Heritage Routes and Cultural Attractions
Nelson Mandela Bay, uniting Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch, bears the rich legacy of an area which saw the first meetings of Khoisan, British, Dutch, German and Xhosa people.
The various heritage routes in and around Port Elizabeth incorporate many of the historical attractions as well as the modern developments in the Bay. Tour guides are flexible and willing to modify the tour according to your individual needs. The heritage and historical routes, walking tours and trails through Nelson Mandela Bay provide visitors with a wonderful historical perspective of the city. The wide variety of scenic day tours and excursions , such as Route 67 and the Donkin Heritage Trail, offer a fascinating and informative way to discover our Bay and surrounding areas.
Nelson Mandela Bay offers a true ethnic mosaic of arts and crafts typical of the inhabitants of the region. The unique diversity is captured and displayed at various craft markets and museums, making Nelson Mandela Bay a must see for art lovers. The richness of cultures is reflected in the art stretching from traditional Xhosa to contemporary western art.
African print and cotton embroidery on materials such as calico, silk ribbon and organza ribbon as well as leather items can be obtained from different shops throughout the Bay.
Art Galleries, Museums and Theaters
Nelson Mandela Bay offers a variety of art galleries allowing you a glimpse into the minds of local, national and international artists. Art venues include the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum, and the EPSAC and Cuyler Street Galleries, to mention a few. Nelson Mandela Bay is also home to a unique South African aviation art gallery, exhibiting outstanding aviation paintings. The Ron Belling Gallery is singled out as one of the finest of its kind in the world and definitely worth a visit!
Theatre productions are staged at a number of venues, including the Opera House, which is a fine example of a Victorian theatre – the oldest and the only one still in use in South Africa.
The beautiful Feather Market Centre (FMC) was once the heart of auction sales and trades in ostrich feather, wool, and hides. The FMC has been refurbished and converted into an outstanding concert hall and conference centre. The venue is also a favourite for the Port Elizabeth Annual Dance Festival as well as the Eastern Cape Schools Festival of English and Drama.
Various concerts, performances, modern musicals, operettas and smaller productions by various theatre groups are staged at the different theatres and halls in the bay and surrounding towns on a regular basis. Whether you prefer opera, cultural dances, symphonic music or open-air Shakespeare, Nelson Mandela Bay caters for your every taste.
The Bay also hosts national and international bands as well as the ever popular Centre Stage Production Company who regularly produces vibrant and extremely entertaining productions at the Boardwalk Cell C Amphitheatre as well as the NMM Loubser Auditorium.
The heritage of the different European pioneers to the area can be witnessed and experienced in the monuments and buildings, the music, as well as in the food in the Bay. It is especially in the places of worship that the different cultures can be experienced and many of the beautiful old churches, synagogues, cathedrals and mosques are open to the public.
Cultural Attractions and Routes
Port Elizabeth has been blessed to be given permission to use the name of Nelson Mandela, world icon of peace, and it has always been a dream of the people who live here to honour him in some way and after the collaboration of a number of influential people, Route 67 was born!
The project is a phased initiative that will ultimately see 67 pieces of public art strategically placed around the Port Elizabeth CBD. Route 67 aims to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s 67-year role in South African politics and bring tourists to the historical centre of the city. The route, which has its base at the Donkin Reserve on Belmont Terrace, Donkin Street, meanders through the CBD taking visitors past some of the Bay’s oldest monuments, art deco architecture and a series of open-air artworks. Ten public artworks are already on exhibition and a further ten will be unveiled in September this year.
The Donkin Reserve is a heritage monument that is steeped in the colonial history of Port Elizabeth. As such the redevelopment of this public open space into one which celebrates the Father of the Nation and the freedom struggle is very symbolic of how South Africans have progressed since independence. The reserve has become embraced by all the people of Port Elizabeth, and is now a vibrant centre for residents and visitors to come and appreciate the various public art pieces as well as to experience the Balcony of the City with its majestic panoramic views!
