Situated slightly east of the centre of South Africa, we could argue that the Free State is the beating heart of the country. Certainly, the Free State is neighbour to more provinces than any other, as well as, Lesotho, and thanks to the fertile soil of the region’s many farmlands, is also known as South Africa’s breadbasket.
The N1, the main road running between Johannesburg and Cape Town, slices through the Free State. For many travellers, it’s a stop along the way to other tourist meccas but for those looking to take things slow, it’s wonderful road-tripping country. Only a smattering of small towns intersect the never-ending road with the capital; Bloemfontein, at the centre of the province.
For an area with a reputation for being, well, flat, travellers may be surprised to discover two of South Africa’s most marvellous mountain getaways in the Free State.
Bordering Lesotho, at the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, lies the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, regarded as the Treasure of the northern Free State. Magnificent sandstone cliffs tower over the rolling grasslands, while 20km away, the vibrant little town of Clarens is watched over by the rather mooi Rooiberge Mountains.
Also in the north of the province, near Parys, is the world’s oldest and largest crater, the Vredefort Crater, believed to date back more than two million years.
The prehistoric setting and rocky outcrops that guard secret mountain valleys morph into golden fields of corn as one journeys south into the “golden country” of the central Free State.
For the nature lover and adrenaline junkie, it is the land of the free. The skies and roads are endless, natural beauty is abundant and each day ends with a lekker kuier (nice visit) on a neighbour’s stoep.
Without a doubt, the best way to experience the Free State is on a road trip, taking it slow. Make sure you veer off the N1 every now and again to meet the locals who thrive in small towns seemingly forgotten in time.
The capital Bloemfontein, meaning “spring of flowers” in Afrikaans (hence its nickname “The City of Roses”) is in the heart of the province and is worth a visit if you’re driving through. This is a city with the heart of a small town.
What to do in the Free State
The most meaningful experiences are to be found in the teeny towns and villages, discovering the natural treasures of the region from the locals. Here are some of our top recommendations:
Where to stay in the Free State
Where to eat in the Free State