one of Port Elizabeth’s absolutely spectacular beaches. From the bustling shores of Hobie Beach to the secluded coves of Sardinia Bay, there is a perfect spot for every visitor to relax and enjoy the Indian Ocean.

One of the most popular beaches in Port Elizabeth is Humewood Beach. This is the oldest Blue Flag beach in South Africa. It is known for its clean waters, soft sand, and safe swimming conditions. Humewood Beach is the perfect spot for picnics and family gatherings.

Another famous beach is Hobie Beach, which is known for its excellent surfing conditions and vibrant atmosphere. It is also a great place to enjoy a variety of water sports, such as swimming, kayaking, and windsurfing.

If you are looking for a more secluded beach experience, Sardinia Bay Beach is a great option. This beach is located in a picturesque cove with stunning views of the surrounding coastline. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the beach beauty of Port Elizabeth.

The beaches of Port Elizabeth offer something for everyone. They are great places to relax and enjoy the beauty of South Africa. Whether you are looking for a family-friendly beach, a secluded cove, or a spot to surf, you are sure to find it in Port Elizabeth.

Yes, Port Elizabeth has All of This and More!

Having all such attractions, beauty and activities in one city is something to pack your bag for. Port Elizabeth is the go-to place for history buffs, art enthusiasts and beach lovers. It is the perfect choice for every member of the family, every friend in the gang, couples and solo travellers. One thing we could apprehend is that there is more to expect in Port Elizabeth! For an overall look, you can check out our blog on activities to do in the Eastern Cape.

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