The Donkin Heritage Trail
This 5 kilometre trail that follows in the footsteps of the 1820 Settlers, linking 47 historical sites in central Port Elizabeth, the Donkin Heritage Trail is a joy to anyone who loves historical tours, and even those who don’t, as the rich history is not only charming but quite fascinating.
The route is very conveniently sign posted making self-guided tours possible. It begins with a walk around the central city market Square, the centrepiece of which is the City Hall, which dates from 1858. In the square also stands a replica of the Diaz Cross, commemorating the first European to sail into Algoa Bay in 1488, when Bartholomew Diaz graced our shores.
Part of the trail includes the Donkin Houses and the Donkin Reserve – the Donkin street houses run along the side of the reserve – whilst the library building, a gorgeous example of Victorian Gothic architecture, is on the corner of Market Square. Number 7 Castle Hill, which claims to be one of the oldest surviving Victorian settler cottages in the city, and Pembridge House all form part of the historical amble. Don’t attempt the Campanile unless you’re feeling particularly sprightly, as the spiral staircase entails 204 steps – well worth conquering if only for the views over Algoa Bay.
Other buildings and monuments of interest include the King George VI art gallery, an open air theatre, a conservatory, numerous churches and an opera house – all within walking distance of the Donkin houses.
It is alleged (and experienced) that Nelson Mandela Bay has an over-abundance of “ghosts” lurking in Central Hill, the city’s oldest suburb and historical heartland. The experience of a “ghostly” historical tour, a haunted tour or a graveyard tour will add a little spice to your day. It is an experience that guarantees to haunt you for ever more!
Port Elizabeth could be considered to be the country’s leading centre of Art Nouveau style architecture due to her European heritage. Many buildings display the intricate stonework, wrought iron and stained glass of that era which are prominently visible in the Central Historical areas of the city.
Combinations of Art Nouveau and Colonial styles are seen in residences along Cape Road.
The area also boasts a marvellous collection of Cape Dutch style architecture as well as the Victorian and Edwardian styles, resulting from the arrival of the 1820 British settlers. Although influenced by Dutch architecture, the Cape Dutch style is unique to South Africa and examples can be seen all over the Eastern and Western Cape.
The neighbouring towns of Despatch and Uitenhage are also rich in history.
The Despatch Brickworks Chimney, built in 1882, can still be viewed standing tall and serene in a field on the outskirts of the town.
The Uitenhage Town Hall was built in 1882, and the Public Building between 1896 and 1898 (now called Victoria Tower). Both these buildings are worth a visit, as is the huge fig tree on the property which is more than a 100 years old.
Political and Historical Township Tours
Visitors who wish to explore South Africa’s politics and history, may opt for a number of organised social, historic and traditional township tours. These tours take you back in time and unveil how history, including the apartheid era, has made its impact on the area. In the townships one will see what limitations applied in the past and how people resisted and adapted. Township life first-hand is not only a thought-provoking experience, but an experience filled with the joy of optimism and hope. For marketers and planners, this is where the future of South Africa will be shaped. Various accredited tour operators offer social history / township tours and shebeen tours.
The Red Location Museum of Struggle, which can be found on the corner of Olof Palme and Singaphi Streets, New Brighton, is a must-see on any visitor’s itinerary. The museum, which was opened in November 2006, commemorates South Africa’s turbulent apartheid history and long struggle for freedom. Several prestigious awards have been bestowed on the museum for its magnificent architecture and it is one of four of its kind in South Africa. The museum is situated in the historical Red Location, the city’s first black township, where the first urban Black families settled in the 1900s.
The many tour operators, tour guides and travel agents in the area will assist you to plan your holiday according to your preferences, budget and time available. They can also organise and package your trip to include adventure, eco-excursions, one-day sightseeing trips, ocean activities, cultural experiences or wildlife and agricultural outings.
1. Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism
2. Mandela Bay Development Agency