Best things to do in South Africa
Find out more about those top places in South Africa
South Africa is known across the world as the source of some of the New World’s best wines and the area known as Winelands, which is within sixty kilometers of downtown Cape Town, produces the best the country has to offer. Located in the uplands, Winelands is blessed with a micro climate in which a variety of grapes thrives, which has created a verdant landscape of rolling vine-clad hills. Beyond the wineries, the region is home to South Africa’s oldest colonial settlements with the buzzing university town of Stellenbosch being founded by the Dutch in the 17th century and Franschhoek being founded by French Huguenots around the same time. In this way, Winelands showcases the best South Africa has to offer with spectacular landscapes, fascinating history and unrivaled food and drink to be explored.
Unsurprisingly one of the Cape Winelands star attractions is taking part in the region’s award-winning wine tours. Starting at the world-class Glen Carlou winery, the tour lets you immerse yourself in the wine making process with knowledgeable guides helping you get to grips with South Africa’s grape varieties, the growing cycle of vines and the plethora of different styles produced. Tours end with an exquisite tasting and lunch at a panoramic hilltop restaurant.
Famed across the world for its outstanding produce, Stellenbosch is South Africa’s premier wine region. Tours of the picture-perfect landscape will let you immerse yourself in the area’s rich Dutch colonial history and wine making culture and marvel at the dramatic Drakenstein Valley.
Set against a backdrop of imposing mountains, the Franschhoek Motor Museum is a paradise for vintage transport enthusiasts. With a vast selection of cars, motorcycles, and buses dating back to Victorian times, the museum is one of the Cape Wineland’s hidden gems.
While the heart of the Cape Winelands lacks the big game found in other areas of South Africa, a short drive north towards Tankwa Karoo National Park lets visitors get up close with some of the country’s most jaw-dropping wildlife, including elephants and leopards.
Located just south of Cape Town, Hermanus is best known for one thing: whale watching. As one of the largest towns in the region of Overberg, Hermanus has a workaday feel that belies its spectacular claim to fame. From June to December Walkers Bay, which lies just off the coast of Hermanus, becomes a nursery with one of the world’s largest concentrations of southern right whales. While boat trips can be taken to see the whales up close, locals like to watch nature put on a show from many of the elegant wine bars that have sprouted up along the shoreline for that exact purpose. Beyond the whales, the hills surrounding Hermanus have a variety of hiking trails that offer awe-inspiring views of the Western Cape.
Considered one of the best on land whale watching locations on the planet, Hermanus is one of South Africa’s most enchanting destinations. Between June and December vast numbers of southern right whales fill the bay and marine safaris offer the opportunity to get up close to these spectacular sea mammals. What is more, expert whale watching guides provide fascinating information on whale behavior.
After exploring Hermanus’ vast offshore calving grounds, why not head inland to the world-famous Hemel-en-Aarde Valley wine region? Tours combining whale watching and wine tasting are highly recommended with many also stopping by the spectacular Betty’s Bay penguin colony.
Perched in the mountains above Hermanus is the breathtaking Fernkloof Nature Reserve. Although small by South African standards, the reserve is perfectly formed with a jaw-dropping array of fynbos, small shrub-like plants with fine leaves, to be discovered. For those interested in the area’s diverse ecology guided tours area available.
Open every Saturday, the Hermanus Country Market is one of South Africa’s true gastronomic delights. With produce ranging from the fine wines of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to homemade pickles and organic herbs, the selection encompasses the best of the country’s burgeoning organic and proudly local food scene.
Nestled on the turquoise waters of a tidal estuary, Knysna is rightly the most famous town on South Africa’s verdant Garden Route. The town is one of South Africa’s most liberal destinations with an LGBT friendly atmosphere, a stellar record for environmentalism, a burgeoning organic restaurant scene and a clutch of top class microbreweries. Beyond Knysna itself, the star attraction is the spectacular tidal lagoon, which was once stated to be the most dangerous harbor in the world by the Royal Navy due to the dramatic cliffs that guard its entrance. While a devastating forest fire ravaged Knysna in 2017, the town has quickly bounced back and remains one of South Africa’s hidden gems.
