Access to Pietermaritzburg by road is easy, lying as it does on the major N3 freeway from Durban to Johannesburg. The R56 connects Pietermaritzburg with Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and East London to the south-west.
The train station is on the corner of Church and Railway streets, on the south-west edge of the city centre. Exercise caution when traveling on foot in this part of town, due to muggings and bag snatching.
Oribi Airport offers daily flights to Johannesburg. Service can be slightly erratic or heavily booked, so keep that in mind when booking important flights.
Regular daily bus services connect Pietermaritzburg to major cities in South Africa. The bus station is located in Burger Street, opposite the McDonalds and it serves major bus companies. Grey Hound is the most reliable and it operates several round-trips from Durban to Johannesburg daily, where Pietermaritzburg is the last stop before Durban.
Private transport is the best way of getting around. Car rental is strongly advised. Otherise, minibus-taxis are cheap but uncomfortable and occasionally unsafe. Some of the sights of Pietermaritzburg are within walking distance, if you don't mind trudging along for a few kilometres. Private taxis (cabs) can also be hired, but they are substantially more expensive than the minibus-taxis.
- Yellow Cab company, ☎ .
The central minibus-taxi rank is in Market Square, which is in the Central Business District near the Natal Society Library and the City Hall.
To get to the Central Business District from any of the suburbs by minibus-taxi, look for a taxi that is travelling to "eTuwen" or simply "Town". (There should be a guy leaning out the window announcing this loudly.)
You don't want to go to eThekwini, which is Durban. You want to go to "town". Ask the conductor if you're unsure.
Minibus-taxis have set routes, so there are a lot of places you can't get to using them.
The CBD isn't as safe as the suburbs. The area around the City Hall is pretty good, but I'd advise against long rambling walks into unfamiliar parts of it.
The City Hall, which is in the CBD, is the largest red brick building in the Southern Hemisphere. It contains a large organ, and occasionally hosts concerts.
The Tatham Art Gallery [dead link] across the road houses some fine artwork, including an impressive and ornate clock on the second floor. You'll find a coffee shop on the second floor. Entrance is free.
The Natal Society Library is behind the City Hall, and has recently undergone substantial revamping, with a large new children's wing being built. The fountain and the square that it stands in is scheduled for major renovation.
Down the road you can find the Voortrekker Museum, which celebrates the Great Trek by the Afrikaner people into the interior of South Africa.
Further afield, Queen Elizabeth Park up on the hills above the city contains zebra, buck and the like. No leopards or dangerous creatures, so you can walk around and enjoy the park on foot. Make sure you don't get your food stolen by monkeys, though.
The KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens in Mayor's Walk are spectacular and worth an extended visit. The gardens focus on indigenous flora and offer diverse walks through forests and open ground. A restaurant and coffee shop is located at the entrance. Weekend visitors will witness a stream of wedding parties going to the gardens to have their photos taken.
The nightlife in Pietermaritzburg is pretty limited. Two or three clubs dominate the scene. Crowded House (in the CBD, fairly near to the City Hall) is one of the most popular, playing pop and dance music. Exclusive Lounge nearby plays kwaito and house music. Franki Bananaz is a cocktail bar in Armitage Road that is popular with the twenties set. For a more alternative scene, the Red Door in Quarry Road (off Victoria Road) plays alternative rock/punk music on Friday nights. Live folk and rock music can be heard at the Red Door on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Pietermaritzburg does offer quite a couple of pubs and sports clubs. The Stagecoach which is situated near the University has a lovely pub atmosphere.
Caffe Vacca Matta at the Golden Horse Casino (in Scottsville) has a more upmarket pitch. Serving as a restaurant in the afternoon and early evening, it becomes a nightclub later on. Dress tends to be slightly more formal, with collared shirts, no jeans or takkies, and the like. Also be aware that the minimum age at Vacca Matta varies, so phone in advance.
Every year in May the Comrades Marathon is held. The course alternates between the "up" run (Durban to Pietermaritzburg) and the "down" run (Pietermaritzburg to Durban). The distance you have to cover varies slightly from year to year, but is approximately 89 km.
Liberty Shopping Mall (which is far away from everything else) contains masses of shops, including specialist stores for a host of different goods. In town you can find plenty of shops that sell food, including fast food outlets. There are also vendors on the pavements, although their goods aren't much to write home about.
Downtown in the CBD you can find large clothing stores, as well as smaller Indian shops that sell anything you can think of. Fireworks are particularly popular around Diwali.
- Bancroft B&B, 247, Old Howick rd, Hilton (Take the Cedera off-ramp from the N3 into th R103, travel over the freeway into Hilton, pass the traffic lights at Crossways, after 1.6km down the hill (towards town) on the right hand side.), ☎ , , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 2PM, check-out: 10AM. Bancroft B&B is in the beautiful forested evergreen hills above Pietermaritzburg, is a Georgian style house, with a beautiful facade, offering 2 comfortable suites, with DSTV, Wireless Internet, a hospitality fridge, tea and coffee facilities, fans, heaters and a nice view into the gardens. R320 sharing & R430 single.
- Yes Please B&B, 98 Alan Paton Drive, Scottsville (from N3 off-ramp on Alan Paton), ☎ , . Check-in: noon, check-out: 10AM. All rooms are fitted with air-conditioning & DSTV. Modest dining area offering breakfast, lunch or dinner. Transfers available to and from King Shaka International Airport and regionally. From R350.
Pietermaritzburg Airport can connect you to all cities in South Africa via Johannesburg. Unfortunately, flights from the airport have recently been plagued by delays following a recent upgrade, so beware of scheduling anything mission critical out of here (such as connecting flights). Durban is only about 50 min drive away, and Durban International Airport can get you direct to Cape Town, East London, Bloemfontein, Mozambique, Swaziland and anywhere else you need to go (with a connecting flight through Johannesburg International.)
In the other direction the Drakensberg Mountains lie about two hours drive away, offering an array of outdoor activities, with plenty of resorts and the like dotted around.
20 min out of Pietermaritzburg, the town of Howick offers a small touristic place with the Howick Falls as the highlight.