Things to do in South Africa

South Africa is a sightseer's paradise, with plenty to see and do no matter the traveller's interests, time frame, age, or inclination. There is natural splendour in abundance, including the beautiful beaches and iconic Table Mountain of Cape Town, the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains, the Blyde River Canyon, the stunning scenery of the coastal Garden Route, the pristine coastline of the Transkei, and the sweeping vistas of the Highveld. Of course, the animals of South Africa, especially the Big Five, are a big draw for tourists and game safaris are a very popular diversion. The Kruger National Park is the country's most famous wildlife reserve and a must for many visitors.

South Africa has a complicated and dramatic history and the legacy of the pioneer wars, colonialism, the Boer War and Apartheid is still strongly felt. There is no shortage of interesting historical sightseeing, with sites such as Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned, and the battlefields of the Boer War attracting many visitors. The country has many quaint historical towns, such as Franschoek in the Cape Winelands, and Grahamstown in the 'frontier country' of the Eastern Cape. South Africa also has its share of museums and galleries, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is particularly noteworthy.

The country is easy to get around with competitive low-cost carriers, long distance buses, good value car hire and the best roads in Africa. Road tripping is a wonderful way to experience the hugely diverse landscapes and cultures of this vast country. South Africa is one of the few global destinations that can offer the complete holiday experience, with a huge variety of world-class attractions and compelling experiences, and incredible value for money to boot.

Kruger National Park photo

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is South Africa's oldest, largest and best-known wildlife conservation area, home to a huge variety of wildlife and most famous for its 'Big Five' viewing …

Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is South Africa's oldest, largest and best-known wildlife conservation area, home to a huge variety of wildlife and most famous for its 'Big Five' viewing opportunities. Visitors have an excellent chance of seeing lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo and rhino among the enormous variety of wildlife, including over 140 species of mammals, 500 species of birds, reptiles and amphibians. Situated on South Africa's northeastern border, Kruger is a primary destination for international tourists, and is visited by more than half a million local and international visitors every year. They are attracted by the different safari options as well as the park's excellent range of visitor facilities and choice of accommodation, from luxurious game lodges to cottages and camping.

Website www.sanparks.org/parks/kruger

Table Mountain photo

Table Mountain

Cape Town's most popular tourist attraction is also its most famous physical feature. The flat-topped mountain stands as a sentinel over the city, and has been proclaimed a nature …

Table Mountain

Cape Town's most popular tourist attraction is also its most famous physical feature. The flat-topped mountain stands as a sentinel over the city, and has been proclaimed a nature reserve, thereby protecting its diverse floral species. Some are unique to its slopes. The views of the city and coastline from the top of the mountain are quite spectacular in all directions. A Swiss-built rotating cable car carries visitors smoothly up the mountain and back, and the mountaintop is equipped with a restaurant and small gift shop, as well as many pathways and vantage points. It is possible to climb the mountain via different routes but inexperienced hikers should take care because Cape Town is prone to sudden weather changes.

Website www.tablemountain.net

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens photo

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens lie just south of the city centre and cover a huge expanse of the rugged southwestern slopes of the Table Mountain Range. Ki…

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens lie just south of the city centre and cover a huge expanse of the rugged southwestern slopes of the Table Mountain Range. Kirstenbosch was bequeathed to the nation by mining magnate Cecil Rhodes in 1895, and today contains a nursery, a research unit, a botanical library and more than 22,000 plants. Numerous paths meander through the gardens, including a Braille route for the blind. Nature lovers should note that the walks are full of lush shrubs and fynbos, the Cape's indigenous floral heritage. The gardens are indeed a natural wonderland, where visitors will find lots of space for picnics. In summertime, the delightful setting becomes the venue for Sunday evening open-air concerts.

Website www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch

Cape Town Beaches photo

Cape Town Beaches

Cape Town has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The most glamorous are on the Atlantic Coast, where the scenery is dramatic, and the water is cold. Camps Bay is perhaps m…

Cape Town Beaches

Cape Town has some of the world's most beautiful beaches. The most glamorous are on the Atlantic Coast, where the scenery is dramatic, and the water is cold. Camps Bay is perhaps most famous, tourists flock to its long, wide stretch of white sand and enjoy the many bars and restaurants nearby. Another favourite is Clifton, where four beaches are situated beneath the exclusive houses and apartments set into the cliff. Further south is the pristine Llandudno beach. A little further afield is False Bay, on the Indian Ocean side of the peninsular, where the water is noticeably warmer. The most popular beach for learning to surf in Cape Town is Muizenberg. For long walks and horse riding, the huge expanse of Noordhoek beach is ideal.