The Garden Route National Park stretches all along the Cape coast encompassing a variety of remarkable landscapes. At Knysna the park covers a vast swathe of millennia old giant Outeniqua Yellowwoods that can be explored from the canopy thanks to a series of breathtaking viewing platforms that let you walk amongst the treetops. On tours of these magical environments expert national park guides will provide fascinating information on the region’s unique ecology.
Whale watching tours from Knysna are one of the Garden Coast’s most thrilling experiences. Every summer southern right and humpback whales migrate from the seas around Antarctica to mate and calve in the tranquil waters of the Indian Ocean giving you the opportunity to see one of the natural world’s greatest wonders up close. Tours start by moving through the iconic Knysna Lagoon before pushing towards the whale nursery grounds.
Lying just north of Knysna, Addo National Park is one of Africa’s greatest conservation stories. When the park was founded in 1931 to protect the near-extinct cape elephants there were barely a handful left in the wild but now over 600 roam the savannah and acacia forests of Addo. For the best experience, guided tours are recommended as knowledgeable national park rangers offer fascinating information on the comeback of the region’s elephants.
Protecting the tranquil waters of the Knysna Lagoon from the roaring swell of the Indian Ocean is the iconic sandstone Heads. Boat tours of the lagoon let you marvel at the immense scale of these remarkable geological features while allowing you to get close to the area’s spectacular birdlife.
Originally named Bahia Formosa, meaning beautiful bay, by Portuguese explorers, Plettenberg Bay is one of South Africa’s most spectacular landscapes. Known affectionately by locals as ‘the Plett’, the town itself is a wonderfully laid back resort town with clapboard houses and deluxe hotels stretching down to a coastline of white sand beaches and rolling waves. While the town itself is perfectly charming, Plettenberg Bay is best known as the gateway to the pristine sub-tropical forests and tidal estuaries of the Garden Route National Park and for whale spotting off the coast of the rugged Robberg Peninsula.
Deep in South Africa’s verdant Garden Coast is Tsitsikamma Bay National Park. Encompassing some of the country’s most dramatic scenery, including a plethora of often-raging rivers, rocky ravines and a marine reserve measuring a sizable 80 kilometers, the national park is one of South Africa’s hidden gems. Like many of the country’s excellent national parks, Tsitsikamma is crisscrossed by well-maintained trails, including the Otter Trail, which lets you get up close with clawless otters, and the Mouth Trail that showcases a breathtaking suspension bridge over Storms River.
The Plettenberg Bay area is cut through with plunging canyons that are perfect for adventure sports, including adrenaline pumping canyoning activities. With the help of expert tour guides, visitors to the canyons will explore the region’s immense landscape via abseiling, swimming, scrambling and floating.
The Garden Route National Park is South Africa’s most varied encompassing the ravines of Tsistikamma, the plethora of lakes, rivers and marshes that make up the Wilderness Section and the lush vegetation of the Knysna Forest. Best explored with a tour guide over the course of a few days, the park lets you get up close to elephants, go on thrilling dolphin spotting tours of Plettenberg Bay and take the plunge at the world’s highest bungee jump.
Beyond the base camp for Mouth Trail in Tsitsikamma National Park, the Storms River remains an unspoiled paradise perfect for nature lovers. Kayak tours are the perfect way to explore this tranquil wilderness, as they let you paddle into a bat cave, embrace your thrill seeking side by cliff jumping and see the picture perfect suspension bridge from below.
Welcome to Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capital cities – it is the administrative capital of the country. Named after the Voortrekker Andres Pretorius, it is considered to be a very serene city and where most people visit if they are looking to avoid the constant hustle and bustle from other major cities.
