[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]You don’t have to be a student to appreciate all the things to do in Grahamstown. While this small town is most well known for Rhodes University and the National Arts Festival, it holds many more hidden and eclectic activities.
See my recommendations for the top ten activities in and around Grahamstown. Most are even affordable on a student budget.
1. Grahamstown National Arts Festival
“Fest” as locals call it runs during the second week of the Rhodes June/July vacation. The first week is Schools’ Fest and the second week is the Arts Festival itself. Fest is famous for
- art exhibitions
- good food
- unusual handcrafted knickknacks
It is the largest celebration of arts in Africa and was previously an important space for anti-apartheid theatre. Fest remains a celebration of diversity and multiculturalism. Here are 10 reasons why not to miss it!
If you’re planning on heading this way, make sure to pack your thermal underwear, gumboots and double the money that you anticipate you’ll spend. Residences are available for reasonably-priced accommodation, but book early.
2. Gray Dam
The dam is situated about 1km outside of Grahamstown, just off the road that leads up towards the N2. It is within walking distance from anywhere in town. You can swim in it during summer, and picnic and braai on the banks all year round. This is a popular student hang out and people can at times be seen picking a spot in a disgruntled manner when the prime spot near the rope swing has already been taken. Gray Dam is also the departure point for a scenic 6km loop-walk up to the Toposcope, a lookout point at the top of the hills surrounding the dam.
3. Rat and Parrot Pub
Anyone who has been to Rhodes or merely passed through Grahamstown will know about the legend that is Rat. It is a must for the best pizza in town. With its reasonably-priced drinks, great vibe and typical sing-along pub music, Rat is the first and last stop on many nights out. It is also the spot for “day mares,” post-exam celebration, and even a place you can take your parents to. Many people have private events in the small separate area called “Mouse and Budgie.”
4. 1820s Settlers Monument
Graduation takes place at Monument, as does the first year parent/student address by the vice-chancellor. While this may sound like a boring place to visit, it has the best view of Grahamstown at night. It’s the highest point from which you can look out over the town and gives you great perspective: you can see all three of the town’s traffic lights, point out your residence and marvel at how ‘far’ your respective res is from town. To get the full experience of sundowners at Monument, you must walk there and not drive. There is a well-worn and fairly well-lit path. Go in a crowd and take a warm top because it always gets windy
5. Day trip to Kenton, Port Alfred or Hogsback
Kenton-on-Sea is a small sea-side town located between the Bushman’s and Kariega tidal rivers, just a 45 minute drive out of Grahamstown. Everything in Kenton is within walking distance, so if you make use of a shuttle service to get from Grahamstown you won’t be stranded. Kenton has the (debatably) warm Indian Ocean and is the site of two Blue Flag beaches: Kelly’s Beach and Kariega Beach. All shops close early on a Sunday, so make sure you shop in advance.
Port Alfred is a bigger beach-side town. While it is pleasant, it is nowhere near as charming as the quaint Kenton. It is also harder to get around there if you don’t have a car.
Hogsback is a little further a field, situated about two hours outside Grahamstown in the beautiful Amatola Mountains. There are lots of reasonably-priced little backpackers and camp sites to stay at. The forest is lush and shaded with hidden waterfalls and a giant, ancient tree tucked away in the foliage. The town’s claim to fame is that is was Tolkein’s inspiration for Lord of the Rings, so everything is themed accordingly.
Blunden Shuttles offer weekend specials to Port Alfred and Kenton if you have a student loyalty card.
6. Sunday Bathurst Farmers’ Market and The Big Pineapple
The tiny town of Bathurst is a 40 minute drive away, and you pass through it on the way to Port Alfred. Here you’ll find the best boerewors you’ll ever tasted and other delicious homemade treats. There is freshly baked bread, knitted clothes, and home-grown organic produce on sale every Sunday from 9am-12:30pm, rain or shine. While you’re there, visit the pottery market and “the biggest shop in Bathurst” – probably the same size as the average bedroom. Bathurst is most well known for The Big (they mean giant) Pineapple stands 16.7m tall and is the largest pineapple in Africa. You can go inside the gigantic three storey fruity structure which houses a coffee shop and gift shop.
7. Makana Botanical Gardens
The best part about the Bot Gardens is that entrance is free! It’s a great place for picnics, walking dogs, sundowners or exploration.
8. Unusual Shopping
Nearly New second-hand shop is situated just off High Street. You can sell your second hand clothes here and pick up reasonably priced vintage items. Under the Arch is situated under the famous Rhodes arch near the clock tower. The shop sells long boards, beanies, sarongs, wall hangings, jewellery and other locally produced goods. Stop off for some coffee next door at the new coffee-to-go stall. Students get R3 off when presenting their student card.
9. A Grahamstown Gig
There is always something musical going on, be it a trance party on the Tunnels Farm or at Monastery, an acoustic gig at Olde 65, a Metal Mondays jam at Slipstream or a live band at Champs. The Grahamstown music scene is one with plenty to offer and gigs are a must. You can even have your own DJ gig with My Own Music, an amateur DJ event which is very popular.
10. Tuesdays 2-for-1 La Tratoria Pasta
Students quickly get to know the weekly dinner specials, and this is perhaps one of the most popular. While the pasta is not outstanding, and the vibe is a little school-hall-ish, the half price pasta is a bargain. If someone else is paying (e.g. your parents) I highly recommend the rump steak with veg and sauce.
Dynamite comes in small packages… the town might be small, but the amount of awesome things to do in Grahamstown is huge. The famous student town is full of good moods and students who are eager for fun adventures, whether these end up at a party or not. You’re bound to have a good time with the folks you encounter roaming the streets of this arty hub.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]