A ninety minute drive outside of Port Elizabeth will take you to a rather spooky South African colonial settlement. It’s called Grahamstown, a small municipality nestled within the scrubby green hills of the Eastern Cape. It was established in the early years of the nineteenth century, when settlers from England sought to start a new life in the vast expanses of the African wilderness. It later flourished to become one of the country’s most prominent centres of education and art, and is still a cultural hotspot today.
Grahamstown has a distinct Georgian atmosphere that is as eerie as it is eccentric. A looming cathedral shadows town centre High Street, and all of the main buildings boast intricately designed embellishments that have a particularly strong Gothic appeal. In fact, Grahamstown is also known as the City of Saints because of the high concentration of churches located within its narrow confines – just think of a mini-version of Prague in Southern Africa.
It’s therefore unsurprising that ghost sightings and other paranormal phenomena occur frequently, with many a frightened visitor reporting glimpses of the troubled souls of old Grahamstonians. Ghost fanatics can embark on the annual Mystery Ghost Bus Tour, which explores some of the town’s most notorious spots for supernatural activity.
For those who prefer stay in the world of the living, there is a plethora of things to do. Centrally-located Rhodes University gives Grahamstown one of the country’s most vibrant student scenes. It offers a bustling nightlife that can compete with that of larger cities. Whether you’re into traditional English pubs, dub-step parties or thumping hip-hop club beats, there is something to suit every mood.
The ultimate Grahamstown experience, however, is the annual National Arts Festival. This is one of the largest arts festivals in the southern hemisphere, and showcases works of music, theatre, art, dance and film from all over the African continent and beyond. This is when the town bursts into all of its true, pulsating colours. Tuck into some hearty local street grub from one of the many food stalls on the High Street, like aromatic butternut soup or kudu (a type of wild South African game) burgers. Browse the streets for kaleidoscopic paintings and funky clothing. The NAF will realise the wishes of every kind of art lover.
Grahamstown offers an alternative experience for travellers who want to experience Africa beyond the beaten path. Pop in and savour a version of South Africa that is charmingly locked in time. It is possible to get to Grahamstown by car, which can be hired at Port Elizabeth International Airport.
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia