A little-known fact is that this city is the birthplace of writer J.R.R. Tolkien. Capital of the province of Free State, Bloemfontein is approximately 250 miles southwest of Johannesburg but only 85 miles west of Maseru, the capital of the country of Lesotho. It is the judicial capital of South Africa, as opposed to its legislative capital, Cape Town, and administrative capital, Pretoria. Bloemfontein event venues benefit from this connection, as well as from tourism. Country suitable for safaris and other outdoor pursuits is very close.
The commercial airport serving the city is Bloemfontein Airport (BFN), which is six miles to the east of the center. Service here is only on domestic South African carriers, but it is worth taking them from Cape Town and Johannesburg, as both cities are some distance.
Chief among convention venues, Bloemfontein International Convention Centre, which opened in 2008, has a 60,000-square-foot, pillarless exhibit hall, as well as 25 meeting rooms and a banquet hall for 900 delegates.
Hotel venues in Bloemfontein include the 147-room Southern Sun Bloemfontein, which has meeting space for up to 60 persons; the 115-room Protea Bloemfontein Central, which has event space for 450 persons; the 94-room Protea Bloemfontein, which has conference room for 60 persons; and the 21-room Halevy Heritage Hotel, which was constructed in 1893 and provides four meeting rooms for a maximum of 150 persons. Right at the northern edge of the city, in the Woodlands Hills Wildlife Estate, is the 67-room Bloem Spa Hotel & Conference Centre, which has eight function spaces, including Lapa and Rolbos, both of which can host banquets of up to 200 persons.
Being so close to the Great Outdoors, it is not surprising that Bloemfontein has several unique gathering spots focusing on nature, including the National Botanical Gardens, which has 140 species of birds, 54 species of reptiles and 32 species of mammals (at last count, including The Big Five); all of which makes for a economical if not quite authentic safari experience. The Gardens has a 250-foot-long tent, a semi-open sandstone building for 150 persons and an education center; Bloemfontein Zoo, which is run by the city; and Deneysville Croc Farm, where guests get close to these magnificent predators (not too close!) in a restaurant, pub and poolside patio. Perhaps less dangerous venues include the Sand du Plessis Theatre, which has 964 seats and can be combined with the adjacent Andre Huguenet Theatre for larger events, and the Oliewenhuis Art Museum, the former home of the State's presidents and governor generals, which is now an art gallery and cultural center.
Restaurants here include Avanti, an Italian, which has a modern but comfortable design; Coobah, which has a mixed menu and even more trendy design, and fine-dining Seven on Kellner, which also has up-to-the-moment styling, this time in a Victorian mansion. Two beautiful countryside spots, both only 20 miles from Bloemfontein and blissfully in the middle of nowhere, are the Tri-Hunt, which has the Waterbuck restaurant & Pub, and Olivia Game Lodge, which has a restaurant, bar and 13 guest rooms, chalets and luxury tents.