Robben Island photo

Robben Island

Robben Island is seven miles (11km) from Cape Town, and is easily seen from the shore. For nearly 400 years, this tiny rocky island was utilised as a place of banishment, exile, is…

Robben Island

Robben Island is seven miles (11km) from Cape Town, and is easily seen from the shore. For nearly 400 years, this tiny rocky island was utilised as a place of banishment, exile, isolation, and imprisonment for numerous categories of people ostracised by society, ranging from political protesters to lepers. During the years of Apartheid, Robben Island became synonymous with institutional brutality, as many freedom fighters, including the island's most famous resident, Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned here for more than a quarter of a century. Robben Island is now a museum symbolising the liberation and triumph of the human spirit. Regular island tours are conducted and last for around three and a half hours.

Website www.robben-island.org.za

Chapman's Peak photo

Chapman's Peak

Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in South Africa and the world. It links the seaside community of Hout Bay to the Noordhoek Valley along the Atlant…

Chapman's Peak

Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in South Africa and the world. It links the seaside community of Hout Bay to the Noordhoek Valley along the Atlantic Coast, and offers breath-taking views from along the narrow, winding road blasted into the cliffs. Started in 1915, the six-mile (9km) route took about seven years to complete and was built as a shorter, alternative route between Cape Town central and the South Peninsula. Many visitors use this scenic route to reach Cape Point Nature Reserve, situated at the tip of the Peninsula. But for many Capetonians, it simply comprises a breathtakingly beautiful commute to work.

Website www.chapmanspeakdrive.co.za

Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront photo

Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

This working harbour, historical site, and shopping development has become one of Cape Town's most visited tourist attractions. The Waterfront offers everything from shopping malls…

Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

This working harbour, historical site, and shopping development has become one of Cape Town's most visited tourist attractions. The Waterfront offers everything from shopping malls and crafts markets to live music and a variety of festivals throughout the year. It's also home to more than 70 eateries, ranging from pubs and fast-food outlets to five star restaurants. Those who fall in love with the Waterfront will be glad to know that there are several luxury hotels in the area. What's more, travellers can stroll down to the harbour to gaze upon the many boats and ships upon the waves.

Website www.waterfront.co.za

Cape Point photo

Cape Point

Most Cape Town visitors are keen to make the short, 40 mile (65km) daytrip from the city centre to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The land at first appears bleak, but visito…

Cape Point

Most Cape Town visitors are keen to make the short, 40 mile (65km) daytrip from the city centre to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The land at first appears bleak, but visitors will soon discover a region rich in floral diversity. They will also stand atop the towering promontory at the most southerly point of the Cape Peninsula. Those who wish to venture to the most southerly point of Africa will have to journey further to Cape Agulhas. Visitors can reach the viewpoint and lighthouse via a funicular, and watch thundering waves crash at the base of the cliffs below. Bird lovers and botany enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the reserve itself.

Website www.capepoint.co.za

Addo Elephant Park photo

Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park is the most popular game reserve in the Port Elizabeth area, and is a 45-minute drive from the city. The park is situated in the ruggedly beautiful Eastern Cape …

Addo Elephant Park

Addo Elephant Park is the most popular game reserve in the Port Elizabeth area, and is a 45-minute drive from the city. The park is situated in the ruggedly beautiful Eastern Cape region, and offers an authentic safari experience. Addo was founded in 1931 to save the area's remaining 11 indigenous elephants, and has been a remarkable success since then. It is now the third largest game reserve in South Africa, and one of the most popular with tourists and locals. The elephants are drawn to watering holes at certain times and sightings are virtually guaranteed all year round. There are other animals in the park too, including lion, leopard, black rhino, buffalo, zebra, warthog, hyena, and several types of buck.

Website www.sanparks.org/parks/addo

Jeffrey's Bay photo

Jeffrey's Bay

Known colloquially as J-Bay, the surfing paradise of Jeffrey's Bay is a short drive west of Port Elizabeth. This determinedly laid-back seaside town is most famous for Supertubes, …

Jeffrey's Bay

Known colloquially as J-Bay, the surfing paradise of Jeffrey's Bay is a short drive west of Port Elizabeth. This determinedly laid-back seaside town is most famous for Supertubes, one of the best right-hand point breaks in the world. Many consider it South Africa's perfect wave. The town lives and breathes surfing and has several glorious surf spots that are gentler and more accommodating than the celebrated Supertubes. Dolphins, seals, and whales frequent the waters of J-Bay, and surfers are often lucky enough to mingle with these sea creatures. Long stretches of picturesque sandy beach surround the town and are renowned for their shells and bright orange aloes. Rivers and nature reserves border the town on both sides.

