With South Africans across the country longing for open skies and fresh air, there’s never been a better time to plan and dream of your first local road trip. And the Free State offers up plenty of under the radar, little-known treasures.
Here is our Flight Centre expert-approved Free State travel guide – everything you need to see, do and eat on your next trip to the province.
The Free State, actually the whole of South Africa, is filled with little known gems that have international acclaim. If you’re visiting Clarens or are near the teeny town of Parys, consider a trip to the Vredefort Crater, the world’s oldest and largest crater. Experts estimate that it is more than two million years old. It’s also one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Visitors can join a guided tour to visit the crater and learn about the site and the surrounding area, perfect for those interested in geology, birding or history and culture.
Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Time travel back thousands of years to a prehistoric landscape of rocky outcrops, sandstone cliffs and endless valleys. Watching the sun set or rise over these surreal landscapes is nothing short of breathtaking and makes you feel as if you’re alone in the universe.
The park borders Lesotho and is one of the great treasures of the northern Free State.
It’s a veritable paradise for nature and adventure-loving travellers. Try horse riding, 4 x 4 trails in the surrounding area, hiking or even game viewing – spotting the area’s antelope, zebra, black wildebeest or the rare bearded vulture and bald ibis. For hikers, the 31 km Rhebok Hiking Trail through ravines and waterfalls is popular.
It’s a year-round destination – pack for all seasons.
Ideally situated for a weekend getaway, Clarens is about a three-hour drive from Johannesburg, Durban and Bloemfontein. This family-friendly favourite presents the perfect outdoors escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The adventurous can explore on mountain bike, horse or quad bike, while the culture and art lovers will enjoy browsing the town’s galleries and curio shops on President Square and Main Street. Must-visit galleries are the Art and Wine Gallery and the Blou Donki Art Gallery, showcasing the work of South African artists. The town is also popular for its many festivals and markets. If you’re visiting over a festival weekend, be sure to book early though.
Did you know that you can even follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs in Clarens? The town may have been established in 1912, but thousands of years before then dinosaurs roamed the land. Family members interested in geology and palaeontology can trace the footsteps of dinosaurs, keeping their eyes peeled for fossilised footprints. Tours are suitable for all ages.
READ MORE: South Africa’s best small towns
Smell the roses in Bloemfontein
Bloem may only be a stop on your drive from Joburg to Cape Town, but it’s a city worth visiting in its own right. The name Bloemfontein translates as ‘spring of flowers’ in Afrikaans. The city is especially proud of its beautiful roses. Plan a stop in rose blooming season and discover the small-town heart of this city.
Basotho Cultural Village
If you’re visiting the Golden Gate Park, take a turn off the R712 to visit the Basotho Cultural Village, an 18th-century Basotho Village. It’s a real village, not a museum, so be respectful when visiting. Travellers can learn about the nation’s rich culture, meet a chief and a traditional healer and sample some of the local cuisine.
What to eat in the Free State
Craft beer, trout and traditional cuisine may be an unusual mix, but they’re the order of the day in the Free State. Apart from your usual favourites, take the time to discover some of the Free State’s finest foodie – and drink – flavours.
Traditional Basotho cuisine
If you’re stopping in to visit the Basotho Cultural Village, try some of the local cuisine. The area is the heartland of the Basotho, the perfect place to try heart-warming dishes like Ting, Mangangajane or fall off the bone, delicious slow-cooked oxtail stew, with dumplings (leqebekoane).
If you’re a craft beer lover, Clarens has earned a reputation as a fantastic craft beer brewing hub. It’s home to the famous Clarens Brewery, one of the country’s first brew-pubs, cideries and distilleries. Pop in to try the beers and ciders, German sausages and hearty pub snacks.
Clarens is one of the best places in the country for trout fishing. Try your hand at catching your dinner or nip into one of the fantastic restaurants to sample their superb trout meals.
Where to stay in the Free State
The Free State has accommodation options for every travel budget and interest. Whether you choose a mountain retreat near or in the Golden Gate National Park, or cosy up in a self-catering cottage in Clarens, or even opt for a camping mattress and tent, there is something for everyone.
Contact a Flight Centre travel expert today to suggest tailormade options perfectly suited to your Free State holiday.