Conveniently located on the Sunshine Coast about halfway between Cape Town and Durban, Port Elizabeth (PE) is most popular as a beach holiday spot for South Africans. Many road trippers also choose PE as a place to spend the night when heading up or down the coast, and it’s the gateway to the nearby Garden Route.
Whether you end up in PE for a night or a week, this guide will help you decide what to see, where to stay and where to eat in this charming, quiet corner of South Africa.
Orientation and attractions
Port Elizabeth and the industrial satellite towns of Uitenhage and Despatch (and the townships surrounding it) are collectively known as “Nelson Mandela Bay Metro City.” At the epicentre is the Port Elizabeth Central Business District (CBD), which despite plans to revitalize it before the 2010 World Cup, remains pretty run down. It’s filled with fast-food restaurant chains, discount clothing stores, and plenty of hawkers. Unless you have business down here, there really isn’t any reason to visit. Stick with the suburbs, where most of the chic restaurants, bars and boutiques are located in mall settings.
However before you head to the ‘burbs, you may want to learn a bit about the history of PE at the South End Museum, which tells the story of the former multicultural district that was destroyed during the apartheid era. For a bird’s eve view of the city, climb up the hill at Donkin Reserve, which sits just behind the town centre. For an even better view, climb to the top of the lighthouse, and enjoy the view of the bay. If you’re got kids, they will enjoy Bayworld, a small oceanarium complex with a snake park, seal show, and and marine museum. For a civilized evening experience without the kiddies, check out the Port Elizabeth Opera House, which is the oldest in South Africa. It hosts everything from opera to ballet to jazz.
PE provides a number of wide sandy beaches and warm (for South Africa) water for chilling and recreation. Most of the beach bars, restaurants and shops are concentrated along a number of beaches south of downtown, along Beach Road. First up is Kings Beach, which includes its own promenade. Here you’ll find the MacArthur Leisure Center (tel: 041-582-2285, Kings Beach Promenade), which has a swimming pool as well as direct beach access and an onsite bar and restaurant.
Just south of Kings Beach is the Summerstrand area and Hobie Beach. Here you’ll find two surf breaks, the Pipe and the Fence, as well as excellent windsurfing at Hobie Beach – PE is known as the “windy city” for good reason. To rent surf gear, pay the Surf Center (tel: 041-585-6027) in Dolphins Leap a visit for board rentals or lessons.
If you’d rather just sunbathe, continue south along the main beach road – it becomes Marine Drive south of Hobie Beach – for 20 km to Sardinia Bay. The beach is 10 km long and by far the prettiest in the area – note that to get to the beach itself, however, you will have to walk over some large sand dunes. Be very careful swimming here, however, the current can be very strong.
If you’re interested in an out-of-town excursion, most hotels and tour companies can arrange a trip to Addo Elephant National Park, which is only an hour away from PE. The third largest national park in the country, Addo is a sanctuary to over 600 elephants. You’re almost guaranteed to spot a herd meters away from your car, especially if you drive past the Hapoor dam, where the animals like to spend their time. The park also offers hiking routes and horse trails, making it a good option for a day out the city. Nearby is the Sunday’s River ferry, where you can spot birds and other wildife while cruising the waterway, courtesy of Addo Cruises.
The majority of the best lodging in PE is located south of downtown along the beachfront. When looking for a place to stay near the beach, the Summerstrand and Humewood neighborhoods are good choices with complementary dining and nightlife choices. Away from the beach, check out the Richmond Hill suburb just northwest of the city center, which has a few cute guesthouses sprinkled among its chic restaurants and bars. The Walmer suburb also has some guesthouse options and a couple of good restaurants.
Port Elizabeth has lodging at all price points, although the majority of recommended places fall into the budget and mid-range brackets – it just hasn’t become a hotspot for the rich and famous yet, and as such it doesn’t exactly boast a host of five-star beach resorts. It does, however, have a number of elegant boutique properties, such as Hacklewood Hill Country House, The Windermere, The Boardwalk Hotel, and the No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel.
The Radisson Blu is a solid choice for either business or leisure travelers looking for a high-end chain hotel, and the four-star Beach Hotel, right off Hobie Beach next to the Boardwalk, offers stylish rooms and an onsite restaurant that faces the Indian Ocean. The Chapman Hotel, next to the Dolphin’s Leap Center, is a solid mid-range choice if you want a hotel environment. It has a waterfall, rim-flow pool and the contemporary rooms all have balconies with sea views.
Algoa Bay B&B in the Humewood neighborhood is just a few blocks from the beach, and rooms come with flat-screen TVs and contemporary furnishings. Book one on the top floor to see King’s Beach from your window. Grounds include a chill deck and a solar-heated swimming pool.
