The culturally and historically significant Eastern Cape province is home to the city of Port Elizabeth (often shortened to PE). It is a coastal city known for its excellent beaches, wildlife attractions and friendly people! Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa and quite conveniently, it is a natural extension of the Garden Route.
You can expect lots of friendly faces, as it is home to an estimated population of about 1 284 370 people. The city boasts a mild enjoyable climate; however, it is sometimes also referred to as “The Windy City” by locals. Officially known as “Nelson Mandela Bay”, this unassuming city boasts a rich heritage, formed by influential people from various cultural backgrounds.
How Port Elizabeth Got Its Name
About 4 000 British settlers arrived in 1820 by sea. They were sent to the area by the Cape Colony government to create a settlement and strengthen the region between the Cape Colony and the Xhosa people. They developed the area into a seaport town.
It was founded by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, who was the Acting Governor of the Cape Colony at that time. The town was named ‘Port Elizabeth’ after his late wife Elizabeth.
Top Ten Things to do & Places to Visit in Port Elizbeth
This family-orientated holiday destination offers a diverse set of attractions including historic heritage sights, scenic nature trails, breath-taking wildlife, cultural experiences and countless water sport activities. It is the perfect holiday spot that will keep you and your family entertained for days.
If you are planning on visiting this beautiful city, we’ve compiled a list of our favourite places, sights and activities:
#1 Visit Stanley Street
This vibrant street is an absolute must when visiting Port Elizabeth. If you are looking for a restaurant, you are spoilt for choice in this street. There is something for everyone from Italian dishes and seafood platters to Greek cuisine and steak houses. It is set in Richmond Hill, one of the city’s oldest suburbs. This vibey street creates a festive atmosphere with restaurant tables out on the sidewalk, fairy lights in the trees and happy chatter all around.
#2 Take a Tour of the Volkswagen Auto Pavilion
If you’re a motorsport or motor vehicle enthusiast, make sure to visit the Volkswagen Factory in Uitenhage. This guided tour will offer you a sneak peek into the history and production of Volkswagen motors including a host of prototypes, unique cars and even Herbie (which is perfect for your little ones). The Auto Pavilion is the only automobile discovery centre on the continent, so make sure to pre-book your spot. If you have an NMB pass, it’s free.
#3 Explore the Beautiful Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve
Situated a mere 40km’s outside of Port Elizabeth you’ll find the gorgeous Van Stadens Wildflower Reserve, home to a plethora of rare and endemic plants found within South Africa. Guests are welcome to drive through the reserve. If you want to experience the beauty first hand, there are various walks throughout the reserve with ample picnic spots. This is a great option for families and there is no cost to enter the reserve.
#4 Catch a Tan at Hobie Beach
Port Elizabeth is home to several scenic beaches, most of which have Blue Flag status.
Hobie beach is one of the most popular beach spots as it caters for groups of friends and the whole family. Play a game of volleyball, swim in the ocean, catch a tan or if you’re more of an adventurous type, try wind surfing. If you have children, they can explore the many rock pools budding with sea life.
#5 Horse Riding in Sardinia Bay
Go on a scenic horse ride along the coast of Sardinia Bay.
Experience the beautiful Sardinia Bay on horseback. If you’ve got an NMB pass, Heavenly Stables offers a free one-hour horse ride through the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve. Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity – make sure to secure your spot by booking two days prior.
#6 Visit the Donkin Lighthouse
For stunning views of the city, visit the historical Donkin Lighthouse built in 1961. It is over 150 years old offering you a rich cultural experience. At the top you’ll get fantastic views of the city and harbour, as well as some great photo opportunities of this historical landmark.
#7 Take a Scenic Drive to Visit the Penguins at SANCCOB
There’s a fantastic marine bird rehabilitation centre situated in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Visitors can take a walk around the centre and see some of the ‘patients’ in the centre. SANCCOB also welcomes volunteers to assist with the rehabilitation process.
A stand out experience is seeing penguins or any other birds such as seagulls or flamingo’s being released after being successfully rehabilitated. This is certainly one of the most memorable sights!
#8 Grab a Meal While Your Children Play Up a Storm at Grass Roof
Grass Roof is one of the most popular farms in Port Elizabeth and it is a great local spot for families. They’ve got various delicious breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert options suited for all preferences. Whilst you enjoy a meal in this laid-back atmosphere, the children can play up a storm outside – offering the best of both worlds. They also have a wonderful shop selling handmade local crafts, delicious pastries and organic goodies.
#9 On the First Saturday of the Month, Visit the Valley Market
On the first Saturday of every month, the Valley Market is the place to be! The Artisan Food Market brings the best of the city’s unique food venues together, giving you the chance to experience local, delicious goodness. It’s a lovely, festive and fun atmosphere, so make sure to look out for this gem!
#10 Visit Bay West Mall
For some fun, visit the impressive Ice Rink at Bay West Mall. It happens to be the only ice rink in the Eastern Cape. If you are not in the mood for ice-skating, there is also a cinema. This is ideal if you have children or if are just looking for a fun family day. On top of this, the mall also has a games centre where children can be entertained for hours.