Website www.jeffreysbaytourism.org

Zululand Battlefields photo

Zululand Battlefields

Zululand is the ancestral home of the Zulu people and was the site of many bloody battles between the British, the Zulus and the Afrikaners during the 19th century. The area is bes…

Zululand Battlefields

Zululand is the ancestral home of the Zulu people and was the site of many bloody battles between the British, the Zulus and the Afrikaners during the 19th century. The area is best explored as a self-drive adventure, though many tours are available from Durban. Almost every town in this part of northern KwaZulu-Natal has a story to tell or an event to commemorate. Tourism offices throughout the region provide maps and guides to help visitors make the most of the culture, history, scenery and wildlife. The landscape varies from plains and rolling hills, to river valleys and lush forests, and it once encompassed the legendary king Shaka Zulu's kingdom.

Website www.battlefieldsroute.co.za/tours/zululand-tours/

iSimangaliso / St Lucia Wetland Park photo

iSimangaliso / St Lucia Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the largest and most exciting in a string of game parks and nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal's far north. Still known to many by its former name, St Lu…

iSimangaliso / St Lucia Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park is the largest and most exciting in a string of game parks and nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal's far north. Still known to many by its former name, St Lucia Wetland Park, it is dominated by the fascinating St Lucia estuary and lake system, and includes eight distinct ecosystems, which vary from dry thorn scrub to tropical forest. Some of the world's highest dunes border them. The park also encloses three major lake systems, beautiful beaches, tropical reefs, Africa's largest estuarine system, and most of South Africa's remaining swamp forests. This is the only place in the world where hippos, crocodiles and sharks co-habit the same lagoon. The Wetland Park was declared South Africa's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Website www.isimangaliso.com

Drakensberg Mountains photo

Drakensberg Mountains

The jagged peaks of the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) tower over KwaZulu Natal's eastern border, providing a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The Drakensberg is the highest mount…

Drakensberg Mountains

The jagged peaks of the Drakensberg (Dragon Mountains) tower over KwaZulu Natal's eastern border, providing a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The Drakensberg is the highest mountain range in southern Africa and abounds with hiking trails, climbing routes, 4x4 trails, pony treks and adventure pursuits, all accessible from numerous resorts in the lower reaches. Some of the more popular resorts are Champagne Castle, Cathkin Peak, and Cathedral Peak, while Giant's Castle and its game reserve are famed for the more than 500 rock paintings left behind by the San people on cave walls. Eagles soar around the peaks in the Royal Natal National Park in the north, where the dramatic scenery includes the Amphitheatre, a five-mile long (8km) curved basalt wall.

Website www.drakensberg.kzn.org.za

Newtown Cultural Precinct photo

Newtown Cultural Precinct

Located in the city centre, this complex of buildings has been upgraded and restored as part of the city fathers' urban renewal policy and includes several attractions. For instanc…

Newtown Cultural Precinct

Located in the city centre, this complex of buildings has been upgraded and restored as part of the city fathers' urban renewal policy and includes several attractions. For instance, the Market Theatre and Museum Africa are housed in a Victorian building in Bree Street, originally Johannesburg's fresh produce market. The Museum of Africa is particularly worth a visit, as its exhibits tell the city's story from its beginnings to the present day. The display includes an interesting section about the Treason Trial of the 1950s, in which Nelson Mandela and other activists were accused of plotting against the state. The same building houses a photography museum and the Museum of South African Rock Art.

Website www.newtown.co.za

Lost City photo

Lost City

Situated in the Bojanala region of the North West Province, the 'Las Vegas of South Africa' is one of the largest entertainment centres for adults in the world. Visitors can look f…

Lost City

Situated in the Bojanala region of the North West Province, the 'Las Vegas of South Africa' is one of the largest entertainment centres for adults in the world. Visitors can look forward to casinos, golf courses, live shows, and the architectural wonder of the Lost City. The vast resort complex is one of South Africa's top attractions for gambling, entertainment, and opulence. Guests will find a luxurious palace at its centre, where frescoes, palm fronds, mosaics and elephant tusks complement the resort's life-size model animals. Lakes, forests, and a tropical beach surround the Lost City. Along with a variety of water sports, guests can enjoy The Valley of the Waves, which is the most advanced waterpark in the country.

