In a testament to German design and planning, Namibia’s capital city Windhoek lies almost exactly in the centre of its geography. It is indeed the administrative and economic heart of the country; nearly every national enterprise is headquartered here, as is the University of Namibia and all ministry head offices, major media and financial institutions.
Windhoek is a curious combination of cosmopolitan European flair and earthy African flavour. German architecture contrasts against a backdrop of mountain and desert, and travellers will find much to endear them to South Africa’s shyer neighbour.
Getting there and away
International travellers arriving in Namibia by plane will land via Hosea Kutako International Airport. South African Airways, LTU, and Air Namibia all have daily flights, whilst TAAG Angola Airlines has bi-weekly flights to Luanda. The airport is approximately 40km out of town, so cater for extra time for travel into the city centre. If you’re in need of a ride-share service similar to Uber, you can order a Lefa instead.
Windhoek also has a municipal airport, Eros. This is the main airport for all domestic flights – so travellers who need to make a connection between international and domestic flights should allow one hour for travel time between the two airports.
There is no public transport system in Windhoek but there is a system of shared taxis, which run primarily between the townships and the main industrial/commercial areas of the city. Fares range from between NAD8 ($1) for destinations on route, to NAD16 ($2) for more out of the way areas. Otherwise, hire a private taxi or a Lefa.
Driving around Namibia is the best way to see the country. The roads are excellent, the traffic is light, and the signposts are numerous, clear and unambiguous. It’s easiest to hire a vehicle for the whole time spent in Namibia. There are a number of car rental agencies located at the airport.
Where to stay
The Olive Exclusive Boutique Hotel is set conveniently close to the Windhoek central business district, but is still far enough from city centre noise and traffic. The location suits the business community perfectly, as it does for tourists seeking a bit of luxury.
The Kalahari Sands Hotel and Casino is also located close to Windhoek’s business centre. It offers luxury four-star accommodation and has one of the best casinos in Namibia.
For more standard fare, try Protea Hotel Fürstenhof. Situated only five minutes’ walk from the city centre, this is an ideal base to start exploring the city.
For a taste of fine Namibian cooking, try NICE (Namibian Institute of Culinary Education). As the name suggests, this is a chef school. There is a large range of meals to choose from with just as much creativity. Also try Luigi and the Fish, which has a huge menu of Namibian fare such as game, beef and pork.
For something more exotic, Italian lovers will delight in La Dolce Vita (in the Kaiserkrone Centre) or Sardinia on Independence Avenue. Both serve a variety of pizza and pasta dishes, and Sardinia is famed for its delicious ice cream. Tim Sum provides a more oriental vibe, serving a range of Taiwanese vegetarian food.
History and culture
Namibia was originally inhabited by nomadic hunters, gatherers, and livestock herders; the ancestors of today’s Bushman and Khoi-speaking people. European traders, missionaries, and settlers began arriving in the mid-1800s, and a German colony was established in 1890, but came to an end during World War I when South African troops occupied Windhoek. Namibia (as South West Africa) achieved its independence in 1990.
The city is filled with architectural dedications to Namibia’s German origins. Windhoek’s three beautiful castles, Heinitzburg, Sanderburg, and Schwerinsburg, were built during the colonial period and are each worth a visit.
In the city
For a full experience of Namibian heritage, The Bushman Art Museum and African Museum is indispensable. Located in the centre of Windhoek, it started as a souvenir and gift shop and soon became a private gallery. The National Art Gallery of Namibia houses permanent collections of Namibian, African and European art, and has a full programme of travelling exhibitions.
The National Botanical Gardens are also a must-see as they house Namibian plants exclusively. The gardens are also home to a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects, and there are a number of self-guided walking trails lead through the gardens.
Out of the city
Out of Windhoek, Namibia offers some amazing sights. The Fish River Canyon is the second largest natural gorge in the world and the largest in Africa. It is an extremely popular hiking destination and offers amazing photo opportunities.
Sand meets sea along Namibia’s ominously-named Skeleton Coast. Stretching over the northern third of Namibia’s coastline, the name is well-earned given the scores of shipwrecks scattering the beaches – thanks to the Benguela Current, dense fog and rough surf.
The Kalahari Desert, while not technically a desert, offers vast expanses of breath-taking beauty. It is home to the San Bushmen.
While most socialising in Windhoek takes place in private residences – Namibians are as fond of a braai just as much as the South Africans – there are plenty of places to join local revellers. Bar hopping can take you from the sophisticated chill of The Wine Bar to the more down-to-earth style of Joe’s Beerhouse.
There are also a number of music and dance venues catering to all tastes. El Cubano provides a Latin twist while African rhythms define Chez Ntamba. The rave crowd will flock to Bump, while rock music aficionados will find a home at Blitzkrieg Bunker Bar.
The Post Street Mall is a pedestrianised shopping precinct with a variety of shops, cafes and restaurants. There you can also find the Windhoek and Namibian tourist board info centres, as well as a wide variety of expensive craft stalls. For cheaper deals, without skimping on the quality, try Okahandja; a short drive out of Windhoek.
For meat lovers, Windhoek is veritable smorgasbord of choice. At Readi Bites meat market, order anything from oryx and kudu to springbok or zebra.
English is the official language of Namibia but about 50% of the population speaks Afrikaans. German is also used in tourism and business, while 50% of Namibians use Oshiwambo as a mother tongue. The country code for Namibia is +264.