Port Elizbeth Attractions, the Wild Kind
For wildlife lovers wanting to explore the Eastern Cape, there are many wildlife attractions in and around Port Elizabeth to visit.
Kragga Kamma Game Reserve
Just outside the city, you’ll find this up and coming game reserve. Guests can choose to self-drive through the reserve or go on a guided game drive. If you’ve got a NMB pass, it is free. The reserve is home to the white rhino, giraffe, zebra, nyala and buffalo who roam freely. Lions and cheetahs can be seen in separate enclosures.
Addo Elephant National Park
As the name suggests, this national park is home to hundreds of our big friends, the African Elephants! Guests also have the opportunity to see the Big 5, a Great White shark and the southern right whale. If you are worried about accommodation, don’t be. There are plenty of options whether you want a luxurious stay or a more rustic experience.
Shamwari Private Game Reserve
A mere hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth, you’ll find Shamwari. Home to the big five and an array of diverse wildlife species. This five-star reserve is one of the top choices in terms of luxurious safari and holiday destinations. With several unique accommodation offerings, an extensive Kids on Safari Adventure Centre and an Explorer Camp, it has something for everyone.
The Romantic Side of the City
Unbeknown to many, there are many romantic things to do in Port Elizabeth for couples wanting to rekindle their romance or honeymooners visiting the area. Sardinia Bay beach is one of the most romantic spots in Port Elizabeth at sunset, not to mention that it’s the perfect picnic spot for couples! Two Olives in Stanley street is a cosy tapa inspired restaurant which is perfect for a romantic dinner date. If you’d like all the chance you can get to snuggle up to your loved one, go and watch a movie at Bay West mall where you can purchase a love seat for two.
Family and Child Friendly things to do
When visiting this friendly city with your little ones, rest assured as there is plenty of activities to keep them busy! One of the best things you can do is to purchase a Nelson Mandela Pass as it offers you many discounts or free access to activities in and around the city. You can purchase a card for 1 day or up to 7 days if you’re in the city for a week.
Where can you go?
- Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment World: Located on the beachfront, children are spoilt for choice here. With a sweet shop, a games centre filled with arcade games, a mini outdoor golf course, movies and a beautiful water display, there are plenty of things to do.
- Port Elizabeth Museum: With dinosaur figures, historical artefacts, costumes and local history halls, there’s plenty to see and do.
- Funky Frogs: Mom and dad can enjoy a great cup of coffee whilst the kids play in a lovely, care-free environment.
- Beaches: Children can play for hours at any one of Port Elizabeth’s beautiful and clean beaches. Lifeguards are always placed in and around the beaches in order to ensure everyone’s safety
- McArthur’s Swimming Pool: This is perfect for families on those warm summer days as it is located on the beachfront.
- Go on a scenic hike: The Sacramento trail is a beautiful hiking trail in the Sardinia Bay Marine and Nature Reserve. There are great picnic spots along the way too!
- Watch a sports match: Watch a rugby or cricket match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. It impressively seats 45 000 people and offers spectacular views of North End Lake.
- Bay West Mall: This mall is perfect for a day of entertainment for the kids, filled with a games centre, child-friendly restaurants, a large cinema and an impressive ice-skating rink.
Must See Markets in Port Elizabeth
The city of Port Elizabeth is filled with talent! With young entrepreneurs using their skills to create unique art and crafts as well talented chefs creating divine cuisine for you to taste, it’s everything you want in a trip. Look at some of our favourite markets this city has to offer:
#1 Kings Beach Flea Market
This market stretches along the beachfront promenade from Kings Beach to McArthur’s pools. The numerous stalls showcase a variety of jewellery, clothing, ornaments, arts, African crafts, pre-loved books and much more. There are also a host of food stalls to choose from should you visit on an empty stomach (which we recommend).
#2 Lady Slipper Farmers Market
For a fun family outing, take a short drive out of town to the Lady Slipper Farmers Market. The market runs from 9:00 – 13:00 in winter (June, July, August) and opens earlier in summer, 8:00 – 12:00 (September – May).
You can expect delicious artisan breads, fresh farm produce, sweet treats as well as local crafts and arts. Not to mention the beautiful scenery as this market sits at the base of the Lady Slipper mountain. There are also great mountain biking and hiking trails for the adventurous souls.
#3 Good Night Market
The Good Night Market occurs on one Thursday evening of the month, from 17h00 to 21h00. If you happen to be in Port Elizabeth on a Thursday, it’s worth a visit.
There is a R20 entrance fee, however all the proceeds go to a charity.
This festive night market is the place to be, with live music and choices ranging from craft gin, South African beer, good wine and delicious coffee. The cuisine is also one of the highlights with a choice between gourmet burgers, homemade ice-cream, traditional South African roosterkoek or roosterbrood and much more. For all the art lovers, there are stalls with organic beauty products and jewellery to keep your interests piqued.
#4 Windsong Bohemian Market
This market occurs quarterly during the Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring Season. It is a niche market with homemade and homegrown goodies that have been recycled into unusual, quirky and authentic products. It is certainly a market to look out for if you’re in the area.
Although unassuming, this beautiful coastal city of Port Elizabeth has so much to offer. Make sure to try these activities and experiences. Rest assured, you won’t be disappointed!