Translating from Dutch as “pearl”, Paarl is one of the oldest European settlements in South Africa and the largest town in the Cape Winelands. It was originally inhabited by the Khoikhoi before the 17th-century arrival of French Huguenots, who established orchards, vegetable gardens and vineyards. In 1990, Nelson Mandela walked free from Paarl's Drakenstein Correctional Centre after 27 years of imprisonment.
Things to do in Paarl
Learn about the origins of Afrikaans and its peculiarities at the Afrikaans Language Museum, which houses interactive and hands-on exhibits. It explains how the language was influenced by not only Dutch, German and English but also Malay-Portuguese, Arabic and Khoi. On a hill overlooking Paarl is the striking Afrikaans Language Monument, which features a plaque with poems written in Afrikaans.
For sweeping views across the Cape Winelands, climb to the top of Paarl Rock, a huge granite outcrop that lies within the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve. You can continue hiking to Bretagne Rock or take advantage of one of the rock climbing routes. At the main trailhead, there are picnic and braai facilities available.
On the southwestern outskirts of Paarl is the Drakenstein Lion Park, which provides a sanctuary for captive-born lions that cannot be rehabilitated into the wild. You can get up close to friendly primates at the neighbouring Chimp Haven or admire the rescued birds, snakes and meerkats on display at Exotic Animal World. At The Farmyard Park, you'll find friendly farm animals, swimming pools and a children’s playground.
Getting around Paarl
Paarl is around 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town and Cape Town International Airport, which has flights to destinations across the globe. Buses connect to Paarl, although renting a car gives you greater freedom to explore the area. The centre of Paarl can easily be explored on foot.