The small capital of the country, Windhoek is an attractive city situated in the Central Highlands and surrounded by hills and mountains. Namibia's largest city, it occupies the country's geographic and economic heart and is a good base for further travel and exploration.
The city centre is characterised by historic German colonial architecture and imposing modern structures. Dominating the skyline is the striking German Lutheran church, Christuskirche, a mixture of Art Nouveau and neo-Gothic design, and the Titenpalast, or 'Ink Palace', the parliament building from where the sparsely populated country is governed.
The railway station is a Cape Dutch edifice dating back to 1912, and the tree-lined Independence Avenue contains pleasant fountains and walkways. It provides a relaxing ambience among the modern buildings of the central business district.
Cattle herders of the region, the women of the Herero tribe are very distinctive with their voluminous Victorian-style dresses and colourful headgear. But the German influence is not only apparent in the architecture.
It's pretty evident in the food and locally-brewed beer. Polony and sauerkraut are available on the menu among local dishes, including seafood from the west coast and venison or game steaks from the hinterland. Eating out in Windhoek is a fun and unique experience.
Christuskirche is a prominent landmark in the historic centre of Windhoek. A 79-foot (24m) spire tops the sandstone church, existing as a national monument. Its portal and altar are Italian marble, and its gothic revival face is unique by virtue of its Art Nouveau elements made from quartz sandstone. Interestingly, the stained glass windows, a gift from Emperor Wilhelm II, were installed backwards until the late 1990s when a tourist noticed the error. The church is a delight to explore, especially for those interested in architecture. The Parliamentary Gardens are wonderful for a stroll and a picnic, and are just around the corner form the church. There is also a small craft market nearby.
The Alte Fest, also known as the Schutztruppe Fort, served as the German colonial power's military headquarters until after World War One and today houses the state historical museum. German commander Curt von Francois laid the foundation stones in 1890, making it one of the oldest buildings in Windhoek and a significant national monument. In fact, the modern city more or less grew around the fort. Today, the museum's exhibition informs visitors of Namibia's history from its San origins to German occupation in 1884 and the resulting struggle for independence. The museum is a bit old-fashioned and rundown but still interesting. Emphasis is on the revolutionary struggle, with fascinating old photographs.
The National Botanic Garden of Namibia is a 12 hectare (30 acre) nature reserve in the heart of Windhoek, where tourists can hike, picnic, and learn about the country's fascinating plant life. The small nature reserve only opened to the public in the 1990s. The gardens are great for birdwatching, with lists of plants and birds found in the reserve available at reception. Guided tours are also in operation but should be booked in advance. The gardens can get very dry in winter, between June and September, and are at their most splendid when the plants are lush and in bloom during the rainy season, which is the best time to visit.
Windhoek has a semi-desert, arid climate, with very hot summers and mild winters. Temperatures tend to drop dramatically at night. Windhoek is blessed with sun almost every day of the year (on average 300 days a year are sunny), and every season has its advantages for travel.
Average temperatures in winter (between June and August) range from 43°F (6°C) to 70°F (21°C). Nights are cold and warm clothes are necessary, but temperatures seldom dip below 32°F (0°C) and it almost never snows.
Winters are usually very dry and little or no rain falls between May and September. December is the wettest month of the year. The region is susceptible to drought, and a serious drought hits every decade or so. Temperatures in summer (between November and February) range from the pleasantly warm to the swelteringly hot, with daytime temperatures frequently hitting 30°C (86°F).
The most popular time to travel to Windhoek is between March and October, in particular between April and June, when rainfall is lowest and temperatures are mild. Winter is also best for game viewing, because animals tend to congregate around water and are easier to spot.
A holiday in Windhoek is flavoured with traditional brews, as well as sausage and sauerkraut, to complement its lovely colonial architecture. You will also find a great mix of colourful African culture that will leave you in no doubt that you are in the commercial heart of a vast southern African country.
Namibia's main point of entry is by air. Most of those who travel to Windhoek come to use it as a jumping off point for a safari trip or desert expedition, spending a few days getting to know the city at the beginning or end of their journey.
Tourist attractions in Windhoek include the imposing Lutheran Christuskirche, an interesting architectural hybrid, while the Alte Feste, translated to 'Old Fortress', was once the German military headquarters that now operates as a state museum.
There's also the Owela Museum, which showcases the country's diverse ethnography, and the National Botanic Gardens, which are great for a stroll and a picnic. The city is well-situated to act as a springboard to many desert attractions nearby.
The sun shines nearly every day of the year, and the weather is always warm to mild, even in midwinter, so there is no best time weather-wise to travel to Windhoek. However, summers may be too hot for some, so a preferable period to holiday in Windhoek is either side of the hottest months, between April and June or March and October.
Twyfelfontein boasts the largest concentration of ancient rock art in the country, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The petroglyphs primarily depict game animals such as giraffe, antelope, elephant, and lion, and the oldest carvings may date back 10,000 years. Most are believed to be around 3,000 years old. Translated as 'uncertain fountain', Twylfontein got its name from a farmer who doubted the spring's ability to sustain their cattle for a long period. Visitors can't enter the site without a guide due to previous vandalism. The uniquely-designed visitor information centre features an exhibition, kiosk, and souvenir shop. Other stunning sights in the area around Twyfelfontein include the Organ Pipes, the Doros Crater, and the Petrified Forest.
The natural beauty of the Spitzkoppe is spectacular: an island of bald granite peaks situated in an endless grassy plain that is visible for miles around. Groot Spitzkop is often referred to as the 'Matterhorn of Africa' because of its similarity in shape, and it is one of Namibia's most famous mountains. Nearby are the Little Spitzkoppe and the Pontok Mountains. Many San rock paintings exist in the Spitzkoppe area and these ancient artworks are thrilling to seek out. At the foot of Groot Spitzkop, Rhino Rock boasts some of the best surviving examples of prehistoric rock paintings. Sadly, many have been destroyed. The area is also renowned for its breath-taking sunrises, which turn the rocks from pale orange to flaming gold.
The Brandberg Massif is famous for its thousands of rock paintings and engravings. Its most celebrated piece is the 'White Lady', estimated to be around 2,000 years old. The painting shows a male with the white colour representing body paint which suggests it is a medicine man. Discovered in 1955, there has been a great deal of controversy over the meaning and origin of the painting. The mountain is a sacred place for the San tribes in the region. Brandberg's highest peak is Königstein, and at 8,550 feet (2,606m), it is the highest mountain in Namibia.
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