To find more great places to stay, visit our Port Elizabeth hotels page.
Dining and nightlife
The Richmond Hill neighborhood is the epicenter of PE’s culinary scene. You’ll want to take a wander down Stanley Street, between Glen and Mackay Streets, for more than a half dozen quality restaurant choices. If you happen to be in town for the first Wednesday of the month, don’t skip the night market that sets up along this street.
More restaurants are found along the beaches south of town – between Kings Beach and Summerstrand. Here you’ll find Brookes on the Bay pavilion and The Boardwalk casino complex in Summerstrand, both of which have a mix of fast-food and sit down restaurants such as Coachman On The Bay. Also check out Blue Waters Café on Marine Drive in Summerstrand. It is right on the main beach road and looks out over the sand and the Indian Ocean — head to the outdoor porch on the 2nd floor for a drink and a meal (the food isn’t exceptional, but the location is).
Stanley Street in Richmond Hill is also home to a number of good pubs and restaurants. Fushin offers excellent sushi and made-from-scratch Singapore-inspired noodle dishes created by the restaurant’s chef/owner. Vovo Telo is where PE residents head for breakfast or lunch. It is most loved for its excellent coffee – both drip and espresso – as well as freshly baked bread and pastries, and some unique breakfast and brunch choices.
Cubata, which is located in a slightly dodgy neighborhood around the corner from the soccer stadium, is a low-key joint located in a cavernous converted garage. They do excellent Portuguese-style barbecue: choose from ribs, chicken or prawns either peri-peri, or regular with a side of thick cut fries and crispy rolls to soak up all the sauce.
If you’re seeking a bar crawl, there are a number of bars along Parliament Street — but be careful here, as it isn’t the safest area at night.
To find more great places to eat, visit our Port Elizabeth restaurants page.
For traditional handicrafts check out the Wezandla Gallery & Craft Center (27 Baakens St), which has a huge selection made by local artists. There are also shops – both of the artisan and surf-wear varieties – at the Boardwalk in Summerstrand. On Sundays a flea market on King’s Beach is where to go for curios.
How to get there and around
Port Elizabeth International Airport (PLZ) is located about 5 km (3 miles) from the city center. The “international” in the name is a bit of a misnomer, as it only serves destinations within South Africa. Airlink, British Airways, FlySafair, Mango, and South African Express fly to and from Johannesburg, Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, and East London.
PE can also be accessed by bus. Most long distance buses from points across the country, including Cape Town and Johannesburg, arrive at the Greenacres Shopping Center, about 3 km (2 miles) from Humewood. The Baz Bus, which is the South African backpacker transit, also stops in Port Elizabeth five times per week on its Durban-to-Cape Town run.
If you need to rent a car, all the major rental companies have offices at the airport, as well as the city center.
If you need to hail a cab, try Hurter Cabs (tel: 041-585-5500). Minibus taxis are also a local transport option. These leave from the minibus taxi rank on Strand Street, which is a few blocks north of the bell tower downtown, and go to the surrounding townships.
Location: PE is located in Eastern Cape province, 750 km (465 mi) from Cape Town and 900 km (550 mi) from Durban.
Weather: Being a coastal city, PE winters are cool and mild, while summers are warm and semi-humid. The average high in July is 20C (68F) and the average low is 9C (48F). In January the average high is 25C (77F) and the average low is 18C (64F).
Safety: Like anywhere in South Africa, use caution when walking around Port Elizabeth, and it is best to leave the flashy clothes and jewelry at home. The CBD is fine during the day, but at night there is little reason for tourists to wander around here. Also take caution in dark alleys and along the beachfront after dark. Finally, there are a number of popular local bars on Parliament St near the city center, but this area can be a bit sketchy after dark.
Police: 10 111
Fire: 041 585 1555
- Dora Nginza Hospital – Spondo Rd, Zwide, tel: 041 406 4111
- Netcare Greenacres Hospital – Ring Road, Greenacres, tel: 041 390 7120 / 390 7298
- Livingstone Hospital – Standford Road, Korsten, tel: 041 405 9111
- Mercantile Private Hospital – Durban Road, Korsten, tel: 041 401 2700
- Provincial Hospital – Gipson Street, Mount Croix, tel: 041 392 3911
- St George’s Hospital – Park Drive, Central, tel: 041 392 6111
Futher information: Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism has branches at the Summerstrand Boardwalk, and in front of Brooke’s on the Bay Pavilion in Humewood, as well as the airport and the main office in Donkin Bay.