Website www.suninternational.com

Blyde River Canyon photo

Blyde River Canyon

The spectacular vista of the Blyde River Canyon is part of the scenically breath-taking Panorama Route, where sheer cliffs drop into a bush-covered valley. It's worth covering the …

Blyde River Canyon

The spectacular vista of the Blyde River Canyon is part of the scenically breath-taking Panorama Route, where sheer cliffs drop into a bush-covered valley. It's worth covering the route as a self-drive trip from Nelspruit, or on a bus tour. Other sights on the route include a trio of green-clad peaks set in the canyon called the Three Rondavels, and the Bourke's Luck Potholes. The latter are huge holes in the mountainside formed by grinding sand. The Blyde River Canyon is the biggest green canyon in the world, and the third largest canyon on earth. Only the USA's Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia are bigger.

Tsitsikamma National Park photo

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma is a word of the indigenous Khoi-San people meaning 'place of many waters'. It accurately describes the beautiful 50-mile (80km) stretch of coastline that makes up the …

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma is a word of the indigenous Khoi-San people meaning 'place of many waters'. It accurately describes the beautiful 50-mile (80km) stretch of coastline that makes up the Tsitsikamma National Park. The park is Africa's oldest and largest marine reserve, and contains many attractions, including a giant Outeniqua yellowwood tree that is hundreds of years old. The region is crisscrossed by hiking trails, including the world-renowned Otter Trail (a five-day hike), which starts at Storm's River and runs along 25 miles (41km) of spectacular coastline to Nature's Valley. A number of private operators offer numerous adventure activities in the area, such as black-water rafting and abseiling, mountain bike tours and fishing trips.

Website www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/

Franschhoek photo

Franschhoek

Fleeing religious persecution in France in the 1700s, more than 200 French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and were settled in the valley that soon became known as Franschhoek (Frenc…

Franschhoek

Fleeing religious persecution in France in the 1700s, more than 200 French Huguenots arrived in the Cape and were settled in the valley that soon became known as Franschhoek (French Corner), which is today situated in the heart of the Cape Winelands region. Many of the settlers were experienced wine producers and they soon recognised the potential of the region for wine and fruit production, establishing wine estates throughout the spectacular Franschhoek Valley in surroundings of magnificent scenery and towering mountains. Today the town is famous not only for its splendid wines and beautiful vistas, but also as the gourmet capital of South Africa, boasting the highest number of award-winning eateries in the country.

Website www.franschhoek.org.za

The Apartheid Museum photo

The Apartheid Museum

Situated near Gold Reef City, the Apartheid Museum chronicles South Africa's tragic and shameful history of black oppression. On display are relics of the apartheid system, an abho…

The Apartheid Museum

Situated near Gold Reef City, the Apartheid Museum chronicles South Africa's tragic and shameful history of black oppression. On display are relics of the apartheid system, an abhorrent regime that denied people of colour basic freedoms and an equal life in the country. Visitors often describe the experience of the Apartheid Museum as harrowing. At the same time, the story of the struggle over adversity is inspirational and serves as an integral and important part of the new South African narrative and its reflections on history. To give some idea of the everyday realities of racial classification, visitors arbitrarily are classified as either 'white' or 'non-white' upon arrival and can only enter through their designated entrance.

Website www.apartheidmuseum.org

Hermanus photo

Hermanus

Locals and international tourists alike travel south of Cape Town to Hermanus. The charming seaside town is about a two-hour drive outside the Mother City, and is known for its wha…

Hermanus

Locals and international tourists alike travel south of Cape Town to Hermanus. The charming seaside town is about a two-hour drive outside the Mother City, and is known for its whale watching, as Southern Right Whales migrate through the area to nearby Walker Bay. Visitors are almost guaranteed a sighting of these gentle giants from the steep cliffs of Hermanus between September and October, and the Two Oceans Whale Festival draws big crowds over this period. There are also opportunities to view other wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and Great White Sharks. The town itself offers many other activities, including browsing shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown area to venturing further afield to wine farms and beaches and neighbouring towns like Stanford, Gansbaai, and Caledon.

Website www.hermanus.co.za