City Guide: Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is a city we wanted to visit so badly for different reasons while traveling through South Africa, but had heavy problems to find accurate information or city reviews in advance. Admittedly, Port Elizabeth has some areas to avoid and it’s best to be back in the hotel by dusk, but there are more things to enjoy and to see when it’s daytime and bright outside!

Port Elizabeth’s history may not reach back a thousand years, but was rather first documented in the late 15th century due to its location on the Pacific. However, indications of a growing city appeared in the middle of the 18th century, mostly because of the British. In fact, Port Elizabeth was even named after the late wife of Sir Rufane Donkin in 1820.

The Donkin Heritage Trail Port Elizabeth

Even though we read about a route called “Donkin Heritage Trail” before, we were unable to find anything further.

Brochure Donkin Heritage Trail

Thus, we decided to search for the tourist information center, which turned out to be a bit difficult as hardly anyone in whole Port Elizabeth knows about its existence.

Tourist Information Center Port Elizabeth

So, to make that easier for you: It’s located in the Donkin Reserve, upon a hill in the city of Port Elizabeth. There, we were able to get the brochure.

Main Library Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth’s Main Library was designed by Henry Cheers of Twickenham in England.

Main Library Port Elizabeth

Main Library Port Elizabeth

Interestingly, the terracotta façade itself was sent to Port Elizabeth after having been manufactured in England itself. Although the Main Library was opened in 1902, it got extensively restored in 1989 and 1990.

Queen Victoria Statue Port Elizabeth

Right next to/in front of the Main Library is a statue of Queen Victoria. Pretty much at the same time as the Main Library has the Queen Victoria Statue been erected. To be more precise, in 1903.

Covered Queen Victoria Statue Port Elizabeth

So much for the theory. I have still no idea how the important statue actually looks like as Queen Victoria was covered – or at least her statue.

City Hall and Market Square Port Elizabeth

After Port Elizabeth was granted Borough status in 1860, the City Hall was built. Formerly, it was a Council Chamber and serving as offices for city council employees until 1973.

City Hall Port Elizabeth

Town Hall

Market Square Port Elizabeth

Market Square

In front of it is the Market Square. For a very long period of time, the Market Square was the most important and vivid place when it comes to commercial activity.

Prester John Monument Port Elizabeth

Behind the City Hall stands Prester John Monument.

Prester John Monument Port Elizabeth

It reminds of him and the Portuguese to be the first Europeans to discover South Africa.

Railway Station Port Elizabeth

When we followed these nice reminders of the history of Port Elizabeth, we came downstairs and “saw” the Railway Station.

History of Port Elizabeth

To be honest, we got a very bad feeling and turned around immediately, hoping to stay without remark. As we later got to know, it is recommended to either visit the Railway Station in Port Elizabeth by car or in a big group. We don’t have a photo as I refused to lift the camera and rather wanted to hide it…

Settler houses on Castle Hill

When discovering the area of Castle Hill, we stumbled upon several historical settler houses.

Alfred Terrace Street Port Elizabeth

Mostly, they are private property, making it up to the owner to restore or maintain a good condition.

Little Theater and Athenaeum Building

Following the Donkin Heritage Trail, we discovered a building called Little Theater and the Athenaeum.

Athenaeum Port Elizabeth


Traditionally, the Athenaeum Society which had been founded in 1856 promoted cultural activities. Despite the fact it had been dissolved, there had been taken action to maintain the building. Nowadays, it has become a center for social and cultural activities alike again.

Fort Frederick Port Elizabeth

As the British were afraid of the French landing in Port Elizabeth, they built a fort upon a hill from where the Bay could be overlooked.

Port Elizabeth

Moreover, Fort Frederick contains of possibilities to defend Port Elizabeth.

Holy Rosary Convent Port Elizabeth

The building firstly served as a school back in 1870.

Holy Rosary Convent Port Elizabeth

So to say, it was no real convent, but more a Catholic School.

Churches in Port Elizabeth

On our way, we also noticed two churches. One called Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

Holy Trinity Anglican Church Port Elizabeth

Holy Trinity Anglican Church Port Elizabeth

Even though the Holy Trinity Church Port Elizabeth had been burned down, it was rebuilt. The third one is known as The Hill Presbyterian Church.

The Hill Presbyterian Church Port Elizabeth

Donkin Street Houses Port Elizabeth

The Donkin Street Houses are a row of terraced houses.

Donkin Street Houses Port Elizabeth

Donkin Street Houses Port Elizabeth

Interestingly, they are a single unit even though the buildings are disparate. In 1967, Donkin Street Houses have been declared as a national monument.

Donkin Reserve, Pyramid and Lighthouse

Basically where you will find the tourist information. Even though this land is known as Donkin Reserve, this is not officially proclaimed.

Donkin Reserve, Pyramid and Lighthouse Port Elizabeth

When it comes to the Lighthouse, this one dates back to the middle of the 19th century.

Other special buildings in Port Elizabeth

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Personal impressions of Port Elizabeth

As long as it was bright, I never really felt unsafe despite at the Railway Station. Yes, people looked at us from time to time, but that’s basically it. However, security companies and high fences with electricity show that it is not that safe when it gets dark, and it is really better to be at the hotel by then!

Security Fences

However, what I personally loved was the enjoyable beach, both sandy and rocky from time to time which is perfect for running.

seashell Port Elizabeth

Rocks Port Elizabeth

Beach Script South Africa

Beach Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth is a city of heritage, but definitely not ready for being overly touristic. And I don’t think it will turn to being a touristic city in the next years. However, a visit is really worth it if you plan a bit!


Curious where else to experience something special?


6 Comments on “City Guide: Port Elizabeth”

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