While visiting, you might hear it been called “Jacaranda City” this is to give reference to the beautiful Jacaranda flower which planted round the city and blooms regularly to give the city its unique aesthetics. Its attractions include monuments, zoos and historical buildings.
Pretoria being the administrative center of South Africa has the major government offices such the Union Buildings. The Union Buildings form the official seat of the President and the offices of the South African Government – designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker they have European style outlooks. Asides the buildings another attractive feature include its gardens which are made of various indigenous plants, also statues and memorials including statue of General Louis, Delvitte war memorial and the statue of Nelson Mandela.
The beauty of South Africa is usually shown through its wildlife attractions and the Pretoria Zoo offers all of that and more. Known officially as the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, the 200 acres’ zoo was the brainchild of J.W.B. Gunning in 1899 – and it is recognized as the eighth largest zoo in the World. It is one of Pretoria’s most visited attractions with over 600,000 visitors yearly; its attractions are separated into different sections for the optimal experience.
This massive granite structure, was built to commemorate the Voortrekkers who parted ways with the Cape Colony between 1836 and 1854 – they were part of the Great Trek, which saw Dutch-speaking settlers engage in eastward migration through South Africa. The monument designed by Gerard Moerdijk is exceptional in the sense that it is 40 meters high and also has a 40 square meters base. While visiting, be sure to check out the Historical Frieze, which leads to the dome of heroes and the cenotaph.
Beautifully setup, the Loftus Versfield Stadium is where most of the major sporting action in the country can be witnessed life. Named after Robert Loftus Versfield, it can hold 51,762 people and it is considered a multi-purpose stadium but is mainly used for soccer and rugby. It is at this stadium that a good number of South African’s great sporting moments were made, and should be visited for its electrical atmosphere during game days.
The most unexpected of all Pretoria’s sites is the Tswaing Meteorite Crater, said to have been around for 220,000 years. Located some 25 miles (40.23 kilometers) northwest of Pretoria, the theory is that a large meteorite crash to the earth to form the large crater. It offers visitors an opportunity to see something different while admiring the scenic views as well as its flora and fauna attractions.
The Kruger National Park is quintessential South Africa. Located deep in the bush and far away from the metropolitan buzz of the country’s big cities, the national park is a timeless wilderness home to all of Africa’s iconic safari species – lions, elephants, leopards, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, zebra, hippo and giraffe. Despite its remoteness, Kruger National Park is also one of Africa’s most accessible with paved roads running throughout its entirety allowing visitors to rent their cars and explore the wilderness independently. However, if coming face to face with a lion on your own sounds a little too adventurous, national park rangers run organized tours through the wilderness that take you to some parks hidden gems and include stays at rustic bush hotels.
As South Africa’s largest and most historic game reserve, as well as being one of the world’s most famous national parks, Kruger is unsurprisingly home to the country’s most spectacular array of wildlife. Alongside all of Africa’s iconic safari species – elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, giraffe, hippo and zebra – the park boasts nearly another 200 species of mammals alongside a plethora of colorful birdlife. As the sheer scale of Kruger can be overwhelming, the best way to explore its vast wildernesses is with a local guide who can reveal the park’s storied history, which dates back to prehistoric times, and lead you to the most reliable areas to spot wildlife.
Situated on the western edge of the vast Kruger National Park, the Timbavati Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s most iconic destinations. Boasting a population of world-famous white lions, the reserve is also home to a dazzling cast of other mammals and has some of the country’s most luxurious accommodation.
Part of the larger Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Djuma is the ideal location to spot Africa’s premier safari species. Guided tours of the private reserve take you deep into the bush to spot lions, leopards, rhino and elephants during the cool morning hours before taking in the area’s bio-diverse watering holes when the heat of the day is at its peak.
Combining the rustic yet luxurious tree top accommodation with excellent South African barbecue cuisine and breathtaking sunrise bush walks, tree house safari tours are one of the country’s most rewarding experiences. Over the course of 5 days, visitors will get to experience the very best Kruger has to offer and take in the park’s jaw-dropping diversity of big game.